Italy


I was going to write up more cabernet sauvignon wines from California for this edition of Weekend Wine Notes — Sunday is still the weekend — but I realized that this blog has been top-heavy with red wines for the past few months, so instead I offer a diverse roster of white wines with a couple of rosés. We hit many grapes, regions and styles in this post, trying to achieve the impossible goal of being all things to all people; you can’t blame me for trying. As usual with the weekend wine thing, I provide little in the way of historical, technical and geographical data; just quick reviews intended to pique your interest and whet your palate. Prices today range from $8 to $24, so blockbuster tabs are not involved. These were samples for review, except for the Mercurey Clos Rochette 2009, which I bought, and the Laetitia Chardonnay 2012, tasted at the winery back in April. Enjoy! (Sensibly and in moderation)
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Domaine de Ballade Rosé 2012, Vin de Pays des Gascogne. 13% alc. 100% cabernet sauvignon. Pale copper-salmon color; raspberries and red currants, very spicy and lively; vibrant acidity; spiced peach and orange rind; slightly earthy, with a touch of limestone minerality. Tasty and enjoyable. Drink up. Very Good+. About $12, meaning Good Value.
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C.H. Berres Treppchen Erden Riesling Kabinett 2011, Mosel, Germany. 11% alc. 100% riesling. Luminous pale gold color; green apples and grapefruit, hint of mango; delicately woven with limestone and shale and spanking acidity; very dry and crisp but an almost cloud-like texture; ripe flavors of pear and peach, hint of tangerine. Now through 2015 to ’17. Delightful. Very Good+. About $20.

I borrowed this image from Benito’s Wine Reviews.
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Davis Bynum Virginia’s Block Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. This winery’s first release of sauvignon blanc. Pale gold color; lemongrass and celery seed, quince and cloves, hint of ginger and mango, a fantasia on grass, hay and salt-marsh savoriness; flavors of ripe pear, pea shoots, roasted lemon; brisk acidity cutting through a burgeoning limestone element; lots of personality, almost charisma. Now through 2014. Excellent. About $18, representing Great Value.
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Halter Ranch Rosé 2012, Paso Robles. 13.5% alc. 68% grenache, 15% mourvèdre, 12% picpoul blanc, 5% syrah. 1,200 cases. Beautiful pale copper-salmon color; pure strawberry and raspberry highlighted by cloves, tea leaf, thyme and limestone; lovely texture, silky and almost viscous but elevated by crisp acidity and a scintillating limestone element; finishes with red fruit, hints of peach and lime peel, dried herbs. Drink through 2014. Excellent. About $19.
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Hans Lang Vom Bunten Schiefer Riesling 2009, Rheingau, Germany. 12.5% alc. 100% riesling. Very pale gold color; lovely and delicate bouquet of lightly spiced peach and pear with notes of lychee, mango, lime peel and jasmine, all subdued to a background of limestone and an intense floral character; still, it’s spare and fairly reticent, slightly astringent, quite dry yet juicy with citrus and tropical fruit flavors; exquisite balance and tone. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $22.
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Inama Vigneti di Foscarino 2010, Soave Classico, Veneto, Italy. 13.5% alc. 100% gargenega grapes. Medium yellow-gold color; spicy and savory; roasted lemon, yellow plums, almond and almond blossom, acacia, dried mountain herbs; Alpine in its bracing clarity and limestone minerality; spare and elegant but with pleasing moderate lush texture and fullness. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. A superior Soave Classico. Excellent. About $25.
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Innocent Bystander Pinot Gris 2011, Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia. 12.5% alc. Pale gold color; lemon balm, yellow plums and grapefruit zest; spare but not lean texture, enlivened by zinging acidity; crisp and lively and lightly spicy; quite delicate overall; finish brings in more grapefruit and a touch of limestone. Quite charming to drink through Summer of 2014 on the porch or patio or on a picnic. Very Good. About $8, a Bargain of the Decade.
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Laetitia Estate Chardonnay 2012, Arroyo Grande Valley, San Luis Obispo County. 13.8% alc. 100% chardonnay. Pale gold color; pungent and flavorful with limestone, pineapple and grapefruit with hints of mango and peach, jasmine and lightly buttered toast; sleek and supple, seamlessly balanced and integrated, oak is just a whiff and deft intimation; lively with fleet acidity and a burgeoning limestone element. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $18, representing Great Value.
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Mercurey Clos Rochette 2009, Domaine Faiveley, Chalonnaise, Burgundy. 12.5% alc. 100% chardonnay. Pale gold color; ginger, quince, jasmine, talc; grapefruit and a hint of peach; very dry wine, crystalline limestone-like minerality; note of gun-flint and clean hay-like earthiness; grapefruit, pineapple, spiced pear; lovely silky texture jazzed with brisk acidity; sleek, charming. Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $24 (what I paid).
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Cascinetta Vietti Moscato d’Asti 2012, Piedmont, Italy. 5.5% alc. Very pale gold color, with a tinge of green, and modestly effervescent, which is to say, frizzante; apples and pears, smoky and musky, soft and slightly sweet but with driving acidity and a limestone edge; notes of muskmelon, cucumber and fennel; a few moments bring in hints of almond, almond-blossom and musk-rose. Delicate, tasty, charming. Now through Summer 2014. Very Good+. About $16.
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Domaine Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris 2011, Alsace. 14% alc. Certified biodynamic. Pale straw-gold color; very dry but ripe and juicy; peach, pear, touch of lychee; incisive and chiseled with chiming acidity and fleet limestone minerality yet with an aspect that’s soft, ripe and appealing; slightly earthy, with a hint of moss and mushrooms; a pleasing sense of tension and resolution of all elements. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $22.
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What, you say, you’re making a wine from 2007 the Wine of the Week? Are you mad? Neither mad nor angry, Readers, and if you follow my advice, you will be not only neither mad nor angry but gratified and wise. Colognole, in the area east of Florence dubbed Chianti Rufina — not the producer Ruffino — is one of my favorite estates in the region. Rufina, which, unusually, is not contiguous with the rest of the vast Chianti DOCG, was singled out for mention by Cosimo III Grand Duke of Florence in his edict of 1716 as one of the zones of superior production for the wine; as is the case of the Chianti Classico terrain that Cosimo also commended, the Grand Duke was correct. There’s nothing flashy or flamboyant about the wines of this traditional estate, acquired by the Spalletti family in 1890 and owned now by Contessa Gabriella Spalletti Coda Nunziante; you just don’t find names like that in the USA. Colognole Chianti Rufina 2007 offers a lovely, limpid medium ruby-garnet color; the complete balance, harmony and integration of this wine are not awe-inspiring — remember, there’s nothing showy here — but rather intensely satisfying and, well, humane, in the sense that one really wants to share the wine with family and friends around a table set with a simple, delicious meal. Aromas of red and black currants and red cherries are woven with hints of sour cherry, dried cranberries, lilac and rose petal; give the wine a few minutes in the glass and notes of graphite, moss, black tea and loam enter the picture. Colognole typically ages 12 months in 660-gallon Slavonian and French oak casks, far larger than the standard 59-gallon French barrique beloved by many producers at the various levels of Chianti, and then ages additionally in stainless steel tanks and concrete vats. Colognole Chianti Rufina 2007 is enlivened by fine-edged acidity that cuts a swath on the palate but doesn’t disrupt the wine’s enticing suppleness and lithe character. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. This is the first release from a vineyard replanted in 1995; one has to appreciate the 12-year wait to allow the vines to mature. The blend is about 95 percent sangiovese, 5 percent canaiolo. Excellent. I paid $19, the average of prices around the country.

Vintners Estates Direct Importing, Healdsburg, Cailf.

The Chianti region of Tuscany, as was the case with many vineyard and wine-making areas of Italy, was assailed by the vagaries of reputation in the second half of the 20th Century, mainly of its own doing. Chianti was marketed as a cheap wine for college students and cheap restaurants; the straw “basket” covering didn’t help. Growers overplanted their vineyards and extended acreage into inappropriate terrain, resulting in wines that were diluted and bland, when they weren’t shrieking with acidity. Fortunately, the regulations of 1984, when Chianti became a DOCG wine, lowered yields and the amount of white grapes allowed in the blend and instituted more stringent vineyard and winery practices. Chianti Classico was granted its own DOCG in 1996.

The history of Chianti, as a wine and a region, is long and storied, though the story, as I have indicated, is not always a great one. The earliest written record of Chianti wines dates to the mid-13th century, referring to some villages around Florence; at that time, the wine was white. Cosimo III de’Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, laid out the official area of Chianti in 1716, an act that seems to be the earliest effort to regulate wine production and delineate a vineyard territory. The region was expanded in 1932 and 1967, the latter edict encompassing most of central Tuscany, from the hills of Pisa in the northwest to the hills of Pomino in the northeast and far south to Siena. The first “formula” for Chianti was elucidated in 1871 by Baron Bettino Ricasoli, who recommended a blend of 70 percent sangiovese, 15 percent canaiolo, 10 percent malvasia (later amended to include trebbiano) and 5 percent other local red varieties. That is not the Chianti we see nowadays, when the wine may be 100 percent sangiovese — the minimum is 80 percent sangiovese — or with dollops of “international” grapes like merlot, cabernet sauvignon or syrah. Only the most traditional estates include indigenous red varieties like canaiolo, ciliegiolo and colorino.

The other innovation in Chianti — particularly in Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico Riserva — is the use of 59-gallon (225-liter) French oak barriques for aging instead of the traditional large Slovenian oak casks; you will notice at least one of the wines under consideration today aged in 100 percent new French oak barrels, and when that process occurs I think we’re leaning more toward Pauillac and Napa Valley than Tuscany. In fact, if a Chianti Classico Riserva is made from 100 percent sangiovese grapes and ages, say, two years in barriques, how different is it from Brunello di Montalcino also produced completely from sangiovese and aged in barriques? If you smell vanilla, you smell French oak, no matter where the wine was made.

Today we look at a dozen wines, Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico Riserva, some fairly traditional, some more progressive or modern in spirit. Though I tend to like the traditional manner better, not a one of these wines is flawed or overplayed; most of the ratings are Excellent. Chianti Classico, by the way, derives from the heart of Chianti, the area south of Florence that still conforms largely to the geographical outlines laid down by Cosimo III in 1716. The implication is that the Grand Duke’s foresight was prescient and that Chianti Classico and Riserva remain the best that the region can offer, though the producers of Chianti Rufina, northeast of Italy might beg to differ.

Map from viottolowines.com.
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Antinori Pèppoli Chianti Classico 2010 consists of 90 percent sangiovese and a 10 percent blend of merlot and syrah; yes, syrah is allowed in Chianti Classico. The great majority of the wine aged nine months in 55 hectoliter Slavonian oak casks, the rest in American oak barriques; 55 hectoliters equals 1,453 gallons, so those are large casks. This is a beguiling old-style Chianti Classico (despite the merlot and syrah) that displays a dried fruit/dried spice/dried floral character still fresh, ripe and appealing and singing in notes of red and black currants flecked with sour cherry, dusty plums and graphite. The color is medium ruby with a mulberry cast; the wine is quite dry, spare without being severe, elegant without being delicate. Vibrant acidity and a long mineral and woody-spice finish reveal the fine structure that underlies this enterprise. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $28.

The Antinori wines are imported by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, Woodinville, Wash.They were samples for review.
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Villa Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva 2010 and Marchese Antinori Chianti Classic Riserva 2008. The Villa Antinori CCR 10 is a blend of 90 percent sangiovese and 10 percent merlot; the Marchese Antinori CCR 08 is 90 percent sangiovese, 10 percent cabernet sauvignon. The oak treatment reflects the slightly more serious nature of the “Marchese”; while it aged 14 months in new French oak barriques, the “Villa” aged 12 months in French and Hungarian small oak barrels. The color of “Villa” is radiant deep ruby with a hint of violet at the rim; aromas of black and red cherries and red currants are imbued with notes of lilac, cloves, sandalwood, graphite and a hint of mocha, and I’m saying that for such a young CCR, this is pretty seductive. The wine does not neglect a scrupulous structure, though, one resting on resonant acidity, sturdy yet lithe and harmonious tannins and a slightly dusty woody quality in the finish. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $35. The grapes for the “Marchese” 08 derive mainly from Antinori’s Tignanello estate, with the rest coming from Badia a Passignano (see the next entry) and Peppoli. There’s heft and character here, a depth of structure that touches on modernity without going all the way into an “international” or California style, held in check by the sangiovese grape’s typical acidity and spareness. The balance between freshness and ripeness — fruit lies in the red and sour cherry range (with a hint of cranberry and black currant) — on the one hand and the panoply of dried fruit, spice and flowers on the other is deftly handled, while the fairly dense chewy tannins lend a paradoxical dynamic of velvety elegance and muscular power, and granitic minerality adds intensity in the lower registers. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $35.
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Marchese Antinori Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva 2007. Gosh, what a lovely wine, beautifully balanced and harmonious. It was made completely from sangiovese grapes and aged 14 months in new Hungarian oak barriques. The Antinori family acquired the 1,000-year-old abbey and its vineyards in 1987. The color is medium ruby with a tinge of garnet; aromas of spiced and macerated black currants, raspberries and plums are permeated by notes of coffee and tobacco, dried orange rind and violets. Tannins are both plush and rigorous, and the oak brings not only spice on the palate and suppleness to the texture but a sense of distinguished austerity. For all that, Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva 2007 is delicious, tending toward mellowness, and finishes with a long swallow of graphite, brambles and lavender. Alcohol content is … percent. Now through 2017 to 2020. Excellent. About $53.
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Tenuta di Arceno Chianti Classico 2010 and Chianti Classico Riserva 2007. (Jackson Family Wines) These are modern-style wines, each aging 10 months in French oak barriques. The CC 10 is a blend of 80 percent sangiovese, 19 percent merlot and a bare 1 percent cabernet sauvignon. The color is dark ruby; the wine is ripe, fleshy, spicy and oaky; notes of raspberry and black currant are permeated by cloves, orange zest, black tea and brambles; it’s really attractive initially, but you feel the sandpaper of burnished oak from mid-palate back. 14.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $20. The CCR 07 is a combination of 80 percent sangiovese, 15 percent cabernet sauvignon and 5 percent merlot. The color is dark ruby with a touch of mulberry at the rim;aromas and flavors of dried black and blue fruit and dried baking spices admit of some fleshy and meaty elements, a little spiced and macerated, but this is primarily dry, dense and chewy, smoky, austere, packed with spice, graphite, bittersweet chocolate and dusty oak that comes up in the finish. 14.7 percent alcohol. Try 2014 to 2020 or ’22, hoping for the best. 1,430 cases. Very Good+. About $25.

Samples for review.
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Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva 2008 and Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico 2009. Here’s a pair of well-made traditional CCR and CC. Each is based on the sangiovese grape with dollops of canaiolo, ciliegiolo and colorino — no merlot! no syrah! — and aged in French and Austrian casks of various sizes, CCR 08 for 24 months, CC 09 for 12 months; the wines were produced from organically grown grapes. Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico 2009 offers a medium ruby color of moderate intensity and cleanly delineated black cherry and currant scents and flavors permeated by blue plums and blueberries, violets and cloves and hints of orange rind and pomegranate. A pleasing rasp of acid and slightly grainy tannins makes for an attractive texture, while the finish pulls together elements of graphite, bitter chocolate, lavender and leather. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 to 2018. Excellent. About $20, representing Good Value. Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva 2008 is rather a different creature, high-toned, taut, a tad imperious in the tannin and wood departments, very dry in the sense of encompassing not only a bit of austerity but the dryness associated with potpourri, woody spices such as allspice and sandalwood, the dried citron and currants of fruitcake; the oak comes up from mid-palate through the finish. Still, one gets undertones of the classic elements of sour cherry, violets, clean new leather, black tea and pomander, until they’re o’er-tower’d by the inscrutable lithic finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Best from 2014 or ’15 through 2020 to 2022. Excellent. About $35.

The wines of Badia a Coltibuono are imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif. The badia (“abbey”) was founded in 1051. It has been owned by the Stucchi Prinetti family since 1846 and is home to the famous cooking school of Lorenza de’Medici. These were samples for review.
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Fèlsina Berardenga Chianti Classico 2009. This ancient estate was purchased by Dominic Poggiali Fèlsina in 1966 and is now run by his sons. While the wine is composed of 100 percent sangiovese grapes, in the modern fashion, it aged only a year in “mid capacity” Slovenian oak barrels. The color is dark ruby at the center shading to slightly lighter ruby-garnet at the rim; beguiling aromas and flavors of dried red currants and plums, sandalwood, violets and dried orange rind are heightened by notes of oolong tea, graphite and new leather, a few minutes in the glass bring in hints of smoke, sour cherry and loam. The structure can only be called lovely; moderately dense and grainy tannins are supplemented by a gentle wash of granitic minerality and a burnished, lightly dusty wood influence; acidity is bright and supportive. 13 percent alcohol. A beautifully-made, nicely restrained Chianti Classico for drinking through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. I paid $24, but it can be found around the country as low as $18.

Imported by Delta Wholesalers, Memphis, Tenn.
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Ruffino Riserva Ducale Oro Chianti Classico Riserva 2007. The flagship of Ruffino’s “Ducale Trilogy,” the Riserva Ducale Oro Chianti Classico Riserva 2007 is regal enough for a dukedom and indeed displays a measure of Olympian detachment and power. The wine is a blend of 80 percent sangiovese with approximately 10 percent each cabernet sauvignon and merlot. The aging is ultra-traditional: six months in vats; 24 months in oak casks of 35- or 75-hectoliter capacity; another six months in vats; six months in bottle; for a total of 3 years. (How many gallons in a hectoliter, class? That’s right, Johnny, there are 26.4 gallons in a hectoliter!) The color is vivid medium ruby with a magenta tint at the rim; you can smell how dry the wine is in its legions of potpourri, racks of dried spices, bushels of dried, crushed black and red berries, in its tomes of dusty graphite and old leather and tobacco-like old paper qualities. Same in the mouth, as the wine develops a dynamic that pitches keenly expressed acidity against supple polished yet substantial tannins, a dry, dusty rather ecclesiastical woody character and an earthy, lithic foundation. 13.5 percent alcohol. Give this breathing space, elbow room, years to grow, say, 2014 or ’15 through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $40.

Ruffino Imports, Rutherford, Calif. A sample for review. The estate was launched in 1877 by cousins Ilario and Leopoldo Ruffino, who sold it to the Folonari family in 1913. The Folonaris expanded the estate and the brand tremendously beginning in the 1970s. Constellation Brands acquired 49.9 percent of the company in 2010 and the remaining 51.1 percent in 2011.
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Tenuta Vìgnole Chianti Classico 2008 and Chianti Classico Riserva 2007. This 51-acre estate was acquired in 1970 by the Nistri family and is operated by brothers Massimo and Fabrizio Nistri. The CC 08 is comprised of 85 percent sangiovese grapes and 20 percent merlot; the wines are aged separately for 12 months, the sangiovese in large casks, the merlot in barriques, before blending. The color is dark ruby with a slightly lighter rim; overall, the wine is seamlessly balanced and integrated, with aromas that twine the freshness of red and black currants and red cherries with cloves and sandalwood, notes of violets and dried orange rind and a light granitic, earthy, loamy quality. These elements segue smoothly on the palate, where the wine is dry and spare, and bright acidity keeps it lively, if not pert, and the earthly and mineral character asserts itself through the dry finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $37. The Vìgnole CCR 07 is a creature of different nature; medium ruby with a garnet tinge, it’s a blend of 85 percent sangiovese and 15 percent cabernet sauvignon, aged 20 months in a combination of 225-liter barriques and 400-liter tonneaux. The word is “tough,” as in a rigorous, leathery, stalwart tannic and woody structure that coats the palate and makes for a pretty damned demanding mouthful of wine. Traces of dried spice and a dried floral element lend a hint of piquancy, but this needs time in the bottle to soften and become more inviting, say 2015 or ’16 for consuming through 2022 through 2025. Alcohol content is 14.5 percent production was 1,200 six-pack cases. Excellent potential. About $60.

Imported by Quintessential, Napa, Calif. Tasted at a trade event in Chicago, May 15.
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Italian Wine Week continues into its second week — The Week So Big One Week Can’t Hold It! — with the Allegrini Palazzo della Torre 2009, Veronese, a wine for which the Allegrini family takes a general designation (“Veronese”) rather than the more specific Valpolicella or Valpolicella Superiore. This is a ripasso, that is, a wine made from a majority of normally fermented grapes (70 percent here) combined with a portion of grapes that were left to dry (in this vintage until January after harvest) and then added to the “regular” wine to referment. The result is a wine — deep, dark and spicy — that feels both robust and sleek, powerful yet elegant. The blend of grapes is 70 percent corvina Veronese, 25 percent rondinella and the surprise of 5 percent sangiovese, not a typical grape in the Veneto. Aromas of black cherries, raspberries and currants are permeated by notes of plums and fruitcake, cloves and cardamom (just a trace), and winsome hints of violets and lavender. It’s a very dry wine, rigorously yet seamlessly structured and balanced by ripe and delicious black and blue fruit flavors; the background is polished grainy tannins and vibrant acidity with a slightly earthy funky character highlighted by touches of bittersweet chocolate, dried orange peel and oolong tea. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17 with hearty pasta dishes and roasted or grilled red meat. Excellent. About $22.

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


All of these Italian wines — a rosé, a white and four reds — qualify as Excellent Value and, if not in your immediate neighborhood, Worth a Search. Prices range from about $10 to about $18. Little technical, historical or geographical information; rather, these brief reviews are intended to spark your interest and inspire your palates. All were samples for review. Enjoy, on this Labor Day weekend.
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Beni di Batasiolo Gavi 2011, Piedmont. 12.5% alc. 100% cortese grapes. Light straw-gold color with faint green highlights; roasted lemons, yellow plums, grapefruit; cloves, quince and ginger; brisk and saline; opens to hint of peach, almond blossom and a slightly honeyed aspect; very dry, packed with elements of limestone and shale minerality; blade-like acidity cuts a swath; lovely transparency and balance. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $14.
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Beni di Batasiolo Rosé 2011, Piedmont. 80% barbera, 15% dolcetto, 5% nebbiolo. Medmium copper color with a flush of salmon; dried red currants and plums, hints of raspberry and mulberry; cloves, dried violets and rose petals; very dry, heaps of limestone and flint minerality but complimented by notes of ripe red fruit, black tea, orange zest and cloves. Delicate, delightful, refreshing. Very Good+. About $18.
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Coltibuono Cetamura Chianti 2011, Toscana. 13% alc. 90% sangiovese, 10% canaiolo. Dark ruby color; spicy black and red fruit scents and flavors, with hints of plum and pomegranate; touches of smoke, leather and underbrush; quite dry, a bit dusty, with vibrant acidity for a lively structure and mouth-feel; very tasty and drinkable, now through 2014. Perfect, simple pasta and pizza wine. Very Good. About $10.
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Li Veli Primonero 2010, Salento. 13.5% alc. 85% negroamaro, 15% primitivo. Deep, dark, rustic, robust, hearty; ruby-purple with a mulberry cast; blackberries, blueberries and raspberries, a tantalizing hint of lilac; very spicy, very lively; in the depths, tar, lavender, bitter chocolate, super intense and concentrated black and blue fruit flavors, a sort of overripe but rigorous bruise-like character, graphite and granitic minerality, leather and licorice. Now through 2015. About $13.
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Poggio Vignoso Chianti 2011, Toscana. 13.5% alc. 85% sangiovese, 10% canaiolo, 5% malvasia. An attractive old-fashioned Chianti aged in 10-year-old Slovenian oak barrels. Medium ruby color; ripe, fleshy and meaty, spiced and macerated red cherries and currants with touches of melon and sour cherry; a little earthy and briery, with brisk acidity; smooth but leathery tannins and notes of supple and subtle wood; hint of violet on the finish. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $15 but discounted around the country as low as $10.
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Sikelia Nero d’Avola 2011, Sicily. 13% alc. 100% nero d’avola grapes. Seeing no barrel aging, this wine retains appealing freshness and immediacy while keeping faith with the grape’s dark, tarry, foresty and deeply spicy nature; dark ruby-purple color; earthy and funky, ripe, meaty and fleshy; smoke, blackberries and blueberries (with a hint of blueberry tart); graphite, deep dark Platonic black cherry elements; rustic, muscular, supple. Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $15 but seen as low as $11. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


Casting about for a wine to consume with Jamie Oliver’s Pasta alla Norma — a concoction primarily of tomatoes, basil, garlic and eggplant — I opened the Allegrini Valpolicella 2012, made in stainless steel from a blend of 65 percent corvina Veronese, 30 percent rondinella and 5 percent molinara. The term “Veronese” is a signifier; the Valpolicella area lies to the northeast of the lovely ancient city of Verona that stands almost halfway between Venice and Lake Garda in the Veneto region. Allegrini is a family-run estate that was established in 1858; Franco Allegrini is winemaker. This wine, the Allegrini Valpolicella 2012, is basically a Valpolicella Classico, but the Allegrini family decided to finish the bottle with a convenient screw-cap; Italian wine-law does not permit a “Classico” designation on the label of a screw-cap wine. You are getting, then, a lot of complexity for the price. The wine is a dark ruby color with a touch of violet-purple at the rim; this is incredibly fresh and appealing yet with intimations of dark ripeness and spice, of an earthy, graphite-flecked nature that provides some depth and layering. Don’t get all het up though; the Allegrini Valpolicella 2012 is primarily a delicious and deeply berryish wine meant for drinking over the next two years. Aromas of red and black cherries and a touch of blackberry are tinged with tar and rose petals and some sandalwood-inflected rooty tea. The texture is easy on the palate, and acidity makes the wine lively and quenching; black and red fruit flavors open to hints of dry and moderately grainy tannins, while a few moments in the glass unfold just enough briery,brambly, granitic character to give the wine a bit of gravity. 13 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $17.

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

… but you really should buy the Tortarossa 2010, Toscana, by the case to drink over the next year. It’s a blend of 50 percent sangiovese, 20 percent merlot, 20 percent cabernet sauvignon and 10 percent syrah, making it sound rather like one of those experiments in blending from California, though the Tortarossa 2010 — the name means “red cake” — manages to hold on to what feels like an Italian, if not Tuscan, character. The color is medium ruby with a tinge of mulberry; aromas of black currants and plums, touched by dried red currants and cherries, are warm and spicy, ripe, fleshy and a little meaty. The wine is robust without being rustic and flavorful without being over-ripe; black and red fruit flavors are permeated by notes of cloves, oolong tea, violets and tar and borne up by bright acidity and a surprising amount of grainy, briery tannins. Yes, quite the personality, and it matches the carefree, winsome contortionist on the wonderful label. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2014, maybe into 2015, with hearty pizzas and pasta dishes, burgers and roasts or (ahem) cheese toast. Winemaker was Alessandro Bacci. Very Good+. About $15, marking Great Value.

Imported by Largo Wines, Seattle, Wash. A sample for review.

We continue Italian Wine Week on BTYH with a superb food and wine pairing. LL and I made the Orecchiette Carbonara with Charred Brussels Sprouts a couple of nights ago, and to sip with it I opened the Manincor Réserve della Contessa 2010, Terlano Alto Adige, a blend of 60 percent pinot bianco, 30 percent chardonnay and 10 percent sauvignon blanc. I had not heard of this producer or wine, nor had I heard of the wine’s importer, Angels’ Share Wine Imports, nor of Adrian Chalk Selections. The wine came to my threshold courtesy of FedEx or UPS with no letter or technical material included, so I have no idea who actually sent me the wine. A little consultation with my research staff, Miss Google, revealed that the currant release of the wine is the 2012, so why was I sent the 2010? And why does the label use the French Réserve instead of the Italian Riserva? I was provoked almost to a state of existential quandrariness by these imponderables, though whatever qualms and questions weighed my spirit down were eased somewhat by the terrific quality of the wine, which, I think, at not quite three years old is drinking perfectly. The color is medium golden-yellow; super attractive aromas of roasted lemon and jasmine, orange blossom and wild thyme — “I know a bank where the wild thyme blows” — yellow plums and orange blossoms are highlighted by a sort of mountain meadow freshness and rosemary/pine resinous quality. The wine is sleek, spare and elegant, savory and saline, woven of citrus and stone-fruit flavors heightened by baking spices and limestone, lilac and flint, all shot through by crystalline acidity. Wonderful personality and presence. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About — close as I can figure — $28.

The pasta dish is from the September issue of Bon Appetit, and my advice is to get the ingredients and cook it right now. Here’s a link to the recipe. It’s from the restaurant Rolf and Daughters in Nashville. The wine was a sample for review.

Lambrusco, the slightly fizzy red wine made in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region, tends to be dismissed as soda-pop by most wine consumers in the USA, especially if they remember and were burned by all those television commercials in the 1970s, back before most of you bright youngsters were born. Lambrusco, however, is the classic wine of Emilia-Romagna, and if you happened to dine in a restaurant in Bologna or Modena (the center of Lambrusco production) chances are that you would be sipping a delightful and darkly fruity Lambrusco to cut the richness of the food. Our Wine of the Week is the Cleto Chiarli “Vigneto Enrico Cialdini” 2011, Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro, made by a estate launched in 1860, when Cleto Chiarli decided to close his inn, the Trattoria dell’Artigliere (“the gunners’ restaurant”) and go into full-time production of the Lambrusco he had been making for his patrons. This selection from the firm’s roster is named for Enrico Cialdini, Duca di Gaeta (1811-1892), soldier, politician, diplomat and foe of Garibaldi; in some circles Cialdini is regarded — still! — as a war criminal, so it’s interesting, I think, and by “interesting” I mean “strange,” that this single vineyard Lambrusco comes from a property named for such a controversial figure (who was born near Castelvetro, so maybe he’s a grandfathered-in local hero of sorts). Anyway, he said, actually knowing very little about 19th Century Italian politics, and by “very little” I mean “doodly-squat” (except for that movie with Burt Lancaster), the Cleto Chiarli “Vigneto Enrico Cialdini” 2011, Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro, is more than just charming and delightful. The color is dark purple-magenta with an intense violet rim; the wine is grapy and teasingly effervescent, bursting with deep notes of ripe blackberries, raspberries and black cherries imbued with hints of violets and rose petals; it’s very dry, spicy and savory, incredibly refreshing with swingeing acidity, yet with surprising depth of earthiness and smoke and a sense of burgeoning graphite minerality. All this and only 11 percent alcohol, so you can drink a lot. In moderation, of course. And versatile. I had a glass of this for lunch one day with spaghetti with roasted cherry tomatoes and yellow peppers, salami, green olives and Parmesan and that night with a grilled veal chop; it was perfect with both dishes. Drink up. Excellent. About — gasp! — $15, representing Insane Value.

Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif. A sample for review. I will be looking at a variety of Italian wines this week.

Lison Classico is a D.O.C.G. — Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita — in Italy’s Veneto region, on the plains formed by the Piave river as it flows southeast from the Alps to empty into the Adriatic north of Venice. Lison is the grape formerly known as tocai. Vine-growing and wine-making in the region go back to ancient times, though the estate in question today, Tenuta Polvaro, is relatively young on those terms, having been founded in 1681. Its recent manifestation is under the Candoni De Zan family, which has owned Tenuta Polvaro for 150 years. A true family operation, the winery is run by Armando De Zan, his wife Elviana Candoni, and their daughters Barbara and Caterina.

The Tenuta Polvara Lison Classico 2011 is made 100 percent from the former tocai grape. The wine was fermented 90 percent in stainless steel tanks and 10 percent in new French oak barrels. One hears many complaints — and I have been one of the complainers — that inexpensive Italian white wines have no character, but I’m here to tell you to clear the fog from your little pointy head and cool your fevered brow, because this wine is moderately priced and terrific. The color is very pale gold; the beguiling bouquet features a delicate weaving of roasted lemon and spiced pear with notes of peach, almond blossom, dried thyme and lime peel. The sort of texture you want in a wine like this combines an airy, almost cloud-like effect with sleek and pert acidity, so you’re constantly feeling the slight tension and sense of balance between those qualities; the Tenuta Polvara Lison Classico 2011 delivers on that basis and also in the area of juicy lemon and peach flavors tempered by a burgeoning element of limestone and flint minerality and hints of ginger, cloves and quince. The limestone-packed finish is spare, saline and savory. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2014. Excellent. Look for prices between $15 and $17.

Imported by Arel Group Wine & Spirits Inc., Atlanta, Georgia. A sample for review.

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