Attention: Our new Italian Collection will be shipping mid-July!
The last time we sourced a collection from Italy, it was 2019 (and our second-ever Partnership collection). We spent several days doing marathon tasting sessions in Verona. Aside from an incredible case of dry mouth brought on by heaps of tannin (pro tip: sparkling water and bread), we also made some great connections on the ground.
This year, we returned to dig up six more great Italian wines – small batch, family-owned vineyards, mostly manual/organic/low intervention – including two exclusive Tuscans never before brought to the US.
This week, we’ll take you up the boot, starting in Sicily, as we visit the vineyards that made these six incredible wines.
More on that in a moment... But first, will you be recording your thoughts on our Italian Collection? This week, resident wine expert Julien Miquel shows us how to take proper tasting notes… everything you should mark down (without writing a novel)… why keeping notes is so helpful… plus some useful phone apps if pen & paper isn’t your style...
From Sunbaked Sicily to Breezy Tuscany (continued)
We begin this Italian Collection in what will be familiar territory if you were a member last year.
Over the summer of 2020, we sourced wines from the Mediterranean islands, including Zisola Doppiozeta (91 pts, Suckling), a nero d’avola from the Sicilian town of Noto (where the tragic hero Daedalus is said to have landed after crossing the Ionian Sea on wings of wax).
The nero d’avola grape is indigenous to Sicily, where it often grows in the 3,000-year-old “albarello” style, in which vines are pruned to resemble little trees – a technique that maximizes exposure to Sicily’s intense sun, while keeping the grapes low enough for a tempering influence from the earth. Nero produces a muscly wine with legendary aging potential (20 years, by some accounts). We recommend decanting for about an hour.
For this year’s Italian Collection, we opted again for a nero d’avola (also grown in albarello style). This time, however, the nero came in a blend with three other grapes, the first of which is a fellow indigenous variety called nerello mascalese, which is grown on the volcanic slopes of Mt. Etna and may be a distant relative of sangiovese. The second two are Bordeaux varieties – merlot and cabernet sauvignon.
The slopes of Sicily
The resulting wine, La Bollina Papios Rosso Siciliane 2018 (voted Best of Sicily, with 98 pts from eminent Italian wine critic Luca Maroni), has that “big red” quality of Bordeaux, but with a distinctive Mediterranean charm (think notes of herbs and berries fresh off the branch).
From Sicily, we headed north up the Tyrrhenian Sea to Florence.
If you know Italian wine, then you know that we were headed to Tuscany.
Tuscany is the large wine region to the south and west outside Florence. It is a varied region, producing Chianti (new and “Classico”), and non-Chianti Tuscans like Brunello and Montepulciano. Sangiovese is the main grape, except in cult “super Tuscan” wines, where French grapes, mostly cabernet sauvignon, take the lead.
We chose three Tuscans for the 2021 Italian Collection – a Chianti, a Chianti Classico, and a “Toscana Rosso” (a non-DOC classification, that allows winemakers to experiment with grape mixtures not often allowed under the rules of the local DOC/DOCG).
The first of these, a Ricasoli Chianti Classico Riserva 2017 (92 pts, WS), we detailed last week, when we wrote about the creation of the modern sangiovese-dominant Chianti in the 19th century.
It’s a wine that came from a rich soil (not to mention a rich history), with notes of ripe, sour cherry and dark, juicy strawberry, surrounded by toasted brioche, delicate French vanilla and sweet spices (nutmeg and clove).
We often say that finding a great Chianti is like looking for a needle in a haystack.
You’ll know we worked hard, then, to find not one, but two.
Tuscany is a collection of small towns, called “borgo,” each with its own style.
The borgo of Lastra a Signa, known for being the long-time home of opera singer Enrico Caruso, was originally built as a military outpost in the Middle Ages. The borgo still looks medieval, surrounded by old walls built with stone slabs called lastra.
The medieval town of Lastra a Signa
Credit: Vignaccia76, Wikimedia Commons
The vines, too, have an older look to them – trimmed in the guyot style, a hand pruning method only rarely implemented in the large, factory vineyards that dominate the industry today.
Borgofiero Chianti DOCG 2019 pays tribute to its hometown, and the small-town culture of Tuscany in general.
When you get a bottle, be sure to admire its ruby red coloring... then lean in for intense, wild fruit.
More on our Italian Collection next time...
The Wine Explorer