The sun fades out, and the mountains grow tall. The mists rush in and they take it all.
From the islands you see, Li Galli and Capri. I remember it all – love was everywhere.
So sings rock goddess Stevie Nicks in the 2011 song Italian Summer, that she wrote while on a tour of Italy.
When you try to understand Italian Wines, it is really hard to remember it all, but it is easy to love almost everything.
From the Valle d’Aosta straddling the Alps in the north, to the island of Sicily lying less than 100 miles from the coast of Africa, the Italian Peninsula is covered from head to toe in different wine regions.
In fact, there well over 400 different Protected Designation of Origin areas in Italy, each with a distinctive wine style or varietal.
We recently attended two Italian focused walk-around tastings, the Kobrand Tour d’Italia, and a tasting focused on the wines of the Romagna region, sponsored by Vini Di, Romagna.
This region is of particular interest to us as it lies in the hilly region between Tuscany and the Adriatic Sea just to the south of the City of Ravenna.
Ravenna is a quiet seaport city today, but also the last capital of the Western Roman Empire, and an important city during the Byzantine period. It is known for some of the greatest examples of Byzantine and early Christian Art in the world.
It is also located just to the north of the wine producing regions of Romagna, an area noted for its Sangiovese based wines.
At the recent walk around tasting, we discovered a grape that we were not familiar with, a white varietal known as Albana.
Wines made from this grape have a legendary history tied to the period when Ravenna was the capital of the Empire.
Supposedly, Galla Placidia, the daughter of Emperor Theodosius II (and the namesake of a beautiful Byzantine building in Ravenna) arrived in a small village and the townspeople offered her some of the area’s Albana wine from a terra cotta jug.
Surprised by the quality of the wine she stated, You should not drink this wine in such a humble container. Rather it should be drunk in gold.
We sampled two different Albana wines at the tasting. The first, Albana Secco produced by Tenura Amalia ($10) was a light gold in color with a nose featuring nutmeg, peach and some almond notes.
On the palate the wine had light almond and baked apple notes with a light dry finish. This is a nice wine to just drink by the fire, but also to have with grilled chicken and vegetables.
The second Albana was produced by Celli Winery. I Croppi ($16) was light gold in color with a rich peach and apple nose. The palate presented apricot and almond notes along with some light citrus. Again, this is a great wine for pairing with grilled chicken or light (white) pasta dishes.
Along with the Albana wines, we sampled some of the region’s more famous Sangiovese varietals. One of note was Poderi dal Nespoli Borgo Dei Guidi ($25).
This blend resembles a Super Tuscan with 70 percent Sangiovese, and 15 percent each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
Purplish in color, wine was fruity on the nose with blackberries, black currants, and some cherry.
On the palate the wine as smooth but with a good structure featuring red berries and the notable black cherry notes from the Sangiovese grapes.
This is a great wine with red sauce favorites like lasagna, pasta and meatballs. And was just one of a number of excellent Sangiovese wines by this producer.
Kobrand Tour d’Italia
Taking the Super Tuscan blend and moving to its natural home, Tuscany, we reviewed a number of fabulous high-end wines at the Kobrand Tour d’Italia, held at New York’s Bowery Hotel.
Kobrand is an importer of a portfolio of hand selected brands representing virtually every major wine region of the world.
The company is family owned and has been since its founding in 1944.
We always enjoy these walk-around tastings, because the company provides a special media hour, where we can interact with the wineries, ask questions and not be in the way of the trade.
As was mentioned before, Italian wines are complicated and the portfolio is broad, therefore, at an event like this, it is always best to focus on just one thing.
In this case, we decided to feature the Super Tuscans. This is a wine classification that was invented as a marketing term in the 1970s.
At that time, some producers in the Chianti and Chianti Classico region of Tuscany began to experiment with different Bordeaux varietals and found that they grew well in hilly regions between Frienza and Sienna.
However, the complex naming rules in the region required that if producers were to blend grapes, or heaven forbid! make wine from non-traditional grapes, they were required to label them as table wines.
The producers at that time coined the term “super Tuscan” to distinguish their wines from these inexpensive table wines.
Eventually, the Italian wine authorities created the designation Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT), which allowed for varietal experimentation, as long as the grapes came from the area the wine was being made. So today, most Super Tuscans are labeled with the IGT designation.
Super Tuscan wines are therefore broadly defined and owe their characteristics more to the winemaker than to the varietal and the terroir.
We sampled a range of these offerings from Kobrand starting with two from the original Super Tuscan producer, Tenuta San Guido.
Tenua San Guido Sassicaia Bolgheri Sassicaia DOC (2014: $120) is a blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15 % Cabernet Franc .
The wine featured a mineral palate with black currant and cherry with a peppery spicy finish.
The winemaker recommends pairing with braised meats, hard cheeses and an excellent idea – osso bucco.
We also had a chance to see where this wine might go with some time. Tenua San Guido Sassicaia Bolgheri Sassicaia DOC (2008: $250).
The blend was similar at about 85 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 15 percent Cabernet Franc, however, the color had actually darkened to an almost purple hue.
On the nose plums and dark fruits were met with some forest mushroom notes. The wine featured black cherries, plums, and some smoky notes.
Amazingly, this 9-year old wine was still a bit tight and could benefit from even more age. It can stand up well to rich cheeses, and heavy meats like game or lamb.
Tenuta di Biserno Biserno (2010: $175) This wine is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot varietals.
Dark ruby red in color the nose featured berries, coffee, and some licorice.
On the palate, the wine was very well balanced and had a light level of minerality. It was definitely ready to drink now, with a good structure and smooth tannins.
There were ripe red cherry and raspberry notes along with a distinct coffee flavor.
The winemaker suggests pairing with braised or roasted meats, and we would also suggest keeping a little to share over a chocolate based dessert.
Tenua Sette Ponti Oreno Toscana IGT (2015: $70) is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot (10%).
The wine is ruby red in color with a nose of blackberries and a bit of chocolate.
On the palate, the wine is well structured featuring cherry, black and blueberries, a bit of oak and some cocoa.
This is reasonably priced for a Super Tuscan and it will pair well with heavy meats like game and roast beef.
Tenuta di Nozzole Il Pareto Toscana IGT (2014: $70) is a Cabernet Sauvignon varietal.
Dark red in color the wine has black fruit and some vanilla on the nose.
On the palate, the wine is jammy with some cooked black fruit notes and tannins that suggest that it could use a couple of more years before decanting.
Kobrand had a lot more to offer at the Tour d’Italia and has an extensive portfolio of very fine wines.
For more on Kobrand and all of their wine selections visit: http://www.kobrandwineandspirits.com/
For more on the wines of Romagna visit: www.romagnavini.it