From the Archives, Iconic Italian Wines: A Fantastic Tasting in London

by Ian D’Agata

We are all aware there exist true wine icons that are desired and searched for by wine lovers and collectors all over the world. Any bottles carrying on their labels names such as, for example, Henri Jayer, or the La-La-Las of Guigal, Screaming Eagle, the First Growths from the turn of the twentieth century, TBAs from Egon Muller are dreamed of by anybody who loves wines and are the ultimate trophies providing life-long bragging rights in any self-respecting, erudite wine drinking circle. However, there are many other producers making wines that can be considered iconic too and that are somewhat easier to find and affordable: older vintages of Krug, Cristal and other prestige cuvées of Champagne, Penfold’s Grange, Harlan, Spain’s Vega Sicilia, Trimbach’s Clos Ste. Hune Riesling and so forth. Many Italian wines are just as iconic: for example the best vintages of Tenuta San Guido’s Sassicaia, Masseto, Quintarelli’s Amarone (especially the Riservas), Tenuta di Trinoro, Tua Rita’s Redigaffi, Biondi-Santi Brunello Riservas, Barolo and Barbaresco Riservas by Bruno Giacosa, and Giacomo Conterno’s Monfortino, another Barolo Riserva. In fact, the country has no shortage of iconic beauties, with the white wines of Miani, Terlano, Valentini, Benanti and Tiberio ranking with the world’s best; but there are other red wines that perhaps don’t get the same airplay as others I’ve mentioned here but that rank nonetheless amongst the world’ greatest wines.

This past February 6, in a truly remarkable wine tasting held in London and organized by Astrum Wines (one of the UK’s best wine importers and a consummate Italian wine specialist), I was lucky enough to partake in a moment of truly rarefied wine tasting excellence. The wines in the tasting were all either excellent or downright spectacular. Their intrinsic level of goodness resulted from the perfect storm of wine attributes, including first and foremost there being only wines from truly great vintages (a common ploy when trying ti impress people is using a famous name wine from a horrific vintage; but to Astrum’s credit and their willingness to go the extra mile for their clients and fans, no famous wines from lousy vintages such as 2003 were included in this tasting). Almost every wine featured in this masterclass can be considered benchmark for its grape variety or wine category; and even those that don’t really fit into that mould are characterized by specific traits or terroir characteristics to make them unique in some ways.

For example, there can be no doubt that Miani’s Ribolla Gialla Pettarin is not just the best Ribolla Gialla wine made in Italy, but an argument can be made that it may well be Italy’s best white wine, period (Gravner’s is just as good, but is a completely different wine such that a fair, even logical, comparison between the two is impossible). Similarly, there is no better producer of Greco wines in Italy than Pietracupa: normally, the best Greco wines of Italy are those that sport the Greco di Tufo denomination, but in the case of owner’s Sabino Loffredo’s Greco G wine, the denomination is inconsequential. The Pietracupa 2010 Greco G may very well be not just the best Greco wine he has ever made, but the best wine period. On that note, there is no doubt that the Oddero 2016 Barolo Riserva Vignarionda is just that: in other words, the best Barolo Vignarionda ever made by the winery, perhaps even the best wine Oddero has ever made (and they have made quite a few since the nineteenth century, so that’s saying something). Tenuta di Trinoro’s 2013 Tenuta di Trinoro Toscana Rosso, is a perfect example of a Supertuscan made in a cooler year such that it boasts less of the viscous opulent flesh this wine is capable of showcasing in spades, but boasts instead supreme elegance and lightness of being. Despite it being made with the two Cabernets (mostly Cab Franc, in fact), Merlot and a dollop of Petit Verdot, it has nonetheless excellent ripeness levels and broadcasts what the relatively little-known and little-used farmland around the small town of Sarteano in southern Tuscany can deliver. About the only thing I have to add is that it is highly reductive to call Trinoro’s wine (or that of Tua Rita, or Petrolo, or Castello del Terriccio, for example) as simply “Supertuscnas”, independently of all the good that that name conjures up. This is because just about any Cab-Merlot wine made in Tuscany can be referred to as a “Supertuscan” but there is a quality chasm separating the best from the average and weaker wines that benefit from that monicker. The Speri 1988 Amarone della Valpolicella Vigneto Sant’Urbano is a masterpiece. Everyone reading this article has probably tried Amarone once in their life, if not more; but truth is, for such a famous wine, not all examples are as well-balanced and easy to drink as they ought to be. Speri’s1988 wine (an excellent vintage) is drinking splendidly right now: it finds itself in a sweet spot that makes it at once extremely velvety, delicious and irresistible, though remarkably relatively youthful and age-worthy. Speaking of “balance”, no word describes better, and then some, the Ronchi di Cialla 1983 Verduzzo di Cialla Colli Orientali del Friuli, a superb sweet wine. Verduzzo Friulano (not to be confused with a similarly-named variety called Verduzzo Trevigiano) is a very underrated Italian white grape, that can give easygoing classically dry white wines but also magically rich and luscious stickies (usually made with air-dried grapes). The 1983 vintage was an especially great one in Friuli Venezia Giulia (the reds were very fine too that year) and this Verduzzo wine showcases this fact admirably: it’s a wine that shows off the tannic heft typical of the variety, but at the same time its just as typical deep and complex aromas and flavours of almond, marzipan, ripe orchard fruit (with a whiplash of tropical fruit and chestnut honey added in for good measure). The Produttori del Barbaresco 2013 Barbaresco Riserva Rabajà offers nice insight into the exact quality of the 2013 vintage in Barolo and Barbaresco (an underrated vintage, in my opinion), with a wine that harkens stylistically back to the many great wines made during the 1980s and even the 1970s, in much cooler times than today’s days irrevocably marked by climate change. That cool climate is evident in the Poggio Scalette 2010 Il Carbonaione Alta Valle del Greve, a Sangiovese wine made by one of Italy’s chief consultant winemakers, Vittorio Fiore. The Ruffolo area where the grapes used to make this wine grow is characterized by a specific biotype of Sangiovese, known as Sangiovese di Lamole. It’s a Sangiovese that gives much bigger wines than usual and that are successfully produced even in the area’s cold climate conditions, where Sangiovese never ripens fully; instead, the Sangiovese di Lamole appears to manage to do so. In fact, I think there has existed quite a bit of confusion on this subject in the past, as the majority of old vines planted in the Lamole area seventy-eighty years ago were actually of a distinct variety called Sangiovese Forte or Sanforte, one that is much better suited to the Lamole climate than Sangiovese. This is because it not only ripens well despite the cooler climate but because it delivers a wine that is at the same time muscular and tannic, but also smooth and fruity. The presence of Sanforte, in smaller or larger degrees helps explain why the “Sangiovese wines” of the area look, smell and taste different from more typical Sangiovese wines, without needing to figure out other reasons as to why that may be. Last but not least, the Castello Romitorio 2014 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva is a very good wine from the excellent, but admittedly slightly overrated 2004 vintage. Made with Sangiovese grapes that are planted at the highest altitudes of the denomination, Romitorio’s Brunellos are always marked by a slightly herbal and high-acid mouthfeel that helps deliver a sense of juiciness and freshness that is uncommon in most Brunellos made today (even those from the northern-facing reaches of the denomination).

The wines in this tasting

All the wines in this report were tasted in London this past February in a remarkable masterclass I had the pleasure and honour of guiding during the annual Astrum Wine portfolio tasting (the tasting was held this year in the Mall Galleries). This was one of the best Italian wine tastings I have ever been a part of, with one remarkable wine after one remarkable wine; even better, all the wines were in amazing shape and with years of life still ahead. In short, this is a tasting that could really be described as being “once in a lifetime”; and if arguably not so in absolute terms, then certainly in relative terms, because to taste so many well-stored Italian wines, all in perfect condition and from outstanding vintages and in many cases at their apogee, is a true rarity.

Miani 2021 Ribolla Gialla Pettarin Friuli Colli Orientali            96+

Luminous pale golden-tinged yellow. Complex, deep and still very youthful aromas and flavours of yellow fruit, lime curd, almond paste, jasmine and lemon verbena, complemented by delicate but captivating notes of saffron and acacia honey. Vibrant and penetrating, this beautiful wine finishes long and clean with rising mineral and white flower nuances, and a strong hint of lemon and lime. Compellingly well-balanced, this very young Ribolla Gialla has the glyceral texture typical of his ultra-concentrated wines but is still an infant: though it’s great to drink right now, this super-focused, super-energetic wine will be a far better, more complete wine with another five years or so of bottle age. Drinking window: 2029-2040.

Cantina Terlano 2021 Terlaner I Grande Cuvée Primo Alto Adige                    96

Bright straw-green with a little gold. Deep aromas of chamomile, beeswax, white orchard fruit and minerals are complicated by strong hints of Sauvignon-derived gooseberry and lime. Then multilayered and thick, but with lovely lift thanks to white flower and fresh citrus elements energizing the apple and pear flavours. The finish is long and lively, with a very refined quality and repeating nuances of the Sauvignon presence. A blend of mostly Pinot Bianco (from the prized Vorberg cru), with some Chardonnay (from the Kreuth area) and very little Sauvignon Blanc (from the excellent Winkl site), this is Terlano’s best wine. Drinking window: 2029-2040.

Pietracupa 2010 Greco G Campania                      97

Medium dark straw-yellow but without any obvious gold that normally characterizes both Greco wines and older wines, such as this one is. Aromas and flavours of white fruit, musk, orange oil, and buttercups. Remains vibrant and lifted on the palate from start to long, rising finish. This is a remarkably Fiano-like Greco, but the chewiness typical of Greco comes to the fore on the long back end. At the time of its release for sale, the 2010 was only the third Greco G that owner Sabino Loffredo had made, on the heels of the 2001 and 2003 vintages. To date, he has not made another G yet, though it appears another will finally see the light of day next year. The 2010 Greco G is a real winemaking tour de force; f you’ve tried Greco di Tufo wine before that you liked, do try and get a hold of a bottle of this one (it won’t be easy) and get ready to change your mind about the Greco wine grape and its wines. Drinking window: 2024-2035.

Oddero 2016 Barolo Riserva Vignarionda                           100

If the 2016 Barolo Riserva Vignarionda isn’t the best wine Oddero has ever made, then I really don’t know what is. Bright medium-deep red. The captivating aromas of red cherry, sweet spices, minerals, pipe tobacco, and red roses boast remarkable purity and depth. Then similar flavours in the mouth, with an extremely suave texture and impeccable acid/tannin/fruit balance. The finish is long, concentrated and multilayered, featuring repeating sweet spicy and floral nuances. Oddero has made a lot of wines over the years, but this wine is really a step beyond anything they have ever done before, with an amazing silky mouthfeel you won’t soon forget. Drinking window: 2026-2045.

Produttori del Barbaresco 2013 Barbaresco Riserva Rabajà             95

Deep red. Red cherry, tobacco, violet and a nuance of cocoa on the refined, expressive nose. Lively and easygoing on entry, then deeper and richer in the middle, with deep red and dark cherry notes complicated by minty and musky nuances. Closes long and smoothly tannic, with a hint of minerality. This Barbaresco Riserva reflects all the attributes of the 2013 vintage, that gave somewhat lighter-bodied (“lighter-bodied” by Barbaresco standards) but very refined wines that will prove very age-worthy. Drinking window: 2024-2043.

Poggio Scalette 2010 Il Carbonaione Alta Valle del Greve                 93

Very deep ruby-red. Aromas and flavours of red and dark cherry and potpourri, with strong presence of tobacco and medicinal herbs. The finish is long and boasts earthy, herbal and tarry nuances. Mouthcoating but relatively smooth, this is drinking beautifully now but has the stuffing to age further. It is an atypical Sangiovese wine, made with what is thought to be a specific biotype of Sangiovese of Lamole that can grow and ripen in that cooler climate environment giving bigger fleshier wines than Sangiovese). For sure, the Carbonaione sub-subarea has always been thought of very highly; in fact, records indicate it was the first of a then barren area to be replanted after World War I. Drinking window: 2024-2032.

Castello Romitorio 2004 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva                94

Medium red-ruby with a garnet rim. Potpourri, dark spice, red cherry and tobacco on the broad, open-knit nose. Then also broad in the mouth in typical 2004 fashion, with that warm year’s ripe fruit and spice tones obvious on the palate as well. Finishes with hints of graphite and coffee, along with repeating notes of red fruit. This is a solid Brunello that is aging gracefully and will be best enjoyed over the next five to eight years. Drinking window: 2024-2035.

Tenuta di Trinoro 2013 Tenuta di Trinoro Toscana Rosso                95

Vivid red-ruby. Perfumed aromas of ripe red cherry, raspberry, minerals and violet are complemented by hints of dried cranberries and pipe tobacco; very Cabernet Franc!. Enters fruity, smooth and lively, then more austere in the middle, finishing long and clean with noteworthy refinement and a steely quality. Utterly beautiful, nuanced Cabernet-Merlot blend that has a lot more in common with the best of Saint-Emilion than it does with any of the jammier stuff made in Bolgheri, for example. The 2013 Trinoro was a blend of 50% Cabernet Franc, 33% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 4% Petit Verdot. It is interesting to see how over the years this wine has become more and more Cabernet Franc-dominated, with especially Cabernet sauvignon taling a real back seat since the first vintages; Merlot can still dominate from time to time depending on the vintage’s characteristics (as will be the case in the new 2021 vintage) but Trinoro is essentially a Cabernet Franc wine nowadays. This is not surprising given that the area of Sarteano seems especially suited to this variety (witness the monovariety Cabernet Franc bottlings produced by Tenuta di Trinoro, the various “Campo” wines, which are Italy’s best Cabernet Franc wines). Drinking window: 2024-2043.

Speri 1988 Amarone della Valpolicella Vigna Sant’Urbano                98

Warm, deep red colour with a pale garnet rim.  Absolutely captivating, multidimensional nose combines blackcurrant, dried red cherry, plums macerated in alcohol, brown spices, milk chocolate, and minerals, all lifted by a faded floral note. Sweet, creamy and deep on entry, then less showy and increasingly precise in the middle, yet wonderfully energetic despite its compelling silkiness and sweetness of red fruity flesh. Very ripe but not over the top, showcasing magically, still-bright red fruit and sweet spice flavors that carry through to an extremely long, vibrant finish featuring suave tannins and very complex spice, floral and licorice elements. Neither in the often blockbuster-styled Amarone in the Dal Forno mould nor as penetratingly elegant as the best from Quintarelli, this 1988 Speri Amarone is one of the best-balanced Amarone wines I have had in years. Drinking perfectly right now (this bottle at least), Speri ought to be paid by the Consorzio or the Italian government to go serve this beauty all over the world, for one sip is all it will take to get people to fall in love with Amarone. It’s so good I am wondering if I’m being stingy with my score. Drinking window: 2024-2035.

Ronchi di Cialla 1983 Verduzzo di Cialla Colli Orientali del Friuli                  98

Full vivid orange-gold color. Complex, deep and yet subtle nose offers ripe tropical fruit, almond paste, orange peel and toffee, plus sexy nuances of vanilla and baked cinnamon apple pie. Dense and viscous but with good energy to its lime curd, lemon zest, almond paste and crème brûlée flavours, lifted by a high-pitched orange-vanilla cream. Not as sweet as the nose leads one to expect, but fleshy and tannic in the typical Verduzzo Friulano way, this grows more viscous and more honeyed on the back half. Finishes clean and ripe but still firm, with an extremely long caramelly complexity. From the fantastic 1983 vintage, and made with a very underrated Italian native grape variety, this knockout sweet wine boasts truly magical acid/sugar/tannin/fruit balance, showcasing like words cannot do just how great Verduzzo wines can be. I have had this wine from this specific vintage at least twenty-thirty different times in my lifetime (yes, it’s a wine I know extremely well), and I can safely say this is the best bottle of Ronchi di Cialla’s 1983 Verduzzo I have ever tried. While sipping, I couldn’t stop myself from thinking what a pity it is that more people do not have the opportunity to drink wines and vintages like this one, for it would really open their eyes to the magic of generally unknown grapes and wines. Yes folks, believe it or not, there is more to life than just Chardonnay and Sauvignon wines. Drinking window: 2024-2035. (For more information on the Verduzzo wine by Ronchi di Cialla, please refer to my long, in-depth vertical tasting report published here in the TerroirSense Wine Review on October 26, 2022).



Ian D'Agata

Editor-in-Chief of Terroir Sense Wine Review
President of Terroir Sense Academy
Vice President of Association Internationale des Terroirs
Chief Scientific Officer of TasteSpirit

Ian D’Agata has been writing and educating about wines for over thirty years. Internationally recognized as an distinguished expert, critic and writer on many wine regions, his two most recent, award winning books Native Wine Grapes of Italy and Italy's Native Wine Grape Terroirs (both published by University of California Press) are widely viewed as the "state of the art" textbooks on the subject. The former book won the Louis Roederer International Wine Awards Book of the Year in 2015 and was ranked as the top wine books of the year for the Los Angeles Times, the Financial Times and the New York Times, while the latter was named among the best wine books of the year by Food & Wine Magazine and the NY Times.

All Articles by the Author
Leave a reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Ian D'Agata