Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Value reds from around the boot

I’m always on a quest for new, exciting and affordable Italian wines. Italian wine can be quite a minefield in this price range and I’ve certainly tasted through my share of unremarkable bottles. However, each of the bottles below represents an excellent value for what’s in the glass. Plus, there’s something for everyone, from pure Italian typicity, as in the Burlotto Langhe Freisa, to an internationally styled wine in overdrive, like the Terre di Sava, Luccarelli Pazzia. So read on, and take your pick, as each of these is currently available at retail.


The Veneto
Masi was one of the first Italian wine companies in my vocabulary. After tasting a young 2000 Masi Sergio Alighieri Amarone, I was convinced that this was a producer of the highest quality. Now many years later, and these wines from Verona continue to impress. Just last February, their 2005 Masi Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Riserva Costasera wow’d me at the Gambero Rosso tasting in NYC. But one cannot just always drink Amarone, and Masi has the answer; The Campofiorin. Masi Campofiorin consists of a mix of traditional Veronese grapes; but what’s different from this, and a typical Valpolicella, is that Masi double ferments the Campofiorin, with the second fermentation having semi-dried grapes added to the mix. However, this is not just Valpolicella in overdrive. Instead, it is rich, intriguing--yet vibrant and so obviously Italian. It’s a highly enjoyable glass of wine.

2007 Masi Campofiorin Ripasso Veronese IGT - The nose showed black cherry, dusty potpourri and sautéed mushroom with hints of cinnamon and clove. It was soft and enveloping on the palate with wild berries, and spices leading to a juicy sweet finish with red fruits and minerals lingering to the end. (91 points) Find it: Wine-Searcher


Gigi Rosso, a winery in Castiglione Falletto, Piedmont, is a new name to me but one that I’ll certainly look for again. Dolcetto has come a long way in recent years, with many producers aiming for more internationally styled wines that, unfortunately, come across as overdone and chewy. Luckily, there are still many producers making Dolcetto in the style I prefer, which is fresh, earthy, easy-drinking and with that textbook Italian acidity that makes them perfect with food… this is one of those wines.

2008 Gigi Rosso Dolcetto Diano d'Alba Moncolombetto – The nose showed woodland aromas with black wild berries, hints of wood and just the right amount of undergrowth. On the palate, I found a soft and juicy expression of blackberry fruit leading to florals and hints of bitters on the finish. This Dolcetto showed just the right amount of fruit bolstered by earth to keep it very interesting and highly drinkable. (90 points) Not yet available on WIne-Searcher!

Comm. G.B. Burlotto produces some of the most unique Baroli on the market today. Bottles that can age effortlessly for decades yet still show their roots and unique terrior. However, this house also produces a number of local varietal bottles, such as Barbera, Dolcetto and Freisa. Freisa is a varietal that we are seeing more and more often on the shelves of American wine shops, and I couldn’t be happier. These are intense wines, sometimes made in a slight fizzante style, but when made in a dry style where proper attention is paid in the vineyard and winery, can produce wines of remarkable depth that are far from just daily drinkers.

2007 Comm. G.B. Burlotto Langhe Freisa - The nose showed a mix of sweet and salty, as brown sugar and dark spice cookie with hints of Pecorino and violets wafted up from the glass. On the palate, acidity battled against bitters and resulted in wonderful fresh expression of brambly black berry and cinnamon. It turned a little bitter again toward the close. This is a very enjoyable wine, but I would suggest opening it with a meal to balance the bitters and acidity. (90 points) Find it: Wine-Searcher!


Montepulciano d'Abruzzo was first introduced to me by the affordable and always enjoyable Cantina Zaccagnini (which may very well have been included here had I tasted the most recent vintage). However, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo is almost always enjoyable and certainly easily drinkable, but what it usually lacks is character. This wine had character in spades. The La Valentina Montepulciano, when popped and poured, seemed like just another good Italian sipper, but what really impressed me was how it evolved over the course of a few hours. It’s still difficult, in my opinion, to find Montepulciano d'Abruzzo that will thrill you. However, La Valentina proves that you can certainly find wines of the highest quality that will intrigue and impress at an excellent price point.

2005 Fattoria La Valentina Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Spelt - The nose showed blueberries, clove, wood barrel and a hint of manure. On the palate, I found juicy cherry with a sour note, dark chocolate and a nice bitter bite that lasted into the finish. At first, this wine was easy-drinking, fun and pleasingly soft on the palate, but what was more interesting was how it picked up nuances and depth with time in the glass. (89 points) Find it: Wine-Searcher!


Primitivo, often associated with American Zinfandel, but still in debate as to whether or not they are truly related, certainly makes a case for showing many similar qualities to Zinfandel. This bottle was a perfect example, as it showed the rich and brambly fruit and intensity. What I really enjoyed about it was how fresh the palate became, even after being coating in rich fruit. This is certainly a bottle to look for if your preference is massive, complex and palate-staining wine.

2007 Terre di Sava Primitivo di Manduria Luccarelli Pazzia – The nose on this wine was massive, with dark chocolate, sweet cherry liquor, blueberry syrup, chestnut and hints of caramel. However, on the palate, it managed to play a balancing act between power and finesse as flavors of black cherry with herbs and spice bombarded the taste buds, only to be washed away by balanced acidity. The finish was long in ripe, dark red fruits. I wouldn’t have guessed Italian, but it is certainly an attractive wine that will find many fans in the market of big, internationally styled wines. (90 points) Find it: Wine-Searcher


Avignonesi is an estate that has become synonymous with Vino Nobile and produces a range of wines from easy-drinking Sangiovese to one of the most sought after Vin Santos in production: “Occhio di Pernice”. Of their Vino Nobile line, the houses flagship bottle, the “Riserva Grandi Annate.” is a top-shelf bottle that often receives critical praise and is highly sought after by collectors. However, in my opinion, the real gem is the affordable, easy drinking and entry level Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

2007 Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano - This wine showed a very internationally styled bouquet, with aromas of cherry, wild berry, cinnamon sugar and cacao powder rising from the glass. With time, the sweetshop aromas backed off and allowed spice and floral undergrowth to come forward. On the palate, I found red berries and clove with a hint of sweetness but very fresh through the long juicy finish. This wine may not have shown its Italian roots very well, but it was enjoyable in a new world kind of way. (91 points) Find it: Wine-Searcher!

Piaggia has quickly become one of my favorite producers in Tuscany. They can be found in the Carmignano growing area, with wines that easily give the best Chianti a run for it’s money. The 2007 Il Sasso was one of my wines of the year in 2010. The 2007, takes all the lush fruit and glamour of the 2006, but adds a brooding structure that will likely allow it to drink well for over a decade. It is a beautiful wine at an amazing price.

2007 Piaggia Carmignano Il Sasso - The nose showed cherry and herbs with undergrowth and a hint of new oak. The palate showed a medium body but with silky elegance and flavors of cherry, pomegranate and dark chocolate, with a slight austerity. The finish was long yet fresh with silky tannin. This bottle was feminine yet muscular and should drink even better after being in the cellar for a few more years. (92 points) Find it: Wine-Searcher!

What constitutes value? Is it a dollar amount or a comparison of what’s in the glass versus what tariff you pay? I would argue it’s the latter, and in the case of the 2000 Monsanto Chianti Classico Riserva Il Poggio, I believe its value is absolute. I have always been a fan of Il Poggio, which is a long-lived wine that is periodically released by the winery as a “library wine” and can often command prices of $100 and up (way up). But in the case of the 2000 vintage, this wine is already showing remarkable nuance and soft resolved tannin against plush fruit, and at a price of $42, it’s a remarkable value.

2000 Castello di Monsanto Chianti Classico Riserva Il Poggio – The nose showed dark vibrant red fruits with earth, minerals, spice, cocoa, old wood and a savory baked butter crust quality. On the palate, I found lush ripe strawberry, mushroom and leather with beautiful balance and a full body. The finish was long with red fruit and spice that went on and on. (93 points) Find it: Wine-Searcher!

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