Quite honestly, when I’m in Italy, I’m usually dorking out with my notebook, writing something about every little wine I try. But sometimes I just don’t want to. Sometimes all that’s important is whether I’m giving the wine a yes or no.
Yes, I like it. Yes, I’d order it again. Yes, I’d pay X dollars (or Euro) for it. Yes, I’d recommend it to a friend. Yes, I’d visit the winery. Yes, I’d commit it to memory and write about it later.
No, it sucked.
The following wines are ones I discovered last fall in Italy, and all got a yes from me but for none of them was I clearing space for my notebook and digging for a pen. I was just enjoying. I might have jotted down the name on a napkin or snapped a photo of the bottle, but most just stuck in my head on their own accord.
On my first night in Piemonte last fall, my host Mimmo, winemaker at La Montagnetta, took me to Pizzeria Alfieri (highly recommended in the summer) in the village of Magliano Alfieri and we enjoyed a bottle of Gianni Voerzio Arneis 2009 – a perfect choice on a warm evening with an arugula pizza.
Another one I have to thank him for is the Montalbera Bollicine Roseus NV. It’s one of my very most favorite sparkling wines ever! If I saw it in a store or on a restaurant wine list again, I would buy it with no hesitation. It is delicate, floral, refreshing, and has an ever-so-subtle hint of sweetness. Just think of the texture and aroma of fresh, delicate rose petals, and the flavor of the best strawberry you ever bit into … sigh … While you’re thinking how wonderful that would be, I will admit – (Warning: I am not a Champagne gal!) – it’s sparkling Grignolino! Probably that makes me an unrefined peasant but I just don’t know how anyone could not like this wine. It’s described on the Montalbera website – if I’ve gotten you at all interested – but it’s not imported to the US!
A few days after my arrival I had to hit up Vincafé in Alba since they always have tons of awesome wines by the glass. The waitress poured me a glass of the Gianni Gagliardo Fallegro 2009 (Favorita). This wine – full mineral, anise, pear, and a prickly effervescence, will lighten anyone’s mood – it certainly turned my grey day around and led me to discover the winery’s restaurant a few days later, Vineria del Barolo (below Santa Maria). There I ordered it again, pairing it with their amazing seafood antipasti dish, and again when I took Jeff there in November, paring it with their other antipasti.
The Gianni Gagliardo Arneis 2009 is great too. Jeff liked it better than the Fallegro. But not me – I even shipped two bottles of the Fallegro home. It’s like a fresh breeze rolled up in a ray of sunshine. Love. It.
I also really enjoyed the Gianni Gagliardo Preve Riserva 2003 Barolo. While strangely deep purple, it does show a bit of a brick color in the rim. The aromas in this one include cloves, fresh grapes, fruitcake, camp fire, smoke, violets, blackberries, and blueberries. A concentrated wine, the finish is hefty with black licorice and smoke.
I need to mention as well theGianni Gagliardo Serre 2006 Barolo. It’s peculiarly easy to drink; despite being so young, Jeff and I enjoyed it immensely with our dinner there in November.
Marco Maria Crivelli told me about the Douja d’Or, a festival of Asti wines held in mid-September every year in the town of Asti. There I discovered Terre Alfieri Pecten 2009 (Arneis), Cascina Castlet di Maria Borio Litina 2006 (Barbera d’Asti), and Cosseti Clemente e Figli La Picca 2009 (Barbera del Monferrato). La Picca is the most amazing vivace Barbera I’ve ever had but unfortunately it was sold out everywhere I looked. Maybe it’ll be around again this fall…
In Asti I also found the Gatto Pierfrancesco Ruché 2009 at a bar/café called Antiche Ligure on the corner of Corso Alfieri and via Goberti. This Ruché has more dark fruit and concentration in contrast to the delicate, strawberry, perfume-driven Ruché I usually come across.
I really liked it and found it for sale at Enoteca Wine Farmer in Asti about a month later. The owner of this shop is super nice and he also let me try the Piero Bruno Ruché (I can’t remember the vintage), which he thought was the best, most classic interpretation of Ruché. It’s certainly a well-balanced wine and I really enjoyed it as well. I also like Montablera’s Ruché but it is not my favorite.
A few noteworthy Barbarescos come to mind, which I’d like to mention. At the end of September I visited the Enoteca Regionale del Barbaresco and tried the Azienda Agricola Ronchi Barbaresco 2007, which I expected to be really young, tannic, and tart but this one was ready now. I don’t know what their wine making philosophy is but perhaps it is purposefully a drink-it-now style. It would be a spectacular choice at a restaurant over the next couple of years. It has a dark brick color, giving off sweet, peppery, spicy, cherry aromas and becoming quite enjoyable through the mid-palate with rich fruit, and finally a smooth finish of coffee and a perfect amount of tannins. After that I stopped by the Produttori to see if my friend Aldo Vacca was around and he was! I got to try the Produttori del Barbaresco Pora Barbaresco 2005. This one has a lot of licorice and rose scents; it is smooth with refined, chalky tannins. A peculiar one this year is the Produttori del Barbaresco 2009 Langhe Nebbiolo. It’s totally fruit-driven. While it has tannins and tastes good, it really doesn’t taste like Nebbiolo. I’ve tried it three times with the same reaction. Try it for yourself – but don’t base your opinion of Nebbi on this one if you’ve never had one before!
Other Barbarescos that shouldn’t be missed … I had a Prinsi Barbaresco (don’t know the vintage or exact one) at Vineria San Giorgio in La Morra. It’s certainly worth a try and what’s even better is it was offered by-the-glass there. My last night in Italy Jeff and I spent at Vincafé getting our fill of tajarin and carne cruda, which we washed down with copious amounts of vino. Standouts included Paitin Barbaresco 2006, along with Tiefenbrunner Pinot nero, Cerretto Nebbiolo, Argiolas Vermentino (a long time favorite), and Renato Corino Barolo 2005 (certamente).
I’m also going to give a big shout-out to my friend Frank, one of my German Barolo Boys, who introduced me to how great some of the Piemontese blends can be. The specific stand-outs include Martinetti Sul Bric 1999 (old vine Barbera and Cabernet Sauvignon from Monferrato) and Conterno Fantino Mon Pra’ 2007 (Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Cabernet Sauvignon). I never gave them too much consideration before but have realized they can be extremely wonderful wines.
Also, if you happen to come across a collection like this, with an Ornellaia 1988, don’t say no. Grazie a Frank ancora!
Speaking of Barbera, I must mention two more. First, the Paolo Scavino Corale 1999 (Barbera) I had alongside the Sul Bric (above) at La Salita on October 3 for the big birthday bash† and second, the Cascina Giovanale Barbera d’Asti Superiore 2007, which I had with Lili and Renato Corino at Dulcis Vitis in Alba.
Two Barolo I will never forget are Aldo & Riccardo Seghesio La Villa Barolo 2004 and Attila Ghisolfi Barolo 2004 – both from Monforte d’Alba. These were part of the aforementioned birthday dinner as well. For these two Renato Corino challenged me to tell him which I preferred and why, a task I took upon myself to complete solo in Italiano. I passed – and the grade was a high-five! But that is part of the aforementioned birthday bash story, coming sooner than later.
If you’re an adventurous eater and ever find yourself in Milan, go to Joia. The wine list is impressively international. But of course, quando in Italia, sceglio Italiano (99% of the time). For me the list was a nice read. I tried to order a Pinot nero from Alto Adige but they were out of it. The waiter tried to sell me on a Chilean Pinot noir but I was like, “YAWN! Those are a dime-a-dozen in California!” I didn’t actually say that but it’s true. Uwe, my long-time friend, liked the Chilean wine but he’s always happy with whatever I pick out so the choice was mine. And by now everyone should know what that means: Nebbiolo. Pira Langhe Nebbiolo 2007 – a fabulous choice.
One weekend my friend, Roberto, gave me a bottle of Azienda Agricola Il Poggiarello 2005 (rosso), which is a Sangiovese based wine blended with, I believe, Barbera and Bonarda. This one is a gem from Emilia Romagna! It has a great mix of blackberry pie, black licorice, earth, and saddle. Very balanced, concentrated, dark, and earthy. I saw the ’06 in October at Salone del Gusto in the Emilia Romagna section but didn’t get to try it.
Another mentionable wine is Passopisciaro 2007 (Nerello Mascalese) from the producer, Andrea Franchetti. I remember it with a glycerin texture and characters that encompass all that is vino Siciliano: roses, sweet strawberries, ash, and a hint of tanned leather.
I had it at Osteria Veglio and just the other day found it at my favorite local wine bar, Enoteca la Storia. There they also carry the Guardiola (Chardonnay), which I will say, I’ve never tried, but I trust anything those guys put in their store. So it’s next on my list …
† This story is coming together. It’s one of the most important so it’s taking time.