Italian Wine? Meet Italian Food a taste of Italy: Grandi Marchi at Del Posto
by John Dunham, wine & spirits columnist for advicesisters.com
The Advice Sisters has been working for years to bring our readers information about wines and wine regions from around the world. To do this, we attend tastings and tasting events, some of which feature hundreds of different wines. Other tastings are smaller events where we are able to talk to the winemakers and get a more detailed understanding of their wines and regions. One of the spectacular events is Grandi Marchi sponsored by The Institute of Fine Italian Wines – Premium Brands, which is made up of nineteen premium Italian wineries and unites families and brands which characterize the Italian wine-making tradition. This year’s event was held in October at the famed, Del Posto Restaurant in New York City’s meatpacking district.
The Grand Marchi is attended by some of the country’s most important vintners and importers – I actually sat next to one of the members of the world famous Mondavi family – and provides a guided tasting of wines from most of the 19 member wineries. Wines in this tasting ranged from a Proseco through Verdicchio through Super Tuscan blends to Muocato desert wines. All told 15 wines were presented at the Grand Marchi:
- Ca’ des Bosco Cuvee Annamaria Clementi, Franciacorta Riserva DOCG (2006)
- Gaja Ca’ Marcanda Vistamare, Toscana IGT (2014)
- Unami Ronchi Vecchie Vigne, Verdicchio Dei Castelli Di Jesi Classico Superiore DOC (2013)
- Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia, Bolgheri Sassicaia DOC (2012)
- Michele Chiario Cerequio, Barolo DOCG (2011)
- Pio Cesare, Barolo DOCG (2011)
- Ambrogio e Giovanni Folonari Tenute, Cabreo Il Borgo Toscana IGT (2012)
- Antinori Pian Delle Vigne, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (2010)
- Argiolas Turriga, Isola Dei Nuragni IGT (2011)
- Tasca d’Almerita Rosso Del Conte, Contea Di Scalfani DOC 2011
- Mastroberardino Radici, Taurasi DOCG, 2009
- Rivera Il Falcone, Castel Del Monte Riserva DOC (2009)
- Lungarotti Torgiano Rosso Riserva, Bubesco Vigna Monticchio DOCG (2008)
- Masi Riserva Di Costasera Amarone Classico DOC (2009)
- Donnafugata Den Rye Passio Di Pantelleria DOC (2008)
We will review some of the standouts from the tasting in a moment, but first we wanted to provide some discussion of the complex wine classification system in Italy. We have always been confused by the complexity of Italian wines. Part of this is that Italian wines, and European wines in general, use a complex classification system based on place and grape varietal. In America, wines are generally labeled with their origin (California, Napa, Finger Lakes, Ohio), their grape blend (Merlot, Cabernet, Riesling) and the vintner (Sterling, Columbia Crest, Stags Leap, etc.) Italian wines are basically the same, except that the classification serves as a proxy for the place and the varietal. A wine classified as a Chianti, for example, is predominantly the Sangiovese grape varietal and comes from a region of Tuscany between Florence and Siena. Something called a Tuscan wine is from the same area but is probably some sort of Bordeaux blend. So understanding Italian wine is about understanding these classifications, and then identifying the vintners that make a version that one likes.
There are basically four classifications for wine in Italy. A wine with the classification DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) on its label means that the wine is of the highest quality, and is from a specific region classified as producing only the best wines. A classification of DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) means that the wine comes from a specific defined region in accordance to particular regulations. These are generally related to the wine blend or the time that wine must be aged. The classification of IGT (Indicazione di Geografica Tipica) is similar to a classification like Central Valley or Finger Lakes. Wines labeled as IGT must be grown in aa specific geographical region but are not subject to the same restrictions as a classified wine. For example a Super Tuscan (IGT) does not have to be made of predominantly the Sangiovese grape, like a Chianti (DOC) wine Finally, wines labeled as VdT or Vino Da Tavola are table wines produced from grapes grown somewhere in Italy.
There are 332 DOCs and 73 DOCGs in Italy and many of these are broken into sub-regions, for example Classico, which represents the traditional heart of the specific DOC or DOCG, and this is what makes understanding Italian wines so complicated.
Understanding an Italian wine label. At the tasting we tried the following wine: Unami Ronchi, Vecchie Vigne, Verdicchio Dei Castelli Di Jesi Classico Superiore DOC (2013) This provides the following information:
Vintner: Unami Ronchi
- Umani Ronchi is a family owned company that produces three million bottles of twenty different wines from about 200 hectares of grapes grown in the Marche and Abruzzo regions of Italy nested between the hills and the sea along the Adriatic coast.
- Wine Name: Vecchie Vigne (Translates to Old Vines)
- Classification: Verdicchio dei Castelli de Jesi DOC. This is where the complexity begins. This DOC is located in the Marche region of Italy. The region produces predominantly white wines and they must be made primarily from the Verdicchio grape (85 percent minimum). Spumante sparkling wines from the region must also be 85 percent Verdicchio. Since this particular wine is 100 percent Verdicchio, this is also included on the label.
- Subregion: Classico Superiore. Wines produced in the historic production area can be labled as Classico, but there are also 99 additional geographical definitions and 18 communes that can be identified on the label.
- Vintage: 2013
As this example shows, understanding Italian wines means you need to understand the classifications. This is one reason why we focus on a specific region or varietal whenever we do a walk around tasting. But in the case of the Grandi Marchi that was difficult because nearly every wine came from a different region or sub-region. A large tasting (you don’t really swallow, you’ve got to use the “spit bucket”as gross as that sounds). Tasting a wide variety of wine is really the best way to understand Italian wine over time, for as one tries different regions and different varietals, they can hone in on 3 or 4 red wines and 3 or 4 whites and sparkling varieties that most suit their tastes.
Based on the Gandi Marchi tasting some interesting regions and wines to try include:
Pio Cesare, Barolo DOCG, 2011 ($60). Starting with a simple to understand label, this 2011 Barolo from Pio Cesare is made from 100 percent Nebbiolo grapes. The Barolo DOCG means that the wine comes from a 5,000 area in Piemonte, and that the wine is produced from 100 percent Nebbiolo. Barolo contains 181 additional geographical definitions (or crus) denoting specific areas and vineyards. This wine was ruby red in color with a nose featuring a lot of red berries, including strawberries, currants, and raspberries. The wine was very soft on the front of the palate, but the tannins held all the way to the back. The wine tasted like its nose with a lot of red fruits, strawberry and raspberry but with some cinnamon on the finish. It is a great wine for rich foods which makes sense as the area is also famous for truffles.
Mastroberardino Radici, Taurasi DOCG, 2009 ($29). Making Italy even more confusing, this DOCG covers basically just this winery. Located in the Campania region of Italy around Rome, wines from this region are comprised of the Aglianico varietal. This wine was dark red in color with a strawberry/raspberry nose. It was very frit forward, featuring sweet cherry and sugar plum, moving to a more floral taste at the back of the palate. The tannins dissipate quickly. This wine would pair beautifully with pasta, pizza, lasagna, and other red sauce favorites.
Argiolas Turriga, Isola Dei Nuragni IGT, 2011 ($40). This is an IGT wine, meaning that it is a table wine classification. But in this case it does not mean it is a lower quality product. The classification simply means that the grapes come from the island of Sardinia, located in the Mediterranean Sea to the west of the boot of Italy. Made primarily from the Cannonau varietal, the wine was purple in color, with a kind of soapy nose with some green pepper notes. On the palate, the wine had a rustic style with balanced tannins. The wine had some spiciness, and would be a nice pairing wine for stronger meats like lamb beef, and traditionally in Sardinia, suckling pig.
Tasca d’Almerita Rosso Del Conte, Contea Di Scalfani DOC, 2011 ($30), This DOC is a large area south-east and inland from Palermo, on the south coast of the island of Sicily. The region has a lot of indigenous grape varietals, and this particular wine is predominately made of Nero d’Avola, also called Calabrese. The wine is dark red in color with a purplish tinge. The unique nose had notes of eucalyptus, mint¸ pepper and balsa wood. On the palate there was some lime up front and a light fruitiness toward the end. Overall, the wine featured very light tannins, and was, as my notes said, like a white red wine. This is a great wine for salmon and other fatty fish.
Speaking of salmon, the Grandi Marchi was followed by a tasting luncheon at Del Posto, one of the City’s best Italian restaurants. Those attending were able to enjoy second tastings of all of the wines with some amazing salmon, Italian herb crusted prime rib and a sampling of cheeses, olives, beans and artichokes.
This review does not even begin to touch the diversity of wines produced in Italy, but the best way to enjoy an Italian wine is to simply pick one, and drink it!
For more information see http://www.istitutograndimarchi.it. We hope to go back next year, and sample even more varieties.