The Wine Guys

February 7, 2014


You can never get enough Italian wine, we say. There is so much diversity in the Italian wine market — prosecco, barolo, chianti, brunello and more — that it seems impossible to have tried all of the 350 varieties grown there. To taste all of them every year would be like painting a bridge: once you finish, you have to start over again.

Sangiovese hasn’t been our favorite Italian grape because it just doesn’t seem to deliver complexity unless it is blended with cabernet sauvignon. However, we were recently impressed when we pulled from our cellars an older chianti to compare to a current vintage.

Although most collectors we know don’t see chianti as an age-worthy wine, many of them can do quite well.

The wines were the 2006 and 2008 vintages of Ruffino Riserva Ducale Oro. This is Ruffino’s top chianti and they make a lot of it. It’s relatively easy to find, which is one reason we like to write about it, and reasonably priced. Like all chiantis, it is made from sangiovese grapes grown in beautiful Tuscany and aged in oak casks for 24 months.

The 2006 didn’t show any depreciation in quality. Its elements were more integrated than what we found in the newly released 2008. This is a good wine for both current drinking or short-term aging.

Meanwhile, here’s a motley collection of Italian wines we recently tasted:

Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2010 ($29). Owner Virginie Saverys bought this property just four years ago, but already her concentration on organic and biodynamic practices has made a difference. This southern Tuscan wine made made from sangiovese grown around the medieval hill-top town of Montepulciano is stunning. It has copious black cherry and plum flavors with a wet forest floor character that makes it so interesting.

Ruffino Riserva Ducale Oro 2008 ($28). One of the most venerable producers in Tuscany, Ruffino takes up its reserve chianti a notch with Oro. It is made only in good vintages and only with the best grapes. About 20 percent of the blend is made up of merlot and canaiolo grapes. It went well with pasta bolognese.

Il Poggione Rosso de Montalcino 2011 ($28). Not everyone can afford to drink Brunello di Montalcino every day, so the rosso de montalcino is a great fall back. This little brother of brunello, made with the same sangiovese grape, has fresh, wild berry notes and is meant for early consumption. The grapes come from younger vines and therefore the wines don’t have the complexity found in brunellos sourced from older vines. The wine is aged in oak for a year to tame the tannins.

Mazzoni Piemonte Barbera 2010 ($20). This reasonably priced barbera with good bottle age is a delightful drink, even if simple and medium-bodied. Its red berry flavors and soft texture would be a great match for pasta. The wine is a partnership between California’s Terlato and Italy’s Franceschi families.

Brancaia Chianti Classico Riserva 2010 ($40). Not all chianti is cheap and simple as this riserva will attest. Chianti lovers need to stretch their pocketbooks and try some of the more complex wines coming from Tuscany. About 20 percent of the wine is merlot and the rest is sangiovese. Forward in fruit, the wine shows off dark fruit notes with hints of tobacco and tea.

Castello di Gabbiano Chianti Classico 2011 ($12). One of our favorite Chianti producers, Gabbiano has several wines that never fail to please. This regular chianti is a great value for everyday drinking. Simple, medium-bodied and rich in flavor. The sangiovese is blended with a little merlot and canaiolo. We also like Gabbiano’s 2010 Bellezza ($40), its reserve sangiovese. You get a lot more complexity and concentration for the money.

Catina Zaccagnini Montepuliciano d’Abruzzo 2010 ($15). This is a great value from Italy. Made entirely from montepuliciano grapes grown in Abruzzo, it sports blackberry aromas and ripe dark berry and leather flavors. Nice hints of oregano and vanilla. Buy it by the case, if you can find it.

Re Midas Corvina Venezie IGT 2012 ($10).Corvina is one of the main grapes that make up the soft Italian red wine in Valpolicella. Made entirely from corvina grapes, this wine offers up a nose and flavors of cherries and a little bit of earth. Soft and generous this is a very pleasing and well-priced wine that is worth trying. Not complex but very good.

Lamarca Prosecco ($14). Very clean and refreshing grapefruit and apple flavors with citrus aromas. Good value.

Poliziano Rosso di Montepuliciano 2011 ($15). We were delighted to find thhis simple but delicious Italian gem from Montepuliciano. Blended with 20 percent merlot, the sangiovese offers up ample black cherry and raspberry flavors and a splash of oak. For the money we liked it better than its $28 cousin, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

Damilano Cannubi Barolo 2008 ($85). More and more barolos like this one are delicious on arrival. Although they can still be aged for a decade or longer, a more approachable style allows them to be enjoyed with dinner today. This one has good varietal flavors: cherry and ripe plum with a hint of tobacco and licorice.

Boroli Quattro Fratelli Barbera d’Alba ($15). This is a pretty tasty, albeit simple, wine for the price. Don’t expect complexity — just bright raspberry and wild blackberry flavors.

Cantina Zaccagnini Montepuliciano d’Abruzzo 2010 ($11). Dark berry and raw meat aromas with juicy, forward black berry flavors. Good price.

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