Tasting wines side-by-side is my favorite way to explore a region. Thanks to a colleague who loaned me his Coravin, I was able to do just that without pulling all three corks.
This lineup imported by Friuli Italian Wines brings us an array of examples of unique northern Italian wines in three very different styles: a classic white, a skin-contact (aka slightly-orange) white, and a unique red made of a grape variety I’ve never experienced before.
Shall we taste?!
Bortolusso Malvasia 2018
San Gervasio - Carlino, Friuli-Venezia Giulia
The vineyards of this family-run winery are located in close proximity to a lagoon. The interaction with the sea salted air provides notes of saline and minerals, adding a complexity and savoriness that makes this wine perfect for food pairing. Grilled seafood or risotto, anyone? The team uses organic fertilizers and minimum residue pesticides to keep the vines as pure as possible.
Comprised of 100% Malvasia, this wine is made in a dry style typical of this part of Italy. However, you may have encountered an expression of this grape, which is grown historically in Mediterranean regions, by the name ‘Malmsey’ from the island of Madeira in a traditional sweet wine.
In this case, the wine is lemon-yellow in color with notes of underripe stone fruit like apricot and peach and a nuttiness that adds to its complexity. I quite like that. This one inspires saliva below the tongue and leaves my mouth with an essence of orange peel on the finish. Excellent balance at 13% ABV. At $18.00 this is a very approachable option for the summer days ahead. I’d keep this in the fridge but set it out to drink without an ice bath to allow a broader spectrum to flavors and aromas to surface.
Specogna Pinot Grigio ‘Ramato’ 2019
Friuli Colli Orientali D.O.C
I find much of the Pinot Grigio in today’s market to be one-dimensional and a bit boring. Not so with this bottle. The copper color is imparted by a 48-hour maceration with the skins. Orange wine is quite popular lately. It’s a trend, like ‘natural wine’, that sometimes has me scratching my head. However, when done in this style, I find it to be absolutely exciting. It takes a simple variety like Pinot Grigio to new heights of interest and complexity by making the most of the natural material without overdoing it.
For me, the nose of this wine does not do justice to the palate. New flavors and aromas erupt when you get this in your mouth! The mouthfeel is soft, almost creamy, which may be an indication of lees-aging, although I can’t confirm this. Excellent acid structure and balance with an ABV of 13.5%. Flavors of apples and pear, but also wild berry, which I don’t often find in Pinot Grigio. I wondered if I was tricking myself by focusing too much on the color, but I don’t think so. Sustainably produced both in vineyard and cellar, I can say this is one of the better expressions of this grape variety I have had the pleasure of tasting. At $27.00 a bottle, it may hit a touch above what you’re used to spending on Pinot Grigio, but if you’re willing to trust me, I doubt you’ll be disappointed. In a word: delicious.
Castelvecchio Terrano 2017
Carso, Friuli-Venezia Giulia
I absolutely love it when I encounter a wine made of grapes I have never tasted and from a place I’m barely familiar with. This is how we discover the world through wine! Smelling, tasting, researching, and reflection temporarily transport us to the place of origin and for a moment, we’re traveling again!
The Carso region, also called ‘Karst’, refers to the plateau that straddles the border of northeastern Italy and southwestern Slovenia. While I’ve tasted wines aged in Slovenian oak, the Terrano grape variety is a new experience. The Castelvecchio winery has been producing since 1750, but evidence of vineyards and olive trees in the region can be traced back to 1578. Sustainable, low-impact viticulture is practiced here on arid, rocky soil with red sand. The Terrano variety is closely related to Refosco, a grape I actually have tasted from Friuli.
The wine is ruby red with a purple rim and stains the glass when swirled. The producer website states that the color “confirms its high organoleptic qualities given by the presence of very high units of antiradical, anti-aging, polyphenols, antioxidants and antivirals.” I don’t know enough about this subject to speak to this, but it piques my curiosity, which I appreciate in and of itself.
The palate offers red raspberry all day with notes of red licorice and bramble. The acid here is striking and has me thinking a slight chill would serve this quite well, as would a few more years in bottle. If I were trying to give someone a tasting example of malic acid, this would be a great place to start. The wine is aged in stainless steel and at 12.5% ABV it’s an easy drink to enjoy in the early afternoon. Unfortunately, this wine is sold out on the Friuli wines website at the moment, but you can explore other options from the same producer here.
Perhaps I’ve found some wines that interest you too. If so, I invite you to give them a try and geek out with me! The first five people to enter the code WINESHIP20 will save 20% on their online order at https://www.friulitalianwines.com/. I would love to hear your impressions if you do taste, and also if you have experience with similar wines from this part of Italy.
Many thanks to Evelyn, Alex, and the Friuli Italian Wines team for this experience! Mille Grazie! - Montana
I made it to Montalcino back in 2018. While I didn’t visit this producer, it didn’t take long for me to understand why the wines made here are so special and so important in the world of Italian wine and beyond. Brunello di Montalcino is Italy’s highest DOCG classification and many believe it to be the highest-quality expression of Sangiovese on earth.
Here, the Sangiovese grape has thicker skins, which leads to intense tannin structure, bold fruit characteristics, and very high acid. High acidity in wine equals aging potential, and as such Brunello is best consumed a decade or more after bottling. Young Brunello can be searing on the palate with such intense structure the drinker may find their palate overwhelmed. With time, the components soften together to reveal more dried, oxidative characteristics. Decanting becomes quite important here as the wine has been locked away under cork for so long and must be invited with patience to open up into its full potential for tasting, and more importantly, enjoyment.
2004 is considered a great vintage to seek out and drink now in 2021, which is why I opted to crack it after cellaring at home for a few years. When drinking older wines, I like to think about where I was in my life the year the grapes were grown. In 2004, I was a 16-year-old junior in high school living abroad in Brazil. Oh, how time flies! While this is the only 2004 Brunello that I have tasted, I found this interesting article from Antonio Galloni of Vinous on the vintage. What struck me is that he notes being disappointed by wines from the most famous producers of the region, while being pleasantly surprised by the releases from lesser-known estates. He also notes that ’04 Brunello from the southern part of the zone showed better than those from Montalcino proper. Considering he’s tasted far more than I, I’ll have to take his word for it. Overall, the ’04 vintage is considered far superior to the ’02 and ’03 harvests.
The Sassetti family has farmed some of Montalcino’s finest vineyards for over a century. Livio Sassetti worked the region through the late ‘70s before purchasing the famous Podere Pertimali vineyard, a site revered for high-quality Sangiovese where soils have a clay sublayer with a sandy topsoil layer. In 1967, Sassetti was a co-founder of the Consorzio del Brunello di Montalcino, which was the same year the DOC(G) system was written into law.
One year after the vineyard acquisition, Livio built a terracotta wall in the cellar to help preserve the older vintages produced by the family. Now, that cellar houses nearly 1,000 bottles with examples dating back to 1915. Livio has evolved the winemaking and vineyard management processes over the years while staying true to the quality standards and traditions of the family’s history.
Today, Livio’s son Lorenzo Sassetti manages the estate as the fourth-generation family member and an esteemed winemaker. As his father did before him, Lorenzo proudly maintains the family’s high-level of quality. The wines he produces are expressive of their unique terroirs and traditional style. These powerful wines are intense and aromatic, yet approachable and delicious when drunk under the right circumstances with consideration of proper cellaring.
This bottling is a wine for collectors. A benchmark of the family’s approach to making great Brunello, the Sassetti ‘Pertimali’ Brunello di Montalcino is incredibly luscious and intense with a sure need for oxygen before tasting. I decanted this slowly using my favorite vessel from Mixologist World. Loads of red fruit soar out of the glass with rustic dry floral and mushroom notes. Tannins are soft and integrated from the years in bottle and the mindful aeration.
The wine is made of 100% Sangiovese Grosso from vines planted between 1988 and 2001. The juice was fermented in stainless steel after a maceration of 10-12 days before being aged 36 months in Slavonian oak.
Average Price: $149
Overall, I find Brunello to be a fascinating category. Such true expression of terroir and an unequaled power propel the wines above so many others. These are not the wines of daily enjoyment. However, for a lover of viticulture, tasting them is simply a requirement for gaining a deeper understanding of the magical world of fine wine.
I’ll start with a confession: I don’t have a lot of tasting experience with Rioja. Sure, I have had the wines as necessary to prepare for exams, and on occasion beyond that, but no immersion. The reason is that based on my previous impression of the category. I like Beaujolais and a lot of the world’s Pinot Noir. I love lower alcohol, higher acid Old-World wines. My impression of Rioja was enamel ripping tannin, brooding ABV, and a shy awareness of my own ignorance on the region.
Now, this is changing; and this wine is part of the reason. I pulled the cork on Thursday night and found the initial bouquet reminiscent of a variety I like very much: Nebbiolo. When I shared this impression with one of my mentors he said, “I’d say that’s a very good thing.” Meaning, the oak and alcohol is integrated and the lovely fruit and flower aromas I’d expect from Barolo or Barbaresco are present. The beautifully integrated structure of the wine is, of course, a result of the time rested in barrel in bottle.
Let’s discuss the meaning of Gran Reserva in this context. Spain is the only wine region where the word ‘Reserve/Reserva’ is a matter of law. Here in the US, you’ll see the word “Reserve’ on wines of all quality levels. It doesn’t mean anything apart from the benefit it provides in marketing. In Spain, Gran Reserva requires that the wine has been aged at least five years with a minimum of two years in oak (this one saw 28 months). Gran Reserva wines are typically only produced from outstanding vintages.
This wine is made of 100% Tempranillo from vines planted in 1975 and farmed with the utmost respect for the environment. Located at the foot of the Sierra Cantabria, this area is characterized by an Atlantic climate that is moderated by the Sierra rain shadow.
The grapes were hand-selected and completely destemmed, ensuring only the ripest and healthiest made it into the wine. In the winery, these things took a serious! First, a pre-fermentation maceration at 43°F, followed by temperature-controlled fermentation in open top fermenters with selected indigenous yeast. Then another 12 days on the skins! The juice and skins must have had trouble saying goodbye to each other when all was said and done. The juice was then transferred to 100% new Bordelaise French Oak barrels.
El Puntino is the name of the single vineyard where the grapes came from. The wine expresses the unique mineral-driven profile of this terroir, as is the goal with all the single-vineyard wines produced by Viñedos de Páganos.
Fun Fact: El Puntido is an old word meaning 'staircase landing', like the shape that these lands form between the Sierra de Cantabria and the Ebro River depression.
A wine like this tends to taste best on day two, and this was no exception. The aroma of violets, the one that made me think of Nebbiolo on day one, is still present. Black fruits like plum and blackberry stroke the palate. On day one a note that reminded me of smokey leather or a sweaty horse (not as bad as it sounds) was present. Day two it had given way to a softer, earth-driven smoke note. Lovely.
Colorado-based critic Jeb Dunnuck gave this 94 points. I tend to value his opinion above that of most critics, although Parker did drop a mean 96 on it.
Average Price: $55.00 USD
The wine is a testament to the level of quality we can expect from the Jorge Ordoñez Selections portfolio. The more I learn, the more I appreciate the values this company is founded on.
What are your thoughts on Rioja? Ready for more?!