DECEMBER 2018 ITALIAN WINE CLUB
Regardless of what you might celebrate at home this time of year, I’m sure we can all agree that the month of December can be the craziest of them all. Thankfully, though, there are no shortage of reasons to open up a bottle or two, or four, of some delicious Italian wine. This is the simple inspiration for the December Italian Wine Club: winning wines for all upcoming holiday celebrations. And don’t tell me the holidays aren’t about competition. From ugly sweaters to decorations to cookie baking… at the very least be the guest who brought the best wine. This month you’ll see some much more recognizable and therefore repeatable words as well; Famous appellation names like Franciacorta, famous grapes like Sangiovese and Pinot Grigio and even a Rockstar Winemaker to headline our four favorite holiday picks this year. I consider all four of these wines “perfect for every occasion” – the last thing any of us need this month is to have to make any more difficult decisions, right? We sure hope you enjoy them, and most of all that you have a safe, beautiful, and bountiful holiday this year surrounded by those you love. Saluti!
WINE NO. 1
1701 Franciacorta, Brut Nature
Chardonnay + Pinot Noir
Franciacorta, Lombardia, Italy NV
CHARDONNAY 85% + PINOT NOIR 15%
Clearly these are non-native exceptions to the Italian grape variety landscape. Franciacorta can be made up of any amount of either of these two grapes as well as up to 50% Pinot Bianco (Fun Fact: Pinot Bianco can also be used in Champagne, though very little is still planted there.) It’s an appellation with a long history of viticulture, and even the very first written mention of sparkling wine production techniques ever (!) though the likes of French varieties such as these weren’t introduced until the sixties.
Silvia and Federico Stefini named this wine after the first vintage made from the grapes on their land (1701). Now the land is both certified Organic and Biodynamic, an ethos which represents the new guard of forward thinking Franciacorta and a healthy respect for nature. Although many growers in this region tend to (inexplicably) dispute any parallels made to French Champagne, this brother/ sister team seem to know that the the market needle has truly been moved towards drier and more mineral driven wines. The low or no dosage profile in all of their wines combined with (leading the way in) natural farming techniques has made this young house, in such a long storied region, an instant force to be reckoned with.
Sparkling wine is always intriguing to write about because when it’s great, it’s just great. There is chalky mineral goodness throughout this wine with impressive finesse beyond expectations. Star fruit and green apple, hay and sweetgrass, biscuits and petrichor (your new favorite wine descriptor!) A long strength of minerality combined with a delicious ripeness of fruit. All that without a single hint of sweetness? That is truly where the magic is.
Brut Nature means that there was no sugar added and under 3 grams/litre of residual sugars remain in the wine. The addition of sugar, called a ‘dosage,’ is extremely common in Champagne and Champagne Method sparkling wines, even though recent trends are pointing towards lower amounts. In general these wines are best made from grapes picked much earlier than those picked for the average still wines, therefore they are low in initial sugars and very very high in acidity. The counter balance being a ‘dosage’ of reserve wine and sugar per the winemakers preference.
Simon di Brazzan ‘Ramato’
Cormons, Friuli, Italy 2016
Also known as Pinot Gris. ‘Gris’ or ‘grey’ grapes are pinkish in color, a mutation that gives them less pigmentation than their darker counterparts. (In this instance of course, Pinot Noir.) This grape is made into one of the most famous, and sadly, famously average white wines in Italy. Historically, however, Pinot Grigio, when given at least 24 hours contact with the grape skins, provides a different coloring and often more complex expression of the wine. The Drius family and a handful of others are championing this traditional method and reclaiming the grape’s great potential from the hands of mass production.
Daniele Drius carries the torch as a fourth generation farmer making beautiful wines that are honest expressions of his land. The primary grape for his small area is Friulano and his wines are by far some of the best examples of Friulano in Italy. The Pinot Grigio grape also has a long history on his land, along the border of Slovenia, and this particular wine truly tastes like the region. Daniele imparts a light maceration with skin contact that gives a beautiful pale copper (or onion skin) color, and a mineral driven and slightly gripping structure, making this wine super compelling. His white wines, and I’ll include this in that category despite its more rosé appearance, are very clearly not your average one dimensional aperitif style wines.
The layers of aromatics on this wine can be subtle, but cover a wide range from dried flowers to sage to passion fruit. There’s a distinct pithy or citrus rind characteristic here, but what elevates the wine is that fresh river stone minerality. As it opens and warms up a bit there are even more subtle red fruit qualities to it as well, like dried cherries, which are more akin to Pinot Noir than other white wine attributes. Decades of boring Pinot Grigio on wine lists throughout the US have all but ruined this grape’s reputation, but clearly this wine goes to delicious places that no sad glass of Santa Margherita has dared go before.
The definition of Ramato is Copper. The Cormons area is regarded as having the absolute best sites for white wine production in Friuli, basically the equivalent of a Cru. The words around the label describe the family’s commitment to quality through respect for their land, vines and climate. Serve this in a burgundy glass and swirl it a few times each time you visit it as it will develop beautifully.
Podere San Lazzaro ‘Podere 72’
Montepulciano 50% + Sangiovese 50%
Offida, Marche, Italy 2016
MONTEPULCIANO + SANGIOVESE
These grapes are great partners in this region and the grand majority of red wine production from Le Marche is some combination of the two. Montepulciano is the powerhouse between the two, which says a lot when you consider how important a primary roll Sangiovese plays elsewhere in Italy. The deep color and tannin structure of Montepulciano is often softened by the addition of Sangiovese and tends to make for a more immediately approachable product than the more brooding monovarietal wines.
Paolo Capriotti is a friend I was lucky to visit on my recent trip to Le Marche. His organically farmed property has breathtaking hilltop views ranging from the Adriatic Sea to the Gran Sasso Mountains over the border in Abruzzo. His is a young and humble yet decidedly modern in his operation in this Southern corner of Marche. He works mainly with Montepulciano but also with a couple of important local white varieties: Pecorino and Passerina. Paolo’s wines have been delivering on a higher notch with every vintage… this might be my favorite one yet.
I often find that the wines from Le Marche show a brighter and more vibrant expression of Sangiovese in comparison to its far more famous neighbor ( hello, Tuscany.) Much of the soil of the Marche region is clay, which is traditionally known to churn out some of the more powerful red wines in Europe. Dripping with fresh picked cherries and fragrant black raspberries this wine showcases its warmer climate as well as judicious restraint in the winemaking. Although the ripeness of fruit is certainly prevalent, the wine is surprisingly light on its feet, especially so, when you consider the combined expected strength of the two grapes involved. One could, almost, mistake this in a blind tasting for Pinot Noir. Insert audible gasp here.
The name ‘Podere 72’ refers to the first vineyard Paolo’s father, Lorenzo, planted on their property (Podere = Farm.) Rosso Piceno Superiore is the largest appellation in Le Marche, covering almost the entire southern half of the region; the rules here require that there is always a blend of Montepulciano + Sangiovese.
Frappato 70% + Nero d’Avola 30%
Vittoria, Sicily, Italy 2017
FRAPPATO + NERO D’AVOLA
Frappato + Nero d’Avola – a match made in heaven. Nero d’Avola, on its own, is a pretty burley and dark grape variety. There are certainly a number elegant examples of it, but more often than not it is juicy and big to the point of being clumsy. That’s where the delightfully playful Frappato comes in. Bright, very fragrant and high in acidity, it gives the wine a much needed lift. This balanced combination is most often found in Sicily’s only DOCG (currently), Cerasuolo di Vittoria.
Arianna Occhipinti needs almost no introduction. She exploded into rock star status about a dozen years ago and has been consistently creating wines that are easily some of the most sought after in Sicily ever since. She farms Organically, with Biodynamic practices and considers her natural approach to the health of her vineyards paramount to the expression of purity in her wines. Arianna is a big proponent of the natural wine movement, but understandably, finds it a sticky subject due to some implications and unfortunately negative assumptions that come along with wines categorized as such.
Frappato is Arianna’s first love, and we totally understand why. Those lofty red floral notes that jump out of the wine are all Frappato. High toned acidity with crunchy cranberry and summer strawberries provide the initial flavors. Then the tell-tale Nero d’Avola lush ripe raspberry flavors eventually shine through on the palate along with some dusty tannins and green spice that give the wine its edge. This wine is a slam dunk year in and year out… and for that reason, it disappears quickly. We’re always honored to represent any of Arianna’s creations but if you’d like some extra, and we know you will, order soon before it’s our allocation is gone!
SP68 is the name of the road that runs along this vineyard site. Arianna goes against the conventional grain here using a higher percentage of Frappato in this blend than what is allowed in the local Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG. So instead of being labeled under the only DOCG in Sicily, the wine is simply listed as Terre Siciliane IGT.