Never a country to rest on its laurels, Italy continues to push the boundaries of innovation and excellence. RICHARD BAUDAINS introduces 25 estates – some new, others transformed – that every Italian wine lover should discover.
Exports might have been hit by a series of macro-economicfactors, but the wine scene in Italy remains as dynamic as ever.
New wineries emerge annually, often with stunning debut vintages. Others regenerate. Producers like Fattoria di Paradiso in Romagna and Lungarotti in Umbria – pioneering estates who got left behind by the rapid developments of the 1990s – have bounced back impressively in the last two years with revitalised productions. Others launch exciting new wines, like those Librandri has started to produce from Calabrian grape varieties
rescued from extinction.
Then there are the family-owned estates restructured by an enthusiastic, ambitious and qualified young generation, typical of Friuli but common also in the centre and south. In terms of new estates, the growth areas are the Tuscan coast, Umbria and Puglia.
As for the wines themselves, there is a lot of smart money backing the intriguing flavours of the emerging local varieties which many believe represent the future of Italian wine.
The following is a round-up of some of the most dynamic and impressive wineries to watch out for – be they new on the scene, or improving estates doing
Cantine del Notaio, Aglianico del Vulture, Basilicata
Modern vineyard management and vinification is rapidly transforming Aglianico del Vulture into one of Southern Italy’s most stimulating DOCs. Cantina del Notaio is among the leading exponents of the new wave in the region. Registered organic grower and producer Gerardo Giuratrabocchetti tames the sturdy tannins and high acidity of Aglianico, while maintaining the vibrant terroir character of the high volcanic slopes of Vulture. The hallmark wines are big, chewy, full-flavoured reds which benefit from bottle age, but also look out for a very original barrique-aged rosé called Il Rogito.
La Firma, Aglianico del Vulture
Cantine Grotta del Sole, Campi Flegrei, Campania
This winery laid the foundations for the renaissance of the traditional wines of Naples in the early 1990s and today offers the most complete and authentic introduction to the numerous local varietals of the province. The house style faithfully represents the tangy mid-weight intensitiy of Campi Flegrei wines, without recourse to hyper-extraction or over-oaking. It is hard to pick out just one wine from the superbly made range. The red Gragnano is certainly not Grotta del Sole’s most serious bottle, but for sheer drinking pleasure and originality it is absolutely unbeatable.
Gragnano della Peninsola Sorrentina
N/A UK; +39 081 876 2566
Conti Zecca, Salento-Leverano, Puglia
As the amount of premium wine coming out of Puglia increases, so do the alternatives to the traditional style of alcoholic reds with leathery aromas and rather flat overripe flavours. Conti Zecca is not a new producer – the family has been making wines since the 16th century – but it is among the leaders of the modernist school which has brought fresh fruit character to Puglia’s wines. The excellent value basic labels pick out the berry and herb characters of the local grapes, while the serious end of the range offers rich mediterranean reds.
Terra, Leverano Rosso Riserva
£14.50; HBa, You
De Conciliis, Cilento, Campania
This young estate demonstrates the potential of the Cilento hills, an area in the south of Campania which to date has not figured large in the quality renaissance witnessed in the region. Its speciality is Aglianico, a variety usually associated with the high slopes and volcanic soils of the north and centre of Campania. Bruno De Concilis grows it in a warmer microclimate on sandy marl, making a wine which is softer and less austere than a Taurasi but which has impressive breadth and complexity. Also worthy of note is the full-bodied white Fiano.
Naima, Paestum Aglianico
Il Molino di Grace, Chianti Classico, Tuscany
This newly restored estate, which is owned by American Frank Grace, made a splash in 2004 when it was voted ‘Emerging Producer of the Year’ by renowned wine guide Gambero Rosso. Unlike many new owners in Tuscany, Grace did not set out to take the
market by storm with international blends and sweet oak and fruit flavours. He concentrated all his efforts on Sangiovese and installed a consultant winemaker, Franco Bernabei, who believes that a touch of austerity is a natural feature of Chianti. The top estate wine is an old-vines selection of monovarietal Sangiovese, produced in unfortunately limited quantities but well worth a search
Gratius, IGT Toscana
Il Paradiso di Frassina, Montalcino, Maremma, Tuscany
Owner Gian Carlo Cignozzi’s aim when he founded Il Paradiso di Frassina at the end of the 1990s was to create an estate and boutique winery where he could give scope to his personal convictions about winemaking in general and Montalcino in particular. He defies expectations with a fine all-Sangiovese Sant’Antimo (the DOC was created to accommodate the non-traditional wines of Montalcino) and a superb 12-grape supertuscan blend inspired by the chromatic scale. Cignozzi is also conducting serious research into the beneficial effects of classical music on the growth cycle of the vine.
Do Rosso, IGT Toscana
La Biancara, Gambellara, Veneto
Angiolino Maule is a producer to whom recognition has come slowly. He is a self-taught winemaker who over the last 10 years has developed a personal approach to natural winemaking which reconciles the uncompromising philosophies of Josko Gravner with the desire for a more elegant and accessible style of terroir wine. This is not to say that his white wines, which ferment at natural temperatures on the skins, have suddenly become conventional, but a lot of the rustic overlay has gone to reveal purer fruit and a fascinating mineral-flinty quality.
Sassaia, IGT Veneto
La Cantina dei Colli Ripani, Rosso Piceno, Marches
This coop has grown steadily over recent years into one of the leading forces in the Rosso Piceno area. There is interesting work in progress on local white varieties like Passerina, but the stars of the show are the new reds from the Pharus range. These are sourced from an elite group of growers in the coop’s top sites who practise drastic crop reduction to produce show wines of stunning power and concentration. Rosso Piceno DOC dominates the list, but there is also a highly convincing IGT made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.
Leo Ripanus, Rosso
UK importer under negotiation
La Tunella, Colli Orientali del Friuli, Friuli-Venezia Giulia
Friuli-Venezia Giulia must have more family-owned estates run by under
35-year-olds than any other region in Italy. Massimo, Marco and Gabriella Zorzettig are typical of the ambitious and highly qualified new generation of winemakers currently setting the pace in Friuli. Their main focus is on unoaked white varietals, but they also make toothsome local reds and an innovative barrel-fermented white blend called Campo Marzio which encapsulates the commitment to terroir and the local varieties on one hand and awareness of the international scene on the other.
Campo Marzio, Colli Orientali del Friuli Bianco
Librandi, Ciro, Calabria
Having previously pioneered Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc in Calabria, Librandi turned its attention to the region’s innumerable and largely undocumented indigenous varieties in the 1990s. The first results of a massive project coordinated by the guru of grape DNA, Attilio Scienza, appeared in 2001 with the release of wines from the rediscovered white Mantonico (Efeso) and red Magliocco (Magno Megonio). The debut vintages were perhaps a little academic, but consultant oenologist Donato Lanati is starting to home in on the varietal character. Expect serious wines with distinctive personalities.
Val di Neto Rosso
Luisa Eddi, Isonzo, Friuli-Venezia Giulia
Friuli is famous for its whites, but more and more producers today are
exploring the possibilities of the region’s indigenous red grapes. Luisa demonstrates the spectacular results that can be achieved in the Isonzo DOC zone when a traditional family-owned winery gears up to international standards by cutting yields and introducing a Burgundy-inspired style of vinification and barrel ageing. The rest comes from the iron-rich calcareous soils of the north bank of the Isonzo, which impart a combination of body and nuance that would be the envy of many a specialist red wine region.
Refosco I Ferretti,
Moncaro Terre Cortesi, Marches
A period of exponential growth in recent years has seen this cooperative become the Marches’ biggest wine producer, with comprehensive coverage of the region’s three major DOC zones, Verdicchio, Rosso Conero and Rosso Piceno. The expansion has been accompanied by a significant upturn in quality, in particular in the red wine department. Consultant Riccardo Cotarella appears in the credits and his hand is recognisable in the suave handling of new oak and the uplifted fruit aromas of the new wines released in the last couple of years.
Vigneti del Parco,
Rosso Conero Riserva
Monti, Controguerra, Abruzzo
This family-owned winery has expanded considerably in recent years and under the supervision of consultant oenologist Riccardo Cotarella it has added a
number of outstanding new reds to the range. They exploit the freedom offered by the Controguerra DOC to blend Cabernet and Merlot with local grapes, but the main focus is on Montepulciano d’Abruzzo which comes in a variety of styles. There is a zippy rosé, a juicy early-drinking red, a traditional riserva and, at the top of the scale, a barrique-aged super
selection under the recently created Colline Teramane DOC.
Pignotto, Colline Teramane, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo
N/A UK; +39 0861 89042
Nervi, Gattinara, Piedmont
In the face of the vogue for hyper-extracted Nebbiolo with sweet berry and oak aromas, Nervi continues to make a Gattinara with almost transparent shades of garnet-orange and the subtle complexity that only develops with extended barrel ageing. This does not mean rejection of progress. Nervi’s superb latest vintages were made in a re-equipped cellar which bristles with new ideas. But the aim of innovation here is to refine the traditional wine style, not revolutionise it, and above all to maintain the distinctive terroir character of Nebbiolo from this underrated corner of Piedmont.
Gattinara, Vigneto Molsino
UK importer under negotiation
Rudini, Pachino, Sicily
Pachino lies in the extreme southeast corner of Sicily, in Italy’s hottest, driest viticultural zone. It is home to Nero d’Avola, the variety which in the past supplied bulk blending wines to Northern Italy and France but today holds the key to the Sicilian wine renaisssance. Ironically, although all the top producers on the island source grapes from Pachino, very few vinify on the spot. Rudini is by the far the biggest and most sophisticated of these, and possibly the only one to present the unique character of the terroir in a modern premium quality wine.
Saro, Nero d’Avola,
N/A UK; +39 0931 595 333
Salcheto, Montepulciano, Tuscany
New ownership has brought major investments and ambitious plans to this estate. Salcheto has always made solid, reliable wines, but the current management is clearly aiming for greater things. The eyecatcher in the new range is a concept wine called Salco Evolution, made from a single clone of the local Prugnolo, vinified for long-term ageing and released six years after the vintage. Leaving aside the would-be cult wine presentation (sold in six-bottle lots with specially commissioned art labels) the first release is one of the most exciting things to come out of Montepulciano for a while.
Salco Evolution, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
Scacciadiavoli Montefalco, Umbria
High-profile producers from all over Italy have bought into Montefalco over the past decade. One result of this influx of fresh capital has been to stimulate local estates into gearing up production. Scaccidiavoli used to make rustic blockbusters. Following the conversion of its vineyards to quality management systems and the re-equipping of the historic cellars, the company now turns out impeccable modern reds. Its Sagrantino is as vigorous as ever, but the new approach to winemaking has brushed away the cobwebs of the old style, introducing sumptuous fruit and velvety tannins.
Sagrantino di Montefalco
N/A UK; +39 0742 378 272
Solo Maremma, Grosseto, Tuscany
This new property, a satellite of the impeccable Morellino estate of Le Pupille, is located in the recently created Capalbio DOC zone of southern Tuscany, an elite tourist area which is starting to demonstrate an unexpected vocation for top quality reds. The new wines are impeccably made by the resident team at Le Pupille and are based on variations of the senior estate’s tried and trusted Sangiovese- Cabernet Sauvignon blend. Compared with Morellino, look for a more immediate drinking style with lots of upfront berry fruit and soft tannins.
Ildenio, Maremma Toscana IGT
N/A UK; +39 0564 409 517
Terre del Principe Caserta/Campania
In 2003, Peppe Mancini left the firm of Vestini Campagnano, which he had previously founded, and created a new winery called Terre del Principe. Here Mancini has carried on where he left off at the former estate, with the production of Pallagrello and Casavecchia, the local varieties he rediscovered and launched to celebrity in the 1990s. The new winery has immediately got into gear with convincing debut vintages. The wines to look for in particular are the highly impressive all-new barrique-fermented version of Pallagrello Bianco and the brooding and inky-tannined Casavecchia.
Le Sèrole, IGT Terre del Volturno Bianco
Tenuta di Podernovo Colline Pisane, Tuscany
The Lunelli brothers, owners of the Trentino spumante house of Ferrari, moved into central Italy in 2000 with the acquisition of extensive vineyards in Montefalco in Umbria and this 80ha property in the up-and-coming Tuscan DOC of the Colline Pisane. Exploiting long experience of the area, winemaker Corrado dal Piaz hit the spot first time with a debut vintage which captures the characteristic softness and sweet cherry fruit of Sangiovese from the hills south of Pisa. Watch this space for what promise to be interesting developments.
Aliotto, IGT Toscana
N/A UK; +39 0587 655 173
Zidarich, Carso, Friuli-Venezia Giulia
Carso is Friuli-Venezia Giulia’s smallest DOC zone. It is situated on a bare, windswept, limestone plateau overlooking the Bay of Trieste. The area has two indigenous varieties, the delicate white Vitovska and a red called Terrano which makes inky, dark wines with a mouth-puckeringly dry mineral character. Zidarich grows them both and in recent years has developed a highly personal approach to vinifying them in oak which results in one of northern Italy’s most distinctive and sought-after micro-productions.
N/A UK; +39 040 201 223
Richard Baudains is a wine writer based in Italy, and is a regional chair for Italy at the Decanter World Wine Awards.
Written by Richard Baudains