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In the early 1980s, Marinella quit her job as an accountant and moved to the family's five hectare farm 13 kilometers northeast of Verona. She’s the first in her family to make wine and learned primarily by doing -- reading books, tasting lots of wine and experimenting. Now she and her partner Hector farm 40 hectares, 20 of which are vineyards. Marinella has always farmed organically and has long worked biodynamically. Ripasso (given its own DOC in 2007) is a blend of Corvina, Mollinara, and Rondinella; and is kind of the half-way point between Valpolicella and Amarone. After pressing the dried grapes that make Amarone, the extra skins are used for the second fermentation of Valpolicella. Adalia's Ripasso is a beautifully complex wine, ripe with blackberries and hints of dried oregano, mint, liquorice, tobacco leaves and peat. Christine Manula
For those who love old school Valpolicella, it can a be a bit difficult to find wines of the character Hemingway described as: "dry, red and cordial, like the home of a brother one gets on with." Moderate in alcohol and combining fresh cherry fruit, bright acidity, and a pleasing hint of bitterness on the finish it's especially useful at the table, pairing beautifully with lighter fare. Unfortunately, many examples trade freshness for richness to accommodate modern tastes for heavier, more extracted wines. Fortunately, organic grower Adalia in Mezzane di Sotto makes lovely old-fashioned Valpolicella. The 2011 has black cherry, crushed herbs, with a hint of anise on the nose. The light-bodied, racy palate offers delicious cherry, black tea, red berry flavors with a flush of cherry pit on the finish. With a light chill this gulpable red is superb paired with saltimbocca, mushroom risotto, or Piave cheese. John McIlwain
The Greeks started producing wine in Cirò about 3,000 years ago and used to offer it to winners of the ancient Olympics. The Calabretta family has been growing grapes in this part of Calabria for four generations, but in 2008 Cataldo and his sisters Maria and Michela decided to start their own estate and refurbish the family cellar. Cirò Rosso Classico is made from 100% Gaglioppo, which is the main grape variety of the production zone of Cirò DOC. Their vineyards are situated on rolling hills of limestone and clay about 50 meters above sea level. The harvest takes place at the end of September. There are 14 days of skin maceration, fermentation takes place using wild yeasts, the wine then matures for 10 months in glazed concrete tanks and seven months in the bottle. The Rosso is very earthy and gamey with lots of black plums and cherries. After about three hours, it really opened up with hints of mushroom and violets. Definitely pair it with strong flavors like Chicken Marsala, Braised Beef Ragu with Garlic Polenta, or Porcini Mushroom Risotto. Christine Manula
The 2014 Cataldo Calabretta Rosato is an unusual rosato that definitely side steps the mold of simple aperitif wine. This wine, rather than being dominated by fruit, shows elusive umami notes on the nose; spiced brine, anise, and miso with blood orange and tart cranberry following. The palate, while still savory, shows more citrus and stone fruit like pithy orange and white peaches. With more tannin than most roses and bright acidity this wine demands food; grilled mackerel or sardines, briny olives, hard cheese, or a caesar salad (with anchovies!). Andy Paynter
High atop the Murge Plateau in Puglia, Cantine Carpentiere is a small family-owned winery that produces two indigenous Puglian grape varieties: Nero di Troia and Bombino Nero. Made from 70-year-old Bombino Nero vines, this is the only rosato in Southern Italy that has DOCG status. At 450 meters above sea level, the vineyards are rich in limestone and surrounded by stone walls originally built to protect local flocks of sheep. Tannins from the maceration process make this a great food wine, but it retains its freshness and acidity from the 5-6% of white grapes that are naturally included in each cluster of Bombino Nero. Ripe watermelon and wild strawberries with hints of pepper, try pairing it with a salmon salad, orecchiette with broccoli rabe or even a juicy burger. Christine Manula
High atop the Murge Plateau, Cantine Carpentiere is a small family-owned winery that produces two indigenous Puglian grape varieties: Nero di Troia and Bombino Nero. Uva di Troia is an ancient grape apparently named after the Puglian town of Troia, which was founded after the siege of ancient Troy. Carpentiere’s Nero di Troia is on the lighter side of some of their neighbors, with raspberry, cranberry and a hint of spice and vanilla on the nose. It starts off quite floral and develops into a more rustic wine as it opens, with touches of cranberry, rose petals, spice and smoky cloves. I think this is a great summer red and perfect for barbecuing ribs, burgers or a hanger steak. Christine Manula
When Gabriele Marano decided to retire in 2000, his son-in-law Pietro Topi took interest in continuing the family’s legacy at Collebello. With some of the region's oldest and healthiest vines that had always been organically farmed, Pietro and his childhood friend Martino Taraschi built a modest winery in 2006 and began producing wine under the name Tenuta Terraviva, meaning “living earth”. They hired Claudia Galterio to give them a hand, one of Piemonte’s top new winemakers respected for her non-manipulative style. After a few vintages, they were finally making the wines they have envisioned, using only indigenous yeasts and very little sulphur. Intense ruby red in color and aromatic, with black berries, smooth tannins and earth. Perfect for pork and lamb dishes, as well as hot and spicy peppers. And of course, any kind of pasta with red sauce. Christine Manula
Defino comes from organically farmed grapes (a friend who is one of Tuscany’s best winemakers consults on the winemaking), and it’s a really lovely fresh red, light and juicy but with plenty of intensity on the palate. This is on the short list for the ultimate pizza wine, but really we mean that in reference to: “it’s Tuesday night, and we want a glass of something delicious that doesn’t break the bank”. Actually Frappato is a terrific food wine — a red-wine-with-fish wine, and very versatile.
Torre Nova is 100% Negroamaro from 30-60 year old vines grown on clay and rocky pebbles. The 2015 is quite light and a bit higher in acid than the last vintage, but it’s really pretty on the palate. Think tart cherries and red plums, it’s very herbaceous with a hint of nuts and pepper on the finish. Try pairing this with roast pigeon, a simply prepared fish or even beef tartare. Christine Manula
Named after Natalino’s wife Anne, this Negroamaro is from 30-60 year old vines grown on clay and chalk. At harvest, Natalino destems and presses the grapes 2 -3 times, puts it in cement tanks for five days of skin contact, racks the wine and then leaves it in cement from September to March. Before bottling, he puts the wine in stainless steel for a few weeks to refine and then adds a very low dose of sulfur at bottling. The result is a medium bodied wine with good tannins that tastes of dark cherries and cocoa, with a hint of nuts and pepper. Try pairing it with a traditional Pugliese dish like pasta with chickpeas and anchovies, slow cooked lamb with potatoes, or just throw a tuna steak on the grill. Christine Manula
“Nataly” is named after Natalino himself. The wine is fermented and aged in concrete tanks and underground concrete vats, with a very low dose of sulfur at bottling. It’s bit fuller in body than the Negroamaro with meatier tannins, juicy dark plums, violets, anise and a hint of pepper on the finish. Try pairing Primitivo with Spaghetti Puttanesca, Seafood Jambalaya, Short Ribs or hard cheeses like Edam or Smoked Gouda. Christine Manula
Dinner at Franny's, including great food, 6 wines from Madonna della Grazie; Aglianico del Vulture 1995 and 1998 from d'Angelo, and 2 cuvees of 1998 from Paternoster. Plus Taurasi 1996 Feudi di San Gregorio, 1998 and 2000 Terradora, and Mastroberardino 1973 ("one of 2 best vintages of the decade") and Mastroberardino 1990, and a surprise or two...
Pitch-perfect weeknight Nero d’Avola: light on its feet, with a vibrant acidity and ripe berry and juicy plum fruits. The bright, playful palate is balanced by just the right hint of dried herbs and spices to underscore any red sauce pie or pasta. The Rossojbleo is dry farmed from about ten hectares of head-trained bush vines without the use of any chemicals or machines. Gulfi’s commitment to a manual harvest, along with organic practices in the vineyard and vinification using native yeasts, makes for a seriously satisfying young wine. And while this definitely holds up on day two, it’s pretty hard to resist finishing the bottle! Equally tasty lightly chilled for summer drinking. Karina Mackow
Il Fortunato aced it with their Rosato Spumante; another lively sparkler produced from organic vineyards with only a minimal addition of sulfur. The nose is playful with a mix of bright berry fruits and fresh red cherries cut by tart apple skins. On the palate, a delicate mousse lifts the wine showing some weight, great acidity, and just touch of sugar. Absolutely lovely! Pair with charcuterie, simple pasta, or simply drink on its own. Andy Paynter
Drogone comes from a small parcel of vines planted in 1964. The wine is aged for two years in older, large tonneau of French oak, and then for years in bottle — the 2007 is the current release. A wine of great depth and considerable density, it shares the elegance and finesse of all Madonna delle Grazie wines. It's very cool to taste the highest quality Aglianico that has some age; we're happy that it's still available at such a fair price. John Rankin and Jamie Wolff
Liscone is an old Contrada, or farm; Paulo says that the fruit for the Liscone bottling comes from younger vines — only 30 years old... After 15-20 days in open-top fermenters, the wine goes in old tonneau. It's intense — smokey, very mineral. Savory, with ripe tannin, this isn't a fruit-driven wine, but a really sophisticated expression of the Vulture. The wine is certainly drinkable now, but this is a fine candidate for mid-term aging. A bottle tried recently was open for three days and still quite delicious. Fine stuff! John Rankin and Jamie Wolff
Making Aglianico in a fresh, food-friendly style is not easy; in so many wines ripeness takes over, resulting in a charmless,“hot” wine that tastes of alcohol and roasted fruit. Messer Oto* avoids these pitfalls and showcases Aglianico's ability to carry lifted flavors of brambly fruit and smokey minerals. This is very dry but with some rich black fruit, ripe tannins, and plenty of peppery nuance and complexity; bright acid provides balance and makes this a very versatile food wine to accompany anything from grilled salmon or chicken to burgers or richer stews. John Rankin and Jamie Wolff *There is a fine public fountain in the Vulture town of Venosa which dates to the 1300s and which is named for a “Messer Oto”, who must have been a local boss of the day.
A deeply-colored, dry and aromatic winter rose from the Aglianico grape. Fuller in body than what we often drink during the high heat of summer, this has a plush, silky mouthfeel with plenty of generous cherry fruit, a hint of bitterness on the finish, and streaks of smoky Basilicata minerality throughout. I would love this as a bolder, fall aperitif rose while cooking or welcoming guests, and at the dinner table as a refreshing yet substantial companion to any vegetarian or poultry-based feast. Karina Mackow
One of our favorite Italian winemakers is actually American. Michael Schmelzer moved to Italy in 2003 with his family and purchased 10 hectares of organic vineyards in the "belly button of Chianti Classico" at Monte Bernardi. Since that time he has branched out and started making wines from Sicilian grapes as well. This spring he introduced his Tetra Pak Rosato which is made from 100% Nero d'Avola grapes. Don't let the vibrant pink carton fool you. It's more subtle on the inside - fresh and energetic with great acidity and a slight grip. Raspberry, strawberry, and fresh watermelon fruit make this the perfect beach or picnic wine. An added bonus is that Tetra Pak cartons use 54% less energy, create 80% less greenhouse gasses, and produce 60% less solid waste volume than a 750ml glass wine bottle. So you can celebrate summer and save the environment. Christine Manula
Good Lagrein can remind us of northern Rhone Syrah, perhaps usually higher in acid and a bit more rustic. This one immediately made me think of Cornas, rich but with good acidity, earthy and mineral but with real elegance, a bit of meatiness, and olive and black cherry. It is altogether a remarkable expression of Lagrein, fine to drink now but likely even better after another couple of years. Jamie Wolff
We love Schiava (also called Vernatsch in the Alto Adige, and Trollinger in Germany and Austria) for its light and easy-drinking character. At the same time it reminds us of a hypothetical wild mountain cousin of Nebbiolo and Pinot Noir, hinting at a more important structure and complexity beneath the surface of pretty color and fruit. This one delivers much more –the result of great biodynamic fruit, and a long slow fermentation and maceration. It’s unmistakably Schiava, but there is a depth and complexity to the wine that we haven’t found elsewhere (excepting Nusserhof), and despite the typically light color of the wine, the delicious cranberry fruit, the cut and lift present, there is a core that suggests much more. You can have your fun and think about it too! Jamie Wolff
Vinified and aged identically to “Neccio”; together the two wines present a clear case for Cesanese’s transparency in reflecting terroir. The Ca’Litro vineyard soils are made up of white sandstone, and this is the most structured and full-bodied of the Riccardi-Reale wines. Dark and tart brambly berries, quite floral, eucalyptus, bigger tannins. (My favorite!) Christine Manula
Collepazzo is a blend of fruit grown on the two distinct soil types in the Riccardi-Reale vineyards: volcanic and sandstone. From biodynamic farming and straightforward vinification with indigenous yeasts; the wine spends nine months in cement and eight months in the bottle before being released. There are beautiful cherry / kirsch notes, along with some stone and clay, and light pepper and baking spices. There’s fruit on the palate but it’s savory and dry, with a thread of tannin, lots of lift and energy. Jamie Wolff
Neccio shows fruit, but it has pronounced smoky stone and ash aromatics – it seems easy to guess that it’s from volcanic soils. It’s light-medium bodied, and a classic type of Cesanese, both serious and easy to drink, with bright fruit, savory forest elements, and that underlying minerality. The wine spends nine months in wood (some of it large old barrels made of chestnut) and eight months in the bottle. 2014 seems to have been a fine vintage in Cesanese country, giving plenty of ripe material and great balance. A fine intro to the grape! Jamie Wolff
Vittorio Savino, owner of Fenicotteri, joined Foti’s small association of producers called i Vigneri (some of whose wines from Mt. Etna we always have on our shelves). I Vigneri offers unparalleled expertise in every aspect of viticulture and production (including the services of Ciccio, the group’s mule). Foti’s work at Gulfi, and his knowledge derived from the vines in Pachino must have been very valuable when trying to restore a vineyard that’s virtually on the shore of the lagoon. The farming is impeccable (only copper and sulfur and sheep manure are used on the bush-trained vines) but it’s the location that brings an incredibly compelling mineral and saline lift to the wine. It’s perhaps on the light side of medium-bodied, savory aromatics with typical plummy Nero d’Avola fruit, and in a perfectly balanced state for current drinking – fresh, with great cut and moderately tannic structure – entirely satisfying. Called Fenicotteri (flamingo, in Italian) after the migratory flamingoes who visit the lagoon next to the vineyard, this is one special wine. Jamie Wolff Eighty percent of the clusters are destemmed and crushed. It’s macerated for 14 days in steel vats, matures in used barriques for at least six months, and then spends six months in bottle before it’s released. The result is a beautiful Nero d’Avola, deep and dark. Tart red cherries and ripe blackberries, violets and earth with leather and spice on the finish. With medium high acid and medium tannins, this will be perfect to pair with gamey meats, BBQ, a hearty beef stew, roast turkey or even tuna steak. If you're a vegetarian, try it with lentils and shitake mushrooms. Christine Manula
We’ve met Maria Teresa several times at Angiolino Maule’s fantastic natural wine fair, Villa Favorita. She’s the image of a charming southern Italian lady with a broad smile and an aura of generosity and hospitality. We finally made the decision to buy some of her wines, and we couldn’t be happier with how they’re showing. This is an Aglianico from vineyards close to the Roccamonfina nature reserve, among Starnalia’s almost 100 acres of organic grapes, olives and chestnuts. The 2010 has delicious flavors of dark plum and a deep, spicy mineral presence. The Aglianico’s formidable tannins and vibrant acidity have been tamed by extra age in the bottle — drink now with hearty, red sauces and other rustic Italian fare. John Rankin
Made from 100% Sangiovese grown in the hills of Romagna, brothers-in-law Davide and Mauro have been making Primo Segno together since 2005. Villa Venti is certified biodynamic and went completely solar-powered in 2010. They are working with four Sangiovese clones that are planted according to the type of clay found in the soil. Red clay, mixed with some sand, gives the wines structure and the sea breeze from 10 kilometers away creates a micro-climate that keeps the wines fresh. Bright ruby red, there is an intense nose of berries and violets. Crisp and juicy with good tannins and acidity, the Primo Segno is ready to drink now but will only improve with some age. Try it with braised rabbit pappardelle or lamb with rosemary. Christine Manula
In the Albenga neighborhood of Liguria Rossese yields a vibrant wine with light, translucent, cherry color, and a palate that is intense with shades of wild berries,soft moss and a clean, sappy finish. Like our favorite Cru Beaujolais, this is a wine to serve slightly cool. The Vio family produces fresh, organic wines to complement their main business: the cultivation of delicious organic herbs and vegetables. They also served us the best focaccia that we’d ever tasted! John Rankin