Italian Wines Newly Discovered

23 Oct

photoI promised that I’d tell you about some of the wines that I quaffed while in Italy. If I’d been a true and dedicated blogger with my readership front of mind, I’d have posted regularly with interesting anecdotes of our trip. “As we approached Guagnano from the north, the facade of the imposing cathedral cast a long protective shadow across the surrounding countryside like a grey polar fleece blanket on an autumn morn. I shifted into third gear and took a long drag on my dwindling Guitane. I shifted into third gear and tried to get my bearings. I wondered what the vineyards of Taurino Cosimo would have in store for a weary traveler and his sleeping wife.” But, “Bill, we don’t really care” right? Although I sniffed, quaffed, tasted, drank, swallowed many wines, there are but a small proportion mentioned in this post. Some of the left out wines were very local and never to be seen on these shores. The ones I’m reporting on are from producers with connections in North America or, in the case of the Morellino, a type of wine that I haven’t really mentioned much in my posts but bears looking out for at your local store.

2011 Mantelassi Morellino di Scansano

mantelassiScansano is a village in the Tuscan region near the city of Grosseto. So, it’s south and closer to the coast than many of Tuscany’s more familiar DOC(G)’s. Morellino di Scansano is a Sangiovese based wine (in Scansano, they call Sangiovese – Morellino). The wine doesn’t carry the importance or the critical acclaim of other Sangiovese wines – Chianti, Montalcino, but I’ve always found these wines great value, early drinking, and food friendly. The Morellino grapes ripen a bit more here than north and they capitalize on that with a fresh, early drinking wine. I had this wine at a trattoria in Roma with what ended up being my favourite dish of the whole trip – spinach and ricotta stuffed ravioli with a butter sage sauce. You could smell it coming across the floor. Somehow that sounds like a Neil Young song? Utterly orgasmic – the ravioli that is. Why can’t we get pasta like this in North America? The wine was a great match to this with its understated herbal character, moderate acidity, and red fruits. If you have never had a Morellino, do pick one up or search out on a restaurant’s wine list. They are usually inexpensive. Yes, got it, Neil Young’s Unknown Legend – “I used to order just to watch her walk across the floor.” Approximate cost $15 CAD. Recommend.

2011 Feudi di San Marzano SUD Primitivo di Manduria

sudprimitivoManduria is a commune (circa 30,000 pop) that lies between Taranto and Lecce in Puglia. It has been making Primitivo wines forever if not longer. Much of that was shipped north to be blended (allegedly in some cases unmentioned with high priced juice) to add weight and roundness in watered down years. However, in the last couple decades, growers and wineries have started to focus on making fine local wines from this early ripening grape. Primitivo is a descendent of a Croatian grape and, I’ve read, is a DNA match for zinfandel. I don’t taste any great similarity but then again it’s a very different climate, soil, method of growing and vinification than California.  We purchased this wine in Alberello (picture – bottom of page) north east of Brindisi for our room (I really should say ‘I’ purchased it as Arlene doesn’t drink reds). So, bread, cheese and potato crisps were the accompaniment. All very ‘local’ as in purchased at the local Alimentari. This wine is a great introduction to Primitivo di Manduria. It had loads of what you typically find in southern France – a garriguish note with the fruit very much in the background in the glass until you take a swig. It’s round with softish tannins – which was a surprise as I usually get tannins that are pretty robust with these wines. Great red fruit, some of that same garrigue, and little to no meaty flavours and just as the finish finishes finishing there’s a hint of chocolate. OK, I made up the chocolate part to get you to try some. Loved this! Approximate price here will be about $16 CAD. I did recommend the 2010 in my newsletter a year or so ago. Would highly recommend this!

ilselva2011 Il Selva DOC Locorotondo

While in Alberobello, we were entertained by an owner of an alimenteri and butcher shop. He and his brother (I’m assuming here) told us all about the homemade charcuterie and local wines. I picked up the SUD Primitivo mentioned above which wasn’t all that local and Arlene tasted and purchased an interesting white from the winery located in Aberobello – Cantina Albea. White wines from hot locales, IMHO, tend to be crisp, lighter, and minerally usually. This white had some roundness – our host suggested that there was some Chardonnay involved. But I think that he overheard that Arlene’s favourite white was Chardonnay. In doing some research, the blend is 60% Verdeca, 35% Bianco di Alessano, and 5% Fiano Minutolo. It had a refreshing fruitiness, nice length and just loved being served cold which is just what we needed.

2011 Leone de Castris Villa Santera Primitivo di Manduria

villasanteraThis producer is perhaps the oldest one in Puglia as far as bottling their own wines. They work out of Salice Salentino, have large holdings themselves and purchase grapes from many growers in the region. Their flagship wines are generally Salice Salentinos (we get them in Ontario) but I thought that since I was on a Primitivo kick, I’d keep the meter running. I had this wine in Otranto. This didn’t have the heft of the one abovefairly unmemorable and my notes indicate a bit of flailing around trying to describe this wine – never a good sign. Although not higher in alcohol than the San Marzano – it carried a bit of heat that I attributed to the lack of balance generally and my sipping while talking without food mode. Approximate cost $14 CAD. Would not recommend this. But, do try their Salice Salentino Riserva – in most years good value. An incredibly consistent winery.

2010 Tenuta San Francesco Costa d’Amalfi 4 Spine

4spineI purchased this from a little wine shop in Amalfi. Il Costiera Amalfitana is quite simply – spectacular. To find local wines was just a pleasant bonus. Friends, Susanne and Brenda, had been to the area in June and visited this winery in Tramonti, so I wanted to look up their wares. This was supposed to be a ‘bring home’ wine @ 20 Euros but that concept got lost when I had to keep looking at it in our room in Ravello. Well, we had some local sheep’s milk cheese, a crust of bread and such (Bless the Child), and some fruit. It was perfect for an afternoon repast and gazing out over the Mediterranean (picture of view at top of post). This wine is a blend of 60% Tintore, 30% Aglianico, and 10% Piedirosso. To say I was blown away might be an understatement. This wine needed about an hour to clear the cobwebs and settle down which meant that I only had half a bottle left when it found its stride. Full-bodied, licorice, tar, and dark plums and black stuff – simply lovely to sit and sip. Contemplate life, a pre-dinner snooze, and re-cap the day’s walk. No heat present – balanced with more than enough tannin to match the sheep’s milk cheese and would duel well with red meat, I bet. Approximate cost $28 CAD. Highly, highly recommended! Did I say that I liked it?

2012 Mastroberardino Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio

lacrymaI had read a recent post by The Armchair Sommelier about this remarkable winery and man. He has been in large part responsible for the rejuvenation of the Taurasi DOCG and plantings in and around Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius (see below – my keeper wine). This wine is predominantly Piedirosso and I suspect a little blending of Aglianico (couldn’t find out definitively). I purchased this in the restaurant, drank half with a huge plate of scampi and prawns with mint sauce.  Did I say it was yuuge? I took the rest of the wine back to our room. I finished it up over the next two days. Anyone who knows me knows that that is a lie. I finished it that night! Well, if you like dirty reds – this wine is for you. Earthy, traces of foliage, figs and red dripping fruit on the nose and in the mouth everything coming through but with some minerality (the volcanic soil?). Moderately tannic but not too much so. Medium bodied and just plain nasty and delicious. I am going to make it my mission to turn people on to this inexpensive wine. Approximate price $17 CAD (at the friggin’ restaurant!). Highly recommend. Thanks to the Armchair Sommelier!

What I Learned In Italy Lesson #4

Based on the recommendation of The Armchair Sommelier, as I mentioned above, I looked for wines from Mastroberardino and found quite a few. They were readily available in Amalfi and Ravello. But not knowing that, I jumped the gun and the first ones I saw in a wine shop in Amalfi, I bought,. The man there was the best wine merchant on the trip – he was very convincing on the benefit of purchasing two bottles of everything. “You have now, you think about it, you leave other one for later? Good way.” Well, I ended up with a 1999 Mastroberardino Taurasi Radici. Given how good cheaper wines were, I was thinking that I’d overspent at approximately $38 CAD (28 Euros). It’s now nestled safely in my basement and I can’t wait to drink it. The thing that I wanted to mention though was the variation in pricing in Italy generally but especially in tourist areas. The same wine in Ravello was 65 Euros or about $90 CAD. That’s $52 CAD or $51 USD more! Another revelation was the relatively solid pricing we have in Ontario for Italian wines compared to the Duty Fee at Roma Fuicimino. Example – Frescobaldi’s Castelgiocondo Brunello costs me $49.95 here. At the Fuicimino Duty Fee it was 40 Euros or about $58 CAD! Likewise Luce, Tignanello (80 Euros! – $102.00 CAD here). So, word to the wise – cheap wines abound in Italia just not as you’re exiting stage left or wondering around Villa Cimbrone.

Thanks to Karen McNeil’s Wine Bible, Wikipedia, and for some of the more arcane details of these wine regions and grapes. “Somewhere on a desert highway. She rides a Harley-Davidson. Her long blond hair flying in the breeze. She’s been running half her life. The chrome and steel she rides  – colliding with the very air she breathes.”


6 Responses to “Italian Wines Newly Discovered”

  1. armchairsommelier October 23, 2013 at 5:35 pm #

    Thanks for the shout-out, Bill! The right Italian vino can change your life, can it not? Salute!!


  2. Stefano October 23, 2013 at 6:22 pm #

    Very nice coverage and very nice trip, Bill!
    Feudi di San Marzano is a very good producer. Did you happen to try their Primitivo 60 Anni? It is a big wine, pretty impressive. Also, did you by any chance get to try Gianfranco Fino’s Primitivo “Es”? That’s another gem from Puglia. De Castris is another solid producer (sorry about your less than stellar experience with their Primitivo) – like you said, their Donna Lisa Riserva (Negroamaro and Malvasia Nera blend) is definitely something worth trying.
    Finally, I am sure you will certainly enjoy your 1999 Taurasi Radici: with the Riserva, it is one of my favorite Taurasi’s. Don’t forget to decant it and let us all know how you like it when you try it! 🙂


    • Duff's Wines October 23, 2013 at 6:44 pm #

      Thanks for the comment, best wishes with Mastroberardino and suggestions. Saw the Marzano that you recommend but didn’t try. It’s interesting how you plan on all the stops, visits to talk to people and then how you run out of time. I’m afraid I’m not disciplined enough and my wife was less interested in visiting too many wineries. Yes, the trip was great. Puglia a real pleasant surprise and a good alternative cuisine and wine-wise to Tuscany. But not the sights and terrain.


  3. Conrad (The Wine Wankers) October 23, 2013 at 6:43 pm #

    That sounds like an awesome trip with great wines. Trying to get my favourites home from those tours is always a struggle, wrapped up deep inside my bag with unnecessary items like some clothes tossed out!


    • Duff's Wines October 23, 2013 at 6:49 pm #

      Exactly. Worrying that you’ll arrive at Baggage seeing a red soaked suitcase. But it usually works out. Thanks for the comment. I saw your colleague was dealing with a threatening and scary fire situation. Not too comforting. Best wishes.


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