We honour the wines of Italy today with empathy and optimism: soon the cafes will reopen, the wine will flow and the music will start again. The things that make Italy one of the world’s hearts will return as vibrant and vital as ever - I will be at the front of the line to drink it all in.
Salute. We begin with the Italian Red Wine Of The Year, as chosen by Italians:
Piaggia Carmignano Riserva 2016, Carmignano, Tuscany. Boasting roughly the same Sangiovese-to-Cab/Merlot blend as Tignanello, the wines from the village of Carmignano are still Terra Incognita to many Canadian wine collectors but by rights they shouldn’t be: the true Tuscan values are in the hinterlands and this 2016 Riserva by Piaggia is an elegant, nearly-perfect tribute to that northern terroir. Carmignano’s Cabernet Sauvignon plantings go back to the 1500s when one of the Medicis became queen of France, and she imported her favourite French grapes to these hills that overlook Florence from the north-west; It’s weird that so many Tuscan traditionalists freaked out in the 1970s when the Antinoris blended Sangiovese with Cab – that same so-called Super Tuscan formula had been baked into the Carmignano cake for centuries. Dried and fresh cherries sing lead on this track but they let others take solos: blood orange, mint, plum and lavender all get to belt out a line or two. Repressed intensity follows on the layered palate, the structure is dense but not angry, a good deal of fruit comes back onto the long finish, accompanied by its fondue-friend Chocolate. This is actually pretty tasty now but I suspect a future legend – 20 years cellaring time is possible, 4 years is advisable. Remember when you saw the ads for The King’s Speech and you thought “Oh that’s obviously going to win the Oscar”? This. Red Wine Of The Year: Gambero Rosso. 5 6-packs available, $65.98 +tax
Salcheto Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2015, Montepulciano, Tuscany. A wolf in sheep’s clothing. Because of Michele Manelli’s dedication to sustainable everything, the wines are packaged in diminutive, unassuming bottles that don’t even look like they could hold 750ml (they do) so as to decrease the carbon footprint needed to ship them. We carry wimpy little White Zins with more imposing bottles than this. It’s all a trick, however: like a hand grenade wrapped in a pink scrunchie, the wine trapped inside is a beast of many claws – I can’t believe it hasn’t already escaped given that the bottle’s so thin. Deep notes of iron and smoke hover above the black fruits and violets, you can almost smell the sunburnt soil through the plums. Carries the same body and structure as a Saint-Estephe, or maybe a tractor… This Sangiovese needs further imprisonment – 2 years should do the trick – but will be quite stunning on the other side of that. #11 – Top 100 of 2019, Wine Enthusiast, 94 points Wine Spectator, 4 6-packs available, $44.98 +tax
Tenuta San Jacopo Caprilius 2015, Valdarno, Tuscany. Remember how “Montepulciano” is the name of a grape and the name of a Tuscan wine village, but the Montepulciano village grows Sangiovese and the Montepulciano grape is never grown in Tuscany? Ok, forget all of that because this is a Tuscan wine made out of Montepulciano, oopsy. Besides being a fish-out-of-water, oh-no-the-Ghostbusters-crossed-the-beams kind of specimen, Caprilius is actually quite delicious, and certainly pushes the pleasure buttons earlier and more frequently than the last two wines. Big, round and loveable with spiced blueberries and blackberries, this is a rich, opulent wine from just outside the Chianti appellation, bursting with body and just generally in a good mood. Didn’t know the Montepulciano grape could get this large. Sheer concentration will allow aging but there’s no waiting period, this is a way-tasty little paradox already. 97 points (Platinum) Decanter, 3 6-packs available, $64.99
Trinoro Le Cupole 2017, Val d’Orcia, Tuscany. What’s the name of that thing that always stands back up with a smile after it gets punched? Oh, right: Trinoro. The 2017 growing season was so hot and dry in southwestern Tuscany that proprietor Andrea Franchetti said that the “Val d’Orcia became the Sahara, the grapes were all skins!” As a result, the 2017 red wines from Trinoro are denser, deeper and darker than Goth eyeliner, and the hydric pressure on the vines led Andrea to let Merlot drive the bus in Le Cupole, instead of the usual leader Cabernet Franc, whose berries looked like Voldemort after all the Horcruxes were broken. Le Cupole 2017 is a rich, ripe affair despite the drought, the velvety Merlot brings the love and the co-stars Cab Franc and Petit Verdot bring the brisk balance. Leathery plums and blackberries rule the roost. This has been a super popular wine in my Vintage Room for years, I’m sure many of you have older vintages in your cellars, but I guarantee you’ve never had one quite like this. 93 points Robert Parker, 2 cases available, $57.98 +tax
Dal Forno Romano Amarone della Valpolicella 2012, Valpolicella, Veneto. I keep telling people that I’ve never been run over by an Italian sports car, but I’ve drank Dal Forno so maybe that’s not true. The apprentice to Giuseppe Quintarelli has emerged as the King of Precision and Munitions: Romano Dal Forno’s chromed drying rooms (called Fruttaios) look like NASA test chambers, and his wines taste like the universe - vast and unending. Romano took the rustic, local Amarone practices and used new tech to refine each of them to maximum effect. In fact, “maximum” is the word that applies to every aspect of his winery and wines, soup to nuts. This is the maximum extraction, power, pigment, intensity and longevity that humans can wrest from the local grape varieties Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara. If Romano were permitted to start with a heavier grape like Cab, our known universe would fold in on itself. Sweet spice, brandied cherries and charcoal dominate the nose, the body and finish both scream “Ozymandias!” for hours. The sheer concentration and price preclude it from being a Wednesday Wine (but oh, what a Wednesday), as does the fact that he makes hardly any wine – I was allocated one six-pack and already sold one bottle. 97 points James Suckling, 96 points Robert Parker, 96 points Decanter, 5 bottles available, $534.98 +tax
Domini Veneti Vigneti di Jago Amarone della Valpolicella 2013, Valpolicella, Veneto. The Jago hamlet overlooking Negrar, north of Verona, supplies the Corvina-led fruit salad that comprises this friendly dragon. Started in 1989 by an established co-op (co-ops are owned by grape growers) called Cantina di Negrar, Domini Veneti’s mission was to start making amazing wines, standing apart from the starkly functional wines that the co-op was famous for (some co-ops make really good wine but they are often Purveyors of Meh). You can’t just “decide” to make great wines, can you? It doesn’t work like that, does it? Evidently it can work exactly like that because the wines from Domini Veneti have been stellar pretty much since the starting pistol. Their emphasis on terroir – not a priority of even some of the best Amarones – has been a calling card, and this wine from Jago sings. The expected dark fruits are balanced by citrus rind astringency and a truly exotic nose tied together by tobacco and vanillin. They don’t submit to American reviewers but they’ve racked up some European awards: Gold – Mundus Vini, Platinum/Best In Show Decanter World Wine Awards, 97 points Decanter, 2 6-packs available, $91.98 +tax
Pieropan Calvarino Soave Classico 2016, Soave, Veneto. An intensely perfumed, balanced white wine grown in volcanic soil (the Calvarino vineyard), and one of the last wines made by Leonildo 'Nino' Pieropan, considered by most to be the Father of Soave. Nature gave Leonildo a gift for Pieropan’s 45th anniversary harvest: a long, mild, dry autumn where the thick skins of Garganega got extra hang time to soften and collect knowledge and wisdom; the nose is teeming with lime zest, marzipan and stone fruit, accompanied by smoke, stones and spice. Big, dry footprint in the mouth, balanced by elegant acidity, amaze-balls. #6 – Top 100 of 2019 Wine Enthusiast, 96 points Wine Enthusiast, 94 points Robert Parker, 3 6-packs available, $41.98 +tax
I’ve lucked into a few library releases lately, I share these with you now:
Carpineto Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva 1989 and 2007, Montepulciano, Tuscany. One of the leading names in Vino Nobile has released a few glimpses into the past (or into the future, if you scored some of the famous 2013s and want to taste what’s in store). The 1989 is astounding, showing dried violets and forest floor with fresh berries poking up ever so faintly, a good amount of anise on both nose and palate, the acidity is almost intact although the tannins are minimal. A shade peppery on the finish also. The 2007 is a teenager and can’t be told what to do. Red currant and green peppercorn abound, pushing slightly past the espresso and cherry. A nice head start on aging, here, but there’s certainly an argument to be made that it could use a couple more spins in the cellar, the body and acidity are nicely balanced but you can see the tannins from space. My money is on the 2007 being astounding in 2023. Neither vintage was reviewed insofar as I could find.
1989: 1 wooden 6-pack available, $87.98 +tax
2007: 2 wooden 6-packs available, $150.98 +tax
Brancaia Ilatraia Toscana I.G.T. 2007, Maremma, Tuscany. A generous, gorgeously layered Toscana directly in the downtown of Awesomeville, timing-wise. Cabernet Sauvignon with Sangiovese and Petit Verdot all get together to sing songs about how amazing you are, and how they loved spending a year and a half in French Oak (“it was so toasty” they sing) and how they used to be really angry but then they spent a long time in a bottle thinking about life and now they just want to spread joy. Then blueberries and vanilla beans show up and dance really inappropriately but it’s ok because things were different in 2007 and they don’t know better. You’re welcome. 96 points Wine Spectator, 2 6-packs available, $100.98 +tax
Antinori Tignanello Toscana I.G.T. 2007, Chianti Classico, Tuscany. We had Alessandro from Antinori here for a tasting in November and it was great and he was dreamy and we all had a good time but the wines didn’t get here on time for the tasting. “No problem” I said, “just fill out the order forms and we’ll order you all the back-vintaged Tignanello that you could possibly desire”. Sigh. Those were simpler times and I was a different man, so full of hope and faith. Then I went through the experience of trying to procure specific vintages of the same wine, refracted through two separate but equally opaque bureaucracies, and now I’ve grown my beard out and I only wear T-shirts of Che Guevara getting eaten by a lizard-person. It was a mess, nearly nobody got what they wanted, but I did seem to come out the other side with 4 bottles of the 2007 that aren’t spoken for. It’s a classic vintage, one of my favourites, very much drinking like a million bucks. Have at ‘er, folks. 95 points Robert Parker, 4 bottles available, $229.98 +tax
Until next time, Happy Drinking!