Archive for the ‘Soave’ Category

2017 Tre Bicchieri Winners

February 16, 2017

On the day of our heaviest snowstorm so far this year, the annual New York presentation and tasting of Tre Bicchieri award-winning wines took place just about half a mile from where I live.


So I slogged through the flying snow and the street-corner slush to take advantage of what I hoped would be a sparse crowd and a lot of idle winemakers, thus allowing me to actually taste some wines. For the first hour, I was right, and I did have the opportunity to taste some remarkable wines – but then the storm let up and the hordes came in, and my chances for thoughtful tasting ended. I’m happy for all those hard-working winemakers that the Tre Bicchieri tasting is such a popular event, but as a hard-working journalist I do most seriously wish there was some better way to experience and evaluate these wines.

But you’ve heard that lament from me before, and are probably quite tired of it now. Besides, the key thing about this particular tasting is how many top-flight Italian wines it gathers in one room, and I don’t want to let the circumstances of the tasting obscure that. My palate and the collective palate of the Tre Bicchieri judges don’t always agree 100%, but those guys sure get an awful lot right, so a collection of almost 200 top-ranked wines amounts to an event to pay serious attention to, no matter how many people you have to elbow aside to do it.

Not that even under the best circumstances I could manage to taste all 200 in one afternoon, but I did my best to get to a reasonable assortment of old-favorite, regular prize winners and some of the new kids on the block. I was impressed by everything I tasted, without exception. I don’t get the chance to say that often, so let me repeat it: Every single wine I tasted that snowy afternoon deserved its Tre Bicchieri designation. Here are the ones I tried: first reds, then whites.




From Basilicata

Re Manfredi’s Aglianico del Vulture Manfredi 2013, a wonderful example of a grape I love

From Piedmont

Elvio Cogno’s Barolo Bricco Pernice 2011, another masterpiece from winemaker Valter Fissore

Bruno Giacosa’s Barbaresco Asili Riserva 2011, one of Barbaresco’s finest crus, beautifully rendered

Elio Grasso’s Barolo Ginestra Casa Maté 2012, benchmark Barolo, as always from this estate

Giacomo Fenocchio’s Barolo Bussia 90 Dì Riserva 2010, macerated 90 days on the skins, with consequent depth and intensity

Oddero’s Barolo Bussia Vigneto Mondoca Riserva 2010, a classic Barolo of a great vintage

Vietti’s Barolo Ravera 2012, a lovely, beautifully balanced wine with potentially great longevity (and I also liked Vietti’s very nice but not prize-winning Barbera d’Asti La Crena 2013)

From Sicily

Palari’s Faro Palari 2012, year after year the best red wine made in Sicily, in my opinion (and the 2012 Rosso del Soprano is right on its tail in quality: It got Due Bicchieri)

Planeta’s Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico Dorilli 2014, a lovely light-bodied wine, refreshing and vigorous

From Tuscany

Boscarelli’s Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Il Nocio 2012, as always an elegant, complex wine

Castellare di Castellina’s I Sodi di San Niccolò 2012, graceful and lovely Sangiovese from winemaker Alessandro Cellai

Castello di Volpaia’s Chianti Classico Riserva 2013, medium-bodied, perfectly balanced, with the elegance that always marks Volpaia

Il Marroneto’s Brunello Madonna delle Grazie 2011, as always from this remarkable cru and maker, a very great wine

Mastroianni’s Brunello Vigneto Schiena d’Asino 2010, maybe the best Tuscan wine at this gathering of greats

Ricasoli’s Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Colledilà 2013, a luscious, juicy wine that drinks far too easily

Terenzi’s Morellino di Scansano Madrechiesa Riserva 2013, very young Sangiovese, with this maker’s trademark balance and elegance

From the Veneto

Allegrini’s Amarone 2012, already big and textured

Bertani’s Amarone 2008 and 2009, both still young and evolving, with great depth and the promise of decades of life

Masi’s Amarone Vaio Armaron Serègo Alighieri 2011, a stunning wine from a great site

Speri’s Amarone Vigneto Monte Sant’ Urbano 2012, another fine example of what seems to be a great year for Amarone

Tenuta Sant’Antonio’s Amarone Campo dei Gigli 2012, an infant Hercules


I doubt anyone is surprised by the fact that Italy is producing so many fine red wines, but for me the best news of the day was how superior so many white wines showed themselves to be. Every single one I tasted had distinct varietal flavors joined to genuine goût de terroir. This for me was the most fun of the afternoon, and I kept switching from big reds to whites of every kind to keep my palate fresh. (It worked for a couple of hours, then I gave out.)


From Alto Adige

Abbazia di Novacella’s Valle Isarco Sylvaner Praepositus 2015, a stunning, fresh, and vigorous wine from a grape of usually no great distinction, this year slightly better than the Abbazia’s normally superb Kerner Praepositus

Produttori San Michele Appiano’s Pinot Grigio St. Valentin 2014, high-altitude, rounder than usual PG – a real dinner wine

Produttori Valle Isarco’s Sylvaner Aristos 2015 – this seems to have been Sylvaner’s year; a lovely, lively wine

From Campania

Marisa Cuomo’s Costa d’Amalfi Furore Bianco 2015, a lovely, fragrant dinner wine coaxed from postage stamp-sized terraced vineyards along the steep Amalfi coast

Fontanavecchia’s Falanghina del Sannio Taburno 2015, lovely, characteristic Falanghina, invigorating and lively

Pietracupa’s Greco di Tufo 2015, medium-bodied and deeply flavored, with strong mineral accents, a fine wine, almost as good, in my opinion, as the same maker’s Fiano di Avellino, which didn’t get Tre Bicchieri

From Friuli Venezia Giulia

Livio Felluga’s Bianco Illivio 2014, a masterful blend of Pinot bianco, Chardonnay, and the native Picolit, sapid and intriguing

Primosic’s Collio Ribolla Gialla di Oslavia Riserva 2012, one of the briefly fashionable orange wines, but better than simple fashion: intense, distinctive, rich, and with the right food incomparable

Russiz Superiore’s Collio Friulano 2015, a lovely medium-bodied, deeply flavored (hints of almond) example of Friuli’s native grape

Torre Rosazza’s Pinot Grigio 2015, what PG used to be, fresh, vigorous, almost rambunctious

From Lazio

Casale del Giglio’s Antium Bellone 2015, distinctive, flavorful wine from an almost disappeared variety that merits preservation (Charles Scicolone has written about this estate here)

From the Marches

Cocci Grifoni’s Offida Pecorino Guido Cocci Grifoni 2013, a lovely wine from a variety that had been in danger of disappearing

Velenosi’s Offida Pecorino Rêve 2014, another fine example of the same grape variety, medium-bodied and mouth-filling; very enjoyable

From Sardinia

Vigne Surrau’s Vermentino di Gallura Superiore Sciala 2015, textbook Vermentino, fresh and bracing

From Sicily

Cusumano’s Etna Bianca Alta Mora 2014, capturing beautifully the volcanic nuances of Etna’s slopes

Tasca d’Almerita’s Sicilia Carricante Buonora Tascante 2015, a very characteristic version of Etna’s great white grape

From the Veneto

Pieropan’s Soave Classico La Rocca 2014, always the finest cru from this consistently great producer

Graziano Prà’s Soave Classico Staforte 2014, one of many excellent cru Soaves from this producer, all fresh, enjoyable and very age-worthy


There were many more wines to taste, but I had about reached my limit for tasting accurately and for elbowing, so I trudged my way back home through the remnants of the snow storm. I wish I had had the capacity for more, because I’m sure there were more discoveries to be made and reported on. Ars longa, vita brevis. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. Non sum qualis eram, etc. You get the idea: I’d do more for you if I could, but . . .



Bertani: The Old Shall Be New Again

March 9, 2013

The prestigious Bertani firm, famous as a pioneer of Amarone, has recently undergone a major reorganization. A large part of the operation has been acquired by Tenimenti Angelini, which holds several important properties in key wine zones in Tuscany. The Bertani family, headed by Gaetano Bertani and actively led now by his sons Giovanni and Guglielmo, has retained the famous Villa Mosconi and key vineyards in the Valpolicella, Amarone, and Soave zones of the Veneto. These amount to some 124 acres, making them not only one of the largest single landowners in the Veneto, but also one of the few winemakers in the region able to supply all the grapes they need directly from their own vineyards. That – along with their 300 years of winemaking experience – guarantees that they will continue to be major players in the northern Italian wine scene.

Left to right: Giovanni, Gaetano, Guglielmo

Left to right: Giovanni, Gaetano, Guglielmo

Giovanni Bertani was in New York recently to explain the new arrangements and to introduce some of the family’s new labels and wines. The Bertani family wines will now appear under the Tenuta Santa Maria alla Pieve label, and they will continue to be overseen by consulting enologist Franco Bernabei and his son Matteo, an arrangement that now extends into its third generation the links of the Bernabei and Bertani families.

Giovanni explained that his father has long been in love with Merlot and other French wines, so the vineyards around the Villa Mosconi winemaking facility are planted with more French varieties than Veneto natives – Garganega for Soave, but also Chardonnay and Merlot, as well as small amounts of Cabernet franc, Sauvignon, and even Syrah. The Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella, and Molinara necessary for Valpolicella, Ripasso, and Amarone come from their vineyards in the heart of the Valpolicella zone.

Nine Tenuta Santa Maria wines were presented at the event, starting with a very nice and quite characteristic 2011 Soave Lepia, a wine that gave the lie to the claim that a Soave must be a Classico to show real typicity. In its modest way, this wine demonstrated the quality of Bertani’s vineyards and vinification.

Then followed a 2008 Chardonnay Pieve, medium-bodied, round and soft. Despite time in barriques, the wine happily showed no wood at all, but instead a concentration of pleasing white fruit and citrus flavors, suggesting a rather Burgundian approach to Chardonnay.

4 wines

The red wines started with 2010 Rosso Veneto Pragal, a blend of Merlot and Shiraz. The Shiraz definitely showed in the slightly peppery finish, but what I was mostly aware of in tasting this young wine was the kind of elegance that only generations of experience can give.

The second red was a much more traditional and regional wine, 2009 Valpolicella Ripasso, and it was excellent, a lovely, soft wine with a big and very long dry fruit finish – black cherry and funghi porcini. It wouldn’t be wrong to describe it as a modestly scaled Amarone – and I definitely mean that as a compliment.

Decima AureaNext came a mini-vertical of Gaetano’s pet project, Merlot vinified in a modified version of the Amarone method – grapes picked ripe and allowed to dry for some months before crushing, and then fermented long and slow at low temperatures. The wine is called Decima Aurea, and the 2007, 2004, and 2002 were offered. I’d say the experiment was a glorious success. The Amarone process makes Merlot into a more substantial wine than one usually encounters, and does so without losing character, fruit, or softness. These three were fine wines across the board, with the ’02 impressing most – in part because it was the most mature, and in part because it was such a fine wine from what was a pretty dismal, wet year throughout Italy.

Giovanni also showed a 2007 Amarone, about which I’ll reserve judgment. It’s very difficult to tell how so young an Amarone will develop. This one was quite accessible, but didn’t seem fully balanced – a problem that may resolve in a few years, or a few decades.

acinaticoThe final wine of the day was a rarity that showed the continuity of Bertani tradition – a 1928 Acinatico. Acinatico is the old name for what is now called Recioto, a wine ancestral to Amarone. The wine offered at this tasting was one of a small trove of bottles hidden behind a farmhouse wall during WWII – when the wine was already 15 years old – and forgotten until rediscovered during restoration work in 1984. Its storage conditions turned out to have been ideal: the wine is live and fresh and completely mature without any sign of tiredness. It was the tawny brown color of old Madeira, and had a huge aroma of cherry liqueur. The palate was rich and intense – semi-sweet black cherry and chocolate – followed by a very long finish of the same flavors. Lovely and very much alive, it was a pleasure and a privilege to drink.

When a family can make a benchmark wine like that Acinatico, you have got to hope that the genes and the genius, in the vines, the land, and the people, persist for many generations more. Good luck, Giovanni.

Bertani Family's Villa Mosconi

Bertani Family’s Villa Mosconi

A Remarkable Resurrection

September 15, 2009

I’ve just returned from a hard-working, very enjoyable week of visiting wine producers in two Italian zones that deserve every wino’s serious attention: Soave and Scansano. Most of you, hearing “Soave” and “serious attention” in the same sentence, will probably respond, “Is he kidding?” And I think a good number of you will respond to “Scansano” with “What’s that?” But let me give you a quick update on the good things that have been happening in both areas, right now while my impressions are still fresh (I got back less than 24 hours before I started this post). In the usual serving order, white wine comes first, so let’s begin with Soave: I’ll hold Scansano for the next posting.

Rally 'Round the Flag: Wine Writers in Soave

Rally 'Round the Flag: Wine Writers in Soave

Halfway through the last century, Soave was the iconic Italian white wine – light, floral, inexpensive, refreshing, and available almost everywhere. It was destroyed by its great popularity. Demand for Soave outstripped the capacity of its traditional home base, the rolling, castellated hills around the medieval walled city that gives it its name. Vineyards sprouted down in the plains, yields were increased, and the wine became blah – at its worst, acidic water: dull, almost flavorless, uninteresting, and eventually superceded by Pinot Grigio, which has already begun its similar cycle of decay. Soave entered decades of obscurity. I wouldn’t be surprised if many readers have never even heard its name before. But Soave once was a good wine – and my happy discovery of last week is not only that it’s good once again, but that it’s better than ever.

Two things make Soave special: its grape variety and its site. Vinified primarily from Garganega, a variety related to, if not identical with, Grecanico (that helped you a lot, didn’t it?), Soave grows on Italy’s northernmost volcanic soils – the latter a definite plus for most wines, but especially for whites. From the marriage of the two, Soave becomes a medium-bodied, intensely floral wine with enlivening acidity and distinctive mineral inflections, chalky or flinty depending on the particular producer or vineyard.

The whole package is immediately pleasing and immediately attention-grabbing: Even wine beginners recognize that they have something substantial on their palates. The congenial and knowledgeable group of wine journalists I had the pleasure of traveling with frequently made comparisons to Chablis with regard to Soave’s body, acid liveliness, and mineral notes. That seems right to me, with the addendum that because of that marvelous Garganega floral quality in the aroma and flavor, Soave seems even more welcoming and easy to enjoy than the sometimes austere Chablis.

Soave’s growers and their very active Consorzio have been working intensely for years, maybe decades, to restore the prestige of their appellation. They have laboriously preserved very old, naturally low-yielding vineyards – in some parts of the Soave Classico zone (the heart of the traditional growing area, on the slopes of those extinct volcanoes), vines average 50 years and more in age. They take pains to get the grapes to the cellars and into low-temperature fermenters as quickly as possible to avoid oxidation and preserve their freshness and delicate aromatics. They use or don’t use the permitted small percentage of Trebbiano di Soave, the other traditional grape variety, according to their individual sense of whether their vineyards and wine need a little boost of acidity or not.

That means that while I can safely talk about the general characteristics of modern Soave, there certainly are differences and nuances that distinguish grower from grower – which is exactly as it should be in any serious wine zone. I will give a list of the producers whose wines impressed me most. It won’t be exhaustive, because my group was privileged to taste many, many wines, but I hope it will get you pointed in the right direction to discover or re-discover a truly pleasurable white wine.

I’m not going to give tasting notes for any of these wines. I hate tasting notes: they are the soft-core porn of wine journalism. And they’re useless, unless by some miracle your palate should be identical to mine. I may taste blueberries where you would taste asparagus, and there goes that note. Even for me, tasting notes are only valid for the moment I wrote them. Wine changes all the time, and tasters change even more, so the implication that there is any objective truth in any tasting note is at best disingenuous, and at worst – when the writer believes that to be so – fatuous.

So what should the poor harried consumer look for when shopping for Soave without the crutch of tasting notes or scores?  First of all, the designation Soave Classico DOC: That means the wine comes from the very best part of the growing area. Simple Soave DOC – no Classico in the name – probably indicates a wine from the plains. Some of them can be good, but many are undistinguished. Forget about DOCG or Superiore as indicators of quality: Mostly they just guarantee higher alcohol and greater concentration, which often – for my palate – coarsens the wine. And don’t be afraid of a two- or three-year-old Soave: With great acidity and a mineral skeleton, Soave can take bottle age without harm, and often with quite interesting development.

Ballestri Valda
Cantina del Castello
Ca Rugate
Vicentini Agostino (not Classico, but fine)

Any of these makers should provide an enjoyable and quite typical basic Soave Classico DOC. All are capable of much more, particularly with their special selection wines and especially with their cru bottlings. Explore and enjoy!