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WALDGRIES

The Waldgries winery has an ancient cellar and it's located about 10 minutes from the center of Bolzano, the main city of Italy's Alto Adige.

Here the people speak German as their first language and there's elements of the precision of German organization to the region.

Kids growing up here are introduced to the Italian language when they're six years of age.  At the age of 12 they may start to learn a third language: English.

The Waldgries cellar dates back to the year 1242...imagine that!  Here in Burlingame, California we view some bungalow that's 60 or 70 years old as being an historic building and Christian Plattner is making wine in a cellar that's nearly 800 years of age!

The estate is situated in a zone that's esteemed for a wine called St. Magdalener which is based on the grape known as Schiava.  It is typically fortified with a small percentage of Lagrein to create a delightfully berryish and chillable red.

Plattner's estate is viewed by many as a benchmark for this wine and if you taste this berryish red, you'll likely be seduced by it.

The Waldgries estate comprises about 7.5 hectares as of 2018 and he makes Sauvignon Blanc of note from vines in Appiano, some 20 minutes' drive to the west but at a good level of elevation.  That wine is spot on.

He's got a couple of versions of Lagrein that are quite good and there's a Moscato Rosa that's very impressive.  His recipe includes late-picked Moscato Rosa grapes mixed with a healthy percentage of fruit that is dried to concentrate the sugar.  

We're big fans of the St. Magdalener wine.  He does some whole-berry fermentation for this so you'll find an element in the wine that's reminiscent of good Beaujolais.  The 2016 vintage has about 6% Lagrein and it's a basket of red fruits. 

No oak.

Cherries.  Raspberries and Strawberries...maybe some red currants, too.

It's the sort of wine that is at home on the warm-weather picnic table.  It pairs handsomely with all sorts of salumi (when it's served lightly chilled).  You could put it on the Thanksgiving dinner table.  
We suggest serving this wine lightly chilled as you would a Beaujolais or Pinot Noir.

Currently in stock:  WALDGRIES 2016 ST. MAGDALENER  SALE $19.99

There's an old stairway to the ancient cellar that's well below ground.


We're fairly certain they didn't use small French oak back in the 1200s.

There's interesting art work all around the winery.


Does anybody really know what time it is?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GIROLAMO DORIGO
We've been fans of the Dorigo wines since "discovering" them back in the mid-1980s.  I had attended VinItaly and was scouting for wines two decades ago when I tasted the most remarkable portfolio of this Friulian estate.  

They have been making good wines for many years (Girolamo is the "old timer" on the left, along with his son Alessio and daughter Alessandra).  I recall a magazine article about Dorigo and how he was teased by people calling him "Monsieur" since he was such a fan of good French wine.  He makes a delightful Bordeaux blend and some of his other reds actually resemble nice Bordeaux wines.  Dorigo also produces a Champagne-like spumante as well as nicely-oaked Chardonnay and Pinot Nero.



They have two vineyard sites.  One is called Ronc de Juri, the name Juri referring to the family which owned the place for several generations before Dorigo got there.  The other vineyard is Montsclapade which refers to the "divided" mountain or hill.



Dorigo makes an amazing array of wines.  From bone dry, bottle-fermented bubbly to dry whites to bold reds and golden dessert wines.




We recently found the dry white wine from the Ribolla Gialla grape to be especially interesting and price-worthy.  This grape variety has a very long history in this region and there are references to it going back to the 12th century!  

The grape is typically planted in soil that's known as "ponca," a stratification of marl and sand with a base of lime.   It was, according to the history books, a grand wine and quite popular for hundreds of years.  All sorts of fairly famous characters of the day were offered Ribolla.  Imagine the ocean of pretty ordinary Chardonnay that's made in California as the  white wine that's fashionable today.  Some might claim humanity has taken a step (or two) backward since the days when Ribolla was the wine of kings, dukes and emperors!

The various, famous vintners who practice traditional "Slovenian" vinification are said to produce wines which can age magnificently for decades.  Dorigo makes one that's a delight in its youth, the wine being fermented in stainless steel and left on the spent yeast for several months.  The grape is known for its racy acidity and we suspect that's one reason we enjoy this so much.  It's perfect partnered with seafood, from Asian-styled plates to something as simple as fried calamari.  You'll find a minerality similar to Sauvignon wines from France's Loire Valley or Chardonnays from Chablis.  There's nothing quite like this made locally.


Most Americans are unaware that Friuli produces a considerable amount of Merlot.  Its Bordeaux 'cousins', Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, are also prominent in the region.  (Old vineyards of Cabernet Franc are thought to actually be Carmenere.  Interesting, since in Chile, what they thought was Merlot is actually the Carmenere variety!)  Since we first tasted Dorigo's Cabernet Franc in the late 1980s, they've figured out how to cultivate the grapes to obtain more fruity notes and less vegetal elements.  The 2006 is fermented in stainless steel and then matured for a few months in seasoned barriques.  The wine is a real challenger to Loire Valley Cabernet Franc wines and unusually complex.  We like the red fruit elements and the hint of spice in the wine.  It's medium-bodied and beautifully balanced.  You might even use the word "finesse" to describe this.

 

Dorigo has long been making seriously good sparkling wine.  This is, I believe, made of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (Pinot Nero in Italia) with the wine spending a brief period in wood to give it a bit of additional richness.  
Whatever Alessio does, it's a terrific bottle and it arrives here at a very attractive price...try finding this level of complexity in a French Champagne for $24!  

Currently in stock:  2009 DORIGO Ribolla Gialla Sold Out
2010 DORIGO Pinot Grigio Sold Out
DORIGO Brut Classico  $23.99  (last bottles)




Team Dorigo 2008
Alessandra, Girolamo and Alessio



Team Dorigo 2009

**************************************************


You've seen a Swiss Army Knife...
Here's a version they have in Friuli!

***********************************




VENICA & VENICA

We've long been fans of the wines of the Venica family.  When we began exploring Friuli in the 1980s, Venica was one of the leading producers of white wines.  The estate dates back to the 1930s, but it was in the mid-1970s when the two Venica sons took over for their father.  Now, 30 years later, the new generation of the Venica family is involved, though Gianni and Giorgio still hold the reins.

I've found their red wines to be perfectly pleasant, but overshadowed, frankly, by their white wines.  


Giampaolo Venica shows off their well-kept vineyards and terroirs...


"Ponca" is the particular soil type...

The winery is rather modern and very clean...

The wines are well-farmed and well made.  You'll find nice aromatics in the Venica wines and they are dry, balanced and focused on the particular grape varietal.  
 


The winery is probably most famed for its Sauvignon Blanc wines.  

We chose their Ronco del Cero bottling. This wine captures the bright, mildly herbal character of good Sauvignon.  It's dry, but less steely than a crisply-edged Sancerre, for example.  
We were dining in San Francisco at a currently-fashionable and somewhat "hipster" dining spot.  We scoured the wine list for a good Sancerre or Loire Valley Sauvignon that was well-priced to begin our meal.  Nothing!
How could they not have a nice Loire Valley Sauvignon?
We perused the list and then saw Venica & Venica Sauvignon.  $65 a bottle.  
And they served us their last bottle!  (We hope they re-stocked!)

The 2017 is a blend of five different clonal selections of Sauvignon, as Venica seeks to produce as complex a wine as possible.  It comes from 7 different vineyard sites.
The skins are macerated with the juice for about half a day and after the fermentation the wine remains in contact with the spent yeast for perhaps 5 months.
Oak is not the featured element here, but instead, the Sauvignon is in the spotlight.  It's dry and medium-bodied...very fine!  Got Prosciutto?  (San Daniele is terrific alongside a bottle of Venica's Ronco del Cero!)

 

 
Currently in stock:  2008 VENICA & VENICA Tocai Friulano Currently Sold Out
2017 VENICA & VENICA Sauvignon "Ronco del Cero " $24.99
 

Giampaolo Venica showing off his wines...2018


RONCO SEVERO

The story of this little winery begins officially in 1962 with Stefano Novello's grandfather.   Novello's papa grew grapes and made wine.  

He, Stefano, was not initially in the grape-growing and winemaking business, but in wine sales.   He enrolled in the local wine school in Cividale and by 1988 he had his degree in enology.  Great...he'd further learned from his father, who made traditionally-styled wines.  Novello found the wines to be fine, but they were missing something.  Emotion.  Soul.

He wanted more and soon he took the difficult decision to grow grapes in an organic fashion.  In the cellar he changed the protocol, too and this was not an easy choice as his father, as we understand it, was not thrilled by these changes.

Customers who'd previously enjoyed the wines now found them to be quite different.

By 1999 Novello chose to make wines, both white and red, with skin macerations for an extended time period.  This may be normal for red wines, but for whites it was a radical change.

To backtrack a bit, this part of the world is right on the border of Italy's Friuli and Slovenia.  In this area you'll find famous wineries such as those of Gravner and Radikon, amongst others.

You'll encounter wines grown totally organically and winemaking where people speak in glowing terms about the naturalness of the wines.  As with much talk about "natural" wines, we find frequently strange wines and bad winemaking.  The poor quality is excused, oftentimes, by explanations of "these are how wines were made ages ago" and, therefore, the quality is better using old-fashioned methods.

We recall tasting some really expensive wines from this part of the world and finding the wines to be oxidized and more akin to Sherry from Spain than to the sort of fresh, fruity white wine we typically enjoy.  Paying $50-$100 a bottle for such a wine seemed foolish as good Sherry can be had for a more modest price.

At another trade tasting a noteworthy critic asked what we thought of some sketchy, but famous wines.  We responded with the observation that when the Pinot Grigio and the Merlot have relatively the same color (brown), there's a problem.

Stefano Novello is a winemaker who is fiercely proud of his work in both the vineyard and cellar and, while you may not find his wines to be to your taste, you will have to admit the man is a competent grape grower and quite a skilled winemaker.

We wanted to have a more complete perspective on the wines of Ronco Severo and we visited in 2018.  Novello and his wife Laura welcomed us to their place in the town of Prepotto, close to the border with Slovenia.  You'd be 50 kilometers northwest of Trieste and maybe 20 east of the "big city" of Udine.  

There's a roundabout in Friuli that we find amusing...and there's what is claimed to be the highest chair in world.

You see, Friuli has been a major producer of chairs and the region is famous for the numerous factories.

So if you're wondering what is the story with the logo for Ronco Severo with the youngster who's precariously balanced on the back of the chair. Novello explains that depicts him as a kid.  "It's a metaphor for my winemaking.  It's dangerous to embrace the notions of extended skin contact for white wines and minimal use of sulfur.  If I don't pay precise attention at all times, I could easily fall and fail."

We had made some remarks about some of our experience with these "uber-natural" wines from, not only Friuli and Slovenia, but other parts of the planet and how we didn't find these to be particularly good.  Novello seemed to bristle at our disdain for such wines until he realized we did appreciate good, well-made wine in various styles, including his.

The category of white wines made with being fermented on the skins is called "Orange Wine."  And we have not been fans of some of these wacky wines.  Perhaps if you begin your exploration of the wine world with hazy, cloudy, cidery, vinegary wines you'd have greater interest (or tolerance) for these.

We tasted some really good wines on our visit.

A Ribolla Gialla had spent two months "on the skins" and then two years aging in wood!  It offered clean, bright, fruity notes with yellow fruit tones.  Our German friends, who have spent decades visiting wineries around the world, were surprised to discover this "new" world of wine.  

"We didn't know this sort of wine exists." said Norbert.  

We then tasted young Friulano which was stony and had good, clean flavors.  An older vintage which spent 45 days on the skins had developed some smoky and honeyed notes...also quite good.  

Novello explained that though he's got organic certification, he doesn't really use it as a marketing tool.  

We spoke about some of the odd wines which are in the orange wine category and Stefano said "I want to taste good wine, not defects.  I want the wine to be clean and wholesome."  

Earlier on our research mission we tasted the wines of some French naturalistas and were pleasantly surprised by the good quality and cleanliness of the wines.  As the French had explained, one has to pay attention to every little detail in vinifying and aging the wine.  They pointed out that you can't take your eye off the ball.  Novello sang the same song.  

His wines are not filtered or clarified by any means other than the settling of the sediment as a matter of course thanks to gravity.  "I will bottle my wines according to the phase of the moon.  When the moon is waning, that's a good time to bottle." he explains, saying the wine is more likely to remain clear in its first years in bottle.



We have Novello's Pinot Grigio in stock...and, as you can see in the photo above, it is rather orange in color.  Having spent about a month on the grape skins in tank, the wine does have a fair bit of tannin.  It's got some of the "grip" you'll find if you leave tea in the hot water for an extended period of time, so there's a mouth-drying quality.  You won't find any of the funky, cidery, "dirty" notes of many of these sorts of wines, nor is it oxidized and Sherry-like.

A Croatian wine critic wrote that were Novello making wine in Tuscany or Piedmont (and if he had a modest command of the English language), he would be one of the most famed vintners in Italy!  That writer might be right.

There's a blended white called Severo Biano and it's a blend of Friulano, Chardonnay and a bit of Picolit.  We tasted a ten year old bottle from a vintage Stefano described as a "poor" vintage.  It as matured for a couple of years in botte grande, large wood.  This was quite a good bottle of wine and blossomed nicely in the glass.  A 15 year old bottle was quite complex, showing more woodsy notes.  

He makes some good reds.  We found the Ronco Severo Schioppettino to be  berryish and mildly spicy.  A tank sample of a 2+ year old Merlot was also very fine.

Currently in stock:  RONCO SEVERO 2015 PINOT GRIGIO  $36.99
We can order other Ronco Severo wines for you...





 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

I CLIVI

This little production is the work of Ferdinando Zanusso, a fellow enamored with the rolling hills of his beloved Friuli.  The name, I Clivi, is a reference to the hilly sites from where this producer's wines are cultivated.

The region has long has vineyards and been a source of wine.  Zanusso was intent on finding a vineyard site to make classic wines which might attract some attention.

He found 8 hectares in the area known as Colli Orientali del Friuli in the town of Corno di Rosazzo.  And he found a 4 hectare site in the Collio area town of Brazzano di Cormons.
These sites are about a mile and a half apart and just a few minutes' drive from the Slovenian border.

Zanusso is assisted by his son, Mario.  They have the idea of producing what they call "transparent wines."  That is, they want the wine to show the grape variety, soil and climate without the winemaker putting his fingerprints all over the wine.

We are shown wines during our buyer's hours and so many wines taste like the marketing department sent a recipe to the enologists and requested wines they feel will attract a mass market audience.  And these are perfectly fine bottles for Bev-Mo and the grocery store to sell to folks who are not looking for anything more than a simple bottle of plonk to put on the dinner table.

We've tasted the I Clivi wines and found them to be soulful and compelling.  We've enjoyed a bottle, here and there, with dinner and the wines have been quite enjoyable and thought-provoking.  They're certainly not going to appeal to the Rombauer Chardonnay enthusiast, that's for sure!

They work with Tocai Friulano, these days known simply as "Friulano."  Also in the vineyards of I Clivi you'll find Verduzzo, Ribolla, Malvasia and an old clone of Merlot.  

We were especially enchanted by I Clivi's Verduzzo.  Years ago most of the Verduzzo we'd taste in Friuli was made as some sort of sweet wine.  Partly this was because the grape tends to produce a wine with a certain bitter finish.  Picking it late, many producers made a somewhat honeyed wine and the sugar masked the bitter notes.  

So the 2012 I Clivi Verduzzo is a bone dry white wine and it does have a touch of that faintly bitter note on the palate.  It's from vines of about 60 years of age and the wine is vinified in stainless steel and then aged in stainless in contact with the spent yeast.  No malolactic fermentation as Zanusso is intent on bottling a wine that is "transparent."  This precludes, then, maturing the wine in oak.  
Some describe Verduzzo as a "white wine for red wine drinkers," since it has a little 'bite' to it.  If you want a dry white for that Porchetta you're roasting or the well-seasoned roasted chicken, this is a good candidate for the dinner table."
And you can probably serve some sautéed baby artichokes on the side and these might eliminate that slightly bitter quality of the wine.  
It's a good bottle for "fish & chips," as the wine cleanses the palate and is a good counterpoint to fried food.
The I Clivi Verduzzo is a "thinking person's wine," which means it's a good thing they don't make much*.  Only 3000 bottles are produced annually, typically.  

The other wine of interest is a real rarity.  

When they picked the grapes, the wine was able to be called "Tocai Friulano," but the law changed some years ago and now producers can label their "Tocai" wines solely as "Friulano."

The fruit for this wine was harvested in 2001 when Silvio Berlusconi was in the early days of his first stint as Prime Minister of Italy.  (George W. Bush was in office for about 10 months in his first term.)

"So what's going on here?" you might be asking.  

Well, this wine spent about 12 years in a stainless steel tank on the spent yeast sediment.  The grapes are from the Brazan vineyard and Collio Goriziano  is the appellation or denominazione.  The resulting wine is remarkable.  It sat in tank for precisely 140 months (as noted on the label) and it did, in that time frame, undergo a secondary, malolactic fermentation.   The wine was bottled on the same day they bottled their 2011 vintage Friulano!
Friulano with 10% Malvasia.  

It's an amazing bottle of wine.  It leans a bit in the direction of French White Burgundy on one hand, while on the other, we detect some fragrances and flavors we encounter in really "fine" Champagne.  But, of course, this is not bubbly, yet you'll certainly find some of those notes.

The wine is nicely dry and a bit austere on the palate.  It's quite flavorful.  And the depth and complexity of this wine are quite profound and memorable.

Currently in stock:  2012 I CLIVI VERDUZZO  Sold Out
2001 I CLIVI "BRAZAN" Friulano  Sold Out

* Yes, that's a snarky comment.  


JERMANN

Wine grower and winemaker Silvio Jermann is a living legend.

Italy had long been viewed as 'merely' a red wine-producing country, but several decades ago, Jermann was making a name for himself and putting white wine in front of skeptical wine drinkers who were certain Italy only made red wines and, perhaps, some nice, fruity Muscats.  The family traces its roots back to Austria and Silvio's great grandfather who moved to Friuli in 1881.

Silvio studied winemaking at two famous schools.  He graduated from both the Scuola Enologica in Conegliano as well as the Istituto Agrario in San Michele all'Adige.  Obviously the fellow learned something.


Over the years Jermann's little domain has blossomed remarkably.  Today the vineyard holdings amount to nearly 300 acres!  They produce about 900,000 bottles annually, so the place is no longer a small, little "Mom & Pop" winery.   Despite the level of production, overall quality remains high and many view some of the wines produced by Jermann as reference points.

Curiously, though, they're a bit quirky when it comes to opening the doors of their cellar.  We'd attempted to arrange a visit through some friends who are prominent winemakers in Friuli and on a couple of occasions Jermann would not open the doors.  
We took another tack and, as you can see in the photo below, we were allowed to pay Jermann a visit.
 

The new Jermann facility...
 



 
 

Every winery needs a putting green, no?
 
 



We were delighted to finally see the winery and we snapped a few pictures while waiting for our tour guide to show us around.

Then we learned that Jermann requests visitors refrain from taking any photos in the cellar!
Part of the rationale, as we understand it, is they don't want people to see the place is fairly large.
On the other hand, they do reveal the size of their vineyard holdings and the fact that they make close to a million bottles of wine annually, so this is a bit curious.


Or perhaps the architect does not want competitors to steal their secrets in designing such a monument of a winery?

 


The wine called Vintage Tunina is rather a calling card for Jermann.  Its first year of production was 1973.  I understand the name "Tunina" refers to a lover of Casanova's who was of "humble" heritage and a housekeeper for a wealthy Venetian family.  It's also a nickname for "Antonia" and someone of that name is said to have owned the vineyard way back when...
The wine comes from a vineyard called the Ronco del Fortino and it's an interesting and unique blend of grapes.  Jermann incorporates familiar-to-the-world Chardonnay and Sauvignon with some typically 'local,' Friulano grapes:  Malvasia, Ribolla and Picolit.  The wine sees a bit of wood, though it's not a woody or oaky wine...
You'll find this wine on most wine lists in top restaurants around Italy, whether or not the dining establishment is close to Friuli.  
Now most of Jermann's neighbors make a proprietary wine, too, having seen the price for Tunina.  Imitation is, after all, a form of flattery.


Jermann also dabbles in Chardonnay.  The first vintages were labeled "Where Dreams have no end," a bit of poetic license lifted from the musical group U-2 and a tune called "Where the Streets Have No Name."   Then the wine, after a number of years of production, was called "Were Dreams, not it's just wine!"  Today it's being labeled as "W....Dreams........"   I've tasted this from time to time and find the wine to be perfectly nice, but I've not been enthusiastic enough to buy some for the shop.



While 20 years ago, "Soave" was the popular choice for Italian white wine, today it seems Pinot Grigio is the best seller.
Jermann's is quite good.  The wine comes from two vineyard sites and it's fermented in stainless steel tanks to retain its bright fruit.  The juice, as we understand it, gets a bit of skin contact, but not to the exaggerated degree which some artisan producers (these days) find to be so fashionable. 
We like it's freshness, dryness and crispness.  The aromas are bright, appley and the wine is "Granny Smith" tart on the palate.
It had been available in the market with a list price in the $40 neighborhood, but as customers seem to have moved out of that 'town,' the importer has re-assessed and re-priced.  We have a very attractive and sensible price for you.





Jermann has long been cultivating a tiny parcel of a rare grape called Picolit.  He includes a few drops in Vintage Tunina and Capo Martino, but decided to make the traditional sweet wine from Picolit.    This vine produces a rather sparse crop and it's a lot of work to produce and costly, as well.  The late Luigi Veronelli likened Picolit wines to France's top Sauternes, Château d'Yquem.  I won't make that comparison, but the Jermann Picolit is delicious and has a peach note and a woodsy tone.  It will pair handsomely with foie gras, but it's wonderful with fruit desserts.

Jermann makes some other interesting proprietary wines:

CAPO MARTINO comes from a vineyard of the same name and it's a blend of Tocai, Pinot Bianco, Malvasia, Picolit and Ribolla Gialla.  This is matured in wood...

VINNAE is a white that's either entirely Ribolla Gialla or based on Ribolla with a drop of Tocai Friulano and Riesling Renano.

MJZZU BLAU & BLAU is a red wine based on Blaufränkisch and Pinot Nero.  In Friuli, Blaufränkisch  is known locally as "Franconia."  

RED ANGEL is a Pinot Nero wine...while PIGNACOLUSSE is red made entirely of the Pignolo grape.

Jermann also makes Sauvignon, Riesling and Pinot Bianco.
 

Currently in stock:  2013 JERMANN "Vintage Tunina" SALE $69.99  (Last bottles)
2013 JERMANN PINOT GRIGIO (list $40) SALE $24.99
2006 JERMANN VINO DOLCE  $59.99 (375ml)
We can special order other Jermann wines for you...by the bottle, if you like.



They asked me to sign their guest book...a nice honor!

 



MOVIA

One of the top showmen in the wine business is the owner of the Movia winery, Ales Kristancic. 

One of the most thoughtful vintners in the scene is Ales Kristancic.

We suspect the winery is named Movia because Kristancic is always on the move...

The vineyards and winery are located in Slovenia and Italy's Friuli region.  


That tree is in the middle of Movia's vineyard...
Slovenian vines are to the left of the tree, while the vines to the right of the tree are in Italy.

CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE

We've been fans of Movia's Sauvignon Blanc and have tasted some of their other wines...they're a bit expensive, in our view, but we decided we'd go visit and see what all the fuss is about.

Our visit was exceptional and illuminating.  We tasted some very good wines, but I still think, having tasted some other bottles here at home, that the most reliable is the Sauvignon.



We currently have the 2014 and it's a intensely aromatic dry white with herbal notes and some underlying grassy tones.  It's nicely acidic and fuller than, say, a Sancerre or Pouilly Fume.  We like it with Asian foods and various seafood dishes.  And if you need a bottle of wine that's going to please the "naturalists" and yet still be of good quality, this is a fine choice.

 

 


Their 2014 Ribolla (they call it Rebula) is a classic wine of Slovenia.  Some claim the grape originates in this very area and Kristancic claims it's been cultivated there since the 13th century.  He doesn't appear to be that old, though.
We read one account that the grape may actually be of Greek origins, though you'd never likely hear that from a Slovenian.

 

The grape makes its best wine when the vines are in poor and challenging (for the vine) soils.  Some opportunists have recently had the idea of planting this vine in fertile soils in Italy's Veneto region and maybe they'll try to duplicate the marketing success of Prosecco.  Producers in Slovenia such as Kristancic are horrified by this prospect and will tell you the vine doesn't produce grapes with any special character with high yielding vineyards.

It's said the grape gets its name from the fact that it doesn't fully ferment immediately after the harvest.  The region becomes cold while the wine is in tank in the cellar and this stops the fermentation as the yeast can't do their job at low temperatures.  

When the weather becomes warmer in the spring the yeast wake up and get busy, finishing the fermentation of this sleepy white wine.  So the locals will tell you the wine "re-boils," hence the name Ribolla or Rebula.  We have read, though, the name also translates to "ruby red."  Go figure.

Movia's Ribolla vineyard is close to the winery, so it's brought into the winery shortly after having been hand-harvested.  They prepare a tank of juice early on in the harvest season, so they can inoculate the tanks without using a cultured yeast strain.  The "starter" is a bit of fermenting wine with indigenous yeast and adding this to the Ribolla "must" gets things rolling nicely. The Movia Ribolla gets a bit of skin contact, as is normal for many of the Ribolla wines of the region.  Some producers are fans of extended skin contact, mistaking Ribolla for a red grape apparently.  
We've tasted a number of these "orange" wines and when the wine tastes as nutty and oxidized as a Spanish Sherry, we are not interested in drinking them or recommending them.

((We attended a tasting of wines from an importer of "natural" wines...some were too natural for our tastes, frankly.  A fellow who writes a wine column asked what we thought of some of the wines from one of these natural wineries.  The wines are extremely expensive, too, by the way.  We said when the Pinot Grigio and the Merlot have relatively the same color in the glass, 'Houston, we have a problem.'))

Movia does a good job, though and while he's in the direction of those naturalistas, his wines are (for us) well-made and always interesting and thought-provoking.  But they are routinely commercially viable for most consumers of serious quality wine.  

 

Currently in stock:  2014 MOVIA Sauvignon Blanc $32.99
2014 MOVIA REBULA (Ribolla)  $32.99



 
 
THURNHOF
Andreas Berger is the owner and winemaker at this tiny Bolzano-area estate in the Alto Adige.  He cultivates about 3.5 hectares of vines including Cabernet, Goldmuskateller, Sauvignon Blanc and Lagrein.

The place gets the name "Thurnhof" since there was a tower once upon a time.

Here's an old photo of the place.


The vinification cellar is small, tidy and efficient.

Since he also makes some Cabernet, there's a cellar with small French oak barrels.


Thurnhof is a member of a small group of producers whose aim is "quality."  They have a tasting panel and wines are submitted for the right to have this curious logo incorporated on the bottle.

 

The Lagrein "Merlau" comes from a small parcel which is just south of Bolzano in an area known as Agruzzo.  There's a cooling influence in this site due to the confluence of a couple of rivers.  Berger cultivates both clones of Lagrein and this version, vinified for immediate drinking, is made of "Lagrein a grappolo corto."  Oak is not noticeable here as the wine is matured for a few months in large cooperage and then in small, third passage barriques (so these are rather neutral in terms of wood).  

We like the plummy, violet-like aromas and flavors of this medium-bodied red.  It's the sort of wine which shows nicely at cool cellar temperature.  You can chill it for an hour in the 'fridge and pair this with white meats, pastas or red meat dishes.   Drinking it over the next year or so is ideal.

Thurnhof also produces a dynamite dry white wine made of Muscat.  It's fresh, green, grapey and wonderfully fruity.  I even used it to make a sorbet, adding grated lime zest and some freshly minced cilantro...fantastic!  Pairing this with fresh asparagus is ideal, too.

Currently in stock:  2012 Thurnhof "Lagrein Merlau" Sold Out
2009 Thurnhof Goldmuskateller Sold Out
 

Andreas opens another bottle...
 

 

KUENHOF  (PETER PLIGER)

One of the darlings of Italian wine aficionados is Peter Pliger and his Kuenhof wines.
 
 
 
 
 
 

The property was, at one time, owned by the Church and it was a refuge of sorts for the Bishop of Brixen (or Bressanone, if you prefer).  The Pliger family has owned the place for a couple of hundred years, so they're fairly new to the neighborhood.

Apparently they used to sell the grapes from the estate to the Abbazia di Novacella winery which is run by a religious order, the Order of St. Augustine.  In the early 1990s, Pliger took the plunge and made about 1500 bottles of wine.  And it turned out nicely, so, encouraged by the results, Peter and his wife Brigitte took on the task of renovating and enlarging the cellar at Kuenhof.   From their thousand+ bottles of their first vintage, today they make 25,000 bottles and these are snapped up by groupies around the planet.

I recall tasting the wines some years ago in Italy and finding them to be quite good.  I knew the Pliger wines had been imported by a tremendously greedy importer who jacked up the price to ridiculous levels.  How could someone ask $50 a bottle retail for an Alto Adige Sylvaner or Veltliner, after all?  And I remember the importer telling me "If you want top quality, you have to pay for top quality."  
Except that Pliger did not ask insanely high prices for his wines in those days.  
"How does you wine get so expensive?" I asked him.  
"I'm not certain," he replied.  "Maybe they are wrapped in gold upon arriving in California." Pliger speculated.  And we laughed.

Today there's a far more sane and honest guy importing the Kuenhof wines to California and the prices reflect those asked by the vintner.

The Kuenhof cellars are set up for white wine production on a simple scale with nothing terribly fancy or unusually scientific.  The idea is for the wines to represent the grape variety and the vineyard site.  They're in the Valle Isarco, north of Bolzano, where the wines tend to be light and delicate.  But there's still some weight and intensity to the Kuenhof wines.

Stainless steel tanks for the primary fermentation and cooperage made of acacia wood are found in the cellar.  Pliger's winemaking mentor is/was Ignaz Niedrist, another famous Alto Adige vintner.

We tasted the current line-up and they're all good.  

We especially like the Riesling.  It's a 2014 and the designation is "Kaiton" and the wine comes from terraced vineyards that Pliger is restoring.  It seems the hills did have grapes planted on them years ago, but people stopped cultivating them since the economic rewards were too small to warrant the effort.  
When you consider what this costs and how difficult it is to maintain these vines...the hand labor...the low yields...this wine actually seems like a good value.  But we'll leave it for you to decide, since your mileage may vary.


Pliger is delighted to show off the vineyards near the winery.


They terraced the hills and planted Riesling, an ambitious project.
Pliger credits the local government for helping fund this, saying there's no way a small winery could afford to pay for this.


The winery is spotlessly clean...not a fancy showplace, but a utilitarian cellar.


Der Weinmeister Peter Pliger



The 2014 is presently in stock...delicious!  Stony, dry, flowery, minerally...all the elements we look for in good Riesling.  It wouldn't surprise me to taste this in 5 or ten years and find it to be even more compelling.

Currently in stock:  2014 KUENHOF RIESLING "Kaiton"  $33.99

 

 

ROENO

This is a relatively new winery and it's located about halfway between Verona and Trento.

You'd be close to the border of the Provincia of Verona and the Provincia of Trento.

The name of the cantina is a bit curious.  ENO, comes from the Greek word for wine (οἶνος) and the RO comes from the owner's first name, Rolando.

Rolando Fugatti and his wife started this enterprise decades ago, but these days their three "kids" run the place.  And it's not just a winery.  They have a little restaurant and a Bed & Breakfast place, too.

By the way, this is close to Lake Garda.

We're fans of their Marzemino wine.  This is a curious, but charming red grape which had a lot of history and was once highly-regarded as a wine of some nobility.  Mozart, for example, cites this wine in his opera Don Giovanni.  

 

 

 



It's origins are a bit obscure.  Some thought the grape came from various locales near and far to the east of the Trentino/Verona area.  More recent research suggests that Marzemino is a relative of Teroldego with another grape being a parent.  Some have even suggested the other parent might be Pinot Noir.  

It is certainly a mystery, but what is clear is that this can be a rather charming, fruity dry red.  Think of it as something akin to a Trentino version of Piemonte's Dolcetto.  (In fact, both grapes can be reductive -stinky- and require a measure of aeration to clean them up before bottling.)

La Rua is the vineyard site for Roeno's delightful rendition of Marzemino.  The wine is brightly cherryish and displays other red fruit notes.  It's dry and doesn't have much tannin so, like Dolcetto, it's probably best to enjoy this in its youth.

Currently in stock:  2013 ROENO MARZEMINO  $13.99

 

 

 

 

NARDELLO

Soave isn't exactly the world's most complex white wine.  Back in the 1970s and 1980s, a large factory winery called "Bolla" was hugely successful in promoting its Soave wine.
In fact, they were so successful, many American consumers knew the Soave wine strictly as "Bolla Soave," much like some people view all photocopies as "Xerox" and tissues as "Kleenex."

Yes, Bolla's Soave was the height of sophistication, once upon a time.  It was a thin, light, fairly innocuous wine and if you were drinking Italian white, you were probably drinking Bolla Soave.  
In those days, by the way, Wente Bros. Grey Riesling was a hot ticket and so was Louis Jadot's Pouilly-Fuisse.

Well, the Nardello family doesn't make your father's Soave!

These days, though, there are several good producers of Soave, a wine that comes from vineyards near the fabled city of Verona.   A noted vintner named Robert Anselmi even stopped calling his wine "Soave," as he was so annoyed by the watery plonk bottled by many of the large wine factories in the region.

Today, though, Gini, Pieropan and Inama are all good names associated with Soave.  
We'd like to add the Nardello name to that short list.

The Nardello family has owned vineyards in the Soave area for generations.  These days, Federica and Daniele Nardello run the place, taking care of 14 hectares of vineyards.  They're situated between Monteforte's Monte Zoppega and Soave's Monte Tondo.  The older vineyards are cultivated using the time-honored, crazy vine-training system of the Pergola Veronese.  This encourages over-production and accounts for fairly innocuous wines.
The newer vines planted by the Nardello family are trained using the Guyot system...using wires and certainly pruning the vines for more sensible yields in order to have higher quality wine.

The Monte Zoppega area has particular soils which are of volcanic origins and have more clay than other Soave sites.  The Nardellos credit this terroir with producing wines of greater intensity and aging potential, not that we buy Soave with cellaring in mind.

In fact, we have the wonderfully youthful 2014 vintage of Nardello's Turpian Soave Classico in the shop.  The wine is made of the Garganega grape, blended with 30% of Trebbiano di Soave..  The wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks and then left on the spent yeast sediment until it's bottled in March.

We find this to be a delightfully simple and satisfying, especially with light seafoods, pastas, seafood or vegetable risotto, etc.    

Currently in stock:  2014 NARDELLO SOAVE CLASSICO "Vigna Turpian" $13.99



 





VIGNALTA
Colli Euganei are some hills located south west of Padova.  These are the result of volcanic activity which means the soil can be ideal for vineyard cultivation.  Unfortunately, the region hadn't been home to much in the way of "world class" wine.  Most of the stuff made there is what the British call "plonk," perfectly suitable for a spaghetti feed, but hardly of the caliber you'd feel comfortable in setting on the table for special guests.

We drove from Friuli to Verona one summer's day and made a short stop at Vignalta.  They have an enoteca to show off their wines in the town of Luvigliano di Torreglia.  The winery is up in the hills, though, of Arqua Petrarca.  It's quite a drive to the winery, especially since they keep a low profile and have no signs to guide you along the road!

The hills of the Colli Euganei feature two vastly different soil types.  One is volcanic, while the other is limestone.  The property comprises some 50 hectares and they have about 5 major vineyard sites. 
 


The region has been cultivating grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc for many years.  Most vineyards have been cropped for quantity production, so the region had never been esteemed for anything better than standard "vino da tavola." 

Vignalta has a small parcel of Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, along with its Bordeaux varieties, Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay and Moscato.  Crop levels are managed to sensible yields to achieve good results.  You'll find a "middle" to most of the wines at this estate.

The name "Vignalta" is certainly appropriate, as the winery is located high up in the hills, but it's quality of wine is certainly a great deal higher than its neighbors, too.  Two friends Franco Zanovello and Lucio Gomiero comprise the Vignalta "team."  They started the winery in 1986 and have gained great attention for the region thanks to their rather showy range of wines.  One of the duo became a big fan of the wines of Bordeaux's Pomerol region and felt it would be possible to make wines of similar quality in this previously unheralded region.  
 
 

Winemaker/Cellar man Michele Montecchio.
"Gemola" is a wine with the "Colli Euganei" appellation. It is predominantly Merlot with about 30% of Cabernet Franc.  The wine is typically matured in a high percentage of new (or recent vintage) oak barrels.  They use primarily French oak, though I read they even have a small percentage of American oak in the mix.  The 2004 is an excellent example of this wine, showing a touch of a tobacco note, as well as the nice character of the Bordeaux varieties without tasting like it's from Bordeaux.   A bottle of Château Petrus costs about a thousand bucks.  Gemola costs in the thirties..

Currently in stock:  2004 VIGNALTA "Gemola"  $36.99


 

 

wpe39.jpg (25754 bytes)
Photo: Grapes being dried to "intensify" the character.  These will be crushed and made into "Amarone."
This photo was taken in February 2001 of fruit from the 2000 harvest.




AGRICOLA MASI
This is a large, family-owned firm, but with a few special wines of note. They make the full line-up of Veronese wines, Soave, Bardolino and, most importantly, Valpolicella wines. 

Valpolicella is a blend of three varieties, principally Corvina and Rondinella with Molinara playing a supporting role. It is often made as a fresh, rather light and fruity red wine. At the other end of the spectrum are wines called Recioto and Amarone, both made from Valpolicella-grown fruit, but the grapes are dried to concentrate aromas and flavors. Recioto wines typically have 3% residual sugar (or more), while the Amarone wines are basically dry.

 

 


The Boscaini family also manages the vineyards for the (supposed) descendants of Dante Alighieri.  We visited the property a few years ago, Masi having its sales and tasting facility on the property.  Some special wines are offered under the Serego Alighieri label.  We have their 2001 SEREGO ALIGHIERI VAIO ARMARON (sic).  This is said to be the "original" vineyard source of Amarone.  The wine is quite good, in any case.

 

 

 

 
 


Masi uses a special "trick" they devised called "ripasso". They add some of the dried grape skins from the Recioto or Amarone wine to a Valpolicella wine from the Campofiorin area of the Valgatara area, thus, re-initiating the fermentation, boosting color and strength of the wine. They'd been doing this since the 1964 vintage and Campofiorin remains the a good example for ripasso-styled wines.  But now that all their neighbors have embraced this sort of winemaking technique, Masi has changed how they produce this wine.

The Masi winemaker in the 1960s, Nino Franceschetti, was so pleased by the 1964 vintage wines, he added the skins from the Amarone into a tank of Valpolicella.  This was the birth of the Masi Campofiorin wine and an Italian icon was born.

We find it to be more interesting than "frivolous" Valpolicella wines and more versatile than the heavier Amarones.

The 2013 Campofiorin is currently in stock and it's a terrific bottle of wine.  We've tasted other, heavier, bigger ripasso wines and some Valpolicella producers seem intent upon making wines more similar to Cabernet Sauvignon in terms of power and oak.  This one is certainly a good example of Venetian wine and it's a good value at its modest price.  
But the funny thing is: It's no longer a ripasso!  They changed the recipe and now they actually dry some of the grapes for their Campofiorin wine...just when everyone is copying Masi, they changed the recipe!!

By the way, the Boscaini family trademarked the term "ripasso" and you'll see this used on the labels of numerous wines from neighboring wineries.  However, these competitors have to pay a royalty  to use this designation on their wines!  We had thought Masi collected these fees, but have been told the money is actually paid to the local wine-grower's consozio.

If some tells you about a "Barolo" from the Veneto, they're probably telling you about a wine called "Brolo di Campofiorin," a new red from Masi.  The word "brolo" is a dialect word referring to what the French call a "Clos."   That is, an enclosed or walled vineyard.  The 1998 is showing nicely now, having developed nice bottle bouquet.


Currently available: 2013 "Campofiorin" (List $17)  SALE $12.99
1998 "Brolo di Campofiorin" Sold Out
Amarone (list $65)  SALE $49.99

2009 Serego Alighieri "Vaio Armaron" (list $100) $89.99

MASI PHOTOS




LE RAGOSE

The Galli family have been making wine in the little town of Negrar since 1969. "Le Ragose" is the name of their site.   
Arnaldo and Marta Galli purchased the property in 1969 as land was cheap up in the hills.  Many vineyards and vineyard sites had been abandoned as it was simply too much work to cultivate grapes on hillsides and terraces on hillsides. 
It was much more convenient to grow grapes in the flatlands.

We ventured to the estate, finally, and the roads twist and turn.  It is quite a climb and you can't get there quickly from "civilization" down below.

They left the vineyard called "Le Sassine" as they found it, but began planting and replanting other sites near the winery.

Paolo says they make wine more in a French style than along the lines of modern Italian wines.  "We make wines not for cocktails," he explains.  "We make our wine to be paired with food.  Many wineries make wine for the market.  We produce wine for our own passion first.  Then we make wine for you."  And he adds an apologetic "I'm sorry."

We understood.  It's about not "selling out" to be financially successful, but about having integrity and making honest wines.

The high elevation puts them above the fog, most of the time.  They have volcanic and clay soils and, naturally, it's all dry-farmed.  
"I don't put on the label that we cultivate biodynamically.  The quality comes from the vineyards." he explained.



Le Ragose makes wine from local varieties, apart from their Cabernet.  There are some blending allowances for Valpolicella but Paolo indicates they don't do any of the funny business that many wineries seem to do.  "If the law permits, say, 25% of some leeway, I can tell you there are wineries that would go 50%.  We are Italian!'  
In fact, as we discussed the current state of affairs in the region, Paolo estimated there are 286 Valpolicella producers.  "There are maybe five wineries that use only their own fruit."  In fact, he told us, some sell their own grapes for a handsome price and then purchase cheaper grapes.

 


Here are stacks of boxes for the grapes they'll dry to make Amarone and Recioto wines.
The fan helps move air through the building to allow the fruit to remain in healthy condition.



The barrel cellar is not huge as you can see.


This will be Amarone...eventually.


There's a museum of old winery equipment.



And he noted many wineries these days "make wine for journalists."

We spoke about recent vintages and variable growing seasons.

"A good winemaker must be flexible so they can react to the climate you get during the course of a year.  We have some vineyards still trained in the pergola system. Some say this is not good, but we can adopt a good plan for the growing season. And this is a system which is helpful in protecting against hail should that occur."

Paolo's father bought the first French oak barrel ever sold in Verona, he tells us.  "That was back in 1983."

As we heard his philosophies about Valpolicella and Amarone wines, Paolo said the "terroir here gives us shading of differences but you won't find dramatic changes in the character of wine from this area."

"Forty years ago the total production of Amarone was approximately one million bottles. Recent statistics indicate that number may be eight or nine million bottles.  You can find wine labeled Amarone for 8 Euros a bottle and some cost the crazy price of 150 to 200 Euros for a bottle!  Why!?!?"  
Paolo told us 50 Euros is understandable but he's not sure why some cost so much and he's fairly confident as to why some cost so little.

The Valpolicella of Le Ragose is a perfectly well-made, light, simple red, as it should be.  Their Ripasso shows notes reminiscent of brown spice...fine, elegant with a bit f tannin.  

They make two Amarone wines.  We have found their normal bottling to be very good.  It's a traditionally-styled Amarone which is a fairly big, lengthy red with mild tannins.  Bravo!

There's a French oaked aged wine called Caloetto which is rather tannic and quite robust.  We found it to be a bit extreme and maybe it's a wine for the journalists?    We don't think it's imported to the U.S. market.  

There's a Cabernet Sauvignon from a small parcel that was planted in 1987...it's actually a nice bottle of wine.  Not a hall of fame candidate, but a solid red that tastes like Cabernet and tastes like a wine from the Veneto.

Recioto here is excellent!
It's made of the usual suspects, Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella and 10% "other."  

The 2014 is currently available and it's not a wine they make every vintage.

It's mildly sweet, but with a high level of acidity, the sugar is balanced so you won't find it cloying.

This is a wine to pair with Chocolate desserts, blue cheeses or maybe a hazelnut torte.

 

 

 

 




Currently available:  2007 Amarone (list $75)  SALE $59.99
2014 LE RAGOSE RECIOTO  SALE  $59.99  (500ml bottle)




 





NIEDRIST

Those who know the wines of Italy's Alto Adige undoubtedly know the name of winemaker Ignaz Niedrist in the little burg of Cornaiano.   
This is on the wine route just southwest of Bolzano and north of the towns of Caldaro and Termeno.

Niedrist has quite a following and not just amongst wine drinkers.  His fans include many of his neighbors and competitors.

Ignaz didn't take over the family farm.  His father, in fact, was involved in a local grower's cooperative winery and the older brother took over the family vineyards.

So Niedrist headed north to Germany where he studied winemaking.  In those days, most Alto Adige vineyards were cultivated with high yields in mind.  The wineries were content to sell their modest quality bottlings to the bus-loads of tourists which arrived at the cellar door from around Europe, especially those from Germany and Austria (since they speak a common language).

 

 

 



When he returned home after his studies, Niedrist worked as a winemaking consultant for various wineries.  But he had an uncle who had no kids and so Ignaz ended up taking over something like 5 hectares of vineyards.  Mrs. Ignaz, Elizabeth, is also schooled in viticulture and between the two of them, take care of their vines as more of a garden than a farm...and therein lies the secret of the Niedrist wines.

So, his Pop and Uncle were accustomed to cultivating the high-yielding grape variety called Schiava, as were most of the old-timers in those days.  You can imagine they all thought Ignaz had lost his marbles when he replaced the prolific vines with oddball varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Nero, Riesling and Merlot.  Not only that, he's apparently put a few vines of really "foreign" grapes into the ground:  Aglianico, Fiano and Viognier!
 


Niedrist, you see, is a bit of a visionary and one of the first in the Alto Adige to understand that the future would require quality wines over large production wines...And for that he's recognized by connoisseurs as well as his colleagues.


Their vineyard holdings remain small...today I think they have 6 hectares of vines.  

We were fortunate to taste the Niedrist wines at a wine fair a few years ago...Ignaz was busy showing his wines to an importer from somewhere in Europe and the wines were shown by one of Niedrist's friends...a fellow vintner who makes some great wines of his own.
"He's my teacher," said the other winemaker...who was delighted I was so impressed with the wines.
 
 


Niedrist has 6/10ths of a hectare of Pinot Bianco and the 2010 is remarkably fine.  It's one of those wines that surprises you...the aromas are quite good and you taste it and wonder how someone captures so much character in a bottle of Pinot Bianco!  This grape is, after all, not as "noble" as Riesling or Chardonnay and yet here's a wine that has an amazingly complex fragrance and wonderful flavor.  There are notes hinting at peach and ripe apple, along with a mildly minerally character...I had to buy some bottles, despite the relatively lofty price because the wine is that good.  

Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc are quite good and even the simple Schiava red wine was very pleasant.  In tasting various blended wines from Italy, I can say most seem to be made simply to have a wine that's different and unique.  Few really "fit together".  
But Niedrist makes a wine called Trias...Mostly Chardonnay with Petit Manseng and Viognier!  Each grape shows up and each has something to say.  If you're in the Alto Adige and see this wine on a wine list, do treat yourself.

 

Currently in stock:  NIEDRIST 2010 PINOT BIANCO  $29.99
2011 NIEDRIST SAUVIGNON BLANC  $34.99


 

ALLEGRINI
allegrini.gif (15659 bytes)With about 45 hectares of vineyards, the Allegrini family has been a major force in the Veneto with Amarone and associated wines from the Valpolicella area.  

They're modernists and have made some lovely wines, but these days the prices have escalated and we've lost a bit of interest in the wines, frankly.   It seems they have the "Why pay less" mentality or subscribe to the notion that "If we don't charge you a lot of money, you won't think we make good wines."  

They recently added a Soave to the portfolio and this wine seems to indicate the winery is more about marketing than it is about top quality wine.  We've been shown the wine on a couple of occasions and found the Soave to be perfectly serviceable to tourists sitting on Lake Garda, but not sufficiently interesting for people choosing a bottle of Italian white wine in a shop with dozens of intriguing options.

With a large range of wines being made by Allegrini these days, we now carry only their Amarone.  It's hugely expensive and it is a good wine.  The wine is a modern example of Amarone and it's technically well-made.  The wine is matured in small French oak for about a year and a half and then further developed in large wood tanks.  You'll sense a bit of the barrique, but it's not overwhelmingly oaky.  

They're making a number of proprietary wines, some based on local varieties with some internationally-famous grapes incorporated, while making some totally "foreign" wines such as a Cabernet-Merlot-Syrah blend.

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CLICK HERE FOR PHOTOS OF ALLEGRINI.
Currently available:  Valpolicella Special Order
2003 "Giovanni Allegrini" Recioto Special order...around $80
2007 Amarone Sold Out

We can special order many of the Allegrini wines for you...


 
 
 
 

 
 


CESARI
cesari.gif (15202 bytes)A family-run winery, these people own a few vineyards, but also buy most of the fruit for their wines.   I have, for years, felt their Amarone, found in many San Francisco Bay Area restaurants, was more distinctive for the frosted black bottle than for the wine inside.   The only reason we carried the wine was because enough people had requested it.   

The current vintage shows Cesari is on a learning curve or, at least, they're improving the quality of their Amarone.  The  wine is not amongst the elite in terms of compelling, big, deep, complex Amarone wines, but if you're  looking for a reasonably-priced bottling, Cesari is your wine.  
Currently in stock:  Cesari Amarone della Valpolicella (List $40)  Sold Out Presently

 


TEDESCHI
This is a really old company and they've been located in the Valpolicella-producing area since the 1600s.  Well, 1630, to be precise.  

The Tedeschi name is all over the planet, however...there's a Tedeschi winery in Hawaii and they make spectacular Pineapple Wine.  This ain't them.

There's a Tedeschi Family winery in Napa's Calistoga...they're actually related to the Hawaii winery.  

And there's the Veronese famiglia who are, I've noticed, highly regarded by fellow wine producers and less-well respected, for some reason, by many wine connoisseurs.  Perhaps this is because the "geeks" view Quintarelli as the top dog in the world of Amarone and Valpolicella.  Other geeks highly regard Romano Dal Forno and his family as a great producer.

Perhaps this is because this family doesn't cater to what's currently in fashion, nor do they devote exceptional efforts towards marketing their wines.  Instead, we see they keep their eyes on the vineyards and in the cellar, as first and foremost, they make wines which represent the region and vineyards.

The winery is in Pedemonte, just outside San Pietro in Cariano.  

The estate comprises about 120-some hectares of vineyards and they turn out nearly half a million bottles annually.  The family also works with the University of Verona in studying the drying process of the grapes for making Amarone wines...

The cellars are fairly traditional.

We have their 2014 "Amarone Classico" in the shop presently.  It's about 30% each of Corvina, Corvinone and Rondinella with the remaining 10% being comprised of Rossignola, Oseleta, Negrara and Dindarella.  It's matured in Slavonian oak for about 30 to 36 months and the resulting wine is a fairly hearty, robust, old-fashioned Amarone.  There are notes of dark fruits, a hint of a resiny note, a touch of brown spice and a modest level of tannin.  

If you open a bottle at this stage, perhaps decanting it an hour or two before dinner would be ideal.  The wine seems to have the structure to warrant aging it for another 5 to 10 years, though.  Maybe longer.  

 
Currently in stock:  2014 TEDESCHI AMARONE della VALPOLICELLA CLASSICO Sale $54.99



 

 

CA' DEL BOSCO

The Franciacorta region is often described as the premier location in Italy for sparkling wines.

It's about an hour by car from Milano and you'll be driving towards Verona and Venice.  

At one time the Franciacorta designation was on all the wines from this region in Lombardia, but these days it's used solely for the bottle-fermented sparkling wines.

Today there are maybe 110, or so,  wineries making Franciacorta.

Most make competent sparkling wine. 
If you use Champagne...good Champagne...as a benchmark for bubbly, then Ca' Del Bosco is the Franciacorta for you.
We have said that there is Ca' del Bosco and then there are the rest.
It's not that the others don't make typical Franciacorta sparkling wines, it's simply the quality and character of the Ca' del Bosco wines are in a class by themselves.  

The winery also produces some table wines, so you can explore their efforts with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and a Bordeaux-styled blend.

We first became aware of Ca' del Bosco in the mid-to-late 1980s.  At the VinItaly wine fair we had stopped at the winery's stand and tasted some extraordinary wines.  They had an American winemaker (who today is a prominent wine importer), Brian Larkey.  The winery owner is Maurizio Zanella, a flamboyant fellow and tireless promoter.  The wines were mind-boggling.
 

The estate was purchased as a get-away property back in the 1960s.   Zanella's father was in the shipping business and his Mom wanted a place out of the big city as a weekend retreat of sorts.  Maurizio was not much interested in school, but was a fan of motorcycles.  He somehow was able to register for a trip to France with local wine growers and there were stops in various wine regions on the way to Paris.  

It was a stop at the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti that resonated with Zanella.  The wines were, of course, fantastic.  He paid attention to their vineyards, which he noted were densely planted.  The cellar featured new oak barrels and these were much smaller than the large wood vats typically used in Italian winemaking.

When he returned home from this trip he convinced his parents about his new dreams of having vineyards and making wines.  Though there may have been some vines on the property, it was in 1968 they began planting new vineyards.  In 1972 they vinified the first Ca' del Bosco wine, a Pinot Bianco.  In 1975 Zanella saw the birth of his first red wine and the following year he embarked on his sparkling wine adventure.

After fits and starts with the sparkling wines, Zanella invited the chef de cave from Moët & Chandon to visit and give him some guidance.  Andre Dubois was not conversant in Italian, though, but he did speak "Champagne" and helped guide the fledgling Ca' del Bosco to making better sparkling wine.

The expense involved in producing and promoting the wines was enormous and so today Zanella has a partner in this enterprise, Zignago Holding.  This is a multi-faceted company owned by the Marzotto family.  They own the Santa Margherita winery, as well as some bottle & glass factories, power companies and finance groups.  Today Ca' del Bosco has plenty of resources for making its deluxe-quality wines.

These days there are 8 sparkling wines being made and 7 table wines.

The winery is a blend of modern technology and art.


This special tank can be elevated to allow for gravity-flow racking.


As mentioned earlier, they do make a number of "still" wines.

And you can see cellars full of bottles of sparkling wine, Franciacorta, maturing on the spent yeast.


Magnums are on riddling racks.

And there are plenty of riddling racks waiting for more bottles.

These racks are empty as the disgorging line was fully operational on the day we visited.


The bottles are wrapped in cellophane, apparently to protect the wine in the clear glass, from UV rays.




As of 2018 Ca' del Bosco has 2019 hectares of vineyards.
They are dedicated to organic farming and these vines are certified, too.


You might notice these vines have been pruned with the idea of quality, rather than quantity, in mind.

The winery describes its various protocols as "The Ca' del Bosco Method."
They speak about respecting tradition, but they indicate that this does not mean they strive to improve, not willing to rest of their laurels.
Zanella says they want to connect the past with the present.

"Today we risk a needless contrast between “modernists” and “traditionalists”; an ideological dispute that ends up justifying, perhaps in the name of naturalness, wines with shortcomings, or in any case disappointing. There are no shortcuts in the world of wine. The naturalness of a product is no excuse for eliminating clarifications or extolling the supposed virtues of local yeasts."  

They do some experimentations each vintage in an effort to improve quality.

In 2008 the winery purchased a machine they call a "Grape Spa."  Some friends in Italy's Trentino region came up with this idea and we were skeptical.  But both they and Ca' del Bosco make the claim this machinery produces wine of higher quality.
The fruit, after being sorted at the winery door, then goes into this device which has three soaking vats.  

"The benefits of our grape Spa are many. It almost totally eliminates residue from pesticides, hydrocarbons, mold, dust, dirt and any insects that may still be present. It makes the must more hygienic. It facilitates the fermentation of the yeasts, so there are no stunted aromas as, no suppressed nuances. Finally, it increases its hedonistic nature. Starting today, our wines are more attractive. More enjoyable. Easier to digest. And, thanks to technology, more natural."

Zanella contends they also use less sulfur in their wines, in part, thanks to this grape "spa."  

The bottom line is, whatever they are doing, the end results speak volumes.


We are big fans of the entry-level Cuvée Prestige, a bubbly that's 75% Chardonnay, 15% Pinot Bianco and 10% Pinot Nero.
The juice is fermented in stainless steel tanks and the wine remains in those vessels for about 7 months until the wine clarifies on its own.  
Then they assemble the base wine blend by incorporating 20% to 30% of aged, "reserve" wine.
Once the wine goes into bottle for its secondary fermentation, it remains there for about 2 years.  
They have a special machine for the disgorging process which avoids introducing oxygen into the bottle (and the need for the addition of sulfites to preserve the wine).
The dosage is small and the wine has maybe 4 grams per liter of residual sugar.  Most people don't detect sugar until there are 5 grams/liter in a wine.

We like the toasty notes and the "purity" of the fruit and yeasty elements of the Cuvée Prestige.
With our sale pricing, the wine competes quite nicely alongside French Champagnes.


There's a special bottling to honor Zanella's mother, Anna Maria Clementi.
It's their "top of the line" bottling and usually features about half Chardonnay, a quarter fraction of Pinot Bianco and the rest being Pinot Nero.
The must is barrel fermented and it undergoes a full malolactic fermentation before they put it in bottle for its sparkling wine fermentation.  This is usually matured for 8 or 9 years before it's disgorged.  There is no sweetening dosage and the wine is stone, bone dry.

It is the only Italian sparkling wine we find to be a worthy challenger to Ferrari's Riserva del Fondatore.  It is a seriously fine bubbly.

Currently in stock:  CA' DEL BOSCO "CUVÉE PRESTIGE"  Sale $39.99
CA' DEL BOSCO CUVÉE ANNA MARIA CLEMENTI  (Please inquire...Gerald stashes this in the back)  

 

 






 

 

COLLE DEI BARDELLINI
One of of favorite little wines from Liguria is not the well-known "Cinque Terre," but it comes from farther north and west near San Remo.  

Near the town of Imperia you'll find the winery (and agriturismo) of Colle dei Bardellini, an estate founded in 1970.  The estate focuses on Vermentino and an even more particular grape called Pigato.  

It takes its name Pigato from the pighe or little spots that develop on the skin of the grapes as they ripen.  Some people claim the variety has its origins in Greece and we've seen some studies indicating Pigato and Vermentino are closely related.

The Riviera Ligure di Ponente is the home of Pigato, or at least it's where the variety seems to be the most interesting.  

Colle dei Bardellini is a small estate of four hectares of vines and they make just 50,000 bottles of wine annually.  Their "Riviera" bottling from 2016 is remarkably good.  It's the best I've tasted over the past decade, featuring nice fresh apple and pear notes with an underlying peppery quality.  Naturally, being so close to the sea, this is perfect with seafood, but it's also great with a salad featuring bitter greens, pears, walnuts, etc.

Currently in stock:  2016 COLLE DEI BARDELLINI Pigato "Riviera di Ponente"  $21.99






 

MURI-GRIES
The history of this winery dates back to 1845 when some 'brothers' from the Swiss Muri monastery needed to high-tail it out of the country.  They fled from northern Switzerland and made their way to a location near Bolzano in the Sudtirol, which today is in Italy.  

The monks have long cultivated the Lagrein grape in this location and it's pretty much "the" red grape of Italy's Alto Adige.  I remember my first introduction to the "Abtei Muri" Lagrein:  a friend from the Sudtirol organized a dinner attended by a bunch of people who were on a wine and food tour of California a few years earlier.  Everyone was to bring a bottle of their favorite wine.  I recall the Abtei Muri Lagrein as being something truly special.

Today, in fact, many people view the Abtei Muri Lagrein as the benchmark for the Lagrein grape.  I had an opportunity to taste dozens of Lagrein wines from the Alto Adige and can tell you there are other good producers these days whose wines rival the Muri-Gries wine.  

Still, here's a grand bottle of Lagrein that's a classic.  The wine spends 20-something months in oak, sufficient time to add a bit of wood and round out the tannins.  Deep, dark berry fruit notes are typical and you'll find pleasantly cedary, woodsy tones as well.

 

 
 

Currently in stock:  2004 "ABTEI MURI" LAGREIN RISERVA  $44.99

 

 

 


Our friends Gaby & Norbert tasting Prosecco out of the tank...

 


PROSECCO
This is a grape variety and a very popular wine in Italy's Veneto region.  The main towns where it is made are Conegliano and Valdobbiadene.  We currently have several Prosecco wines, each made in "sparkling" or "Spumante" versions.   

The grape itself makes a rather simple and ordinary white wine.  Made into fizzy wine, called frizzante, it becomes more majestic.  The "spumante" versions can be even more interesting. 
 

SORELLE BRONCA (list $19) SALE $17.99 is made by Ersiliana e Antonella Bronca in Colbertaldo dei Vidor near Valdobbiadene.  Yes, that's a mouth-full!  The Bronca sisters make a wonderfully aromatic bubbly which comes close to being dry, yet isn't sweet enough to taste sweet. It has become one of our most popular bubblies!


Tank sample of Sorelle Bronca Prosecco...


Bottles of Sorelle Bronca Prosecco just put in the bottle.


Chilled bottles waiting to be opened.



DRUSIAN (List $18) SALE $15.99
Drusian is a Prosecco-meister.  His wine is rather dry, very nicely floral and fruity on the nose and palate.  It's a delight.  It is a terrific example of Prosecco and we're big fans.
Not as dry as a Brut sparkler, but not as sweet as most "Extra Dry" wines.



Marika and Franco Drusian, a great daughter and father team!  Ages ago...
 

Signor Drusian in 2018 at the winery
 
 



TONON PROSECCO "METICO" (Ceramic Flip-top Closure)  SALE $11.99
A local importer introduced us to this little Prosecco that comes in a bottle which is a bit of a rarity.
It's been a popular item for us and customers like it because it's economical.
A the VinItaly wine fair one year I saw their stand and all sorts of marketing-driven packaging which I thought was a bad sign.
But this wine really tastes good and typical (and better to many which are far more costly and much-hyped by importers) of the Glera grape.
In speaking with Signor Loris Tonon, I sensed he's really concerned about wine quality despite all the curious packaging.
This wine is a shade less bubbly than most of our Prosecco wines...and that's intentional.
It's "extra dry," so you'll find it nicely fruity and having the white flowers sort of character we like in Prosecco.

BISSON GLERA  "VINO FRIZZANTE"  $18.99
Bisson is an enoteca in Italy's Liguria region and it's run by Piero Lugano.  In addition to their shop, he's got quite a varied production of sparkling and table wine.
They make a "Prosecco," but since the law (as of July 2016) mandates that you can't use a crown (beer/soda bottle) cap and still call the wine "Prosecco," Lugano decided to simply label it by the grape name and so they don't have to make any packaging changes and confuse consumers.
How's the wine?
It's delightful and quite dry, too.  Drier than most Prosecco.
It shows the floral notes we like in Prosecco and there's a mildly minerally note since the wine is so beautifully dry.



LE COLTURE PROSECCO "BRUT"  SALE $14.99
Our friend Alberto Ruggeri makes this wine at the family estate in Santo Stefano di Valdobbiadene.
The winery was founded in the 1980s and it's situated in a neighborhood with a few other cellars and surrounded by vineyards.

The secret of this winery is that they have vineyard sites scattered around the appellation for Prosecco.  They have 16 vineyard properties in Valdobbiadene, Conegliano and Montello.  We can't say for sure that blending numerous vineyard sites together produces a superior bottle of Prosecco, but this winery does a good job in making a dry (Brut) bubbly with less than 12% alcohol and only a few grams of residual sugar.


Alberto Ruggeri at Le Colture

 

 


SANFELETTO PROSECCO SUPERIORE VALDOBBIADENE Vintage Brut $15.99
This is another smallish winery, run by the Cheschin family.  It was started in the early 1900s and today Paolo Cheschin runs the winery with his wife Imelda.  They make a range of wines, but this is somewhat of the "top of the line" bottling, a vintage-dated Brut Prosecco.  It's very effervescent and glides across the palate with a dry finish.


 


CASA COSTE PIANE Valdobbiadene PROSECCO  $23.99
This one is a bit more particular than our other Prosecco selections.
It comes from a tiny winery owned by the Follador family.
They farm about 5 hectares of Glera.  Old vines, too.  Organic cultivation.
The wine is fermented in bottle for its secondary fermentation and they do not disgorge it, so each bottle still has the dead yeast cells.
As a result, each bottle is unique and a slightly different wine from another.
We like to stand the bottle upright in the 'fridge and pour it carefully off the sediment.  But some customers say they don't mind splashing it around a bit and drinking the hazy and slightly more 'salty' Prosecco.

 

CENTRAL and SOUTHERN ITALIA


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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