Rooting for Italian Wine

Gismondi’s Final Blend
by Anthony Gismondi

Anthony Gismondi

Anthony Gismondi

It didn’t take a wine festival to understand Canadians love Italian wines but the recent love affair in Vancouver between consumers and the visiting throngs of Italian wine producers would suggest the bonds are stronger than ever. In fact, Italian wine sales are now number two in British Columbia and closing in on the USA. So much for those infamous west coast palates we are said to possess.

The truth is the Italians seem comfortable making wine and selling it seemingly effortlessly around the world. Maybe it is the way they dress – there is no denying they were the most stylish delegation in the room. Maybe it’s their labels – classic yet modern, understated but artsy and all the while projecting a mystery that makes you want to buy every one of them. It might be that accent that had consumers swooning at the booths.

Okay that’s whimsy but there is something magical at the moment about Italian wines and consumers appear to have picked up on it.

My guess is that it’s all about diversity. Be it the style of the wines, the wealth of grape varieties or an even more primal attraction, the way the wines taste. No matter the reason, the more diverse Italian wines become the more it would appear wine drinkers are attracted to them.

Then there is the food. Italian restaurants are thriving in just about every corner of the world, they all sell Italian wine and they have for decades. Most of us grew up with Chianti in the kitchen, first as a wine, then as a candlestick. Either way, Italian wine was never far away, and as mentioned, always present in those restaurantes italianos.

Imagine the future of Canadian wine if ‘Canadian’ restaurants were spread across the globe and if they were important enough to be part of a yearly top ten list in most major cities. Visibility and familiarity has to have played a role in the spread and success of Italian wine globally.

It’s been said that consumers are confused when it comes to wine. Too many labels, too many, producers, too many grapes etc., etc. Yet Italians can sell a wine like Barolo, which is a region and a commune, made from the nebbiolo grape, a name that doesn’t appear on the label and everybody gets it. As for needing something new to capture the imagination of wine drinkers. Barolo is Barolo is Barolo, made with same grape, from the same place for many, many years.

Tignanello 2013 Argiolas Costamolino Vermentino di Sardegna 2014But don’t take my word for it; you can seek out most of the following wines anywhere you live in Canada and embrace the modernity of Italy. That the wines are technically better now versus historically is a given, but you could make a case they are also more authentic now than at any other time in their life. 

Who doesn’t love vermentino, in this case Argiolas Costamolino 2014 Vermentino di Sardegna grown at some 190 metres above sea level. It isn’t chardonnay and it isn’t sauvignon blanc but it is the perfect, fresh white to pair with seafood appetizers in the garden all spring and summer.

At the Antinori Tignanello/Guado al Tasso vertical tasting one wine stood out above all others: Antinori 2013 Tignanello. We remember visiting Tignanello a few years ago when the folks at Antinori were saying they thought the 2010 could be greatest Tignanello ever. Make no mistake, it is excellent, but the 2013 has something more. Already more elegant than its many predecessors, expect a glass full of power with amazing vibrant, juicy fruit and elegance. Long and complex this is one of the finest young Tignanellos we have tasted. The wine made its world premiere at the festival and will be released at Vinitaly next month but you will have to wait a few more months for its release in Canada. (No worries, the 2012 is excellent).

Ruffino Ducale Oro Riserva Gran Selezione Chianti Classico 2010 Castello di Gabbiano Riserva Chianti Classico 2012There’s a new flavour in Chianti Classico – red fruit – making the modern CC story more classic. I love the affordable and available Castello di Gabbiano 2012 Chianti Classico Riserva replete with its violets and supple manner. Can you smell the roasted chicken? As it turns out the festival was a great place to catch up on the state of Gran Selezione, the highest order of merit now accorded a Chianti Classico’s top wines. It signifies the top of the quality pyramid, sourced from the heartland of the historic region. It would appear after anecdotal chats with many producers that the anti Gran Selezione group is fading as consumers embrace the terminology.

In the case of the Ruffino Riserva Ducale Oro 2010 Chianti Classico Gran Selezione, it’s always been the top label at Ruffino, but maybe Gran Selezione makes it easier for everyone when they are shopping to know it is the top dog. Refer to the first part of this story regarding success in the marketplace. 

Italy’s sparkling wine was a big hit in Vancouver spanning all levels from Prosecco to Franciacorta. Two favourites included what Treve Ring refers to as the blinged out Bottega Gold N/V Prosecco Spumante Brut, and the Ferghettina 2006 Franciacorta Extra Brut. The former is sophisticated fun bubble, produced to order, via a single fermentation in the winery’s specialized pressurized cuve close tanks for forty days. The latter is a serious, structured bubble with Champagne aspirations. It is an 80/20 mix of chardonnay and pinot noir spending 69 months on its lees.

Bottega Gold Prosecco Ferghettina Franciacorta Extra Brut 2006 Adami Cartizze Dry Valdobbiadene Superiore

The Adami Cartizze N/V Dry Valdobbiadene Superiore sparkler grows in a 1,000-foot-high vineyard. The 107 hectares of vines are owned by 140 growers. Sounds like Burgundy, tastes like heaven. Like I said, the Italians get it on all levels and for the moment it seems consumers can’t get enough of Italy.

At the packed Vietti booth, consumers learned when the nebbiolo from declassified cru sites is aged for less than the minimum legal requirements it becomes a varietal, Langhe IGT. How good is the Vietti 2012 Nebbiolo Perbacco? Well, very good. True it’s not a Barolo DOCG, but the price and its stature in the glass suggest this Langhe red is a bargain to be enjoyed now.

The folks at Mastroberardino have been into old, indigenous grapes for quite some time. Preserving the past by bringing it back to the future was another important theme at the festival and is part of a more organised movement across Italy especially with the next generation of winegrowers.

Vietti Perbacco Langhe Nebbiolo 2012 Mastroberardino Radici 2008 Donnafugata Ben Ryé Passito di Pantelleria

The less is more, old might be better movement, is reflected in the Mastroberardino 2008 Radici Taurasi. The word radici means roots in Italian and the wine is a nod to winery’s mission to preserve the local grapes well adapted to Campania’s volcanic soils.

A little farther south, the folks at Donnafugata have nurtured a Sicilian treasure also grown in volcanic soils. The grape is zibbibo and the Donnafugata 2011 Ben Ryé Passito di Pantelleria is a sweet breath of Mediterranean air.

Our own John Szabo has just reported on the latest from Brunello and the return of the sangiovese to its most attractive form. But did you know on the other side of the Apennines the growers of Emilia-Romagna claim to have sent the sangiovese to Tuscany?

Italy is steeped in history and it stretches from the past to the future, history to modernity, which is probably why we all like it so much.



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Castello di Gabbiano Chianti Classico