It was one of the most memorable vertical tastings I have been to in Italy recently. Renzo Cotarella, the technical head for Antinori, invited me to taste every vintage ever made of Cervaro, the stylish white from the Antinoris' wine estate in Umbria, Castello della Sala. The wine has long been a favorite Italian white for me, so I wasn’t going to say no. And I was driving back from Rome airport that night after spending the weekend in England with my children.
The patriarch of the family also decided to come to the tasting at the last minute. Piero Antinori wanted to give his new Robinson four-seat helicopter a spin on Sunday; so he flew up with a friend and his daughter, Allegra, from Bolgheri to the Castello, which is about 30 minutes driving north from Orvieto.
We were all blown away by how well Cervaro aged. The first officially released vintage, 1986, was still fresh and vivid. It wasn’t showing any of its age. Here is my tasting note and non-blind score:
1986 Cervaro della Sala: Super fresh mineral, ash and honey character. Very lemony and floral. Medium to full body with lots of tropical fruit and a minerally, milky long finish. Gorgeous. 91points, non-blind.
In fact, most of the wines showed very little age. Their incredible ageability would give most white Burgundies a real run for their money!
Cervaro has always been the same, almost entirely made from the property’s best Chardonnay with a dash of Grechetto, the local variety that's used to make Orvieto. The percentage of Grechetto varies, but can be up to 20 percent, depending on the quality of the vintage. Riper years with lower acidity have more Grechetto in them, to give the wines freshness.
Anyway, I found that anything more than 10 percent of Grechetto in the blend throws the balance off a little and makes the wines a little rustic. Annual production is usually between 13,000 and 15,000 cases. It costs about $40 a bottle.
I find Cervaro reminds me of a cross between a premier cru Puligny-Montrachet and a top Napa Valley Chardonnay. There is the richness and flamboyance of the Napa white and the raciness and minerality of the Burgundy. Check out my video of the tasting and a brief discussion of Cervaro with Piero Antinori.
I don’t think there is any use in posting all the tasting notes, because I doubt anyone can find old vintages of Cervaro. If you do, just remember to buy anything from 1986 to 1991, and then 1996 to the current release. You won’t be disappointed. They are all outstanding quality and holding up beautifully. I found Cervaro was slightly less good from 1992 to 1995.
The 2006, which is not in the market yet, could be the best ever. Here is my tasting note:
2006 Cevaro della Sala: This is amazing. Perhaps best ever. Amazing aromas of apples, honey, mineral, and freshly cut lavender. Full bodied, with intense lemon lime, white peaches, and slate. Long racy finish.
Dan Liguori — West Palm Beach, Fl — November 20, 2007 7:15pm ET
Steven Balavender — Tampa, Fl — November 20, 2007 7:55pm ET
Kevin Callahan — Montreal, QC — November 24, 2007 8:43am ET
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