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Decanter’s rare finds: A journey through Italy’s lesser-known varieties

10 Gold and Platinum medal winners highlighting the more obscure side of Italy's wines, hosted by Michelle Cherutti-Kowal MW.

On Sunday 14 April in Verona, Michelle Cherutti-Kowal MW hosted a Decanter masterclass highlighting some wines made from rarer Italian grape varieties.

Cherutti-Kowal made her selection of 10 wines from those awarded Gold or Platinum medals at the 2023 Decanter World Wine Awards (DWWA), and presented them to a packed room during the annual Vinitaly trade and consumer event.

Below you can find my tasting notes for all 10 wines presented by Cherutti-Kowal. The masterclass really highlighted the calibre of Decanter’s judges, as each wine was not only of very high quality, but also characterful and expressive.

Red wine at Decanter Rare Finds DWWA masterclass Verona

Credit: Decanter

DWWA in numbers

In terms of numbers, DWWA is the world’s biggest wine competition. In 2023, there were 18,250 entries from 57 countries, judged by 236 wine experts including 53 Masters of Wine and 16 Master Sommeliers.

‘Tuscany was the most awarded wine region in the world last year,’ stated Cherutti-Kowal, DWWA Regional Chair for Tuscany. But it’s not just Tuscany – one of Italy’s top wine-producing regions in terms of quantity – that is receiving plaudits: Italy as a whole was behind only France in the final tally, accumulating 2,777 medals across its 20 regions.

Decanter’s rare Italian finds:

Colli di Poianis, Schioppettino, Colli Orientali del Friuli Prepotto, Friuli-Venezia Giulia 2018

Colli Di Poianis Schioppettino Colli Orientali del Friuli Prepotto Friuli-Venezia Giulia Italy 2018

The first wine to be presented, Colli do Poianis’ Schioppettino, is a single-varietal from the subzone of Prepotto in Colli Orientali del Friuli. Schioppettino was almost lost following Phylloxera, Cherutti-Kowal explained, but the variety was rejuvenated in the 1970s. The vines in this case were planted in 1982 on marl and sandstone and represent the top selection of the estate, aged in French oak barriques. Sour and dried cherry with spice and earthy, petrichor notes make for a complex fragrance. Silky and textured, bright and peppery, it combines concentrated red and black fruits with wild herb hints. 94

97 points / Platinum (DWWA 2023)

Sandonna di Patrizia Giuliani, Bonadea, Narni, Umbria 2020

Sandonna Azienda Vitivinicola

Sandonna di Patrizia Giuliani is located at around 300m above sea level. Bonadea is 100% Ciliegiolo, a historic variety of the region also grown over the border in Tuscany, and which is in fact related to Sangiovese. Typically found in wines as part of a blend, Cherutti-Kowal pointed out that ‘it’s unusual to find one that’s only Ciliegiolo’. From 0.3ha of vines with an average age of 35, spontaneously fermented in tini and macerated for 30-40 days, it then spends 12 months in tonneaux followed by six months in cement and 12 months in bottle. Full of wild strawberry and herbs, this is ripe, concentrated and silky, with good weight, lovely sapidity, and some appealing red fruit sweetness emerging along with chocolatey depth on the finish. 92

96 points / Gold (DWWA 2023)

Wilhelm Walch, Lagrein, Alto Adige/Südtirol, Trentino-Alto Adige 2022


Lagrein is an ancient, indigenous variety from Alto Adige/Südtirol in northern Italy. ‘We know by DNA analysis it has been in Alto Adige for a very long time…the parent is Teroldego but its sibling is Marzemino,’ said Cherutti-Kowal. This particular example is vinified in stainless steel then matured in antique Slavonian casks and 20hl French oak barrels. Inky purple in colour, it displays aromas of herbs and exotic spices, followed in the mouth by a rich chocolatey character countered by good acidity. The tannins linger, providing support for the soft, round and generous dark fruit profile, with an opulent yet fresh finish. 93

95 points / Gold (DWWA 2023)

Badia a Coltibuono, Montebello, Toscana, Tuscany 2018

462788 Badia a Coltibuono Montebello Toscana Tuscany Italy 2018

Badia a Coltibuono’s Montebello is an astonishing blend of nine indigenous varieties in Tuscany: Mammolo, Ciliegiolo, Pugnitello, Colorino, Sanforte, Malvasia Nera, Canaiolo, Fogliatonda and – of course – Sangiovese. But rather unusually for a Tuscan red, explained Cherutti-Kowal, here ‘Sangiovese plays a supporting role.’ The Chianti Classico-based estate has undertaken a recovery programme for the rarer of these varieties, all grown separately within the Montebello vineyard in Gaiole. The grapes are then vinified and aged separately for 24 months before blending takes place. The wine then spends a further six months in cask and six months in bottle. Intense, spicy and tangy cherry and red berries are joined by a waft of mint. Complex and mid-weight, its grainy tannins underline a melange of sweet cherry, raspberry, wild strawberry, chocolate and herbs. ‘The team loved its fragrance,’ recalled Cherutti-Kowal, explaining what made it stand out at the DWWA 2023. 95

97 points / Platinum (DWWA 2023)

Tenute Lunelli, Carapace, Montefalco Sagrantino, Umbria 2018

Tenute Lunelli, Carapace, Sagrantino di Montefalco, Umbria 2018

Tenute Lunelli’s Carapace is a 100% Sagrantino from Umbria. Once a grape very much in decline, it was saved around 50 years ago. ‘It has an incredible amount of tannins and so making this wine is not easy,’ explained Cherutti-Kowal, so the Lunelli family – owners of Ferrari Trento, who started this Umbria project in 2001 – age this old-vine wine for 24 months in large casks followed by 12 months in bottle, giving the wine time to soften up. Deep and earthy scents steer towards black fruits and currants. In the mouth there’s good balance despite the hefty alcohol and mass of tannins: this is full but not overly rich. The fruit is spicy, juicy and almost sticky, with lovely freshness and a lifting finish of menthol keeping it on the right path. 94

95 points / Gold (DWWA 2023)

Abbazia di Novacella, Praepositus Kerner, Alto Adige/Südtirol Valle Isarco, Trentino-Alto Adige 2021

Abbazia di Novacella, Praepositus Kerner, Alto Adige Valle Isarco, Trentino-Alto AdigeSüdtirol 2021

Abbazia di Novacella is the oldest active monastic cellar in the world, founded in 1142, yet the Kerner variety – a crossing of Riesling and Schiava – was only created in 1929. ‘What’s old is the winery; what’s not old is the grape,’ noted Cherutti-Kowal. Kerner is identifiable thanks to its searing acidity, here combined with soft apricot, orange peel, apple and cream aromas and flavours. Zingy, fresh and lively. ‘You can feel it’s related to Riesling: lovely acid, very high,’ she concluded. 93

95 points / Gold (DWWA 2023)

Corte Sermana, Sermana Riserva, Lugana, Veneto 2017

659323 Corte Sermana Sermana Riserva Lugana Veneto Italy 2017 (2)

Turbiana is a grape once thought to be the same as Verdicchio from Le Marche. However, DNA analysis has found enough differences between them to make Turbiana (also known as Trebbiano di Lugana) a separate variety. Cherutti-Kowal mentioned to the audience that there are currently three clones in Italy’s national grape variety register. This Riserva is from vines in San Benedetto di Lugana, vinified in stainless steel and matured for 30 months on the fine lees, 80% in stainless steel and 20% in tonneaux. There’s a cheesy edge to the sweet pear, apple and peach aromas, with a nuttiness to the mid-palate which lends depth to the breezy lemon and green fruit flavours. Sapid, fleshy and structured, this is calling out for some meaty fish. 93

97 points / Platinum (DWWA 2023)

Marisa Cuomo, Fiorduva, Costa d’Amalfi, Campania 2021

266389 Marisa Cuomo Fiorduva Costa d_Amalfi Campania Italy 2021

A gift to Marisa from her husband on their wedding day, this estate lies on the Amalfi Coast. Fiorduva is a blend of 40% Ripoli (early ripening), 30% Fenile (late ripening), and 30% Ginestra (for aromatic complexity) – all indigenous varieties and mostly pergola-trained. The bunches are picked slightly late, at the end of October, and the wine is – rather unusually – aged in caves beneath the high cliffs upon which the vineyards perch. Vinified in French oak barriques for three months, the wine then ages for a further six months in barriques followed by 12 months in bottle. Breezy and saline, it’s a characterful expression of coastal Campania’s indigenous varieties. The nutty complexity combines with juicy, bright pineapple, lemon and peach. Sapid, concentrated and fleshy, this is a distinctive and very moreish white. 95

97 points / Platinum (DWWA 2023)

Velenosi, Rêve, Offida Pecorino, Le Marche 2021

453937 Velenosi Rêve Offida Pecorino Le Marche Italy 2021

Velenosi was founded in 1984 in the southern part of Le Marche, around 20km from the coast. ‘This [Pecorino] is an older variety, almost lost and really only revived 40 years ago,’ stated Cherutti-Kowal, who noted this wine’s ‘incredible concentration of fruit.’ A late harvest and 50% fermentation and ageing in new barriques for 20-24 months gives this Pecorino a beautiful concentration of ripe peach, pineapple, passion fruit and lemon peel. There’s mouthwatering acidity and a saline, sapid finish with almost-menthol freshness. Beautiful. 94

97 points / Platinum (DWWA 2023)

Vignalta, Alpianae Passito, Fior d’Arancio Colli Euganei, Veneto 2018

Vignalta, Alpianae Passito, Fior d_Arancio Colli Euganei, Veneto 2018

Orange Muscat is a crossing of Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains and Chasselas, and here it grows on limestone soils in the Euganean Hills. It’s ‘one of the wine grapes you can eat and it tastes like the wine,’ said Cherutti-Kowal. The late-picked grapes are dried for four months, pressed, then fermented in French oak barrels for 18 months. Full of fragrant orange blossom, apricot, ginger and honey, it’s rich yet well balanced, with a smooth, round mouthfeel and a long finish. 93

96 points / Gold (DWWA 2023)

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