The White Wines of Italy

Once known as ‘Oenotria’, or the ‘land of trained vines’, Italy grows an estimated 2000 different grape varieties and makes as much as 60 million hectoliters of wine a year. Much of the Italian peninsula is covered with vines, from the Alps in the north to the island of Sicily in the south. Many of Italy’s best known wines are red – Barolo, Brunello di Montalcino, Chianti, Amarone, Super Tuscans, etc. – however, they also produce large quantities of very tasty white wines that are worth putting on your dinner table, as they are very versatile with food.

While the white wines of Italy tend not to be huge blockbusters, they can be very refreshing and food friendly. Most have subtle flavours and a good streak of cleansing acidity, and some can be quite aromatic.

Some Italian white wines to look out for are:

Soave DOC

Soave is a dry white wine from the Veneto region of northern Italy. The wines must have at least 70% Garganega grapes in the blend. Trebbiano di Soave, Chardonnay, and Pinot Bianco (Pinot Blanc) can make up the remainder. While some Soave is thin and dull, the best can be excellent. Garganega, when grown properly, can be both delicate and structured, with flavours of almonds, greengage plums, and citrus fruit with an alluring gentle spiciness. The best Soave comes from the Soave Classico region.

Pair Soave with fresh salads with slightly bitter greens such as endive, raddichio, and arugula. It can also be a great match with poached chicken and herbs, and linguine with clam sauce.

Masi Levarie Soave Classico DOC (LCBO 266221, $12.45) is a great value Soave currently available at the LCBO.   Pleasant aromas of white peach, melon, citrus, pear, almond, and white blossoms. It’s medium bodied and juicy on the palate, with a good length and a nutty finish.

Gavi DOCG

Gavi was awarded DOCG status, Italy’s highest quality wine category, in 1998. The wines are made with 100% Cortese grapes. Cortese is favoured because of its ability to retain its zesty acidity, even in the hot summers of Piedmont in northern Italy, where Gavi is made.

Gavi can be an aromatic and fruity wine, with notes mineral and occasionally grass, with a clean citrus finish. It tends to be a fuller-bodied wine than some of the other Italian whites. Gavi can pair well with pastas with a cream sauce, grilled calamari with garlic, and Prosciutto wrapped shrimps.

Pio Cesare Gavi 2011 (VINTAGES 952523, $19.95) Juicy citrus fruit, white blossoms, and mineral.  Light-bodied and refreshing.

Fiano di Avellino DOCG

From southern Italy, in the region of Campania, Fiano di Avellino was promoted to DOCG status in 2003. The wine is made with at least 85% Fiano grapes with Trebbiano Toscano, Coda di Volpe, and Greco making up the rest of the blend.

The wines can have subtle aromas of flowers and spice with an attractive waxy texture. The best have the potential to improve with some bottle age.

Fiano di Avellino can pair beautifully with salmon canapes, and baby octopus salad.

Keep an eye out for occasional Vintages releases of Fiano di Avellino at the LCBO.  Currently, I could only find one Fiano di Avellino at the LCBO, Terredora Fiano di Avellino 2010,(VINTAGES 120048, $18.95), but  it may be difficult to track it down as there’s not much left.

Greco di Tufo DOCG

Also from Campania, Greco di Tufo is made with at least 85% Greco grapes and up to 15% Coda di Volpe. Greco has been grown in southern Italy for more than 2,500 years after being imported from neighbouring Greece. Slightly more aromatic than Fiano di Avellino, the best have aromas reminiscent of a good Viognier along with zesty minerality and peachy notes.

Greco di Tufo is a great match with raw shellfish, baked fish, and pasta with vegetable sauces.

Again, not much at the LCBO, but watch for occasional Vintages releases.

Falanghina

Falanghina is a high quality, ancient grape grown in Campania. It is thought to be the grape of Falernian, the prestigious wine of the ancient Roman Empire. The grape is used to make excellent dry and sweet white wines. The dry wines are usually vinified in stainless steel tanks and see no oak treatment at all. They are attractive, fragrant, and quite full-bodied, with aromas of white peaches, honeysuckle, green apples, citrus, and almonds.

Falanghina is quite versatile with food and pairs well with a number of seafood, poultry, and vegetable dishes.

There is still some Vesevo Beneventano Falanghina 2010 (VINTAGES 289538, $15.95) available at the LCBO.  Lots of lemon, grapefruit, celery salt, and white blossom aromas.  Light to medium body with a clean, bright finish.

This is a slightly altered version of an article first published on Suite101.com.

Wednesday’s WoW! – Capezzana Barco Reale di Carmignano 2008

Capezzana Barco Reale di Carmignano 2008Everyone is back to work, the Christmas tree has been stripped of its finery and is sitting lonely and discarded at the end of the driveway, the credit card bills are piling up on the counter…Even though the festivities are over and spending is a bit tight right now, you still want to drink quality wine that is on par with some of the treats you enjoyed over the holdiay.  Well, this week’s WoW, Capezzana Barco Reale di Carmignano 2008, may be your answer – it’s delicious, and it’s only $15.95 at the LCBO’s Vintages.

Tenuta di Capezzana

Documents dating from 804 AD indicate that wine and olive oil have been made on the Capezzana estate for 1200 years!  Not many wine estates can boast that.  The Contini Bonacossi family has owned the estate since the 1920s.  The vineyards cover 100 hectares in Carmignano (a distinct wine region within Tuscany), about 24 kilometres north west of Florence.

Barco Reale di Carmignano DOC

Barco Reale di Carmignano DOC is located inside the DOCG region of Carmignano, which is located in Tuscany, Italy.  The name is a reference to Barco Reale Medicio, a 4000 acre hunting reserve which was owned by the Medici Grand Dukes and is surrounded by a high wall that stretches for 50 km.  The red wines of Barco Reale are made using Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Cabernet Franc, and Canaiolo. (Note:  Cabernet Sauvignon has been used in the wines of this area for a long time, long before they became popular in the relatively recent Super Tuscans.)

While very similar in style to the wines of Carmignano DOCG, the wines of Barco Reale di Carmignano DOC are not subject to the same aging requirements, so they are generally younger and fresher and meant for earlier drinking.

Tasting Note

Capezzana Barco Reale di Carmignano 2008 is made up of 70% Sangiovese, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Canaiolo, and was aged in barrel for 6 months.  The wine has quite intense aromas of dried cherry, black licorice, plum, dark spice, and damp earth.  On the palate, ripe fruit is supported by a sturdy structure and a velvety texture, with flavours of suede, earth, cherry, and spice, a cedary, savoury note, and a long finish.  It’s drinking well now but could cellar another 3 to 5 years.  Enjoy with Spaghetti Bolognese, beef stew, or roast beef dinner.  If you live in Ontario, don’t delay in buying a couple bottles as it’s sure to sell out quickly.

Wednesday’s WoW! – Rocca delle Macie Chianti Classico Riserva 2006

An exceptional value at only $21.95 in Vintages at the LCBO, today’s Wine of the Week is Rocca delle Macie Chianti Classico Riserva 2006.

Rocca delle Macie

Rocca delle Macie Chianti Classico Riserva 2006Rocca delle Macie was founded in 1973 when Italian film producer, Italo Zingarelli, decided to finally pursue his lifelong dream of making wine in the beautiful Chianti Classico region of Tuscany.  He purchased the 14th century Le Macie estate which included 85 hectares of land, only 2 hectares of which were planted to vines.  The ancient buildings underwent a large-scale restoration process, including the modernization of the existing cellars and the addition of new, state-of-the-art cellars.  In just a few short decades, Rocca delle Macie has managed to gain a reputation as one of Chianti Classico’s most highly regarded estates.   It’s a family business, with Italo’s children taking over their late father’s vision – to produce high quality wines that are an expression of the land from which they come.  The family now owns 6 estates, totalling over 600 hectares of land, more than 200 ha are planted with vines and 80 ha are planted with olive trees.

Chianti Classico Riserva

Chianti Classico is the heart of the Chianti region and this is where most of the best Chiantis are made.  The Chianti Classico zone is roughly the same area that was delimited by the Medici Grand Duke Cosimo III in 1716.  The Chianti area was expanded in 1932 and 7 subzones were established. In 1966, Chianti became a DOC and in 1984, the entire Chianti region was awarded DOCG status (some argue that only Chianti Classico should have been given DOCG status).

Chianti Classico Riserva is typically a more robust wine than regular Chianti Classico due to grape selection, higher minimum alcohol levels (12.5%), and longer aging requirements.  Riserva wines are aged a minimum of 2 years in barrel before being bottled, while regular Chianti Classico may be released as early as October 1 following the harvest.

2006 Vintage

The Chianti Classico Consorzio hailed 2006 as an ‘extraordinary vintage’.  Weather conditions were said to be near perfect for Sangiovese and the grapes reached optimum ripeness and displayed ideal sugar levels.  The 2006 vintage is said to be the second greatest vintage in 15 years, after 2004.

Tasting Notes

Rocca delle Macie Chianti Classico Riserva 2006 is 90% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and was aged 24 months in French oak barrels.  Mature and complex aromas of leather, dried herbs, dried black cherry, anise, cedar, and loads of ground baking spice.  The palate is harmonious and balanced with a smooth, silky texture and concentrated flavours of dark fruit, herbs and spice.  A pleasant, lingering finish.  Ready to drink now.  Serve with baked cannelloni with tomato sauce, beef tenderloin, or wild boar stew (for the adventurous!).

Wednesday’s WoW – Masi Levarie Soave Classico DOC 2010

Masi Levarie SoaveA Surprise Find

Masi Levarie Soave Classico DOC 2010, is a very flavourful Soave, a pleasant surprise for a Soave at the very reasonable price of $11.95 at the LCBO.

Soave is a white wine from the Veneto region of Italy.  It’s usually a blend of two or more grapes, but it must be at least 70% Garganega, with the remaining 30% being made up of one or more of Trebbiano di Soave, Pinot Bianco, and Chardonnay.   Wines labelled Soave Classico are usually the best examples and come from the original Soave area that was delimited in 1927.  In 1968, with the introduction of the DOC, the Soave region was expanded enormously, thus those vineyards in the original area became known as Classico.  Soave Classico traditionally has lower yields and the blend generally contains more Garganega, which is considered the superior Soave grape.

Winemaking

Masi Levarie Soave Classico DOC 2010 is made up of 85% Garganega and 15% Trebbiano di Soave.  The name Levarie refers to east-facing slopes of the Soave Classico region where the grapes benefit from the cool morning sunshine.  Twenty percent of the grapes are criomacerated for 24 hours at 5°C, and the remaining 80% are fermented traditionally in stainless steel tanks.  Malolactic fermentation is partially completed and the wine is aged for 4 months in stainless steel vats, with 20% aged in oak barrels.

Tasting Note

Masi Levarie Soave Classico DOC 2010 has very pleasant aromas and flavours of white peach, melon, citrus, pear, almond, and white blossoms. It’s medium bodied and juicy on the palate, with a good length and a nutty finish.  As with most Soave’s, this wine is ready to drink now and is not intended to be aged.  Pair it with baked or poached fish dishes, vegetables drizzled with olive oil, or chicken salad.

Chianti Classico Riserva 1997

I love attending the Winetasters Society of Toronto tastings as I get to taste older vintages that I would normally not have the opportunity to try.  Last week, the tasting focused on 8 Chianti Classico Riservas from the 1997 vintage.  Most of them were still very much alive and drinking quite well.

Photo by dancesincreekYes, Chianti has come a long way since the ‘fiasco’ days of the 70s when everyone bought a bottle just so they could stick a colourful drippy candle in it once the not so great wine had been gulped down.  Chianti is now a wine of variable quality –  some are still quite mediocre, but the best can be excellent.

Chianti is located in Tuscany, where many of Italy’s most famous and sought after wines are crafted.  There are 8 subzones in Chianti: Rufina, Colli Senesi, Colli Aretini, Colli Fiorentini, Coline Pisane, Montalbano, Montespertoli (added in 1997), and Classico.  Chianti Classico is the heart of the Chianti region and usually makes the best – although according to Tom Stevenson, some Rufina and Colli Fiorentini can have the same ‘classico‘ quality.  The Chianti Classico zone is roughly the same area that was delimited by the Medici Grand Duke Cosimo III in 1716.  The Chianti area was expanded in 1932 and 7 subzones were established. In 1966, Chianti became a DOC and in 1984, the entire Chianti region was awarded DOCG status (some argue that only Chianti Classico should have been given DOCG status).

Two types of soils are found in the Chianti Classico region: the soft, marl-like galestro, where Sangiovese thrives, and the sandstone called alberese.  In Chianti Classico, Sangiovese makes up 80 to 100% of the blend (compared to other Chianti zones, where Sangiovese must make up at least 70% of the blend).  Up to 20% of other authorized red grapes, such as Colorino, Canaiolo Nero, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot are allowed.  White varietals are no longer permitted in Chianti Classico (they are optional in other Chianti zones up to 10%).  The minimum alcohol level permitted is 12% (compared to 11.5% for other Chiantis).

Chianti Classico Riserva is typically a more robust wine than regular Chianti Classico due to grape selection, higher minimum alcohol levels (12.5%), and longer aging requirements.  Riserva wines are aged a minimum of 2 years in barrel before being bottled, while regular Chianti Classico may be released as early as October 1 following the harvest.  Riservas are great when paired with robust stews, braised meat dishes, and hearty meat and tomato-based pastas.

1997 Chianti Classico Riserva Tasting Notes:

Fontodi Vigna del Sorbo: A medium garnet colour with quite a tawny rim.  Mature aromas of dried figs, tar, earth, leather, and woodsmoke float from the glass.  On the palate this wine had good acidity and integrated tannins with flavours of dried cherry, fig, plum, and earth with a fairly long length.

Rocce delle Macie Riserva di Fizzano: The colour was a darker garnet than the first wine.  This wine shows dried cherry, prune, forest floor, and cedar aromas with a bit of a sour note.  I thought this wine wasn’t as concentrated as the first wine and rated it my least favourite of the tasting.  I found it quite tart and even sour.  It seems that many didn’t agree with me as this came 3rd overall in the group.

Badia a Coltbuono: A pretty, floral nose with potpourri, tea, black cherry, and earth aromas.  Lots of dried berries on the palate, but I found the finish to be bitter and a bit shorter than some of the other wines of the tasting.

Carpineto: Very earthy, animally aromas of smoked meat, mushroom, black licorice, and chocolate.  A beefy palate, with dark fruit flavours of chocolate covered dried blueberries and plums.  A long finish.  I really liked this wine.

Castello di Monastero: Complex and seductive, this wine shows aromas of dried berries, blueberries, leather, cedar, and spice.  This wine seemed to have fresher fruit aromas than other wines of the tasting.  Still quite fresh with silky tannins and a long finish.  A beautiful wine.

Castello di Volpaia: Exquisite aromas of dried cherry and fig, dried flowers, underbrush with an enticing earthy note.  A silky texture with dried red berries and white pepper flavours and refreshing acidity.  Another favourite.

Podere Olmo: Subtle aromas of baking spice and black licorice.  Very subdued.  A bit weak or thin on the palate.  I rated this wine my second least favourite.

Lanciola Le Masse di Greve: Some nice black fruit aromas of black cherry and plum, with leather and black licorice.  I found the tannins to still be quite coarse, considering the age of the wine, with not as much fruit on the palate as on the nose.  Although the group as a whole rated this the favourite wine of the tasting, I had it somewhere in the middle.  Still, I wouldn’t turn it down if someone gave me a bottle.

Pretty Prosecco Conegliano Valdobiadene DOCG

Earlier this month the annual Italian wine tasting was held at Roy Thompson Hall in Toronto.  Prior to the walk-around tasting, I attended a seminar showcasing Prosecco, a fun sparkling wine from Italy.  The seminar was hosted by Italian wine expert Giuseppe Martelli and Canadian wine writer David Lawrason.

In 2009, Prosecco enjoyed a promotion from DOC status to DOCG, the highest quality category in Italy, creating Prosecco Conegliano Valdobiadene DOCG, and the much more obscure Prosecco Montello e Colli Asolani DOCG.  Prosecco DOCG wines are made in the Treviso province of the region of Veneto.  Grapes for Prosecco Conegliano Valdobiane DOCG are grown in the hills around the towns of the same name.  These vineyards are planted on slopes or even terraces between 50 to 500 m above sea level.   The slopes allow for maximum sun exposure and yields are naturally much lower than in vineyards on the miles and miles of plains in Veneto, which are not eligible for DOCG status.

Prosecco is not just the name of the wine but  also the grape that makes this sparkling wine.  Prosecco, also called Glera, has very large, pyramid-shaped clusters with medium-sized, spherical grapes with golden yellow, thin skins when fully ripe.  It is a late-ripening grape.  It is the lateness that probably gave rise to the wine being sparkling.  Fermentation would likely not be complete by the time the very cold weather would put a stop to it, leaving carbon dioxide and some residual sugar in the wine.  The warmth of spring would start fermentation again, creating more carbon dioxide.  Today, most Prosecco is made using the Charmat (or tank) method where the second fermentation takes place in a sealed tank instead of the bottle as in the traditional method.  Most Prosecco is spumante (fully sparkling), but it can also be frizzante (slightly sparkling) or even still.

Three categories of sweetness are made:  Brut versions have up to 15 g/l of residual sugar; Extra Dry versions have between 12 and 20 g/l of residual sugar; and Dry versions (which are actually the sweetest of the bunch) have between 18 and 35 g/l of residual sugar.

Prosecco wines must be at least 85% Prosecco grapes.  Up to 15% of other grapes may be used, such as Verdiso, Perera, Bianchetta, also Chardonnay, Pinot Nero (vinified as a white), and Pinot Bianco.

Approximately 53 million bottles of Prosecco are made every year and Canada is one of the top importers of it.

Prosecco is a young, fresh, fragrant, floral, fruity wine with a pale straw yellow colour and medium body.  Typical aromas and flavours include citrus, apple, pear, bread crust, and a slightly herbaceous note.  Most are either dry or off-dry with good acidity and a lightly creamy flavour.  Prosecco is meant to be enjoyed young to capture the fresh fruit and floral fragrance.

David Lawrason called Prosecco a “relaxing wine”.  It’s not expensive and it’s not demanding.  It is a nice sparkling wine to serve at more casual events where money is, indeed, an issue.  Most bottles of Prosecco can be found under $20.  They are fun, tasty, crowd-pleasing wines.  Sales of Prosecco in Canada have really exploded in the last 5 years or so as consumers are discovering this good value sparkler.

Prosecco even has what you might call a ‘grand cru’ vineyard.  The subzone of Carizze produces wines that are thought to be superior than regular Prosecco DOCG wines.  This area has 106 hectares of vineyards and produces about 1 million bottles of Prosecco.

My 2 Favourite Wines of the Seminar Were:

Valdobiadene DOCG Prosecco Superiore Extra Dry 2009:  17 g/l residual sugar. This wine was a brilliant straw yellow colour with a slight greenish hue.  A delicate and elegant wine with aromas of baked pear, mineral, honey, white flowers and pastry.  Soft and creamy on the palate with a bready character and baked yellow apple.  Well-balanced with a good length.

Bisol Valdobiadene Superiore de Cartizze DOCG 2009:  25 g/l residual sugar.  Pretty aromas of field flowers, mineral, peach, citrus, dried fruits, and a hint of nuttiness.  Lots of finesse on the palate with the acidity balancing the relatively high sugar content.  This wine is clean and refreshing with a long, pleasant finish.

Amore di Amarone – The Amarone Families

The production of Amarone della Valpolicella has exploded in the last decade or so as wine lovers the world over are falling head-over-heals for this opulent, flavourful, high-alcohol red wine.  Apparently Canadians are at the top of that list, importing more Amarone than anywhere else, including the US, Switzerland, the UK, and Germany (according to decanter.com).  To find out more about the production of Amarone, please read my article “Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG – One of Italy’s Greatest Reds” on suite 101.com.

In 2009, ten quality-minded and dedicated producers of Amarone joined together to form the “Amarone Families” or the “Famiglie dell’ Amarone d’Arte”.  The goal of this association is to establish fundamental guidelines in the making of one of Italy’s most iconic wines.  The families are especially focused on exported Amarone since about 70% of Amarone is exported to countries around the world.  The families are concerned that some Amarone is being diluted by overproduction, driving down prices and quality, and that there is disregard for those areas that are best suited for the production of Amarone.

There are now twelve families in the association dedicated to protect the quality of Amarone (and all the wines of Valpolicella) and to promote these iconic wines on the world stage.  They have pledged to uphold premium quality winemaking practices and to protect Amarone as one of the classic red wines of Italy.

The association has come up with a set of extra regulations in addition to the regulations required for DOCG status, including:

  • minimum 15% alcohol (instead of 14% in DOCG regulations)
  • minimum 30 months aging from December 1st of the year of the harvest (compared to 24 months in DOCG regulations)
  • opportunity to declassify Amarone if the vintage is poor

The 12 Amarone Families are:

In early October, the Amarone Families conducted a tasting in Toronto of some of their wines with vintages ranging from 1997 to 2006.  This tasting was one of the few opportunities I’ve had to taste older Amarone and I have to say that I really loved the complexity and balance of these more mature wines.  After tasting the older vintages, the younger wines seemed almost harsh and bitter in comparison.  Note to self – “Leave those bottles of Amarone in the cellar a while longer.”

Here are the tasting notes of some of my favourites of the event:

Allegrini Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2006: Aromas of rich plum and dark berries, red cherry, violets, and mace.  Full-bodied and opulent with an abundance of dark fruit flavours, well-integrated tannins and a long length.

Lorenzo Begali Monet Ca’ Bianca Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 1997: Complex aromas of leather, prunes, black licorice, dried cherries, and potpourri.  The soft and silky texture is truly amazing with flavours of dried berries and leather.

Masi Serego Alighieri Vaio Armaron Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2004: Lots of red and dark fruit aromas with a chocolatey note.  Full-bodied with mouthwatering acidity and juicy, ripe dark berry fruit and baking spices.  Juicy and delicious.

Musella Amarone della Valpolicella 1999: Intoxicating aromas of leather, cedar, forest floor, dried fruit, and dried flowers.  The tannins are silky and soft and there is a hint of cherry flavoured cigars on the palate.  A long finish.

Speri Vigneto Monte Sant’Urbano Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 1997:  Mature aromas of leather, dried soil, dried cherries, and coffee grounds are dominant.  The slightly tart acidity cleanses the palate.  A well-balanced wine with a long finish.

Tenuta Sant’Antonio Selezione Antonio Castagnedi Amarone della Valpolicella 2006: Loads of ripe red and dark fruit and spice.  The tannins are well-integrated and the length is long.  A velvetty, easy drinking Amarone.

Tommasi Vigneto Ca’ Florian Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 1998: Showing aromas of leather, cedar, dried flowers, dried cherries and other dried berries.  Drinking beautifully with a silky, juicy texture and a long finish.

Venturini Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2006: Very fruit-forward with red cherry and other fresh red fruit, dark plum, and blueberry.  Concentrated and lush, balanced and approachable.

Venturini Campomasua Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2003: Aromas of dried fruit including prunes and dried blueberries with a touch of leather.  Drinking well now with dried dark fruit and a touch of spice on the palate.  Balanced with a long finish.

Sergio Zenato Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Reserva 1998:  Complex and intoxicating aromas of leather, chocolate, mocha, prunes, dried fruit, and an animal note.  Lots of baking spices and dried fruit on the palate.  Sensual and silky.

Zenato Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2006: Lots of plum, dark fruit, black cherry, and spice aromas.  Full-bodied and rich with a luxurious texture.  Delicious!

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