ITALY: Central & Southern Italia
- Anna Barbolini and
Mauro Buffagni make this amazingly fizzy, lively Lambrusco near Modena in
Modena, of course, is world famous for its Aceto
Balsamico, a carefully-produced, well-aged vinegar. There is Balsamico
and there is real, shockingly expensive Balsamico doled out by the
eye-dropper! Barbolini, by the way, has a small production of
Balsamico aging in the "acetaia" above the winery.
There is also Lambrusco and real Lambrusco. A number of humungous
firms make a simple, light, fruity little beverage that was quite
fashionable a decade or two ago here in the Bay Area.
The Barbolini wine is made of Lambrusco Grasparossa, differentiating itself
from the Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce and the Lambrusco di
Here's a wine with a touch of tannin, accentuated a bit by the effervescence
of the wine. The fragrance is somewhat reminiscent of violets and
This is a great "little" wine (no wine writer would dare give 90
points to such a humble and honest vino rosso!) that's perfect with a spicy
pasta, home-made pizza or messy grilled ribs. As this is quite bubbly,
be sure to thoroughly chill your bottle of Barbolini. Serve it in
clear tumblers or wine glasses. You can, however, be subject to
arrest if you drink this through a straw!
We were recently at a place which had the Barbolini Lambrusco on the wine
list. It was reasonably priced, too, around $26. I ordered a
And I must have been the first customer to have understood the wine as the
server tried a couple of times to caution me.
"Uh, sir, you know, this is not a sweet wine."
"Yes, I'm aware of that."
"Well, sir," he warned me, "this is a really bubbly,
"I sure hope so! I know the wine very well and have visited the
winery." I replied. "It ought to be sensational with your salumi
A few moments later the fellow regained consciousness, since virtually all
the hicks who dine at that lovely place expect Lambrusco to either be akin
to Coca-Cola and sweet or are stunned to find the deep, dark-colored wine
they ordered is bubbling over in the glass.
Currently in stock: Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro (list $17) SALE
view of the winery office from the Acetaia.
signs on the door of Barbolini's office.
- The population which abandons the earth is
- destined to decline.
Balsamico production in the "Acetaia."
We visited the winery again a few years ago and stopped in at 10am
where Mrs. Barbolini-Buffagni had prepared a "power breakfast" of
sorts featuring the local specialties: Prosciutto di Parma, Mortadella, Gnocco
(a sort of bread, not the pasta you know as gnocchi) and, of course, good
"Mama" Barbolini insisting everyone have more food, while
"Dad" opens more bottles.
We don't have their Balsamico, but it is a good one!
- The Zanasi family has long been in Emilia-Romagna and these days the
family vineyards and winery are run by young Marco Uccellari, whose
great-grandpa Luigi Zanasi, got the ball rolling in the late 1800s
with a bit of winemaking.
They currently have 22 hectares of vineyards and the company, under
its current organization, was set up in 1984. It's a short
drive south from Modena, a region famous for its Aceto Balsamico.
The winery is a ten minute drive east of the Ferrari auto
manufacturing facility and the Enzo Ferrari museum.
In the cellar...those are special tanks for making the sparkling wines.
We tasted through the full range of Zanasi wines during our
visit, having been impressed by the wines at a trade tasting event in
Especially good is their "Bruno Zanasi" bottling
of Grasparossa. It's named after Marco's grandfather and it comes from
slightly higher elevation sites, as most vineyards are on the
flatlands. It's inky dark in color and has a beautifully fruity
character. There's a slight bit of sweetness but it's rather high in
acidity, so the balance makes the wine taste rather dry.
Marco suggests serving this with a Pepperoni & Mushroom
Pizza or a platter of Salumi & Cheeses.
It's a remarkably showy bottle.
Currently in stock: ZANASI LAMBRUSCO
GRASPAROSSA DI CASTELVETRO $16.99
They have a modest production of artisan Balsamic
No...we do not have this product for sale.
CANTINA FEDERICI BAIA DEL SOLE
- The Vermentino grape had been quite obscure for American wine drinkers
until the early 2000s when we began seeing quite a few of them. Today
there are numerous examples and you can find this variety all along the
French and Italian Riviera as well as in Corsia and Sardegna where it is
quite an important variety.
We've found many of the Tuscan examples of late to be quite commercial in
that many have some residual sugar which we find bothersome. Of
course, marketing people think this sweetness is their ticket to fame and
The Federici family launched its winery in 1985 and these days, papa Giulio
Federici has his sons Luca and Andrea running the show. They own about
18 hectares of vineyards with 15 more being rented.
The cellars and vineyards are some 15 kilometers southeast of La Spezia and
52 kilometers north and a tad west of Pisa. They're close to the
border of Tuscany in the southern part of Liguria.
Luca Federici works in the cellar while his brother Andrea does
the vineyard work. The winery is quite close to the coast and Luca
explained the Colline di Luni region near the cellar is a famous site for
Vermentino. "It's always windy in the mornings," he explained,
"and this brings a salty element to the wines. We also have a
tremendous swing in daytime to nighttime temperatures which helps retain acidity
in the grapes."
He said the diurnal temperature variation is more stark in this Liguria area
than it is in Sardegna's Gallura region.
The vineyards are in small parcels, by the way. You won't see a vast
expanse of rolling vineyards. The Federici vineyards are never treated
with herbicides. They do "integrated pest control" as
well. The grapes, which are entirely harvested by hand, are processed at
the winery and they use a blanket of argon on top of the juice Luca
explained. "This allows us to avoid the use of sulphur at the outset
and our wine ends up with lower levels of SO2
these days than in years gone by. The tanks are all temperature-controlled
and we typically have the white wines bottled by the April following the
The cellar is underground and, in this location, it's below sea level.
This provides great insulation and cooling.
They make some red wines...all are Sangiovese blends.
They're now dabbling in sparkling wine, too.
The floating material is the dead yeast cellars on which the wine is aging
after the completion of its
secondary fermentation in the bottle.
There's a nice tasting room at Federici.
The Federici brothers: Andrea and Luca
We tasted many good wines on our visit to La Baia del
Especially good is the Vermentino coming from the "Sarticola" area, a
sort of "cru" designation for top wines.
The steep vineyard for Federici's Sarticola is about 330 meters above sea level
and the vines are approximately 40 years of age. Soils are mostly schist
with a bit of clay, if you care about the particular terroir. Most
customers simply want to know if the wine is good.
And it is.
We have the 2018 vintage in the shop presently. There's a touch of a spice
note and maybe that hint of "saltiness" in the wine.
Dry...no oak. Classic.
A woman purchased a bottle at our suggestion and she returned a few days later
demanding three more bottles of "whatever that cola wine
was...something-cola is all I remember other than we loved it!"
Currently in stock: 2018 LA BAIA DEL SOLE
"Colli di Luna" VERMENTINO "SARTICOLA" $21.99
Many of their neighbors stop by the winery with empty demijohns to refill
with a fresh pour of Vermentino or Sangiovese.
While we were in the neighborhood, we stopped at a little seaside restaurant
neat the winery.
- The beach outside had a number of sunbathers and people hiking along
is a treasure trove of interesting discoveries. The grand
"old" name in the region was Lungarotti and they make
"pleasant" wines these days.
There's another producer, however, making an
international impact on the market and that would be the "Val di Maggio di Arnaldo
Caprai." This fellow made money in the textile biz and turned those threads
into vineyard land in the Montefalco sub-zone of Torre.
firm started in 1971 with some ten hectares of vines in Montefalco.
Today they have about 136 hectares and then some. Caprai's facility
is modern, clean and efficiently constructed. The work, however,
begins in the vineyard. Caprai collaborates with the Universita di
Milano in clonal research regarding Sagrantino. As a result, the
famous vine nursery company Rauscedo now offers several "Caprai
Clones" of Sagrantino. However, there are more than 50
clones, according to Marco Caprai, who runs the winery.
Caprai, aware of the arrival in the neighborhood of a wave of
"foreign" producers, has planted "new" varieties such
as Spain's Tempranillo and the Rh˘ne Valley's Syrah. They are also
experimenting with densely-planted vineyards, seeing if fewer grapes per
vine enhances wine quality.
The reason many are flocking to this region seems to have more to do with
Sagrantino than anything else. That being said, it is not clear to
me that there is anything extraordinary about the terroir in the
Montefalco zone. This, I suppose, is more testimony to the fine work
being done by a handful of producers, led by Caprai, than anything
Sagrantino is a grape with the highest polyphenols
concentration of any grape variety, meaning the wine's natural tendency is
towards a high level of tannin. It can be more powerful than
Cabernet Sauvignon, for example. Caprai leaves the skins in contact
with the juice for about 30 days, longer than most California
We had often found wines made from the Sagrantino grape to be a real
challenge because the tannin and astringency levels have been so
high. Caprai, with the help of famous winemaker Attillio Pagli,
seems to have come up with a protocol for taming some of the harsh tannins
and offering a wine of greater balance and even a bit of
Apparently the Caprai family cannot count past 25, and so their high-end,
ultra reserve bottling of Sagrantino is called "25 Anni" to
commemorate their 25th anniversary. It's a big, tannic
blockbuster-of-a-red-wine and one which always garners high ratings from the
critics who often measure wine by its height, weight and impact on the
I suppose one can make an argument that if Brunello and Barolo can cost
consumers around a hundred bucks a bottle, this one should, too. And
makes a Montefalco Rosso, an "Umbrian Chianti," if you will.
It's 70% Sangiovese, fortified with 15% each of Sagrantino and Merlot.
They mature this in small French oak for about a year.
The Sagrantino "Collepiano" is the "normal"
bottling of this variety. Collepiano refers to the rolling hills of
the Montefalco area. The wine spends nearly two years in French oak
barriques so there's a nice touch of wood (cedar and vanillin) in this
wine. It's a most impressive Italian red, overshadowed only by the
"25 Anni" bottling.
Caprai also produces a Passito and a Grechetto wine.
- Currently in stock: 2001 Sagrantino di Montefalco Sold
2009 Sagrantino "25 Anni" (A super Reserve designation) $99.99
winery is brand new and it's the property of Saiagricola, a subsidiary
of the SAI insurance firm. It's impressive that such a large
firm would have investments in such a risky business as agriculture!
The firm owns estates in Montepulciano and Montalcino, along
with an agriturismo estate where they happen to produce sunflower seed
and olive oils. There's also a rice farm in Piemonte!
Colpetrone is a modern-styled Sagrantino wine. I first
tasted this on an Umbrian excursion in 2002. It was a 1998
Colpetrone and the wine was most impressive. They seem to have a good idea
of quality, as even the somewhat challenging 2002 vintage yielded a deep, rich
The first vintage was 1996 and the property had a mere 5
hectares of vineyards. Today there are some 63 hectares under vine and
with the 2002 vintage they produced 58,000 bottles. This jumps to about
200,000 bottles with the harvest of 2003.
The winery, a bit off the beaten path in the outskirts of Gualdo Cattaneo, is
open for visitors.
Monday through "Fry-day".
The morning of my visit they were racking the wines in the cellar and
cleaning the barrels.
Barrels in this facility have a 3 year cycle. They
typically are replacing about 33% of their barrels annually. We went back
to their tasting room to have a first-palate "look" at the wines.
The 2004 Sagrantino strikes me as perhaps a bit more
"Umbrian" and slightly less of an internationally-styled wine than
many of the previous vintages. We've enjoyed the overtly oaky character of
earlier versions, but the 2004 seems less cedary and vanillin and somewhat more
like a big, brooding Sagrantino. There's a mildly earthy quality and some
woodsy, brushy notes on the nose. The wine is fairly robust on the palate
and almost hinting at Barolo to a small degree (though darker in color and
bigger)...It will be interesting to see how this wine evolves. We like it
now with roasted or grilled red meats. It will probably develop nicely
over the next 3-6 years and may even soften a bit.
Currently in stock: 2004 COLPETRONE
"Sagrantino di Montefalco" (List $60) SALE
you're in need of some wine for your upcoming exorcism, you really should
consider the wines of this Umbrian estate!
Owned by the Pambuffetti family, this winery has about 130 hectares of
various crops, including sunflowers, sugar beets, olives and grains.
They currently cultivate about 30 hectares of vineyards. Pambuffetti
is a name that is synonymous with the town of Montefalco. There's a
Villa Pambuffetti which features a hotel, restaurant and cooking school.
Back in the 17th century, there was, apparently, some sort of
exorcism carried out here. The legend is that some young woman was
possessed by the devil and the exorcist had her drink some of the local
wine. Problem solved, apparently. The place then took the name
"Scaccia Diavoli" and the legend continues.
In the 19th century, Prince Ugo Boncompagni built a large winemaking
facility. My tour guide at Scacciadiavoli made a big deal of pointing out
Ugo's initials being still emblazoned all over the facility.
UB - Ugo Boncompagni.
They have a nice facility for fermenting their wines.
This was "state of the art" in 1909!
Quite a contrast between today's winemaking and that of a hundred years ago.
We have tasted a few good wines of this estate.
They make "Montefalco Rosso," a sort of "Umbrian
Chianti," if you will. It's about two-thirds Sangiovese and the rest
is Merlot with a bit of Sagrantino. It ends up being a nice bottle of
wine, if different from classic Chianti or Tuscan Sangiovese. There's a
cherryish aspect to the 2005 and it has a bit of spice, too. Oak is not
noticeable here for my taste. It's a medium+ bodied red which is drinkable
now and ought to remain good for another few years.
More profound, as one would expect, is their Sagrantino. The 2012 is deep,
dark and will stain whatever you spill it on. The wine is teeming with
sweet berry fruit and vanillin notes from the oak. It's nicely balanced,
being round and not as aggressive or earthy as many Sagrantino wines. It's
quite a rich and powerful wine. You can drink the 2012 now and, I suspect,
over the next decade. It's been interesting to taste their wines over the
past decade as clearly they are making wines of greater balance (between fruit
and oak as well as in terms of tannin).
We also have a bottle or two of their exceptional Passito. This is a sweet
wine...Sagrantino made sweet was, at one point in time (and not so long ago),
"the" prominent expression of this grape. I suspect this was
because winemakers had difficulty making a red wine of balance back in the 'dark
ages.' Anyway, a number of winemakers still make sweet examples of
Sagrantino and Scacciadiavoli's is quite good. It's served in place of
Port or Banyuls, so pairing it with a blue-veined cheese or chocolate dessert is
Currently in stock: 2005 SCACCIADIAVOLI
"Montefalco Rosso" Sold Out
2012 SCACCIADIAVOLI "Sagrantino" $44.99
2003 SCACCIADIAVOLI "Passito" $47.99 (375ml bottle)
FATTORIA COLLEALLODOLE (Milziade
- As you can see by their label, this estate is a bit "hands on"
and somewhat old fashioned. This has brought the Antano family,
then, a good deal of fame amongst fans of "old school" Italian
The property is located near Montefalco in the town of Bevagna. The
story begins in the late 1960s when Milziade Antano purchased around 30
hectares on which to raise some cattle and cultivate a few vineyards.
The 1975 vintage was their first and some years later they discovered the
novelty of putting wine in smallish glass bottles, rather than selling
wine in demijohns.
Milziade's son Francesco grew interested in the business of winemaking and
in 1997 he made the moderately famous "Sagrantino Colleallodole"
which is a made up name referring to the hill of the larks...these little
birds which pass through the region on a migratory excursion around the
middle of October.
Today the estate comprises 40 hectares, but only 12 of these are
planted with vines.
We're fans of their Sagrantino "Colleallodole", a wine
of which they make precious few bottles. We understand the production
tallies to maybe 1300 bottles...Some people refer to this as a "vin de
garage," but aside from its small production, it doesn't have much in
common with the gobs-o-fruit Bordeaux wines heralded to excess by the American
wine critic Robert Parker. Still, I'd expect Mr. Parker to
have an appreciation for this wine as it is typically big, potent and a bit high
in octane and tannin.
It's made entirely of Sagrantino and it's matured for about 3 years...15 months
in wood (large cooperage such as puncheons) and then another 15 months in
stainless steel tanks before bottling. Then it's kept for six more months
before they parcel out the few bottles they make.
The Antano family also produces a few other wines, but we have
solely the Colleallodole presently.
Currently in stock: 2004 MILZIADE ANTANO Sagrantino
"Colleallodole" Sold Out
Colli Piacentini is in the hills southwest of Piacenza in the Emilia-Romagna
Some have called the Emilia-Romagna region Italy's gastronomic capital, for
it does offer some delectable food items: Prosciutto and
Parmigiano-Reggiano from Parma and Balsamico (vinegar) from Modena.
Bologna, which is known as Bologna La Grassa (the fat), produces
Mortadella and Sfogline pasta. Wine production is all over the
Emilia-Romagnan map. Lambrusco accounts for a large part of the
We've taken note of an improvement in other wines from the area. The
Molinelli estate is large, with something like 2,200 hectares. Only
40, or so, are in vineyards, however.
Molinelli is a producer of an appellation that's rarely been imported called
"Gutturnio." These are a blend of Barbera with about 20%
Bonarda. The zone of production is split amongst three regions, the
best quality apparently coming from near the town of Ziano Piacentini...that's
where Molinelli is located, close to Lombardia.
Molinelli's Gutturnio is called
"Monte Po," a medium-bodied red that's dry and
smooth. It's less acidic than most Piemontese Barbera or Tuscan
Sangiovese, for example. The first vintages we had were nicely oaked
and woodsy...the current wine shows much less oak and it's less distinctive.
We can special order it for you and we have orders coming, typically,
every-other-week from the importer.
They're about $12 a bottle (and shipping, if you require that service, is
- Currently in stock: MOLINELLI Gutturnio "Vigna Monte
Po" Special Order Item...$144/case (this
works out to $12/bottle) and there's a 10% case discount.
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