Italy


With 42 DOC wines and 17 DOCG wines in Piedmont, it’s little wonder that some tiny areas and their products remain largely unknown. Such a one — and totally new to me — is a wine made from the pelaverga piccolo di Verduno grape of which the entire production derives from about 15 hectares — some 37 acres — in the Langhe region, west of the charming city of Alba. This minuscule area lies, in other words, in the midst of a sea of nebbiolo vineyards. Now, let’s be honest. Pelaverga piccolo does not make the sort of great wines of which nebbiolo is capable in the form of Barolo and Barbaresco. What it can make, on the other hand, is light, fine-grained, lively and spare red wines that are what I like to drink every day. This example, the Bel Colle Verduno Pelaverga 2015, fermented and aged six months in stainless steel tanks. The color is an utterly transparent ruby-garnet hue; aromas of red and black cherries and currants are permeated by notes of melon and sour cherry, graphite and lavender and an intriguing hint of white pepper. The wine flows lithe, lively and tasty on the palate, energized by pert acidity that dives headlong into dusty, mineral-flecked tannins doing their duty without being too obvious or domineering. The finish brings in elements of briers, brambles and lightly inflected loam, all of these aspects accomplished with fleet-footed agility. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through the end of 2018 with porcini risotto, pappardelle with rabbit, salumeria and hard cheeses, gnocchi with sage. Production was 1,600 cases. Excellent. About $30, and I’ll confess that I would be happier if this wine were priced closer to $20, though, to be fair, it is a small-production wine from a rare grape.

Imported by Quintessential, Napa, Calif. A sample for review.


Last year, Wine of the Day No. 168 was the Aia Vecchia Vermentino 2015. We return to the next iteration of the product for Wine of the Day No. 308. The Aia Vecchia Vermentino 2016, hails from the Maremma region of Tuscany, close to that province’s southwestern shoreline. Made all in stainless steel and including 5 percent viognier grapes to its 95 percent vermentino, the wine offers a very pale, almost colorless hue, though there’s nothing colorless about the wine’s beguiling aromas of bee’s-wax and heather, camellia and lilac, roasted lemon and spiced pear with a note of quince. Lest you think that the wine is a mere vehicle for sensual allure, though, pay heed to its dry character, its talc-like texture balanced by keen acidity and scintillating limestone minerality, its finish that’s lively with bracing seashell salinity and a note of grapefruit pith bitterness — and with no neglect of juicy, lightly macerated stone-fruit flavors. 13 percent alcohol. A delightful wine with a slightly serious side for drinking with all manner of fish and seafood dishes or as a charming aperitif. Very Good+. About $12, a Great Bargain.

Imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif. A sample for review.

Some wines grow more detailed, revealing more dimension and intrigue, as the moments pass. Such a one is the Strasserhof Sylvaner 2015, from the Valle Isarco in Italy’s northeastern Alto Adige-Sudtirol region. The grapes fermented in and the wine aged seven months in 75 percent stainless steel tanks and 25 percent large oak barrels. The color is a pure light gold hue; aromas of spiced pear, quince and ginger feel slightly honeyed and earthy, while a few minutes unfurl notes of lime peel and limestone. The wine is quite lively and frisky, almost prickly on the palate, and though silky-smooth feels slightly sanded, as if a gentle hand applied strokes of delicate sandpaper. More time induces hints of peaches and jasmine, along with beguiling touches of wood-smoke and exotic spices, banana and fig; the lean, lithe finish adds spare elements of lychee, petrol and flint. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2019 or ’20 with trout sauteed in capers and brown butter, pike quenelles, seafood risottos or, taking a different approach, roasted chicken. Excellent. About $22.

Vias Imports, N.Y. A sample for review.


Looking for a fine-grained, robust red wine to accompany the braised meat dishes and roasts that will surface on our tables as the months slope toward Autumn and, down the road, Winter? Or even just burgers and hearty pizzas and pasta dishes? Try the Niro Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2015. The color is black-purple shading to a vibrant violet rim; true to the nature of the montepulciano grape, the intense and concentrated scents and flavors of black raspberries and currants are permeated by notes of cherry skin and stem, lending a hint of bitterness and austerity; a few moments in the glass unfurl touches of loam, black tea, orange zest and cloves. The wine ages first in stainless steel and then in large oak casks, resulting in an effect of freshness, vivid acidity and enough wood influence for a sturdy structure. Mildly dusty tannins contribute to a pleasing velvety texture, driving through a finish packed with graphite and black fruit flavors. 13.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $18.

Imported by Palm Bay International, Boca Raton, Fla. A sample for review.


Salina is one of the Aeolian Islands north of Sicily. Composed of six volcanic peaks, the island comprises only about 10 square miles. While Salina claims to produce the world’s best capers, the island is also notable for sweet wines made from the malvasia grape. In 2013, however, Tenuta Capofaro, a property owned by Sicily’s Tasca d’Almerita, produced the island’s first dry malvasia. I recently tried the Capofaro Didyme Malvasia 2016, Salina, and it’s one of the best white wines I have tasted this year. (“Didyme” is the ancient name for the island.) Made all in stainless steel, the wine displays a very pale straw-gold hue and arresting aromas of preserved lemon, bee’s-wax, melon and figs; a few moments in the glass unfurl notes of greengage, almond skin and camellia. Bright acidity, a necessity considering the grape’s tendency toward fatness, lends lift, litheness and energy to a dense and vibrant texture that seems filled with sunlight; flavors of roasted lemon and spiced pear, touched with an aura of salt marsh and green leafiness, are framed by a sense of spareness on the palate, all leading to a burnished finish polished by sea breeze and heather. 12.5 percent alcohol. We were intrigued and entranced by this wine, which served as a fine accompaniment to salmon marinated in olive oil, soy sauce and lemon juice and given a juniper berry rub, then seared in a cast-iron skillet. Now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $25, and Worth a Search.

Imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif. A sample for review.


Sometimes a wine is so perfect for the purpose that it doesn’t matter what it is or where it came from. That was the case with the Cantina Kaltern Pfarrhof “Kalterersee” Classico Superiore 2015, Südtirol-Alto Adige. I assembled a snack yesterday, a bagatelle of hard salami, Manchego cheese, some wholewheat flatbread crackers and a dab of Dijon mustard — simple and humble — and opened this bottle of red wine about which I knew really nothing. A little research told me that the wine, from a cooperative established in 1906, is a blend of 95 percent schiava grapes with 5 percent lagrein, made in a combination of stainless steel and large old oak casks. The vines range in age from 30 to 70 years; the vineyards go up to 1,640 feet elevation. Though the wine offers a great deal in the way of personality and character, nothing here is over-extracted or unduly emphatic. The color is bright medium ruby-cherry, like a glass of wine in a Dutch still-life painting, conveying a sense of that essential timeless radiance; aromas of wild cherries and raspberries are permeated by notes of almond skin and apple peel, sage and tobacco. The wine is lean, lithe and supple on the palate, very dry and quite spare in its deployment of red berry fruit amid furrow-plowing acidity and a burgeoning element of graphite-tinged tannins and minerality, but lightly, even delicately applied. 13 percent alcohol. A reticent, completely confident wine that keeps you coming back for another sip; I could drink it every day. Excellent. About $24.

Imported by Omniwines Distributing Co., Flushing, N.Y. A sample for review.

We’re still drinking rosé wines at our house, and I hope you are too. For the Wine of the Day, No. 298, I’m featuring a well-made, attractive and unusual rosé from Sardinia. The Serra Lori Rosato 2016 was made by the Argiolas Estate, founded in 1938, and is designated Isola dei Nuraghi IGT. The name does not indicate a specific region but rather the entire island of Sardinia and smaller islands off its coasts, intended for wines made from grapes that typically fall outside the normal appellation categories. The term “Nuraghi” refers to the unique conical stone towers found throughout the island, structures built between about 1900 and 730 B.C. Made completely in stainless steel, Serra Lori Rosato 2016 is a blend of 50 percent cannonau grapes, 25 percent monica, 20 percent carignano and 5 percent bovale. The color is a moderately robust copper-coral pink; aromas of fresh strawberries and mulberries are highlighted by notes of pomegranate, cloves, iodine and seashell, with a distinct accent of dried Mediterranean herbs. Medium body on the palate — nothing ethereal here — juicy red berry flavors and vibrant acidity and limestone-like minerality mark this as a rosé appropriate for all sorts of fare, from tapas and fresh seafood through grilled fish and pork tenderloin to a multitude of picnic snacks like deviled eggs, fried chicken and duck, pork and rabbit terrines. On the other hand, you can drink it straight, as an aperitif, just with a handful of nuts or crackers. Winemaker was Mariano Murru. Lots of personality and character for the price. Excellent. About $15, representing Great Value.

Winebow Inc., New York. A sample for review.

One of the most meticulous producers in Alto Adige is Alois Lageder. Now run by the sixth generation, on biodynamic principles, the winery’s pinot blancs, pinot grigios and gewurztraminers consistently earn high marks on this blog. For 2015, a hot year in northeastern Italy, owner Alois Clemens Lageder and winemaker Jo Pfisterer fashioned a pinot grigio with a difference. The Alois Lageder “Porer” Pinot Grigio 2015, Alto Adige, is a blend of juice from grapes that were pressed immediately after picking with fruit that was left on the skins for several hours. The result is a pinot grigio that offers more body and more nuance in nose and mouth than just about any other version of the grape that I have tried. The color is very pale pink-copper-topaz, like the last hue of a fading sunset; aromas of heather and broom, spiced pear and lemongrass, almond blossom and lilac waft subtly from the glass; a few moments bring out notes of ginger and quince, with a highlight of crystallized lime zest, all of these elements etched in fine detail. The wine fills out on the palate, adding a dimension of depth and heft unusual for pinot grigio, yet retaining an almost ethereal quality; crisp with vibrant acidity and a scintillating quality of flint-like minerality, the wine invites sip after sip through to a finish distinguished by limestone, apple peel and a hint of almond skin bitterness. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 or ’19 with seafood risottos, seared or roasted fish or with a variety of fish or game terrines. Excellent. About $25.

Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif. A sample for review.

I don’t think you’ll find a better gewürztraminer at the price, so look for this model diligently — that is, if you like the grape variety. Not everyone does, because it can be assertively floral and spicy, but I’ve been a fan for 30 years and more; the Castel Sallegg Gewürztraminer 2015, Südtirol/Alto Adige, would be a good place to start if you’re not familiar with the grape. The wine hails from that part of the old Austro-Hungarian empire where borders between countries may be marked by road signs and lines on maps, but the ties of language, culture, families and agricultural practices are more important on the local level. In fact, many wines from this area of northeastern Italy bear labels with indications in Italian and German, and the appellation is listed, as you see, as both Südtirol and Alto Adige. The Castel Sallegg Gewürztraminer 2015, made all in stainless steel, offers a riveting nose of an unabashed floral nature, through it’s never cloying or overwhelming. Notes of jasmine, rose petal and lilac are wreathed with hints of lime peel, lemongrass, damp flint and heather in a heady, seductive amalgam. Also unabashed is the vital stream of bright acidity that lends the wine terrific appeal and drinkability, though the texture is not only crisp and lively but almost soothingly talc-like, both elements poised in exciting balance; subtle flavors of spicy, baked stone fruit (with a slightly exotic touch of lychee) continue through a finish that’s sleek with chiseled limestone minerality. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 or ’20 with roasted pork shoulder or charcuterie, with seafood stews or risottos. A remarkably pure and intense gewürztraminer for the price. Excellent. About $16.

Weygandt-Metzler Importing, Rhinecliff, N.Y. A sample for review.

vermentino-web
The Olianas Vermentino 2016, Vermentino di Sardegna, is frankly one of the most beautiful wines I have tasted this year. Its making, along biointegrale methods, is meticulous. Twenty percent of the grapes are harvested slightly early and fermented naturally in stainless steel tanks and clay amphora. This portion is then used to produce spontaneous fermentation in the remaining 80 percent of the grapes. The blend ages five or six months in a combination of 70 percent stainless steel and 30 percent tonneaux, usually about 900 liters (237.75 gallons), so little of the wine has actual contact with wood. The result is a vermentino of shimmering purity and intensity that features a very pale straw-gold hue and penetrating aromas of jasmine and honeysuckle, roasted lemon, grapefruit and lemongrass and back-notes of flint and damp limestone. The texture is seductively talc-like in softness yet taut and lean with crystalline acidity and river stone minerality, all wrapped in a bracing sea-salt and grapefruit pith finish of startling acuteness and nervosity. A few moments in the glass bring in hints of quince and ginger and a strain of dried meadow flowers and herbs. 13 percent alcohol. Drink this vermentino, a wine that feels truly alive and vital, through 2018 with grilled fish, seafood risottos, goat and sheep’s-milk cheeses. Excellent. The price for this remarkable performance is a mere $15, representing Terrific Value.

Cline Sisters Imports, Sonoma, Calif. A sample for review.

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