Sunday, January 04, 2015

5 Italian Wine Regions to Watch in 2015

Italy with her endless array of wines and wine styles is poised for a resurgence. The wine business is relatively healthy driven by the big movers, Chianti, Moscato, Pinot Grigio and Prosecco. And the fringe wines are picking up momentum, the col fondo, orange and barrique-free ones.

What does that mean to this crystal ball gazer on the Blackland Prairie? The buffalos have long disappeared, as have the anthropophagic bipeds that once roamed these lands. Replaced by Escalades driven by soccer moms, the envisagement within the murky sphere points to Italy. And this is what I see.

Lazio – fueled by Rome and the upwelling of a food and wine culture not about tourists, this region is starting to climb out of its little dungeon in Frascati and make other wines of interest to people who want a deeper experience. Red wine is the focus here, although there are intriguing whites arriving as well.

What red? My vote is Cesanese. There are DOC, DOCG and IGT wines now available. One of the most searched for wines from Lazio is the Damiano Ciolli Silene Cesanese di Olevano Romano. Available in the US from A.I. Selections, a small importer of handmade wines. Two wines are available, the Cirsium and the Silene. Look for the Silene in the US for around $20.

Not yet available in the US is the Principe Pallavicini, which makes several Cesanese wines, from the simple Cesanese IGT to the Rubillo (also an IGT) and the Amarasco, a wine made from grapes raisinated on the vine. US imported is VIAS. So far the importer only lists the Amarasco on their website.

My friend Hande Leimer in Rome also recommends a Cesanese from Azienda Agricola L’Olivella, Racemo Cesanese “>” which also is a red wine from grapes left to whither on their vines. Picked in November, and attaining a hearty 14.5% alcohol. I have not had this wine.

It appears the red wines without the dried grapes arrive to 12.5% in the wines I have seen. In what I have tasted, the wines have good fruit, nice crisp, acidic dryness. They make good wines for the varied food of Rome (and the world beyond) and they’re poised for more popularity, if even only among the ones who seek those kinds of wines. And that is usually who survey these pages.

Sicily – the last few years I have been spending time in and around my family area, Piana degli Albanese. Close to Palermo, which is a food lovers “must stop.” This past summer with Diego Cusumano, I tasted some of his wines from the Ficuzza vineyard in Piana, known by my family in the native tongue as “t’Hora.” I never realized how much wine production there was in this little pocket of Sicily.

The wine that nailed me was Cusumano’sAngimbe,” a blend of 70% Insolia and 30% Chardonnay. I loved how the wine was crisp and full at the same time. There is no oak, so acid lovers won’t be put off too much. Not a “natural” wine in that the wine hasn't been left to its own devices. There is “winemaking” with this bottle, but it’s been well honed. I love the delicious crisp, fruity nature of the wine and think more people will find this wine and wines like this to their liking in 2015. There is plenty of white wine to tempt thirsty Palermitans. Cusumano’s “Angimbe” is one of several wines from Sicily, not from Etna, that wine lovers in the US should be coming to in 2015. I am entranced with wines from this part of Sicily and hope the crystal ball is perfectly clear on this vision. Cusumano is imported by Terlato in the US.

Tuscany - I’m continually reminded that there are other Chiantis than Classico. Two wines that I love hail from so-called “sub-zones,” Rufina and Montespertoli. Their proximity to another urban center, Florence, gives them a leg up on some of the other outlier zones. Their delicious flavor sends them over the top and lands them on this list.

From Rufina, one of my perennial favorites for over 30 years, is the Selvapiana. I cannot recall an expression of Sangiovese that more aptly fits the classic description of what a wine with that grape should be. As with Riesling, I can never keep Selvapiana wines in my closet for long. They disappear. Their attraction? I can drink a delicious wine, not think too much about it and not feel guilty for not having paid too much analytical attention to it because the wine does all the work. It makes me feel like a smarter drinker than I am. It’s the wine, not me. And more people “in the know” and just “coming into wine” should get some of this into their basket immediately. Imported by Dalla Terra.

My go-to Montespertoli Chianti is from Sonnino. Aspiring to be a little more modern, but again, the vines call the shots. The wines are overseen by the quirky and exasperatingly delightful couple, Baron Alessandro and Baroness Caterina de Renzis Sonnino. An evening (or a morning) with Alessandro and Caterina is an unforgettable experience. But seeing as they cannot apply their famous Tuscan hospitality to the world (nor do they aspire to that) you can take them into your arms and your heart by way of their wines. I recommend their Castello di Montespertoli Riserva Chianti. There is some oak, but the estate grown grapes have enough character to keep the wood at bay. Imagine an ascot rather than a tie and you get the idea. Loose but stylish, and always in the best of taste. Sonnino’s Castello di Montespertoli has several importers in the US.

Montespertoli and Rufina – Sangiovese is timeless. Finding their finer expressions is a lifelong quest. Not a trend, but definitely trending in 2015.

Alto Piemonte – A few years ago, I lamented on this blog over the lack of momentum in the Langhe for wines like Barolo and Barbaresco. Thanks to a few great vintages, the cost of oil (trading these days at around $50 a barrel) and the weak Euro, Nebbiolo is back and stronger than ever. So much that there will be shortages of 2010, 2011 and 2012 against the world demand. And that directs us to #4, the reds of Alto Piemonte.

Boca, Gattinara, Ghemme, Sizzano and Bramaterra along with Lessona and Carema, comprise this up-and-coming area on my map. Their closeness to a world-class city like Milan makes demands on products that offer new, different and value. These wines should have a hard time finding their way out of Italy. And often they do, but for the wrong reasons. Now, importers are looking back to the north and bringing these wines out of the hills.

Some of them have cult status, like Le Piane in Boca, Vallana in Maggiora, Monsecco in Sizzano and Ferrando in Ivrea. Any of these wines are worthy of their own category, but this is a time for rebuilding a region that once was great. I buy these wines, I put them in my cellar and I love these wines. I don’t turn my back on Barolo or Barbaresco. But these wines show so much promise, so much pleasure and are still very affordable. Importers like Neal Rosenthal, Vinity, A.I. Selections, Massanois and a handful of small, grassroots importers. Worth seeking out and definitely on my radar in 2015. Should be on yours as well.

Abruzzo - #5 was difficult, because I could as easily done a list of ten. My money is on Trebbiano. The time is right. Well, for me the time for Trebbiano has been right for the last 30 years, when I started drinking it regularly. I’m not talking Pepe and Valentini, although I do enjoy wines like them from time to time. But I need wines I can afford to drink, regularly. I have my Etna Bianco and Mosel Rieslings, true. But there is something to be said about a simple crisp, clear, clean, unencumbered white that I can open and pour freely to my friends and family.

Most people never even get to Abruzzo. Their loss. Our gain, for those of us who pilgrimage there more than the occasional wine junket. Great weather, fabulous food, reasonably priced, great beaches (which means great seafood) and therein provides the attraction for a crisp clean white like Trebbiano. And Abruzzo is the omphalos for this wine.

Having spent many summers on the beach at San Benedetto del Tronto (which is in the Marche on the Abruzzo border), Trebbiano soothed many a sunburn, assuaged many a plate of mezze manche with tiny clams and helped expedite the finishing off a plate of grilled langosto. Perhaps this nomination is more backwards looking than forward; I hope not. For under $10 your can still find an estate bottled Trebbiano from Abruzzo. That’s still right for the times, in my book. Look for Masciarelli, La Valentina and Cantine Frentana for dependable examples. Masciarelli wine company in the US imports Masciarelli, La Valentina is from Dalla Terra and Frentana is from Tricana.

2015 will most likely be many things to many people. For those of us on the wine trail in Italy, the path is endless and the joys are many. Look to add wine from these five spots to your “endless joy” list of 2015.

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Sfuso said...

Racemo IGT is fabulous. Their Frascati is quite good as well. Fleet Street / Moore Brothers used to import/sell it here in NYC and Jersey at about $15. I believe the fellow who owns the estate is an unusual fellow and they no longer handle it. for the price point it would have been $25 if it came from Panzano.

Happy new year sir!


Wine Curmudgeon said...


Unknown said...

Caro Alfonso,
Pallavicini wines are available in the US from Vias including,
Frascati DOC
Frascati Superiore DOCG - Tre Bic 2015
Roma DOC Malvasia Puntinata
Amarasco Cesanese IGT
Syrah IGT
Casa Romana IFT
and soon the Stillato Passito

Unknown said...

Hi Alfonso. Im an importer in California and the is a grape that hardly anyone knows that is fantastic called Nero Buono. I import this wine from Cinncinato in Lazio and a lot of my customers who like these weird wines love this wine.

Happy New year

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