"Super"Tuscan Best Buy


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Barco Reale di Carmignano from Capezzana has been a best buy for so many years it’s almost trite. Yet, there is something really special about such a low profile accomplishment. Their 2005 is yet another in a long line of lovely, lively wines at low prices. Structured and fragrant with a nice touch of complexity to boot. Here’s a wine that falls into the buy by the case category.

Pointless Points and Some Good Wines

circle the wagons There is no worse situation for tasting wines than big trade and consumer tastings. The format is always the same; a hotel ballroom with tables arranged like circled wagons waiting for the Indians to attack staffed by local wine reps with knowledge or not of the wines being poured. The room is crowded, hot and it's tough to get through the crowds to taste and harder still to get to a spit bucket in time. It's difficult to think of a worse situation to judge a wine.

The format is not really the problem. After all, these events are really cocktail parties designed to entertain trade or consumers. Serious tasting is not on the menu and that's not a reason to attend. If you go for serious tasting, you'll be frustrated. It's a party, not a tasting and I think distributors and other wine shows have every right to put on such events as that's what people, professionals and consumers alike, really want. After all, there's nothing wrong with having a good time with wine.

What's unfortunate is that some writers and bloggers attend these wine keggers and actually score the wines they taste. I don't care if you're using the 100 point scale or a 10 point scale (which after all is just an abbreviation of the 100 point scale) to try to accurately score wines in such a situation is a disservice to your readers. The reason it's not legitimate is that the results are not repeatable. Everyone knows that if you took the same wines and blind tasted these writers that they would come up with different scores. To repeat scores comparing wines tasted in perfect conditions to the same wines tasted in perfect conditions is difficult at best. To assume that you could repeat them going from the terrible circumstances of mass tastings to prefect conditions is not only ridiculous, but dishonest. If a writer cannot be assured that their ratings would be repeated within a few decimal points if they retasted the wines under different circumstances they should not publish those scores. It not only shows disrespect for those that make wines, but those that drink them.

That being said, I offer a few notes of my favorites from a trade tasting of over 100 Italian wines in Portland Oregon hosted by Columbia Wine Company. As usual, all are recommended, but are points-free.

Admiralty Imports

Barolo Canubi, Brezza, 2001 - A classic beauty that is nowhere near ready to drink. Big time tar and roses in this wine.

Barolo Chiniera, Elio Grasso, 2004 - All you could want from one of Barolo's greats. Rich, powerful and structured.

Barbaresco Riserva, Gallina, Ugo Lequio, 2001 - Another elegant classic with great balance. An excellent nebbiolo.

Sagrantino Montefalco, Antonelli, 2004 - Deep, rich and powerful with substantial tannins. Needs age or some wild boar right now.

Brunello di Montalcino, Caprili, 2003 - Finally Brunello that tastes like Brunello instead of barrique. Earthy, structured and complex.

Toscana VDT, La Gioia, Riecine, 2004 - Yet another lovely wine from one of my favorite estates in Tuscany. As always with Riecine, the balance of this wine is impeccable. This is their Super Tuscan. 


Neil Empson Selections

Franciacorta Cuvee Brut, Bellavista, NV - Consistently my favorite Champagne method sparking wine producer from Italy. This wine did not disappoint with its creamy, frothy texture and toasty fruit.

Pinot Grigio, Bortoluzzi, 2006 - A big step up from industrial pinot grigio. Bright and citrusy with ripe, fresh apply fruit and good depth.

Soave Classico, Pieropan, 2006 - As always, just a stunning value in a crisp white that offers real complexity beyond its bright, refreshing character. A great white wine producer.



Isola dei Nuraghi I.G.T., Sardegna, Barrua, Agricola Punica, 2004 - A dead ringer for Spain's Priorat wines from an old carignane vineyard on Sardegna. Deep, rich and powerful with a touch of porty ripeness.

Bolgheri Sassicaia, Sassicaia, 2004 - A perfectly politically correct wine with just the right amount of everything. Svelte and stylish. Their website is just terrible.

Toscana IGT, Crognolo, Tenuta Sette Ponte, 2005 - Deeply colored, powerful, rich and velvety with big, sweet oak highlights. A modern Italian wine of the first degree. Not for traditionalists. 


Wilson Daniels

Castello di Volpaia:

Chianti, Borgianni, 2005 - This is a very, very nice Chianti for the price. Real character and personality. Best of all it tastes like sangiovese, not merlot.

Chianti Classico, 2005 - You can see what a great estate this is by its straight Chianti Classico, which is a structured beauty with touches of black truffle and porcini mixed in with the ripe clean fruit.

Chianti Classico Riserva, 2004 - A potentially exceptional wine with a few more years in bottle. Great character and complexity in a balanced wine of great length.

Coltasalla, 2004 - Always outstanding, Coltasalla is a single vineyard wine produced from sangiovese and mammolo only. Happily there's not a French variety to be found in the blend. A wine of great depth, complexity and personality that needs to be aged.



Prosecco, Zardetto, NV - I've been seduced by this charmer for years. A delightful little pleasure.

Roero Arneis, Bruno Giacosa, 2007 - As with everything Giacosa produces, their Arneis is a perfect example of this variety.

IGT Veronese, Palazzo della Torre, Allegrini, 2005 - Smooth and velvety with a richness without heaviness. A good reminder how much I love wines from Valpolicella. This is a ripasso, which adds the extra texture on the palate.

Delle Venezie IGT, Pinot Noir, Kris, 2007 - This is just a pretty little pinot noir. Serve lightly chilled at summer picnics, with Asian food or pizza. Light, fruity and delicious, it's almost more like a dark rose than a red wine. Totally charming. It's a little sad to see it called pinot noir instead of the Italian pinot nero, but I understand the marketing decision.

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Valdipiatta, 2004 - A blend of 85% prugnolo gentile (sangiovese) and 15% canaiolo that fortunately is not overwhelmed by a brief voyage in barrique before going into large casks. The angular, rustic character of Vino Nobile is preserved in this interesting wine. The edgy character makes this a great steak wine.

Terrabianca 2001

TerrabiancalogoThe disco music is pounding and the lights flashing. The photographers jostle for position. It’s another Milan fashion show on the 24 hour Italian Fashion Channel (there are two) and the models prance down the runway in strange concoctions that only faintly remind us of the clothing people wear in the real world. It is all flash and hype designed to get attention in a crowded market.

So it is with modern winemaking. You can almost hear the disco music pounding out of the bottle as you pour wines that are so big that they don’t seem to fit even the gigantic confines of the huge wineglasses so fashionable today. New oak flavors and aromas titillate the wine fashion show crowd just as strategically revealed breasts draw the cameras on the ramps of Milan. The fashion world and wine world are the same in that they like to show off things that you can’t really wear or drink on a regular basis.

Suddenly, the Fashion Channel changes shows and the mood shifts. The clothing is refined and elegant and you can easily imagine the models dining (if they eat) in an elegant Milan restaurant right after the show without changing a stitch. The designs are still modern and innovative, but they are not exaggerations designed mostly to shock. Fortunately there are modern-style winemakers with this sense of touch. Fortunately there is Terrabianca.

Terrabianca, the creation of Roberto Guldener, is located in the Chianti Classico zone and the continued improvement of their wines gives us hope for the future of fashion conscious Tuscany. If Milan is the capital of Italian fashion, Tuscany is the capital of Italian wine fashion and the wines of the region have been distorted out of recognition by the rush to the designer enologist of the moment. The misuse of barriques and the contest to see who can come up with the highest level of dry extract has created a sea of overpriced wines that just are not very interesting to drink and impossible to tell apart. However, while guilty of some over-oaked wines as they developed their style in years past, Terrabianca has evolved and is making some of the most refined, balanced and interesting modern-styled wines in Tuscany. Guldener’s wines are not over-extracted or over-oaked and show clearly the character of the Terrabianca vineyards and the varietals they grow. The flagship wine, Campaccio is not only delicious, but a relative bargain in the world of top Super-Tuscans and can easily found for under $40.00 a bottle (sometimes well under).

All the wines of Terrabianca present a seamless elegance and balance, just like Roberto Guldener himself. They improve in the bottle, but are delicious and drinkable from the day they are released making them among the best choices for restaurants and their clients. With this kind of quality we can assume the wines of Terrabianca will remain in fashion for years to come.

Focus Report 2001 Terrabianca

2001 Ceppate, Toscana IGT (cabernet sauvignon 75%, merlot 25%) ($75)
Brilliant rich ruby, just translucent. Smooth, seamless blackberry with a slight cassis tinge on the nose with touches of tree bark and cinnamon. The smooth, elegant flavors continue on the palate and the finish. The herbal notes are lighter than in past vintages: flavors and aromas that often mar Tuscan cabernet. The finish is elegant and very smooth with round easy tannins carrying refined dark fruit, but is a little too herbal on the finish for my taste. (B+)

2001 Il Tesoro Merlot, Maremma, Toscana IGT ($55)
Brilliant bright ruby, just translucent. Exotic plum and spice nose with hints of burnt cherry and mint. On the palate it is round and mouth filling without any heaviness. Ripe bitter cherry flavors blend with cranberry touches all brought together by touches of fresh mint and dark roasted coffee. The bittersweet ripe cherry flavors grow in the finish with soft yet apparent tannins that give a note of firmness to the smooth flavors. Very refined and balanced. (A-)

2001 Piano del Cipresso, Toscana IGT (sangiovese) ($35)
Brilliant bright ruby, just translucent. Firm mineral notes lead quickly into smooth cherry vanilla and light cedar aromas. On the palate everything is in its place with balance and elegance the defining characteristics. Clean cherry vanilla fruit leads to bitter cranberry notes with a touch of lively mint. The finish is lively and refined with firm, but very polite tannins to carry the minty sweet cherry fruit. (A-)

2001 Croce, Chianti Classico Riserva, DOCG (sangiovese 97%, canaiolo 3%) ($30)
Brilliant bright ruby, just translucent. Elegant mineral notes combine with bitter cherry aromas mixed with touches of porcini and fresh mint along with hints of fine cigars. Exceptional balance on the palate with earthy notes blending with bright fresh raspberry and touches of vanilla, yet not one component dominates. The tannins are firm, but not at all harsh and the earthy flavors grow and become more and more complex in the finish. A stunning combination of terroir and modern winemaking with a wonderful lively balance throughout. No barriques are used for Croce only large Slovenian casks. (A)

2001 Campaccio, Toscana IGT (70% sangiovese, 30% cabernet sauvignon) ($45)
Brilliant bright ruby, just translucent. Beautiful blends of cooking porcini, roses, dark cherries, vanilla and cedar blend into a fascinating complexity on the nose. On the palate deep burnt sweet cherry flavors blend with mint, tobacco and a warm earthiness into an exotic whole. The finish is exceptionally long and stops just short of powerful as the refined tannins blend with flavors that mirror everything on the nose and on the palate. Stunning balance for such a rich wine. (A)

Morellino di Scansano, Poggio Argentiera, Bellamarsilia, 2003

  • Poggioargentierabellamarsil2003 Poggio Argentiera, Bellamarsilia, Morellino di Scansano, Tuscany ($19) Morellino is the name of both a type of cherry and the local name of sangiovese in the booming Scansano zone of southern Tuscany. Poggio Argentiera has emerged as one of this Scansano’s best wineries and produces two excellent wines: Capatosta, the top of the line, and Bellamarsilia for those that just can’t wait to pull the cork. Bellamarsilia is a rich, forward deeply fruity wine that offers more than a little complexity. It is a deep ruby although still just translucent and is packed with the cherry fruit flavors that gave the wines of Scansano their name. The ripe, delicious fruit flavors continue into the long  satisfying finish. This is a wine designed for drinking while it is young and zesty. However, this is no simple everyday red, but a substantial wine that is an excellent value. A Neil Empson Selection-Imported by Empson USA.