More Northern Italian Wines
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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.
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
Currently in stock: WALDGRIES 2016 ST.
MAGDALENER SALE $19.99
There's an old stairway to the ancient cellar that's well
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
Currently in stock: 2009 DORIGO Ribolla Gialla Sold
2010 DORIGO Pinot Grigio Sold Out
DORIGO Brut Classico $23.99 (last
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
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
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
- How could they not have a nice Loire Valley Sauvignon?
We perused the list and then saw Venica & Venica Sauvignon. $65
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
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
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
story of this little winery begins officially in 1962 with Stefano
Novello's grandfather. Novello's papa grew grapes and made
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
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
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
"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
We can order other Ronco Severo wines for you...
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
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
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
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
2001 I CLIVI "BRAZAN" Friulano Sold Out
* Yes, that's a snarky comment.
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
We like it's freshness, dryness and crispness. The aromas are
bright, appley and the wine is "Granny Smith" tart on the
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
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
They asked me to sign their guest book...a nice honor!
of the top showmen in the wine business is the owner of the Movia winery,
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
The vineyards and winery are located in Slovenia and Italy's Friuli
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
2014 MOVIA REBULA (Ribolla) $32.99
- 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
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
2009 Thurnhof Goldmuskateller Sold Out
- Andreas opens another bottle...
KUENHOF (PETER PLIGER)
of the darlings of Italian wine aficionados is Peter Pliger and his
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
"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
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
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"
is a relatively new winery and it's located about halfway between Verona
You'd be close to the border of the Provincia of Verona and the Provincia
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
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
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
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,
Currently in stock: 2014 NARDELLO SOAVE CLASSICO
"Vigna Turpian" $13.99
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
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
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.
- 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.
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
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
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
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
- 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
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
The fan helps move air through the building to allow the fruit to remain in
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!
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.
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.
here is excellent!
It's made of the usual suspects, Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella and 10%
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
Currently available: 2007 Amarone (list $75) SALE
2014 LE RAGOSE RECIOTO SALE $59.99
who know the wines of Italy's Alto Adige undoubtedly know the name of
winemaker Ignaz Niedrist in the little burg of
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.
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
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
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
2011 NIEDRIST SAUVIGNON BLANC $34.99
about 45 hectares of vineyards, the Allegrini family has been a major force
in the Veneto with Amarone and associated wines from the Valpolicella
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.
CLICK HERE FOR PHOTOS OF
- 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
- 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
- This is a really old company and they've been located in the
Valpolicella-producing area since the 1600s. Well, 1630, to be
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
Then they assemble the base wine blend by incorporating 20% to 30% of aged,
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
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
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
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
of of favorite little wines from Liguria is not the well-known "Cinque
Terre," but it comes from farther north and west near San
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
- 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...
- 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
Marika and Franco Drusian, a great daughter and father team! Ages
Signor Drusian in 2018 at the winery
TONON PROSECCO "METICO" (Ceramic Flip-top Closure)
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
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
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"
- 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
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
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