Ian D’Agata’s Best Buy Italian Wines of 2021

by Ian D’Agata

Italy is famous for its Barolo and Brunellos, Supertuscans and Amarones, and many other wines still, but in fact the country also enjoys a well-deserved reputation as a major source of fine wines available for a song. These are often super-interesting and downright delicious, made from little-known grapes and regions, wines that hold significant interest factor for all those wine lovers who prize not just a good tipple, but also a different experience from the tried-and-true. From Rossese di Dolceacqua to Canaiolo Nero to Refosco di Faedis to Grignolino to Cesanese d’Affile to Passerina to Lumassina to Kerner to Recantina to Timorasso to Vuillermin to Vermentino Nero to Foglia Tonda to Premetta to one of the many Monica grapes the country (Sardinia, actually) is endowed with, Italy offers wines of all colours, sizes and shapes, such that you can drink, easily, an Italian wine made from a different grape for every day of the year. Even better, most such wines are available at a fraction of the price a wine made with super-heavyweights such as Pinot Noir and Syrah fetch nowadays. Clearly, that’s not to say you shouldn’t be trying the world’s (far too?) many Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay or other wines made with international grapes; of course not, given those are some of the world’s greatest wine grapes with which many unforgettable wines are produced each yea (a few in Italy too, for that matter). After all, there is no right or wrong way to enjoy wine, and if you like the aromas and flavours of wines made with specific varieties, then it is only normal to look out for and buy those wines. Fact is however that, with few exceptions, Italy’s best wines, or at the very least its most interesting or happenning wines are almost always not those made with the international varieties.

Generally speaking, the wines in any of my annual “Italy’s Best Buy Wines” lists all offer very good quality and a reasonable price. By “quality”, I mean wines that are true to the grape type they are said to be made with, and the place they come from, boast more often than not intense aromas and flavours, above average to outstanding complexity and enticing textures. I should add that another “quality” of theirs is to have the added attraction of a “novelty factor”, at least for those who have never tried them before.

Like for my previous article devoted to Italy’s best wines of 2021, published yesterday, I compiled the following “best-buy” list with the help of two of my best ex-pupils, Emily Huang in Taiwan and Michele Longo in Italy. Emily tastes hundreds of Italian wines every year, and is simply put, just plain more knowledgeable about them than many out there. Over the years she has come to Italy countless times, either to follow my wine courses or just visiting wineries, often together; in turn she has logically enough developed her own ideas, impressions and preferences abut Italian wines, and I usually find myself agreeing with everything she says. Even when that isn’t the case, I still really value her input. Michele Longo needs no introduction, as he is quite simply one of the fifteen or twenty biggest Italian wine experts out there today, already collaborating with Italian wine magazines and the Academie du Vin library. As I already recalled yesterday, he is also my co-author on the Italy section of the Hugh Johnson Pocket Book of Wine and on the book “The Grapes and Wines of Italy: the definitive compendium region by region” (Amazon Press). Living in Italy full time, a stone’s throw away from the vineyards of Barolo and Barbaresco, and being able to reach quite easily those of Liguria (where he has a country home), and the rest of northern and central Italy, makes the life of a Italian wine writer so much easier. And independently of the fact that in these Covid-tarnished times it is good to have feet locally on the ground, so to speak, it remains true that someone who lives in a place and tastes the wines all year-long and not just on all-expenses paid trips by Consortiums nd the likes has the best opportunity to go about his or her wine writing job. And this for many reasons. 

In ultimate analysis, writing about wine is about having fun and becoming cultured. One sees, listens and hopefully learns, and then by writing about his or her experiences hopes to educate, to pique people’s interest, to give others the opportunity to learn about things he/she may, or may not, know a little or a lot more about. Sometimes one succeeds, sometimes one doesn’t, but it won’t be for lack of trying. Cheers!

Conte D’Attimis Maniago 2013 Tazzelenghe Friuli Colli Orientali               95

Deep ruby-red, with a slight pale rim, this exudes aromas and flavours of red cherry, dark berries, cinnamon, herbs and camphor. Richly textured but also vibrantly fresh, the wine glides on your palate and closes long and complex, with floral accents. I’ve written about this wine before, and as it’s still on sale, and I also had the chance to retaste it just a few months ago courtesy of a rare friend able to get into Shanghai in this sorry Covid-affected (infested?) world we live in, I thought I needed to write about it again. Simply put, it’s a beautiful red wine made from a variety that risks extinction and if I don’t do my part to broadcast the qualities of the wines made from it, then I’m not doing my job properly.

Feudo di San Maurizio 2019 Mayolet Valle d’Aosta                                          94

So good, I almost stuck this in the Italy’s Best wine list 2021. Bright and brambly, moderately aromatic with pungent floral and spicy notes making it somewhat reminiscent of a red-berried Muscat wine but classically dry and lighter on its feet, this wine is just pure joy and impossible to stop sipping on. Michel Vallet is an Italian wine star, and has been for some time now. He makes his Mayolet wine from sustainably farmed grapes (up to 20 years old vines), planted from 700 to 1000 meters asl that live in a beautiful if extreme alpine environment. Wine lovers everywhere ought to be thankful for Vallet, because it’s thanks to him that we have a chance now to taste some truly stunning wines made from log forgotten and difficult to work with grape varieties native to the Valle d’Aosta (Italy’s smallest region). To be clear, if it weren’t for him and only a handful (and I mean that literally, as in “the same number as the fingers on one hand”) we would all find it impossible to taste a wine made with the likes of Mayolet and Vuillermin (Mayolet has too compact a bunch and rots easily, Vuillermin is poorly productive; and so nobody wants to bother working with them), so kudos to him today, tomorrow and forever.

Jacuss 2016 Tazzelenghe Friuli Colli Orientali                                                93+

Luminous ruby-red. Perfumed, penetrating aromas of blueberry, red cherry and ripe raspberry complemented by herbs and minerals. Juicy and fresh in the mouth, with vibrant but harmonious acidity nicely framing the ripe but refined dark fruit and herbal flavours this finishes long and pure. Jacuss makes an outstanding Verduzzo friulano wine as well, don’t miss it.

Accornero Grignolino Bricco del Bosco 2019                                                  93

What a Grignolino should be. Very pretty and pure. Nose of rose petal, red cherry, herbs, mint, sweet tobacco, cinnamon and minerals. Refined, lifted, a beautiful wine.

Basilisco 2019 Aglianico del Vulture Teodosio                                               93

Red and dark fruit, tobacco, herbs and licorice, all wrapped up in a rather silky yet exuberantly fruity shell. Terroir-studies and attention to detail characterizes the work of Viviana Malafarina, who is in charge here and the estate, owned by Campania’s giant Feudi di San Gregorio, is all the better for it.

Biondi-Santi 2017 Rosso di Montalcino                                                             93

OK, now here we have a star. Just beautifully layered and vibrant, an essence of cool-climate Sangiovese (even in the relatively hot year) this is just mesmerizingly pure and long. Really well done, putting many a Brunello to shame.

Cave Mont Blanc de Morgex et La Salle 2020 Blanc de Morgex et La Salle Vini Estremi          93

Pale green-yellow color. Subtly perfumed nose offers lime and white flowers, chlorophyll and crushed stones, mint and white pepper, plus a steely nuance. Very juicy and harmoniously acidic but with good sweetness of fruit. Finishes long and clean. This knockout wine will undergo a label change next year; I have seen the new one and quite like it. Wine lovers know this is one of Italy’s best run coops, founded in 1983 and now boasts about 60 members. Be aware it also makes some of Italy’s best sparkling wines.

Cogno 2020 Nascetta di Novello Anas-cetta                                                    93

Form the estate that essentially saved and rediscovered the variety, another splendid white wine. Fresh but full-bodied at the same time, with noteworthy purity and penetrance, deploying aromas and flavours of white stone fruit, rosemary, thyme, sage, lemon and lime to full effect. Finishes long and saline, with a rising note of menthol in typical Nascetta fashion. Beautiful stuff from the recognized master of the variety, with vines dating back to 1996 (and that helps too).

Crivelli 2020 Grignolino d’Asti                                                                            93

Crivelli rarely gets a wine wrong and every year I don’t know what I like better, the Grignolino or the Ruchè, but in fact his Barbera wines are great too. The Grignolino is just awork of art: light on its feet like this grape always delivers, but in perfect Crivelli style, also penetrating, perfumed and with sneaky concentration. Little red berries and sour red cherries coupled with violet and rose petals make for an unforgettable easygoing drink. Well done.

Di Marzo 2019 Greco di Tufo                                                                                93

Bright straw yellow. Aromas and flavours of botanical herbs, liquid rocks, yellow apple, pear and white flowers, with a strong menthol topnote. Closes long and fresh, but with a tactile savoury component that will allow this white wine to stand up to white meat dishes too. From perhaps the most historical estate of all Tufo wineries, where Greco di Tufo may actually have been born thanks to the arrival in 1647 of Scipione Di Marzo from plague-infested Naples, an excellent wine that has noteworthy aging potential. The Laure cru from the San Paolo area has more ageworthiness still.

Francesco Cadinu 2019 Cannonau di Sardegna Perdas Longa               93

From roughly 70% years old Cannonau vines planted at about 650 meters asl in the splendid Mamoiada zone of Sardinia, comes this traditionally made red that speaks volumes about the talent and passion of Italy’s many small wineries.  The grapes are sourced from real cru areas such as Elisi and Perdas Longas (the latter gives the name to the wine, and is a clear reference to the many menhirs, or large rocks, the perdas longas in Sardinian that are found in the area). Aged for roughly fourteen months in old chestnut barrels (you cannot get anymore traditional than that), this offers plenty of ripe red fruit, minty, violet tobacco leaf and scorched earth aromas and flavours that are nicely persistent. With 15.5% alcohol, it really packs in the octanes, but is so smooth and well-balanced you won’t really notice. Well done. I point out that this estate makes an extremely small number of bottles of a white wine called Mattìo, a 100% Garnaccia or Granatza (a local variety that had risked disappearing) and that I heartfully endorse you try finding a bottle of.

Grifalco 2019 Aglianico del Vulture Gricos                                                    93

Good deep red-ruby. Musky aromas of black and red cherry, tar and licorice; sweet, lively and youthful. Then more backward but still fruity and juicy in the mouth, showing a wilder quality and a solid tannic spine that nicely supports the crunchy red fruit. Finishes with almost unexpected freshness in Aglianico, and downright profound complexity for a wine at this price point. If t weren’t that I already consider Grifalco to be a star Italian wine estate, I would say it is one of Italy’s up and coming estates; but no matter how you slice it, this is an address where some of Italy’s best wines, at all prioce-points, are now being made.

Gaudio/Bricco Mondalino 2020 Malvasia di Casorzo Dolce Stil Novo           93

G.D. Vajra 2020 Langhe Nebbiolo Clare J.C.                                                            93

Truly pretty bright cherry red colour. Floral red cherry and berries on the nose complemented by herbs and spices. Supple and fine-grained, boasting lovely inner-mouth perfume to its flavours that echo the aromas. Finishes long and clean. In the words of Emily Huang, one of the best and most passionate importers of Italian wines anywhere (she’s based in Taiwan), and one of my better wine students years ago,  “…this wine does help me to understand the progress of Nebbiolo, its viticulture and winemaking over the decades, as well as also the numerous different wine possibilities the variety offers both winemakers and wine lovers.” I couldn’t have said it any better myself.

Morella 2016 Primitivo Salento Mondo Nuovo                                                        93

Nals Margreid 2019 Moscato Giallo Sun Alto Adige                                               93

Hard to argue with anything this good, at any price, but the fact this wine is fairly inexpensive makes it an absolute steal. Bright yellow in colour, with gorgeous aromas of grapefruit, peach, orange flower and sweet spices, it is both penetrating and luscious on the palate, finishing bright, zesty and long. This standout coop founded in 1932 and that grew over the years thanks to mergers and acquisition of new high-quality vineyards, now farms grapes from a large area spreading from the northern vineyards around Nalles to the more southernly ones around Magrè: the Moscato Giallo grapes (what they call Goldenmuskateller in Germany) are grown mostly around Entiklar, a small hamlet on the outskirts of the town of Magrè at about 450-700 asl. In the words of one of my better collaborators whom I have trained over the years to know Italian wine well, in-depth, and not just by superficially Cabernet- and Chardonnay- parameters to grapes and production zones that share nothing in common with those grapes and their usual habitats, the fragrance of this wine’s nose is “a real gift, so adorable”. I couldn’t agree more with her.

Piero Brunet 2020 Blanc de Morgex et La Salle                                                       93

Now we’re talking! Here we are in the presence of greatness. Pale straw-green colour. Bright, mineral-tinged aromas of white flowers, citrus peel, thyme, and gunflint. At once utterly crystalline yet supple, with very concentrated citrus and stone fruit flavours extended on the long laser-like finish by noteworthy harmonious acidity. Wonderfully rich and pure, boasting pronounced minerality and florality (jasmine, white rose, buttercups, plus a dash of  mountain herbs) on the long, gripping, citrus- and stone fruit-accented aftertaste. Those who follow me know I have written about and expounded the virtues of this estate and winemaker in writing since almost twenty years now (when I was still at the Gambero Rosso) and by word of mouth for actually much longer still. Given how good the wines keep being, I see no reason to stop. Big shout out here to Robert Millman, one of my lead collaborators and wine writers at The TerrroirSense Wine Review, for whom this was also one of the favourite wines of 2021, as well as of Michele Longo.

Pietraventosa 2018 Primitivo Gioia del Colle Allegoria                                      93

A wine that could have easily have made the Italy’s Best wines list 2021, but that I wanted to highlight its great price/quality ratio. Briefly out, this unoaked gem is a joy to drink, offering vibrant, crunchy red fruit and herbal aromas and flavours nicely perked up by a strong floral note. Bright deep red. Located and devoted to the Gioia del Colle area, with vineyards situated at about 380 meters asl, Marianna Annio and her husband started out in 2003, made their first bottles in 2005, and have never looked back. This estate is busy helping to put a once great wine, the Primitivo Gioia del Colle, back on the world wine quality map, a real feather in the cap of our dynamic duo. The whole Gioia del Colle area is blessed with dynamic high quality producers and it really is an up and coming area of wine in Italy.

Trediberri 2019 Dogliani Bricco Mollea                                                                   93

Trediberri’s first vintage of Dolcetto. A grand cru, single vineyard site in Dogliani. A Dolcetto as it once was. Floral, bright red fruit, spices. Beautiful texture, pleasant, slightly tannic, but with a long spicy and refreshing finish.

Vigna Petrussa 2019 Schioppettino Ribolla Nera RiNera Friuli Colli Orientali             93

Helda Petrussa has devoted herself to FVG’s native grapes with her roughly 7 hectares under vine and she is quite simply one of the three or four best producers of Picolit and Schioppettino. After many years of making a bigger, deeper Schioppettino di Prepotto wine, she joined it with a readier to drink, fresher version she called Ribolla Nera, or RiNera. This is deep ruby, offers heady aromas and flavours of green peppercorn and black cherry, and finishes with juicy zingy acidity and freshness. Very pretty wine that thanks to Schioppettino’s innate elegance will match with many different meat and charcuterie dishes.

Accornero 2020 Casorzo Brigantino                                                                  92

Azienda del Poggio Passito Vulpēs Friuli                                                          92

I love Friuli Venezia Giulia: it’s one of the prettiest parts of Italy that boasts many very fine wineries and where you can find wonderful wines mostly off everyone’s radar. Such is the case with the Aazienda del Poggio, that makes a lovely and refreshing Pinot Bianco Brut bubbly, an excellent slightly off-dry Verduzzo Friulano and this splendid sweet, air-dried Verduzzo wine (made with grapes that are first late-harvested and then air-dried) from the top line of wines called Vulpem (meaning “fox” and in honour of a small stream that runs by the property, the Rio Volpe). Nicely golden in colour, and then just as nicely thick and fresh, with nuances of chestnut and acacia honeys, plus dried apricot and guava, this is just a lovely wine that will pair well with pumpkin soup, roast chicken, blue cheeses, almond and fruit-custard desserts. In the past I have also had good Ribolla Gialla as well (though I haven’t tasted it recently), so this is one address that is worth getting to know more.

Argiolas 2019 Nasco di Cagliari Iselis                                                               92

Complex, intense aromas of yellow peach, apricot and yellow melon. White flowers, delicate sweet spices and a pleasant citrusy note.  Long, suave, beautifully textured and pleasantly fresh.

Ca’ La Bionda 2020 Valpolicella Classico                                                       92

Cantina della Vernaccia 2020 Vernaccia Terresinis Valle del Tirso              92

Capanna 2019 Rosso di Montalcino                                                                           92

Caprili 2019 Rosso di Montalcino                                                                               92

Caruso & Minini 2020 Grillo Sicilia                                                                           92

Casalfarneto 2017 Castelli di Jesi Verdicchio Riserva Crisio                           92

Cascina Gavetta 2019 Nascetta di Novello                                                               92  

Chiarli 2020 Lambrusco di Sorbara Vecchia Modena Premium                    92

Cieck 2020 Erbaluce di Caluso Misobolo                                                                 92

Col d’Orcia 2019 Rosso di Montalcino                                                                       92

From one of the class acts in Italian wine, a very classy wine that will pair magnificently well with any grilled steak or simple hamburgers. A rich yet elegant Rosso di Montalcino that delivers all that you would expect from a good Sangiovese wine (licorice, red berries, violet, freshness, a tannic spine) in spades. Bravo!

Colle Manora 2017 Albarossa Ray Piemonte                                                          92

Vivid red. Smoky tobacco and red cherry notes dominate the nose and the mouth. Suave and refreshing, but also nicely textured, this smooth peppery wine closes long. Very nice wine really. Born from a crossing of Chatus and Barbera operated by Giovanni Dalmasso in 1938, Albarossa has deservedly met with some success in Piedmont and there are a number of very good wines made with it.

Donnafugata 2020 Zibibbo Lighea Sicilia                                                               92

Perhaps not the most intense or thickest version of this wine ever made, but rather one of the more elegant, with      very good acid-fruit balance and plenty of the aromatic grape personality that anyone who loves Muscat wines in general, and those made with Zibibbo (Muscat of Alexandria) in particular, so happy. The 2020 Lighea is a beautiful wine that offers rose and grapefruit notes in spades, plus boasts a nice texture and a saline finish. is classically dry (some past versions have been off-dry bordering on the sweet) and will pair magnificently well with anything involving shellfish, crustaceans in spicy fruit or light tomato sauces, lighter dishes of ethnic cuisines of all kinds, but truth is, it makes a wonderful aperitif all on its own too.

Ermes Pavese 2020 Blanc de Morgex et La Salle                                                 92

Pale, green-tinged color. Lemon ice, white flowers and crystallized citrus peel on the nose. Classically dry, yet conveys an aura of sweetness and herbaceousness at the same time, with an almost oily character and a suggestion of caramelized citrus peel on the long bright, fruit-driven aftertaste. The vines run up to fifty years of age and are planted in some of Europe’s prettiest and highest vineyards on sandy-glacial moraine soils. Pavese has been on a real tear with this wine for the last five years now and I have no difficulty stating he has vastly improved his wines from a decade ago or more when they were getting rave reviews and high scores for no clear reason, but they deserve all the praise in the world nowadays. This is utterly beautiful and you’ll find that you’ll have trouble not finishing the bottle up immediately after the first taste it really is that lovely a wine. My hats off here.

Fontanavecchia 2020 Coda di Volpe Sannio                                                        92

From roughly 350 meters asl on clay lime marly soils, a very pretty rendition of what is without question one of Italy’s best and least known grapes. Tropical and fresh citrus fruit and an easy drinking quality that’s a marvel to behold. Fontanavecchia’s  2015 Vigna Cataratte Aglianico is also stupendous.

Fortemasso 2017 Barbera d’Alba                                                                            92

Giovanni Dri/Il Roncat 2017 Ramandolo Il Roncat                                          92

Made from 100% Verduzzo Friulano grapes grown in the grand cru area of Ramandolo, a cool-climate high altitude steep sloped area where some of Italy’s potentially best wines could be made, Dri is one of the most famous names, if not the most famous, associated with this wine. Luscious and thick, but also fresh and vibrant, it offers nicely penetrating aromas and flavours of ripe yellow, even tropical fruit, and sweet spices. One of the world’s great sweet wines, think of it like a high-quality Sauternes from a rich year. Try it with blue cheeses, anything with vanilla custard puddings and sauces, and almond and chocolate cookies.

I Favati 2019 Fiano di Avellino Pietramara                                                        92

Floral, ripe yellow stone fruits, citrus, sweet spices and an intriguing mineral note. Perfectly balanced with a silky texture. Persistent and long finish with a pleasant mineral and citrusy remind.

Icardi 2020 Brachetto Suri Vigin Piemonte                                                      92

It may seem strange to score highly or report on a producer’s less important wine, but readers know I do so often. It is not a critique of the more important wines (Icardi is well-known for good Barbaresco and Barolo wines) but the fact is some of the less well-known wines of many Italian producers are absolute gems that aren’t often given the time of day by this world that moves at far too fast a pace to take everything in. And it is that lovely wines made from just as lovely grapes end up by the wayside, forgotten. And that’s a shame, as this lovely wine showcases, and then some. Looking something to have while munching on strawberries and light chocolate desserts? Look no further, this is a beauty. Aged in stainless steel so its crunchy red fruit gets delivered in unadulterated form, with nuances of rose and musk, this fresh little number boasts a low beer-like alcohol level and delivers joy at every sip.

La Colombera 2020 Timorasso Derthona                                                         92

Derthona is the old name of the city of Tortona, and it is now also the name of a Timorasso wine (appropriately enough, given that this grape is a native of the Tortona hills). La Colombera’s Timorasso wines are some of the best; the Derthona is their entry-level Timorasso wine, but is always a beauty and an excellent way to get to know a variety that for all tis favourable press and geek/somm enthusiasm doesn’t always meet the favour of the public. (think lemony-mineral Riesling wine but without really obvious fruit). And that’s a shame because it’s wines such as this one that really give people a chance to understand and appreciate what one of Italy’s best native white grapes can give. This one is made from several vineyards planted between 1997 and 2000 on  mostly limestone-clay soils at about 270 and 300 meters above sea level. Personally, I loved the 2020 Derthona’s  juicy apple and herb flavours, complicated by hints of lanolin and wet rocks, coupled to smooth but vibrant texture, and I’m guessing you will too.

Li Veli Askos 2020 Verdeca Valle d’Itria                                                          92              

Luigi Spertino 2020 Grignolino del Monferrato Casalese                         92

Luigi Viola 2019 Moscato Passito Saracena Calabria                                   92

One of Italy’s success stories of the last twenty years, nobody know much about the Moscato Passito di Saracena until Luigi Viola came along and showcased all its many charms to all those who would listen and taste. Luscious but lively, sweet but not excessively so, beautifully aromatic, this historically famous wine sipped on the Popes and Royal courts of centuries past is almost always, every year, one of Italy’s best sweet wines but also one of Italy’s most interesting wines, period.

Lunae Bosoni 2020 Colli di Luni Vermentino Etichetta Nera                  92

Beautifully perfumed. Hints of wild flowers, aromatic herbs, sweet spices, ripe yellow fruit and honey. A multifaceted and harmonious Vermentino, of great persistence, with a long fresh saline and mineral finish.

Manincor 2020 Moscato Giallo Alto Adige                                                      92

Marco Carpineti  Kius Pas Dosè Lazio                                                               92

Marziano Vevey 2020 Blanc de Morgex et La Salle                                      92

Vivid green-tinged pale straw colour. Pure, floral nose opens nicely with air to offer fresh apricot, crystallized citrus peel and herbal high notes. Then fresh and focused, with plenty of tightly coiled energy to the flavours of citrus, stone fruits and mint. A distinctly vertical wine that punches well above its weight class, and one of four different Blanc de Morgex et La Salle wines that made my Italy’s Best Buy list this year.

Nalles Magrè 2019 Pinot Bianco Berg Alto Adige                                          92

Paolo Calì 2019 Frappato Rosè Spumante Ancestrale Mood                    92

Delicate and expressive nose. Strawberry, raspberry, bitter orange, pomegranate; wild herbs, tea leaves and oriental spices on the expressive nose. Fresh, extremely pleasant, long and persistent finish with citrus reminders.

Piancornello 2019 Rosso di Montalcino                                                           92

From one of the most underrated producers in Montalcino, a lovely sipping wine with more size and flesh than most to its red fruit and sweet spice nuances. Try chilling slightly before you serve it for maximum enjoyment.

Podere La Villa 2018 Chianti Classico Pargolo                                              92

The 2019 is out already but I was able only to taste the 2018, and it was so good I would have been remiss if I didn’t tell you about it. Normally, I’m not a big fan of adding Merlot or, even worse, Cabernet Sauvignon to Sangiovese, because natives such as Canaiolo Nero do very well in partnering with Sangiovese. That said the 20% Merlot this wine harbours does not over power the Sangiovese (but it definitely changes its makeup, so if you wat a nervous vibrant Chianti Classico then look elsewhere) but still this stays light on its feet from start to finish,. Not at all weighed down by the Merlot. And speaking of Merlot, I want to point out that this estate’s 100% Merlot wine called Giacomo (in honour of Giacomo Tachis, owner Ilaria Tachis’ father, the man who helped create Sassicaia and many other great Italian wines) is an absolute standout, really one of Italy’s best Merlot wines (the 2018 needs a good five years of cellaring to let it digest its oak, but it will prove a stellar wine).

Tacchino 2017 Barbera del Monferrato Superiore Albarola                    92

Tamburino Sardo 2018 Custoza Superiore La Guglia                                 92

Adriano Fasoli founded the estate back in 1968 and the family continues to run Tamburino Sardo to this day. An    estate that is not located in Sardinia, as you might think from the name, but excellent Veneto wines from the Custoza area: the “Tamburino Sardo” namesake is given the highest portion of the hills of Custoza, and that’s from where the estate name comes from. The estate believes in sustainable farming practices, such as integrated pest management and avoiding use of chemicals. The 2018 is characterized by sneaky concentration and obvious freshnees. The wine is a  blend of Trebbiano Toscano, Garganega, Bianca Fernanda, and one of the many various Malvasia grapes (in this case believed to be Malvasia Bianca Lunga) of Italy picked fairly late, macerated on the skins. Still, the wine’s colour is not especially deep but pale straw-yellow with golden tinges, exuding aromas and flavours of yellow apple, nectarine, hazelnut, and herbs. Finishes juicy and saline, with excellent length and freshness. More recent vintages are available but I haven’t been able to taste them yet, and look forward to doing so.

Tenuta Sarno 1860 Fiano di Avellino                                                                 92

Tenute Ugolini Valpolicella Classico Pozzetto                                                92

Made from south-facing vines planted at about 160 meters asl on clay-loam-calcareous soils, the Pozzetto is a  Valpolicella that harkens back to a different time when everybody and their sisters weren’t trying to turn Valpolicella into a wannabe Amarone (failing miserably and alienating customers worldwide in the process). After all, if someone buys a Valpolicella, chances are he or she are looking for a fresh, vibrant, easygoing red that will pair well with simple foods such as pizza, burgers, charcuterie and white and red meat dishes of various kinds. If they wanted a 15-17% alcohol wine made from air-dried red grapes they’d probably be looking to buy another wine. Good valpoliocella wines, given the delicacy of the Corvina grape (the mainstay in the Valpolicella blend) are not easy to make, so that’s why I appreciate good efforts such as this one. Tenuta Ugolini’s Pozzetto is a fresh, fun and lightweight but refined Valpolicella that you and your friends will enjoy spending your time with, and that’s a big complement right there.

Tenuta del Travale 2018 Esmén Tetra Rosso Calabria                                   92

Founded in 1993 this little estate has recently come to the attention of wine lovers for well-made, award-winning wines out of Calabria based on the Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio varieties, most commonly associated with Sicily’s Etna but that have in fact called Calabria their home too for a long time.

Terenzuola 2017 La Merla della Miniera Toscana                                       92

Terra dei Re 2020 Malvasia Lerà Basilicata                                                   92

A chewy, lightly saline fruit bomb with a tactile, fruit-driven finish, this is made from  grapes sources at 400 meters asl on the volcanic slopes of the Vulture volcano. While the latter is better known (much better known) for its production of Aglianico del Vulture wine, Terra dei Re also excels at white winemaking by using the native and only recently resurrected (from the doldrums of oblivion) the local Malvasia Bianca di Basilicata grape variety. And it’s a good thing too, as the wine is lovely and given how little it costs makes this wine not just one of Italy’s but the whole world’s best white wine buys.

Tiberio 2020 Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo                                                                    92

Bright pink. Red berries and pink flowers dominate on the fresh nose and palate. Finishes with a whiplash of balanced acidity and noteworthy sucrosité. Juicy and yummy, this is just another level of Rosato wine. One sip of something like this, and you realize immediately that you need to start all over again, from the beginning, to understand Rosato wines and just how good they can be. And don’t miss out on the Pecorino, which is often this estate’s best wine and that this year is even better than usual and I almost picked over the Cerasuolo.

Vinisola 2019 Zefiro Pantelleria Bianco                                                          92

I might be accused, perhaps rightly, of being one of the biggest supporters and fans of the wines of Sicily’s smaller islands, but when you get one this good, then most people I find agree with me when I wax on peotically about their many charms. Zibibbo, or Muscat of Alexandria for the rest of the world, gives amazing dry and sweet wines (there’s another one in the 2021 list) when made by people with passion and charm and not looking just to make a fast buck, because the grape really does have potential greatness written all over it. The Zefiro is a classically dry version, with beautiful floral nuances to the aromas and flavours of yellow and white fruit, dates and herbs. It finishes long and with a hint of sea breeze that adds complexity, besides freshness. This small island reality produces a number of really good wines, such as the Passito di Pantelleria Arbaria I have always liked and especially the cru A’mmare, by vinifying the grapes of its members that own small vineyards in the island contrade of Campobello, Gibiuna/Coste di Ghirlanda, Khamma, Piana di Ghirlanda, Rekhale, Scauri, Serraglia. It is wineries such as this one that do so much to preserve Italy’s family fabric and biodiversity (there is no way the small landowners of Pantelleria could ever make wine all on their own) and it is a reality that really deserves your support, even if the wines weren’t so good.

Assuli 2018 Perricone Furioso Sicilia                                                               91

Brovia 2019 Dolcetto d’Alba Vignavillej                                                           91

Ca’d’ Gal 2020 Moscato d’Asti Canelli Sant’Ilario                                        91

Ca’ Lojera Lugana 2018 Riserva del Lupo                                                       91

Campotondo Mezzodì Rosso Orcia                                                                    91

One of Italy’s many family-run wineries, a realty that is a huge strength of the country but that also requires passion and strength to carry on, Campotondo practices sustainable farming in the Castiglione dell’Orcia area, one of Tuscany’s prettiest and a stone’s throw away from the better known Montalcino territory. Their wines are made with the likes of Sangiovese and one of the local Colorino varieties, and are exemplary of their respective categories. The Mezzodì is a 100% Sangiovese brimming with brought red berries and floral aromas and flavours that is refreshing and pleasant to drink. Any summer brunch will be enhanced with this wine, and not just brunches.

Casale del Giglio 2020 Bellone Anthium                                                         91

Casanova di Neri 2019 Rosso di Montalcino Giovanni Neri                    91

Cembra 2019 Schiava Trentino                                                                           91

Colpaola 2019 Verdicchio di Matelica                                                              91

In this vintage, the 2019 Colpaola Verdicchio di Matelica exudes a lemony freshness and greater mineral edge than I normally find in this wine, even though it is a Veridcchio di Matelica and you’d expect to find all that. Bright and floral, with a hint of jasmine at the back that adds complexity and charm.

COS 2020 ZibibboinPithos Terre Siciliane                                                    91

A more restrained, less explosively romantic version of this wine than usual, but thankfully still very Zibibbo and fragrant. Textured and suave, it has along finish where the varietally-accurate nuances of grapefruit, raisins, dates and grapefruit echo on and on.

Costaripa 2020 Riviera del Garda Valtènesi Chiaretto RosaMara        91

GB Burlotto 2019 Verdino Pelaverga                                                                91

Graci 2019 Etna Bianco Arcuria                                                                         91

Il Poggione Rosso di Montalcino                                                                        91

La Kiuva 2020 Rouge de Vallée                                                                           91

La Baia del Sole-Federici 2020 Colli di Luni Vermentino Sarticola      91

La Vrille 2019 Muscat Valle d’Aosta                                                                   91

Librandi 2019 Cirò Rosso Classico Superiore Duca San Felice Riserva        91

Livio Felluga 2020 Friulano                                                                                  91

Le Strette 2019 Nascetta del Comune di Novello                                           91

Luca Marenco 2019 Nascetta del Comune di Novello                                  91    

Lu Spada 2019 Susumaniello Biologico Philonianum Salento                91

Unoaked, this wine allows the Susumaniello variety to express itself fully in the bottle and the glass. Dark ruby, with notes reminiscent of balsamic oils, dark plum and black cherry, plus complicating hints of violet and bay leaf, this is fresh and long on the vibrant finish. The wine’s name is in honour of an ancient wine that was reportedly made by the laenius family of Brindisi and sent from Brindisi to Herod’s castle in the Near East. Founded in 2015 only two kilometers removed from the Adriatic Sea and right next to the Cillarese natural park and protected area, not far from Brindisi, an important Puglia city and port, Lu Spada boasts about 29 hectares on mostly clay-ish seaside soils planted to local grapes such as Negro Amaro including the more rare Susumaniello and Minutolo (the latter is sued to make the excellent Avocetta white wine).

Maccario Dringenberg 2019 Rossese di Dolceacqua Posaù                      91

Elegant nose: sour red fruits such as wild strawberry, sour cherry and pomegranate; hints of citrus, sweet spices and tobacco. Fresh, balanced and refined with a pleasant persistent spicy finish.

Mandrarossa 2019 Frappato Costadune Terre Siciliane                            91

A remarkably juicy little number that is absolutely delicious, full of red cherry and red berry aromas and flavours, wth loads of refreshing acidity and a light mouthfeel. Goes down like water, but has way more complexity and charm. Well done.

Mariotto 2019 Colli Tortonesi Timorasso Cavallina                                     91

Monchiero Carbone 2020 Roero Arneis Cecu d’La Biunda                       91

Monte delle Vigne 2020 Malvasia Callas Emilia                                             91

Monte Schiavo 2019 Lacrima di Morro d’Alba Marzaiola                          91

Ottin 2020 Valle d’Aosta Petite Arvine                                                              91

Orvieto Classico Superiore Terre Vineate 2018 – Palazzone                     91

Paltrinieri 2019 Lambrusco di Sorbara Piria                                                  91

Strawberry, red cherry, ginger and violet. Pleasantly bright and creamy, with a long bright mouthfeel and a  beautifully zingy finish.

Parusso 2020 Dolcetto d’Alba Piani Noce                                                         91

Pievalta 2019 Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore Dominè                    91

Planeta 2019 Cerasuolo di Vittoria                                                                       91

The Planeta estate makes many very fine wines and in recent years it has struck me how their wines made around       Vittoria are often those I like best. No different this year, as the Cerasuolo di Vittoria is just lovely, with a nice texture and a mineral twinge to the fresh red fruit aromas and flavours that persist nicely on the saline finish. It’s also slightly deeper and richer than their Frappato wine, that is however just as good (more perfumed than the Cerasuolo di Vittoria, and lighter in texture, as it should be). Lovely stuff all around here, folks.

Principe Pallavicini 2020 Malvasia Puntinata Roma                                   91

Sammarco 2020 Costa d’Amalfi Ravello Bianco Selva delle Monache     91

A classic Italian best buy wine that makes these sort of lists every year or almost, and with good reason: it’s just lovely and always well-made.

San Felice 2018 Chianti Classico Il Grigio Riserva                                          91

Santadi 2019 Monica di Sardegna                                                                          91

Blackberry, blueberry, botanical herbs. Bright fresh and juicy, with beautifully integrated acidity. A long, bright and juicy finish with a hint of flinty minerals.

Scagliola 2020 Moscato d’Asti Volo di Farfalle                                                91

Sulin 2020 Grignolino del Monferrato Casalese                                              91

Tenuta Perano 2019 Chianti Classico                                                                   91

As juicy and fun s they come, this is much less rich than the Riserva or Gran Selezione, but for the money, it is the         best of the three wines. A definition of fun in the glass with brambly fruit, lipsmacking but harmonious acidity and a good tannic spine for support. Everything a sandwich ever asked for. And you too.

Terraviva 2019 Trebbiano d’Abruzzo Superiore Mario’s 47                        91

Good full yellow. Slightly exotic, spicy nose hints at soft citrus fruits and nutmeg. Then fairly large-scaled and round on the palate for a Trebbiano wine, with ripe flavours of orchard fruit and herbs. Closes long and juicy with good freshness if not world-beating complexity, but this is just a great wine for the money. The Topi family of Terraviva has quite a hang of the Trebbiano variety, even though theirs is Trebbiano Toscano and not the rarer Trebbiano Abruzzese, of which only three or four estates own any vines of anymore. But this just goes to show how a talented, passionate family can make lovely delicious wines from a lowly grape variety that most people, outside of Vin Santo, cannot really do much good with. This wine is just excellent, and a steal for the money, so well done.

Vigneti Repetto Derthona Colli Tortonesi Quadro                                         91        

Assuli 2018 Lucido Donna Angelica Sicilia                                                                                         90

Barba 2020 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo                                                               90

Decugnano dei Barbi 2019 Orvieto Classico Superiore Mare Antico       90

Medici Ermete 2020 Reggiano Lambrusco Concerto                                     90

Pala 2020 Cannonau di Sardegna I Fiori                                                             90

Surrau 2020 Vermentino di Gallura Superiore Sciala                                   90

Umani Ronchi 2019 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Jorio                                     90                                             

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.

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Ian D'Agata