With the great diversity that Italy’s wine regions have to offer, the Wine Experience’s final seminar, “The Best of the Boot,” set a lofty theme for a single tasting. Senior editor and tasting director Bruce Sanderson and 10 Italian panelists were up to the task, leading audience members through a journey that ranged from sparkling wine to big Barolo to rich Amarone.
“The wines we’ll taste are among the top-quality wines in their respective regions. Some are relatively new, some represent tradition, others innovation, but all are benchmarks by which their peers are measured,” said Sanderson.
For a country best known for its reds, the tasting got off to an unexpected start with a distinctly Italian version of sparkling wine made in the traditional Champagne method, from the Ferrari estate in northeastern Italy’s Trentino region. President Matteo Lunelli’s family has owned the winery since 1952 after buying it from Giulio Ferrari, one of the first enologists to recognize the potential of Chardonnay in Italy, particularly for bubbly. The finely balanced sparkler saw extended aging on the lees and offered great finesse.
Next up was a rich, creamy white from Jermann’s vineyards in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, bordering Slovenia, presented by Michele Jermann. Like the first wine, the 2009 Vintage Tunina illustrated the ability to add new context to familiar ground, blending Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc with local varieties, including Ribolla Gialla, Malvasia and Picolit.
After the opening acts, the tasting entered more familiar territory—Piedmont. Bruna Giacosa showed one of her family’s 2007 Barolo Riservas, explaining, “Our winemaking method is very traditional, [because] we have a lot of responsibility to the soil.” She added, “When I drink my Barolo, I feel like I’m in Serralunga d'Alba.” It made a fine foil to the Nebbiolo-based 2008 Conteisa from the vivacious Gaia Gaja, who likewise stressed the importance of the wine’s terroir; Conteisa’s grapes come from an 8.5-acre plot in La Morra’s renowned Cerequio vineyard, which benefits from a southwestern exposure that helps ripen the grapes, and cooler nights at its 1,200-foot altitude.
A run of five wines came from one of American wine drinkers’ favorite regions, Tuscany, begining with the historic areas of Chianti Classico and Brunello di Montalcino. Castello di Ama enologist Marco Pallanti spoke about his decision many years ago to label the wine with the vineyard—the high-altitude, rock- and clay-laced Bellavista—which was an atypical decision in Chianti at the time. Tancredi Biondi-Santi, the fifth generation of his family and still finishing his viticultural studies, shined the spotlight on the clonal selection for the estate’s Brunello; BBS-11, which can only be used by Biondi-Santi,was developed for its resistance to the phylloxera louse.
Next were current releases of three iconic wines that needed little introduction: Antinori’s Tignanello, presented by Alessia Antinori; Tenuta San Guido’s Sassicaia, represented by family member Piero Incisa della Rocchetta, and Ornellaia, offered by general manager Leonardo Raspini. All three wines blend Tuscany’s native Sangiovese with Bordeaux varieties, including Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. In the late 1970s and ’80s, these producers had a new vision for Tuscan wine, one that has met with great and continuing success. Alessia Antinori spoke about her father, Piero, who first bottled Tignanello as a vino da tavola (table wine) because Cabernet wasn’t allowed in their appellation of Chianti Classico. “I can say he is a pioneer. He has transmitted great passion and attachment to the land.”
To conclude, the seminar turned to a traditional Amarone della Valpolicella produced by the Masi estate. This bold red from northern Italy’s Veneto region gains richness from drying the grapes prior to fermentation. A member of the family that owns Masi, marketing director Raffaele Boscaini, explained that the effects of this appassimento process are complemented by the character of the Mazzone vineyard, which never produces fruit that botrytizes, resulting in wines with more austerity and structure than sweetness.
The audience went away with a greater appreciation of Italy’s diversity, as well as a whole-hearted determination to follow Giacosa's final request, “Please continue to drink Italian wine!”
The Best of the Boot Wines
1) Ferrari Brut Trento Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatore 2001 (91 points, $100)
2) Jermann Venezia-Giulia Vintage Tunina 2009 (NYR, $NA)
3) Falletto di Bruno Giacosa Barolo Le Rocche del Falletto Riserva 2007 (NYR, $NA)
4) Gaja Nebbiolo Langhe Conteisa 2008 (NYR, $240)
5) Castello di Ama Chianti Classico Vigneto Bellavista 2007 (93, $200)
6) Biondi-Santi Brunello di Montalcino Tenuta Greppo Riserva 2006 (97, $600)
7) Antinori Toscana Tignanello 2008 (92, $105)
8) Tenuta San Guido Bolgheri-Sassicaia Sassicaia 2008 (94, $220)
9) Tenuta dell'Ornellaia Bolgheri Superiore Ornellaia 2009 (94, $215)
10) Masi Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Mazzano 2003 (93, $200)