Michaela Morris is well-placed to present Italian wines to an audience of nearly 500 wine buyers and over 200 Italian producers. She was one of the first certified Italian Wine Experts through Vinitaly International Academy in 2015 and co-created the curriculum for VIA’s Italian Wine Maestro course. Michaela also holds the WSET Diploma and is the new DWWA Regional Chair for Piedmont in 2024.
The 2023 iteration of Decanter World Wine Awards, from which these wines were chosen, was the award’s twentieth year. 2023’s competition saw a record 18,250 wines from 57 countries judged by leading international experts. The DWWA prides itself on the use of independent judgement, using a collection of tasters who taste flights of wines blind and then discuss the results. Wines awarded Gold medals (95-96 points) are grouped by category and re-tasted blind by a different team of experts, and all those achieving a Platinum medal (97-100 points) are re-tasted by the Co-Chairs, who finally pick out the Best in Show wines – just 0.2% of the total number of wines entered.
Italy finished second only to France with 2,777 medals. In the Platinum category, Italy led the way with 28 wines awarded 97 points, as well as 7 out of the 50 Best in Show.
The six selected wines
For the masterclass, Michaela selected six wines, all of them Platinum or Best in Show.
With one white and five red wines, Michaela chose a representative group of wines from six different Italian regions. From the northern reaches of Piedmont and Alto Adige to Campania and Sicily, the wines tended to be classic in style, yet each uniquely emblematic of Italy’s varied regional wine cultures.
The first wine may have stolen the show before it even got started. Michaela raved about the wine before the class began; tasting it during the set-up of the class, she swooned. The 2010 Cantina Terlano, Rarity Pinot Bianco from Alto Adige.
A masterful wine from steep southwest slopes at 550-600m in the Alto Adige expresses a marriage of terroir with bold winemaking. The Rarity line from Cantina Terlano are white wines that undergo extended ageing on the lees. The Rarity Pinot Bianco spends 12 months in large oak barrels, followed by 11 years in a pressurised steel tank. The wine’s aromatics are breathtaking. Rich, ripe and positively buzzing with honeyed pear, lime and acacia aromatics. Concentrated and intense with a sculpted, juicy texture and a harmonious, delicate acidity. Unbelievably fresh for its age and will continue to develop for the next decade at least.
From the volcanic slopes in Sicily came wine #2, one of the two Best in Show wines of the class. The Mecori Duo, Etna, Sicity 2021 shows the freshness and concentration attainable in those soils. The renaissance of viticultural endeavour in the high-altitude vineyards of Sicily’s Etna, on the slopes of a far-from-dormant volcano, is one of the great success stories of the modern wine world. This compelling blend of Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio eschews the conventional wisdom of what Sicilian red wines are like. It’s translucent scarlet in colour, with light, graceful, aerial scents of wild hedgerow bramble fruits and wild strawberries. After this seductively framed overture, the wine is graceful and poised in the mouth; those fruits now take on a perfumed sheen, and the delicate acidity is joined by plump tannins and a root-spice freshness. The flavours and tannins may be southerly, but in all other respects, you might guess that this is a wine from much further north.
The third wine, Carlo Giacosa, Ovello, Barbaresco, Piedmont 2020, flashed the considerable pedigree of its Piedmont roots. With exquisite layers of aromatic red cherry, rose, sweet liquorice and tar with a decadent creamy texture and ample, well-defined tannins. Still very young and intense, with a lovely fresh acidity and a long, enduring finish. This Barbaresco shows the youthful potential of Nebbiolo, but as we know, ageing this wine will bring out its true charms.
The other Best in Show of the class came from the hills of Tuscany, Ruffino, Romitorio Di Santedame, Chianti Classico Gran Selezione, Tuscany 2019. Initial scepticism aside, the institution of Gran Selezione (at least 80% Sangiovese, with fruit coming from estate vineyards only and with extended ageing prior to release) has been a great success for Chianti. The wine is dark in colour, with aromas which combine fruit presence, an oak-copse freshness and a savoury refinement, without any of these elements being overstated. It’s lively and pure on the palate, the complex fruits thrown into both light and shade by a very Tuscan interplay of tannins, faint bitter notes, a bay-leaf sweetness and dark, dry forest berries and a clean, fresh finish.
As if in honour of the significant Campania contingent at Chicago’s IWE, the Quintodecimo, Vigna Grande Cerzito, Taurasi Riserva, Campania 2016 show how great Italian red wines mature. Exemplary ripe red and black fruit on the nose with lashings of carob spread on toast and an overt backbone of firm tannins, which is tempered by the characteristically lush fruit centre. Persistent, lengthy and top-notch.
The final wine: Tedeschi, Marne 180, Amarone della Valpolicella, Veneto 2019. This Platinum winner defied conventional stereotypes of a young Amarone. Sultry and rich aromas of plums, black cherries and chocolate with a slurry of balsamic intensity. Vast and complex with capacious tannins, an ample meaty texture and an embrace of pervading acidity. Very long with great typicity.