by John Dunham, wine & spirits columnist
There are literally thousands of different wines produced in Italy and would think that even a Master Sommelier would have a difficult time understanding them all. Getting these wines to consumers in the United States is the responsibility of wine importers and distributors, who serve an important function in what is called the “Three Tier System.” American law ensures that most wine and spirits are handled by an independent distributor — this ensures that Americans have access to the widest array of products available anywhere in the world in a manner that is transparent, well-regulated, and efficiently taxed in accordance with all government requirements.
One of these independent distributors is Kobrand, a company that imports and markets a portfolio brands representing virtually every major wine region of the world . One way that Kobrand makes wines in its Italian portfolio available to restaurants, retailers and consumers is through tastings like the Tour d’Italia which it held on September 15 on the rooftop of the Bowery Hotel in New York City. The walk around tasting featured over 50 distinctive wines from all over Italy. I was able to sample a range of wines from a wide range of producing areas, and most interestingly, many of the winemakers had comparative vintages available to compare and contrast.
Having recently returned from Firenze, in the heart of Tuscany, I began my “tour” with a Super Tuscan from Cabreo. These wines which come from the Chianti region of Italy differ from the namesake Chianti and Chianti Classico in that they are not made from the classic Chianti grapes (Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Malvasia Bianca) but contain other varietals, mainly Cabernet and Merlot. This particular wine is 70 percent Sangiovese with the remainder Cabernet Sauvignon. I tasted a 2012 vintage and a 1997. While the 2012 was more traditional in the Chianti style featuring strong cherry notes up from that developed into plum and other red and black fruits, the 1997 had a distinctive licorice overtone. Both were good food wines, and would pair well with beef dishes or pastas. Also from the same same general area I tried a traditional Chianti Classico Reserve from Nozzole. This 100 percent Sangiovese featured cherry up front with very soft tannins. It is an excellent Classico and priced at about $17 per bottle in the US is an excellent choice. Try it with hard cheeses and game-y meats like venison, boar or roast beef.
Tuscany is known for its wine. Also from the Tuscan region, Tenuta San Guido was sampling a wine called Sassicia. I sampled both a 2012 ($169 per bottle) along with the 2006 vintage. This Super Tuscan is made from 85 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 15 percent of one of our favorite varietals, Cabernet Franc. The color was ruby red and the nose was almost chocolaty. The 2012 was still quite tight but the palate featured black cherry and sugar plum. The 2006 had changed little in color, maybe a darker ruby red, but the nose was foresty and featured mushroom notes. The palate was strong on cherry, but this 9-year old wine still had strong tannins. The winemakers suggested that a wine of this type should age for at least 10 years and I have to agree. The price point makes this a special occasion wine, and it is something worth holding until it shows itself fully. Try it with all sorts of meats, and hard cheeses.
Tenute Silvio Nardi is one of the older producers in the Montalcino area of Tuscany. Located south of Sienna, this region is known for Brunello. Brunello di Montalcino is produced in this small region, and is made of what was once believed to be a unique grape varietal but is actually just a regional variety of Sangiovese. Nardi was sampling both a 2010 Brunello di Montalcino nd a 2005. The 2010 (roughly $60) is 100 percent Sangiovese which is a requirement for a Brunello DOCG wine. It was ruby in color with foresty notes on the nose. There was a lot of oak in this wine, but the tannins were still tight, suggesting that it could use some time in the cellar. The 2005 was also ruby in color and had cinnamon notes on the nose. The palate featured berries offset by licorice and chocolate and was elegant and starting to show very well. This again suggests that these are exceptional wines that are made for aging. Like its northern cousin, Chianti, Brunello pairs well with stronger foods like boar, pork, beef and pastas.
From the Veneto region in the north of Italy, I sampled wines from Masi Agricola, which has been producing since 1772. This winemaker uses a production process known as appassimento, whereby grapes are dried on racks after harvest to concentrate their flavors. I tried a 2005 Costesera Amarone Classico, which was made using this method. The wine retails for about $60 a bottle and was ruby red color with some lighter violets tinges. The nose was powerful and strong with rasin and dried fruits. The palate was soft and surprisingly had some peppery notes along with cherry and cooked fruit flavors. This is also a very fool bodied wine perfect for pairing with meats, stews and strong flavors.
I ended our tasting at the table of Michele Chiarlo, a winery that started in 1956 on the grounds of a vineyard from the 1880s. Located in the Piedmont area, the winery is known for its Barolo wines, but has an extremely wide collection. Here I sampled a Barolo priced at about $40 a bottle and features the Barbera varietal, a grape that has been produced in the region since at least the mid 13th century. The wine itself was young, and the winemaker suggested that it should age for at least 8 years. Ruby red in color, the wine had a lot of black fruits – plums, and black cherry – on the nose. The palate had notes of red cherry, berries and even coffee but the tannins were quite strong indicating that the wine could in fact use some cellaring.
It is difficult to taste through all of Italy in an hour or hour and a half, but tastings like the Tour d’Italia are the best way for winemakers to reach a broad audience, particularly for these distinctive, low production wines, that are being sold mainly to fine restaurants. To learn more about the Kobrand collection of wines not only from Italy but from around the world visit www.kobrandwineandspirits.com.