95 points Robert Parker for Feudo Montoni 2011 Nero d’Avola Vrucara

Above: A view of the Feudo Montoni vineyards on the island of Sicily.

Feudo Montoni 2011 Nero d’Avola Vrucara
95 points

The delicious 2011 Nero d’Avola Vrucara is one of the protagonists of Sicilian enology. Fabio Sireci is on an explosive upward trajectory that started at an already impressive quality level. His wines just get better and better. By law, a wine labeled Nero d’Avola must be 85% true to the variety, and I don’t know if anything else is added here, but it hardly matters. Vrucara sees fruit sourced from the Principato di Villanova property in central Sicily. The wine is loaded tight with bold berry intensity, olive tapenade, hummus, crushed earth, tobacco and balsam herb. You rarely see this level of complexity with Nero d’Avola. I love everything about this beautiful wine. Fruit is sourced from 90-year-old pre-pylloxera vines.

I am always impressed by the wines of Fabio Sireci, but this new set of releases blew me away. These are some of the finest wines ever made at the beautiful Feudo Montoni property. In particular, I wanted to flag the 2014 Perricone Vigna del Core. This native Sicilian grape is late to ripen and often proves difficult in obtaining higher alcohol levels (like the 13.5% alcohol recorded here). In other words, it’s a very difficult variety to farm, but Fabio has succeeded in producing an exceptional wine.

Monica Larner
Italian Wine Reviewer
Robert Parker

LA Times recommends: Caprari Lambrusco Secco Frizzante Colcer

Above: Tortellini in brodo make for a classic New Year’s Eve dish in Emilia-Romagna where Lambrusco is the preferred pairing.

We were thrilled to learn that the Los Angeles Times has recommended the Caprari Lambrusco Secco Frizzante for New Year’s Eve this year.

Click here for the review.

Here’s what LA Times food and wine critic Irene Virbila had to say about Lambrusco and why it’s a great choice for your New Year’s celebration this year:

“There are many things you could drink with your New Year’s Eve supper, but if you’re making an Italian feast, you would do well to ring out the last day of the year with Lambrusco. Even if you’re not cooking a vat of tortellini in brodo yourself, the fizzy, bittersweet wine from the area around Modena in northern Italy pairs fantastically well with salumi. And by Lambrusco, we don’t mean the cheap, fizzy, sweet stuff that has turned so many wine drinkers away from the typical wine of Emilia (remember Riunite?). When it’s made well, Lambrusco can be a revelation.”

Carbone: The “other” Aglianico

Winery website.

As southern Italian wine becomes more and more popular in the United States, we increasingly see the Aglianico grape take center stage next to Nebbiolo and Sangiovese as one of Italy’s greatest noble red varieties.

And it’s about time!

There’s really no way around it: Aglianico growers simply haven’t matched the marketing savvy of their counterparts in appellations like Barolo, Barbaresco, Valtellina, Brunello di Montalcino, and Chianti and Chianti Classico etc.

But that’s beginning to change.

Aglianico from Campania, and in particular from Taurasi, has made remarkable gains over the last decade in expanding its visibility among American consumers.

These wines, raised in the volcanic soils of the Campanian mountain chain, have an incredible ability to express earthy, umami flavors along side deep, vibrant red fruit. And like the noble red wines of their northern and central counterparts, tourism has been a huge boost for reaching English-speaking wine lovers.

carbone aglianico wine red

Above: Old vine Aglianico growing on the Carbone estate in the shadow of the extinct volcano, Mt. Vulture, in Basilicata.

And here’s where Aglianico del Vulture — the “other Aglianico” — faces one of its biggest challenges. Because food and wine tourism is virtually non-existent in Vulture, few Americans have ever heard of these wines, let alone tasted them.

Like their cousins to the west, these wines are raised in black, nutrient-poor and mineral-rich volcanic subsoils at high elevation.

And like their cousins, they grow in vineyards surrounded mostly by woodsy countryside still left untouched by major development.

The entry-tier Aglianico del Vulture by Carbone (pictured above) is such a wonderful example of how fresh, clean these wines can be while still showing great earthy flavors and lipsmacking acidity.

You wouldn’t expect those traits from a wine from Basilicata, one of Italy’s “forgotten regions.” And in fact, most of Basilicata is dominated by low-lying wheat fields (Basilicata is one of Italy’s most important producers of wheat, by the way).

But on the south and south-east side of Mt. Vulture, the only anomaly in this otherwise flat land, you have the ideal condition for the cultivation of fine wine grapes.

Carbone’s Terra dei Fuochi is named after Vulture, “the land of fire” (terra dei fuochi) and it is vinified and aged in stainless-steel before being bottled (no oakiness here).

It’s an entirely unique expression of Italian viticulture and it weighs in at a fantastic by-the-glass price.

Vineyard image via the Carbone Vini Facebook (worth checking out).

Sedilesu Mamuthone brings home Tre Bicchieri award

We are thrilled to share the news that the 2012 vintage of the Sedilesu Mamuthone has been awarded the Tre Bicchieri (Three Glass) prize by the editors of the 2016 Gambero Rosso Guide to the Wines of Italy (please note that the 2011 is pictured above).

The 2016 winners for Sardinia were announced today.

The Tre Bicchieri award is arguably Italy’s most prestigious accolade and it is reserved exclusively for Italy’s top wines.

It was created by Daniele Cernilli — the Italian wine critic now known as “Dr. Wine” — who based the rating on the fact that a bottle of wine contains six glasses of wine and that a bottle is always shared by at least two people.

If each person drinks three glasses, the reasoning goes, it must be an exceptional bottle of wine.

Now in its 26th edition (when the 2016 version will be released), the Gambero Rosso Guide to the Wines of Italy is the Italian wine trade’s bible.

To read more about Sedilesu’s Mamuthone, please click here.

gambero rosso 2016 wine guide

Antonio Galloni: “Bruno Nada one of the most underrated growers in Piedmont.”

Above: Bruno Nada, son of Fiorenzo Nada, founder of the Fiorenzo Nada winery.

Click here for the Fiorenzo Nada website.

“Bruno Nada is one of the most underrated and overlooked growers in Piedmont,” wrote Antonio Galloni, one of the world’s most respected authorities on the wines of Piedmont.

“His are among the few wines that actually deliver on the vision so strongly advocated by the modern school in Piedmont, which is to say wines that drink well early and age. Recently, Bruno Nada has been joined by his son Danilo, ensuring what I hope will eventually be a smooth transition to the next generation. Nada’s 2009 Barbareschi had only been bottled ten days before this tasting, so readers should keep that in mind when perusing these notes.”

Below, please find some of his scores and tasting notes for the wines of Nada Fiorenzo.

Fiorenzo Nada 2009 Langhe Rosso Seifile
93+ points

The estate’s 2009 Seifile, an old-vine Barbera/Nebbiolo blend, comes across as quite silky and polished. It is the least expressive of Nada’s 2009s, almost certainly because of its recent bottling. Although the fruit is a bit subdued at this stage, the wine’s minerality and overall balance are impossible to miss. The huge, textured finish bodes well for the future. Nada gave the 2009 16 months in French oak. Anticipated maturity: 2017-2029.

—Antonio Galloni (Wine Advocate)

Fiorenzo Nada 2009 Barbaresco Rombone
94 points

The 2009 Barbaresco Rombone is bursting at the seams with textural elegance and finesse. Sweet red cherries, mint, flowers and tobacco all take shape in this arresting, voluptuous Barbaresco. The Rombone is another wine that captures the best attributes of the vintage. Layers of dark fruit, menthol and sweet spices wrap around the lush, full-bodied finish. The Rombone spent one year in barrique and another in cask. This is a true stand-out in a vintage full of inconsistent wines. Anticipated maturity: 2014-2024.

—Antonio Galloni (Wine Advocate)

Fiorenzo Nada 2010 Barbaresco Rombone
92 points

Boasting bright energy and a youthful personality, the 2010 Barbaresco Rombone hails from a cru that is very much identified with the greater Nada family of Treiso. This Barbaresco shows a great sense of inner structure and intensity with defined berry tones followed by ethereal notes of cola, dried ginger, crushed flowers and grilled herbs. It shows a good level of drinkability now that will only improve with time. Rombone shows the structure for long aging. Drink: 2016-2027.

—Monica Larner (Wine Advocate)

Campi Nuovi in Montecucco, a winery destined to become a classic

Winery website (highly recommended).

We really don’t need to tell you much about Campi Nuovi, Daniele Rosellini and Nadia Riguccini’s winery in Montecucco: Their website is one of the best we’ve ever seen in the Italian wine trade and it is teeming with great info on their approach to growing grapes and winemaking.

Check out the site here.

Montecucco is an appellation that lies just southwest of the Montalcino DOCG on the way to the seaside. Paganico (pronounced pah-GAHN-ee-koh) is the main town in the appellation.

Many would argue that Montecucco has a lot of the same viticultural elements as Montalcino: Maritime influence and stony subsoils (see the photo below), excellent elevation and exposure etc.

And while the appellation is widely known to produce fresh, bright, and very quaffable expressions of Sangiovese, no winery there has made a mark of true greatness — until now.

terroir montecucco

After receiving a degree in enology, Daniele worked with celebrated “taster” Giulio Gambelli (who passed just a few years ago).

Known as the bicchierino or little glass, Gambelli was the last mohican of a generation of winery consultants who simply tasted wines from cask and vat and then advised the winemaker on how to handle and blend the wine.

He was arguably the greatest “taster” of his generation and he is widely credited with having singlehandedly revived the Tuscan wine industry in his lifetime.

Daniele and he worked together at the famed Case Basse estate with winemaker Gianfranco Soldera. To put things in context, even Soldera, who is known for his vast knowledge of fine winemaking and his steadfastness in his approach to viticulture, saw Gambelli as a winemaking giant.

After leaving Soldera, Daniele and his wife, who also has a degree in farming science, launched Campi Nuovi. Some would call him one of Gambelli’s last disciples.

Today, their estate is farmed biodynamically and is organically certified.

Again, check out the site here.

And in the cellar, they use large, traditional Slavonian casks for aging.

If ever there were a Montecucco winery that had a shot at entering the Pantheon of Sangiovese greatness, this is it.

And in the meantime, you’ll certainly agree that the wines have the verve and “electricity” that come from maniacal vineyard management and healthy subsoils that are rich in nitrogen thanks to cover crops and organic farming practices.

Watch Daniele and Nadia’s wines closely. They are destined to become classics. And in the meantime, enjoy these delicious wines!

Cascina Ballarin, extreme value for a classic expression of Barolo

Above: The Barolo appellation as seen from La Morra village township where Cascina Ballarin is located.

Click here for the winery website (highly recommended and full of great information about the wines).

She still hasn’t reviewed any of Cascina Ballarin’s current-release wines since she moved over the Robert Parker, Jr.’s Wine Advocate. But while she still at Wine Enthusiast, Monica reviewed a number of the winery’s releases, with glowing notes and fantastic scores.

Here are just a few examples of her praise for the wines…

Cascina Ballarin 2005 Barolo Bricco Rocca
94 points

Cascina Ballarin’s Barolo Bricco Rocca comes from the La Morra area of the Langhe and offers intense aromas of blue flower, violets, almond flowers, cinnamon and powdered licorice. The focus here is on elegance and harmony and the mouthfeel follows through with power and determination. This is a truly beautiful wine.

Cascina Ballarin 2006 Barolo Bricco Rocca
92 points

Barolo Bricco Rocca still needs a few more years in the cellar to allow for full integrations of its spice, fruit, tobacco and mineral components. This beautiful wine is ripe with potential and the mouthfeel is plush and velvety with a wonderful fade of smoke and black fruit.

Cascina Ballarin 2007 Barolo Bricco Rocca
92 points

Barolo Bricco Rocca boasts its own personality that puts more focus on broader, horizontal aromas of Graham cracker, dried grass and spice rather than vertical notes of cola and mint. Because of its unique traits, this wine would pair with stewed meats or baked white beans.

Click here for all of her ratings of recent releases for Wine Enthusiast.

For the record, in July of last year (2014) she gave the 1990 (classic) Barolo 91 points and called it “young.”

“The wine has aged gracefully over the years,” she wrote, “and shows a profound sense of density and structure. I returned to the glass 24 hours later and much of that residual freshness was still on hand.”

slavonian cask barolo aging

Above: Cascina Ballarin ages its Barolo in traditional large-format Slavonian casks, an essential component to creating the classic style of these wines.

Cascina Ballarin may have a lower profile than many of the sought-after Barolos from marquee-name wineries that we all know and love (and can scarcely afford!).

But as we can see from Monica’s tide of 90+ scores for the wines, they are world-class Barolos that can compete with their more famous counterparts.

The wines are classic in style. Beyond temperature-controlled fermentation, the winery embraces a traditional approach to the wines: Large-format Slavonian oak casks (like the ones in the photo above) oxygenate the wine slowly without imparting any wood flavors.

The resulting wines are earthy with classic notes of tar and truffles complemented by vibrant red and berry fruit.

Many expert tasters would compare the wines to some of the more familiar traditional houses. The only difference is that the price is remarkably lower…

Feudo Montoni organically raised Catarratto, grown in one of Sicily’s highest-elevation appellations

Winery website.

Cammarata in central Sicily is widely known as one of the highest elevation growing areas for Nero d’Avola.

It’s also one of the oldest centers for the production of fine wine. As early as the fifteenth century C.E., Italian ampelographers and natural historians had high praise for the wines made there.

In antiquity and throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance, Sicily was referred to as Italy’s “bread basket.” Its vast stretches of fertile farmland, the abundance of sunlight and hot summers, and the mediterranean winds make it an ideal region for the cultivation of wheat and citrus, for example.

But historically and especially before the modern era of technology-driven winemaking and temperature-controlled fermentation, producing fine wine there was extremely challenging. It’s important to keep in mind that for centuries, Marsala was the only wine to be shipped out of Sicily in significant quantities.

Today with the advent of Etna and Vittoria wines, that’s all changed. But in Cammarata, fine wine production has always been the focus of growers, stretching back to the Renaissance and beyond.

feudo montone

Image via the winery website..

To what can we attribute this anomaly? The answer is simple: The high elevation.

And not only does the high altitude and hilly landscape create the ideal conditions for growing fine wine grapes, it also allows grape growers like Feudo Montoni to work without the use of chemicals.

The temperature variation between night and day at that height helps to cool the grapes every evening and keep them well ventilated and dry. And this is the key. It allows the grower to let the grapes achieve full ripeness because she/he can leave them on the vine until they are ready to be picked without great risk for rot or mildew.

The Feudo Montoni Catarratto Vigna del Masso is a certified organic wine that’s grown at roughly 700 meters a.s.l.

The fifty-five-year-old vines are head-trained (known as Alberello in Italian), which means that they essentially grow out of the ground like trees without trellises.

It really doesn’t get much more “natural” than that!

And the sandy soils of the Cammarata hills force the vines to dig deep into the soil. The resulting “vigor” of the plants makes for a very rich expression of Catarrratto with healthy minerality and nuanced spice, stone fruit, and nutty notes.

Calabrise: an interpretation of Nero d’Avola by one of southern Italy’s icons, Ippolito 1845

Above: One of Ippolito 1845’s vineyards. Note the hills in the background. Many don’t realize that even though it lies along the coast, Cirò is actually a mountainous growing area.

Winery website.

Winery Facebook.

Ippolito 1845 is one of those great family-owned and -run Italian wineries that already enjoyed immense popularity in the 1960s when Italy’s “economic miracle” helped the first wave of the Italian wine renaissance to take shape.

But the even better news is that even has the winery has passed from one generation of the Ippolito family to the next, the winemakers have kept their family traditions intact and the wine continues to be produced in the “traditional style” of the Calabrian winemaking legacy.

Yes, it’s true that they’ve introduced some modern technology like temperature controlled fermentation and stainless-steel vinification for its ready-to-drink wines (and a snazzy, super cool website).

But they’ve also remained devoted to large-cask aging of its top expressions of Gaglioppo.

Made from 100 percent Calabrise grapes, the Calabrise is one of its entry-tier wines and is vinified and aged in stainless-steel.

Fresh and clean on the nose, this highly approachable wine is juicy and fruit-driven, with gorgeous ripe red fruit flavors balanced by gentle tannin and wonderful minerality.

Calabrise (or Calabrese) is the same grape as Sicily’s Nero d’Avola.

A lot of people erroneously believe that Calabrese is so-called because Nero d’Avola originated in Calabria. In fact, Nero d’Avola most likely originated in Sicily.

The grape name actually came from a linguistic corruption of Colla-anlisi which means “Avola grape” in Sicilian dialect (colla means grape and anlisi means Avola).


The “King of Cesanese”: Anton Maria Coletti Conti

Winery website.

He has been called the “king of Cesanese.”

Anton Maria Coletti Conti (below), owner of the Coletti Conti winery in Lazio (Latium) in central Italy, is widely considered to be one of the greatest producers of Cesanese del Piglio, a red wine made from Cesanese grapes in Piglio, Serrone, Acuto, Anagni, and Paliano in Frosinone province.

Many people know the famous white wines of Lazio (the region that claims Rome as its capital) like Castelli Romani Bianco, Frascati, and Est! Est! Est!

Those wines have been famous in the U.S. for generations now, especially Frascati, which together with wines like Soave, Valpolicella, Chianti, and Verdicchio, were wildly popular in America in the 1970s.

But aside from diehard Italophile wine lovers, few know Cesanese del Piglio, with its lively acidity, its balanced alcohol, and its characteristic “white pepper” note.

anton maria colletti conti

We recently tasted Anton Maria’s “Hernicus,” which is named after one of the pre-Roman peoples who inhabited this inland province in antiquity, the “Hernici.”

They were famous for their resistance to Roman expansion and for centuries they opposed Rome before being absorbed into its orbit.

The hills where Anton Maria grows his wines are named after them: the Monti Ernici.

They are part of the sub-Appennines and its their elevation that allows winemakers like Anton Maria to achieve the freshness and acidity that sets Cesanese del Piglio apart as one of the great red wines of Italy.

Anton Maria has won countless awards for his wines and his 2012 Cesanese del Piglio not only won the coveted Tre Bicchieri award from the Gambero Rosso Guide to the Wines of Italy 2015, the publication’s top rating. But it was also named “one of the best wines in Italy,” by the prestigious Guide to the Best Wines of Italy (2015), receiving 92 out of 100 points from the guide’s editors.

According to his website, Anton Maria carries out alcoholic fermentation for his wines in stainless steel and then performs malolactic fermentation in used barriques.

The wines are then aged in used barriques and then in bottle.

The natural micro-oxygenation of the casks gives the wine an elegance and nuanced flavors that you rarely find in Cesanese del Piglio, however good the wines may be. And the fact that he always uses casks that have been used previously ensures that they do not impart any oakiness.

The wines are brilliant and once you taste them, you’ll understand why they call him the king.