Barbaresco Bric Balin, Moccagatta, 1999

Bright deep scarlet. Very oaky first impressions on the nose, underlying smoky plumy fruit. Oak also apparent throughout the palate. Firm, somewhat astringent fruit is made more astringent by wood tannins. Under the fruit and wood tannins ripe plumy fruit struggle to keep up. Not a good first impression. I would prefer to see less oaky astringency overlying the already tannic nebbiolo from a fine vintage. Still overall a first class serious effort at the modern style. Not recommended for barrique haters.

Barbaresco Palazzina, Montaribaldi, 2000

Amazingly generous for such a young wine. Bright ruby with garnet hints. Round and ripe in the nose. Deep plums, with and underlying bitter wild cherry and a hint of orange. Underneath is a clear earthy nebbiolo varietal note. Rich and lean at the same time. Start out big and sweet then implodes into tannin. The finish is long and complex and although this wine is not nearly ready paired with intensely flavor foods like fatty, charred American steak it can be consumed now with pleasure

Pinot Nero, Campo Romano, Pinot Nero, 2002

Bright scarlet/ruby with just a touch of garnet. Layered complex nose. Ripe spiced plums and strawberry aromas broaden into dark plum notes. Racy and complex on the palate with wave after wave of flavor. Ripe cherry, wild strawberry expand into complex tar, porcini and oak flavors. Still a bit lean and closed on the mouth and nose but very promising. The finish is long and spicy with apparent but well integrated tannins. A fine effort that reminds me of Pousse d’Or Volnay in years past.

Nebbiolo d'Alba, Poderi Colla, 2001

Bright ruby/scarlet with garnet hints. Just translucent. Closed at first but opens into floral, rose dust, firm ripe plum aromas. Firm on the palate the tight flavors slowly grow to a delicious layered intensity. Tarry, bitter cherry flavors grow into warm ripe raspberries on the palate. The finish is extremely long, tarry bitter cherry flavors fade into firm but well rounded tannin. Perfect for drinking now and over the next several years.

Nebbiolo d'Alba, PIra, Bricco dell'Asino, 2001

Brilliant scarlet, hints of ruby and a touch of garnet. Just translucent. Spicy ripe plums with layered sweet vanilla oak. Smoky, charcoal aromas add complexity. Firm and structured on the palate. Loaded with ripe plums and cherries with a distinctive tang of chewing tobacco. Starts out medium bodied, but then expands magically in the mouth into an explosion of tannins, tobacco and wild dark fruit flavors. A really exciting wine to drink. With short term aging - 1 or 2 years - you will have a great bottle.

Barbaresco Rabajà Giuseppe Cortese

The incline of the hill is steep and every speck of the grayish soil bakes in the hot sun. The entire slope is a wave of vines and the southwest/south exposure means not a leaf misses a moment of sunshine. This is the famed Rabajà vineyard located just outside of the town of Barbaresco. Certainly this vineyard was created to produce exceptional nebbiolo and a vineyard of similar potential in Burgundy would be considered a Grand Cru. However, there is no such official breakdown of vineyards in Langhe; just an informal acknowledgement among those in the trade as to what the great vineyards are - an acknowledgment clearly defined in the selling price of the wines, grapes and land.

The sun drenched calcareous and clay-heavy soils of Rabajà produces Barbaresco wines with a unique combination of power and elegance that makes them approachable in their youth, but rewards those who cellar their bottles with wines of great complexity and refinement.

From vines in the very heart of this special vineyard come the Barbaresco wines of Giuseppe Cortese, a small producer making a fine range of wines only from their own grapes. In addition to Barbaresco Rabajà, Cortese produces the excellent Barbera d’Alba Morassina and Dolcetto d’Alba Trifolera  from a vineyard area just to the south of Rabajà. The wines of Cortese have been improving consistently for years and in recent vintages they have been releasing some very fine wines. Giuseppe Cortese, after decades working as an agronomist for other top producers, founded his own estate and now with the next generation - son and daughter Pier Carlo, an enologist, and Tiziana - they are making this estate a must for collectors of traditionally styled wines from the Barbaresco zone. While the fermentations have a slight modern touch, their Barbaresco does not see a small barrel, spending the years in large casks of 17 to 25 hectolitres ranging in age from new to nine year old. Only the Barbera Morassina sees barrique and with excellent results, once again showing the affinity of the high acid/low tannin barbera for small French oak barrels in controlled doses.

Barbaresco Rabajà Riserva, G. Cortese, 1996 ($75) Bright light ruby with garnet. Quite translucent. Exotic earthy nose with ripe plums, burnt orange, porcini and tar. On the palate it is complex, powerful and still very tight. The finish is very long with layer after layer of tar, ripe plum and bitter chocolate tied together by the substantial tannin. A stunning wine in a classic style that is a worthy addition to any collection, this wine needs five or more years to open even though it spent three years in cask and another three in bottle before release.

Barbaresco Rabajà, G. Cortese, 2001 ($45) Bright light ruby with orange and garnet hints. Quite translucent. Elegant, floral nose with rose petals and violets blended with a buttery tar. Full structure on the palate with layers of complex flavors: dried leaves, tar, orange spice, warm tar and ripe plum flavors all of which continue into the long finish that has a touch of cassis to balance the considerable tannin. A wine with excellent aging potential. 

Beppe Colla

He quietly moves through the winery with a slight limp. He greets visitors with a humble handshake and smile then goes back to his work. This quiet man is Beppe Colla and he is one of the giants of Langhe winemaking standing in importance alongside the greatest names of the region like Giacomo Conterno, Paolo Cordero di Montezemolo,  Renato Ratti, Bruno Giacosa and Alfredo Currado: people that defined Barolo and Barbaresco and laid the foundation for the wines of today.

For over fifty years Beppe Colla has made wine in the Langhe and has seen the transition of this zone from a region on the edge of disaster to the home of some of the worlds most expensive and sought after wines. From his first vintage in 1948 ( a disastrous vintage) and his just completed 56th vintage in 2004 (which looks to be an excellent vintage) he has seen it all and possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of every aspect of the climate and vineyards of the Langhe zone and has personally experienced every vintage of the modern era of Barolo and Barbaresco. It is this incredible range of experience that he brings to winemaking at Poderi Colla.

After working for other producers, Colla acquired the Prunotto winery in 1956 and quickly set about turning it into one of the regions best wineries. In 1961, (in his opinion the finest vintage he has experienced) he bottled the first range of single- vineyard wines in the zone: Barolo Bussia, Barbaresco Montestefano, Nebbiolo Valmaggio, Barbera d’Alba Pian Romualdo, Dolcetto d’Alba Cagnassi, Freisa Ciabot del prete. Their quality and clear distinctive character convinced others to follow his lead and changed the entire concept of winemaking in Barolo and Barbaresco, which had always been blended wines. As a founder of the “cru” concept in the region Colla has firm ideas of what are the finest vineyards of the area and singles out the following sub-zones as the greatest nebbiolo vineyards:

Barolo: Cannubi a Barolo, Brunate a La Morra, Bussia a Monforte, Rocche di Castiglione a Castiglione Falletto, Vigna Rionda a Serralunga, Ginestra a Monforte
Barbaresco: Montestefano a Barbaresco, Rabajà a Barbaresco, Gallina a Neive, Rizzi a Treiso, Roncaglie a Barbaresco.

When asked what were his favorite wines he  produced during the time at Prunotto he singles out:Barolo Bussia 1961/1971/1982; Barbaresco 1964/1971/1978; 1961 Dolcetto d’Alba Caramelli; 1967 Nebbiolo d’Alba Occhetti; and 1971 Barbera d’Alba Pian Romualdo. Many of these classic Barolo and Barbaresco wines still appear on the auction market. I thought it was interesting to note that his favorites were not only Barbaresco and Barolo.

Looking back on almost six decades of winemaking Colla notes with satisfaction, “I have now seen, that after a first period of strong criticism, that all the producers have accepted the philosophy of bottling separately the different top vineyards.”

Sottimano 2002

Dolcetto_bric_del_salto_2004Andrea Sottimano rushes into the small tasting room of his family’s winery in Barbaresco. He is covered with dust and sweat, removing his hat he smiles disarmingly and says, “sorry, I’m late”.

You know right away that this is no gentleman farmer’s estate. Andrea was, as always, out in the vineyard working their vines. At the Sottimano estate they take the phrase “great wine is made in the vineyard” to a new level. Each of their vines is treated like a Bonsai tree in a Japanese garden. Nothing is too much for these vines to ask.

The ultimate proof of their skills and dedication in the vineyard sits in the glasses in front of me as Andrea pours the full range of their 2002 vintage. This was a year so difficult that many producers gave up, selling their wines off in bulk. The Sottimanos did not give up, but attacked their vineyards with a vengeance, reducing yields to ridiculous levels. This intensity extended beyond simply reducing bunches as they even dropped the lower half of the remaining bunches to the ground.

If you’re wondering why they do this it can’t be for the money. The Sottimano Barbaresci sell for under $75 – or less than many Napa Cabernets that harvest many tons an acre more than they do. This is a work of passion and they have even reduced pricing to encourage consumers to try their 2002’s. If you don’t have a cellar to age your Barbaresci the recommended eight or so years before they mature, these wines are a must buy as they offer pure nebbiolo pleasure in a package ready for drinking sooner rather than later. This is not to say they will not develop nicely with several more years of aging.

The 2002 Barbaresci from Sottimano are not the greatest Barbaresci you will ever taste, but they are an amazing accomplishment and will provide delightful drinking while you are waiting for their exceptional 2001’s and 1999’s to mature. In another testament to their skills in the vineyards, their 2000’s offer more complexity than the simple charming, forward wines offered by most producers.

Sottimano new releases:

2004 Dolcetto d’Alba, Bric del Salto
Brilliant purple. Rich, juicy blueberry and loganberry fruit. Mouthwatering, zesty and fresh. Drink now. My mouth waters just writing about this charming wine.

2003 Barbera d’Alba, Pairolero
Bright ruby with a hint of purple. Ripe chocolate bittersweet aromas mixed with ripe, yet tart sweet black raspberry. Expansive and alive on the palate. The finish is long with rich brightness and a touch of cassis.

The 2002 Barbaresco releases of Sottimano, all are highly recommended. Tasters will be hard pressed to separate these wines from many producers 2001’s in a blind tasting.

Rich translucent ruby. Spiced, tobacco, tar and smoky cranberry aromas. A wine of great nebbiolo purity with very good depth and structure. Not at all simple or overtly forward, yet already approachable.

Brilliant ruby garnet. Smoky and meaty with bitter current and ripe fresh red raspberry. Very structured and still closed, but still drinkable with pleasure. The finish is warm. Mouth filling with warm spiced tarry highlights. As usual, Currá is a brooding nebbiolo.

Brillant ruby garnet. Firm, earthy and leather aromas mix with dense bittersweet black cherry. Very tarry and generous on the palate with a richly tannic finish blended with sweet burnt blood orange and long bitter tar accents. Big and intense throughout with a warm rich, tannic finish.

Always the most elegant of the Sottimano Barbaresci, this wine does not disappoint in 2002. Brilliant ruby garnet. The wonderfully refined nose is full of roses, violets and pomegranates. On the palate it is full of spices, smooth bitter cherry and ripe blackberry all mixed into a velvety yet tannic package. Irresistible.

A new vineyard section recently purchased by the Sottimano family. In an ultimate statement to their dedication to quality, the Sottimanos have decided to wait another ten or so years to call this wine Barbaresco again and will just sell it as Langhe Rosso. This means they will sell it at about 1/3 the price that they could selling it as Barbaresco, even though they are fully able to do so both legally and morally. While not up to the level of their other 2002 Barbaresci, it is still a very nice wine and better than many Barbaresci sold on the market. It is a bright ruby garnet, with an elegant spiced nose. It is bright and fresh throughout. Refined and balanced, the finish is vibrant with a firm, tannic finish.

Shortly I will follow up with some comments on the Sottimano family’s equally deft touch in the cellar.

Pictured above, 2004 Dolcetto from Bric del Salto at harvest.

Tenuta Scilio di Valle Galfina

From the volcanic soils of the northern slopes of Mt. Etna in Sicily Tenuta Scilio di Valle Galfina producers an excellent range of wines from native grape varietals. All their wines come from their own organically farmed vineyards and are top examples of the character the vineyards in this region are capable of giving. These are not the “international” style of wines that are sweeping over Sicily these days, but wines that clearly taste of the Etna region and the classic grape types they use to make their wines.

bianco: 2003 Bianco Sicilia IGT ($16)

This fresh white is a wonderful blend of clean citrus flavors balanced by a crisp hazelnut complexity. Produced from the carricante varietal this wine offers a much fresher structure than most Sicilian white wines. A great aperitif or compliment to fresh fish and seafood.

rosso: 2002 Etna Rosso DOC ($16)

This lovely red is a true find. Produced primarily from the nerello mascalese vine there is a lot of real depth and character here for the money. This wine is quite firm in the mouth with hints of tar and tobacco highlighting the ripe plum flavors. The finish is full of warm dark fruit flavors with a touch of round tannin to provide support.

A John Given Selection: Imported by John Given Wines.

Paternoster, Basilicata

2001 Rotondo, Aglianico del Vulture, Paternoster, Basilicata

Aglianico could very well be poised to join nebbiolo and sangiovese as Italy’s most noble vines. Importer Jens Schmidt is extremely excited by this variety which has produced some spectacular wines in Campania and Basilicata. He is convinced that when the vintage 2003 wines from this variety are released that there will be no doubters left.

Fortunately you don’t have to wait for that release to taste the exceptional potential that wines from Aglianico can reach when paired with an passionate winemaker. Paternoster has been proving for years that Aglianico is a great varietal and their current releases are all outstanding wines each showing great character and depth.

The single vineyard 2001 Rotondo ($40) is a perfect wine to introduce you to the rich pleasures offered by this varietal. It is a brilliant deeply colored ruby with with hints of purple. The bouquet is expansive, rich and complicated. The dramatic flavors fill the mouth with ripe raspberry, tar and warm black licorice. The finish is almost unending. The tannins are substantial, but are well integrated and help to carry the concentrated flavors. While it is made with a modern touch none of the character of the vine or vineyard is sacrificed. Paternoster is making Aglianico that competes with Barolo and Brunello in complexity and refinement. These are very serious wines.

A Jens Schmidt Selection: Imported by Montecastelli Selections


BellendaproseccoAfter a hard days work a stop at the bar for a quick drink is a tradition stretching back several millennium. In the USA it’s Miller time and in the UK a pint of bitter, but in northern Italy you are more likely to find working men with large work-hardened fingers holding a delicate fluted wine glass and quaffing Prosecco while munching on salami and potato chips. Sparking wine is part of everyday life in Italy, not something for anniversaries and New Years Eve - and it’s priced accordingly. Our local bar is decidedly blue collar, but behind the bar is always a magnum of Prosecco on ice and more than a few of the oversized bottles disappear down the throats of thirsty Italians every day.

While Prosecco is often thought to be the name of a sparking wine, it is actually the name of a grape. In Veneto, wines from prosecco grapes are made into still, frizzante (lightly sparkling) and Spumante (sparkling) wines with quality ranging from tasteless to deliciously fruity and charming. Charm is what Prosecco Spumante is all about and the lovely fresh peach and citrus flavors of this grape are brought alive by the bubbles. Prosecco is for fun and for enjoying as often as possible and while it will never challenge the complexity of Champagne - for pure easy pleasure and refreshment the frothy sparking wines of Prosecco can’t be beat. The simple pleasures of Prosecco remind us that very enjoyable wines can be created from humble varieties in the hands of dedicated and educated winemakers with the best vineyards.

Stretching out north and northwest of Venice are endless prosecco vineyards most of which produce flavorless frizzante and sparkling wines sold for a few Euros a bottle in grocery stores, which are often “improved” by adding a dollop of Campari or Aperol. However, on the hills around the town of Conegliano the prosecco vine is most at home and produces wines with such exceptional aromatics and freshness that the region has been awarded its own DOC, Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene. The sub-region of Cartizze is considered the finest of all and wines from this small zone add that name to their labels. These wines sell for a few more dollars than plain Prosecco, but are worth it due to their additional complexity and depth - all without giving up any of their charm. Dryness designations follow the Champagne model with Brut being the driest and Extra-dry being just off-dry. Prosecco sparkling wines are made by the Charmat method, which is the best method for preserving the luscious fruit flavors of this grape.

The delicious fruit flavors and aromatics of the best wines from Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene possess such a unique and pleasurable character that they should not be considered budget Champagnes, but sparkling wines with their own place in the wine world. The choice is not which is better, Champagne, Cava or Prosecco, but which is better for the moment and, of course the budget. Prosecco is a fruit driven wine and it is the quality of the fruit flavors that define the best wines from this region. These easy fruit flavors make Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene the perfect choice when you are looking for refreshment and one of the best of choices for brunch - Easter or not.

Recommeded wines:
2003 Bellenda Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene, Brut

The elegant bottle with the long narrow neck contains a wine that lives up to its presentation. It has a brilliant green/gold color filled with lively tiny bubbles. The aromas are fresh and alive with touches of peaches and sweet apples. On the palate it is creamy and frothy with sweet peach and melon flavors balanced by crisp citrus and a refreshing acidity. The finish makes you take yet another sip. ($17)

A John Given Selection: Imported by John Given Wines

Also very highly recommended: Col Vetoraz
With vineyards centered in the elite Cartizze zone Col Vetoraz is producing an excellent range of Prosecco sparking wines. These are wines that exhibit exceptional fruit purity and elegance. The Cartizze di Valdobbiadene N/V, Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Brut And Prosecco Millesimato Dry are superb examples of the best that can be coaxed from the prosecco grape.

A Jens Schmidt Selection: Imported by Montecastelli Selections

A Pair of Sicilian Values

AnastasiapassomaggiorossolaAbbazia Santa Anastasia Passomaggio

rosso: 2001 Santa Anastasia Passomaggio Rosso,
Sicilia IGT ($15)
The wildness of the Sicilian nero d’avola is smoothed out by the addition of 20% late harvested merlot. The color is a bright ruby that is just translucent. It is warm and rich on the nose and palate with the earthy nero d’avola characteristics filled out by the ripe, sweet plum flavors of the merlot. A richly flavored wine that is not at all heavy or overripe in character. The finish shows clearly the bittersweet nero d’avola flavor and just the right touch of Sicilian sunshine.

bianco:2002 Santa Anastasia Bianco di Passomaggio, Sicilia IGT ($15)
This blend of the native inzolia with chardonnay and sauvignon blanc is full of fresh fruit and spice flavors and aromas. A bright light gold, the aromas are full of poached spiced pears with clean almond touches. After the sweet fruit aromas the firm mineral flavors and structure are a welcome surprise. The finish is clean and fresh, but offers good complexity and depth.

Neil Empson Selections - Imported by Empson USA

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)

Ribolla Gialla, Damijan Collio 2001

Damijan_cellar2001 Damijan Ribolla Gialla, Collio ($35)

In the Gorizia hills of Friuli on the border with Slovenia winemaker Damijan Podversic makes some of the most personal - and sure to be controversial - wines made anywhere. Damijan ferments on the skins in upright wood fermenters using only natural yeast. This may not sound so controversial, but indeed it is as he is making white wines not red. The results are white wines so concentrated with flavor and tannin that if you close your eyes you would be absolutely convinced you were drinking a red wine. Actually, you feel like you are drinking a red wine even when you have your eyes open. Podversic joins Gravner and Radikon, also from this region, in producing wines that really have no other equivalent in the world of white wines. What is it about Friuli that inspires such radical winemaking? While all three of these producers produce extreme wines, they are extreme in different ways and very distinct from each other. This orange/gold wine should be served at cool room temperature. It is intensely flavored and bone-dry with warm orange spiced flavors bolstered by a strong dose of tannin. Like this wine or not you have to admire the courage, intensity and creative independence exhibited by the winemaker. This is a must “brown-bag” for your tasting group that will drive your friends crazy and spark some serious debate. Ribolla Gialla is one of the indigenous vines of the Friuli region with records of its existence predating 1300. While this wine is a long way from a typical Ribolla Gialla it is a wine that stretches the imagination and brings a wonderful grape variety into the spotlight.

Warning: Serving Damijan to Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio lovers could be dangerous as, for them, this wine is the vinous equivalent of electro-shock therapy.

A Jens Schmidt Selection: Imported by Montecastelli Selections

Villa Bucci

Ampelio Bucci seems to embody the elegance and style of Milan. Yet, he is making an impact in that most un-Milan of places, the rugged hills, mountains and coastlines of Le Marche. Since the 1700’s the Bucci family has lorded over their estate in Le Marche, but despite the long family history, only under the current generation have their vineyards been raised to greatness. The aptly named Ampelio (coming from ampelos, ancient Greek for vine) has transformed this estate into one of Italy’s most interesting white wine producers and a leading producer of Rosso Piceno.

The large property, almost 1,000 acres, not only produces fine wines, but sugar beets, corn, wheat, sunflowers and an extraordinary extra virgin olive oil from the ancient Carbonella olive. Since 2002 all the crops on the estate have been officially certified as organic by the EEU. Ampelio has taken extreme care in his vineyards, refusing to tear up old vines even though their production is severely reduced meaning his yields are less than half that allowed by the DOC. Old vines from extraordinary vineyards farmed with great care of course produce exceptional grapes and Ampelio is to be highly commended for choosing a winemaking approach that brings these essences from the vine to the bottle. No barriques, only large well-used barrels touch his wines. The resulting verdicchio wines literally sing with complexity, richness and fresh acidity. His efforts clearly show the potential of verdicchio from the right vineyards in the right hands and decidedly make the point that barriques and their resulting oak flavors add only confusion to the richly honeyed flavors of verdicchio.

While the labels are similar, wines labeled only Bucci are the regular cuvees (and lovely they are), while wines labeled Villa Bucci are reserve wines from the oldest vines and best vineyards.

As excellent as the red wines of this property are, it is their exceptional and age-worthy Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico wines that make them stand out in the crowded world of wines. Their unique flavors, textures and complexity make delicious companions to the finest meals. They are among Italy’s finest white wines.

2000 Villa Bucci Riserva, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore ($35)
Bright light gold. Smooth crème brulee aromas open into toasted hazelnut, vanilla with touches of ripe oranges. Rich, yet firmly bitter on the palate. Creamy, nutty flavors blend with a lively touch of bitter orange and ripe mangos. The firm flavors dominate the full, but structured finish. An extremely balanced and complex wine that I recommend aging a few more years to allow all the components to grow and blend.(A)

2002 Villa Bucci Rosso Piceno($35)
Bright light ruby, just translucent. An elegant, layered complex nose with touches of bitter and sweet plum, black cherry, blood oranges, spices and fresh mint. Exceptional balance and refinement on the palate as bitter cherry flavors dance with chocolate, sweet plums, spices and cranberries. The finish is long, and lively with each of the aromas and flavors repeating themselves. A lovely wine that is ready to drink now and over the next 5 or 6 years. Villa Bucci Rosso Piceno wine is 70% montepulciano and 30% sangiovese.(A-)

Imported by Neil Empson

Ca' Rome Barolo and Barbaresco

Everything is in its place: each item in perfect order and sparkling clean in a perfect combination of art and science. “Everything is special here,” says Romano Marengo “The wine, the lights and me”

Everything is indeed special at the Ca’ Rome winery located just outside the town of Barbaresco where the Marengo family: father Romano and his son and daughter, Pino and Paola make some of Langhe’s most elegant wines. The small winery is both a museum and working winery as the walls are carefully decorated with winemaking artifacts from the Langhe zone in a beautiful combination of art and functional design. This is one of the cleanest and most thoughtfully organized wineries you will find anywhere and all this attention to detail is reflected in the superb quality of their wines.

After thirty years as an enologist Romano realized his dream of having his own estate and Ca’ Rome was born in 1980. The family produces wines only from their own vines and only in great years. Recently the Marengo’s sold off their entire production from 2002 as not up to their standards. It is impossible to buy a bottle of Ca’ Rome that is not of the highest quality.

Romano and his enologist son, Pino, make wines at Ca’ Rome that are refined, elegant and extremely complex: not the kind of wines that hit you over the head. These are wines that grow and expand on the palate into a perfect harmony of the power of nebbiolo in Barolo and Barbaresco with a restrained elegance that is hard to describe, but an experience to taste. These wines dance across your palate — not take it prisoner.

The Barolo and Barbaresco wines of Ca’ Rome are traditional in style with most of the aging taking place in large 25 hectoliter barrels of Slovenian oak. Their color is textbook nebbiolo showing a translucent brilliant ruby with garnet hints and the flavors realize the promise of these beautiful tones. However, winemaking at Ca’ Rome is not 100% old-style as about 30% of the nebbiolo is aged in 225 liter French barrels. This touch of new oak adds a layer of complexity to these wines without adding a bit of new oak flavor.

The Marengo family is fortunate to have some of the best vineyard locations in the Langhe with Barbaresco vineyards in Rio Sordo and their “cru” Maria di Brun and Barolo vineyards in two of Serralunga d’Alba’s finest locations: Cerretta and Rapet. The character of each vineyard shows clearly in their wines and is accentuated by their light touch in the cellar. Considering the prices of Barolo and Barbaresco these days the wines of Ca’ Rome are tremendous bargains. Also highly recommended is the excellent Barbera d’Alba La Gamberaja from vineyards in the Serralunga zone and their soon to be released 2003 is about as good as Barbera gets. “It’s perfect,” comments Romano with a sly smile.

He might be right.

Tasting Notes:
2000 Ca’ Rome Barbaresco Maria di Brun ($65)
While most winemakers are more enthusiastic about their 2001 wines, winemaker Pino Marengo is smitten by the pleasures of his 2000 vintage offerings. One taste of this wine and you understand his enthusiasm for the vintage. The color is a glittering light ruby with garnet and orange hints. The rich nose is very complex with layers of good Cuban cigars and tar blended with plums and bitter cherries. The wine is powerful, yet extremely balanced without a hint of over-ripeness. The finish is packed with bitter tar and baked cherry fruit. How can a wine have tannins so intense, but so refined at the same time? I would suggest at least five more years of aging before enjoying this excellent Barbaresco.

1999 Ca’ Rome Barolo, Cerretta ($60)
Radiant light ruby with garnet. This brooding nebbiolo has a hard mineral/iodine note that blends with the aromas of dense tar with ripe spiced plums. The texture is wonderful seeming lean at first then expanding into a concentrated blend of dense wild berries, licorice and tar flavors. The finish is incredibly long with sweet tar flavors requiring a toothbrush before they go away. The tannins are still intense at this point and I would wait until at least 2010 before pulling the cork on this stunning wine. This wine is probably available at some great prices as retailers make room for the hyper-hyped 2000 vintage so keep an eye out and if you see a deal grab every bottle you can.

The Outstanding Selections of Jens Schmidt

MontecastellijensThe room is packed with wine lovers clutching oversized wine glasses. Behind each of the dozen or so tables covered with wine bottles stands an Italian winemaker busily pouring their wines into the mob of outstretched glasses in front of them and trying explain in their best English their vinous creations. Through the crowd darts the energetic and passionate Jens Schmidt, owner of Montecastelli Selections. Each of these producers are part of the Montecastelli portfolio - his selections. Jens seems to be at every table at once as he tries to convey his passion for these wines to each of the consumers attending.

The sold-out tasting is at Sam’s Wine Warehouse in Chicago, one of the world’s largest fine wine retailers. It is not easy for new importers to get their wines into such a high profile store, but almost the entire Montecastelli catalog is represented on the wine racks at Sam’s - a tribute to their quality and the sharp palates of Sam’s Wine Director Todd Hess and Italian Buyer Greg Smolik. Hess and Smolik are looking over the crowd at the tasting with satisfaction as each guest departs with shopping carts laden with the delicious Montecastelli wines. Their customers are sure to return for more as these wines will taste even better at the dinner table.

Jens and Ruth Schmidt have come a long way in a very short time. Montecastelli was only founded in 1997 and their American importing company was born in 2002, yet they have established themselves with some of America’s most demanding retail buyers and are distributed in 22 states. They have accomplished this with only two tools: a dedication to quality and old-fashioned hard work. Montecastelli is the name of their home and farm in Tuscany where they have restored an 11th century monastery. Here they produce their excellent olive oil and have also established a lovely agriturismo. They are living in reality what so many thousands only dream about.

One thing that is certain when tasting through this portfolio is that all of the wines are absolutely delicious to drink. They are modern wines, yet they pay homage to traditional winemaking and never let modern methods overwhelm the integrity of the vineyard. Jens describes his palate in this way, “Technically speaking I value cleanliness, fruit and natural balance of acidity. I disapprove of even only small amounts of Bret (brettanomyces-a winemaking fault that is sometimes considered acceptable in small amounts), oxidization and lack of acidity. However in our wines I am looking for more: To make things unique I always look for character and integrity. Integrity is the combination of the vintners approach and individuality confronted with the things in nature he cannot change: history, climate and soil type. Character is emerging as a unique expression of the vintner findings over time and his ability to listen and taste.”

Indeed each wine in the Montecastelli portfolio is a wine of character.

Recently tasted wines all of which are highly recommended:
Cesani, Toscana (2002 Chianti Colli Senesi, 2001 Ireos, 2000 Luenzo, 2002 Sanice); Cima, Toscana (2001 Montervo, 2001 Romalbo); Col Vetoraz, Veneto (Prosecco di Valdobbiadene - Brut, Extra-Dry, Cartizze, 2001 Millesimato); Collelceto, Toscana (2001 Rosso di Montalcino); Destefanis, Piemonte (2000 Nebbiolo d’Alba); La Rasina, Toscana (1999 Brunello di Montalcino, 2001 Rosso di Montalcino); La Tenaglia, Piemonte (1999 Barbera del Monferrato Tenaglia e’, 2000 Barbera d’Asti Giorgio Tenaglia); Le Fonti, Toscana (2001 Chianti Classico, 2000 Vito Arturo); Novaia, Veneto (2000 Amarone della Valpolicella, 2001 Valpolicella Cantoni); Palazzo Bandino, Toscana (2002 Chianti Colli Senesi, 2000 Bandinello); Perticaia, Umbria (2000 Sagrantino di Montefalco); Pira, Piemonte (2001 Dolcetto d’Dogliani -Bricco Botti and Landis, 2001 Barbera - Fornaci and Briccobotti, 2000 Nebbiolo d’Alba Bricco dell’Asino); Ronchi, Piemonte (2000 Barbaresco, 2001 Barbera d’Alba, 2001 Dolcetto d’Alba); Terre del Sillabo, Toscana (2001 Sauvignon, 2001 Gana); Torre Quarto, Puglia (2001 Guappo Rose, Bottaccia Uva di Troia, Quarto Ducale and Tarabuso Primitivo)

Retailers with extensive selections of Montecastelli wines:
North Berkeley Wine Merchants (Berkeley, CA); Sam’s Wine Warehouse (Chicago); Italian Wine Merchant (NY); E and R Wines (Portland); Hi Time Cellars (LA); PJ Wine (NY); The Wine Merchant (St. Louis) and Whole Foods Markets in New York, San Francisco, Portland, Santa Fe, Seattle, Cary NC, and Atlanta.

Poderi Colla - traditional innovation

“Elegance, finesse, balance,” these are not words that many use when describing Burgundy, but for Barolo and Barbaresco words like powerful, tannic and potent are more common. However, for me, elegance, finesse and balance are the exact characteristics that describe the experience of nebbiolo at its finest. These characteristics are why lovers of either of these great mono-varietal wines also tend to love the other although they taste nothing alike. “Elegance, finesse, and balance” describe an experience not a flavor.

All to often, both Langhe winemakers and the press seem enamored of power. Giant, potent wines from the 1997 and 2000 vintages have received glowing notices at the expense of more refined and balanced vintages like 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2001. Yet fine nebbiolo is not about size, but the tightrope it can walk between intensity and delicacy. Few wineries make wines that walk this tightrope as well as Poderi Colla.

Poderi Colla combines the talents of Federica Colla and Tino Colla, respectively daughter and brother of Langhe winemaking legend, Beppe Colla, who serves as winemaking consultant extrordinare. The Colla family originally brought Prunotto to fame and founded Poderi Colla after selling Prunotto to Antinori. “Elegance, finesse and balance,” are Tino Colla’s words when asked to define their wines and I could not agree with him more. Just as the wines of Prunotto were among the finest produced in the 1960’s and 1970’s, today the wines of Poderi Colla are among the finest wines produced in the Langhe today.

Tino Colla sees the greatness of nebbiolo as coming from having a unique dimension, a “third dimension” as he puts it. That third dimension is the emotion that truly extraordinary wines can evoke. Most wines are two dimensional, but greatness comes from this third dimension and it is his goal at Poderi Colla to bring this experience to their wines. The soul of the Colla wines comes from their three outstanding vineyard locations:

Dardi le Rose, in the Bussia zone of Monforte in Barolo. The wines of this vineyard have been made by Beppe Colla since 1961. Bussia is not a vineyard, but a sub-region of the Monforte zone, just east of the Barolo commune, that includes such grand vineyards as Dardi, Pianpolvere and, in Bussia Soprana: Cicala, Gabutti, Colonnello, and Romirasco. All of which can appear under the Bussia name. The Dardi vineyard produces the most classic of Barolo wines, a style that requires significant bottle aging to release its full personality. The Dardi vineyard is at an altitude of 300 to 350 meters and is planted only with nebbiolo (60% michet and 40% lampia) in a perfect south, south-west exposure. Skin contact during fermentation is about 15 days. Aging is only in large casks of French and Slovenian oak for 24 to 28 months.

Roncaglie, in the Barbaresco commune of the Barbaresco zone. Beppe Colla has made wines from this vineyard since 1956. The Roncaglie vineyard is in the heart of some of the Barbaresco commune’s finest vineyards. Located in the southwest corner of the Barbaresco commune, near the border with Treiso, the great vineyards of Roncaglie and Roncagliette forum an upside down “U” of perfectly exposed vineyards that would be a lot more famous if Gaja had not chosen to call his two vineyards located here Sori Tilden and Costa Russi instead of using the actual vineyard names. These vineyards produce some of the richest wines in Barbaresco combining depth of flavor with exotic aromatics. Besides the Barbaresco Roncaglie, this vineyard is home to the Barbera d’Alba Costa Bruna, Dolcetto d’Alba Pian Balbo and the Langhe Chardonnay Pian Martino. The vineyard is between 240 and 280 meters above sea level. For the Barbaresco, skin contact during fermentation is about 15 days and aging is only in large casks of French and Slovenian oak for 12 to 14 months.

Cascine Drago, located just outside of Alba near the Barbaresco zone was the property of Luciano Degiacomi, an old friend of Beppe, who ran the estate as a labor of love to feed his passion for wine. Degiacomi sold the property to the Colla family as he knew they would continue using the vines he had planted to make the finest wines possible. Here is planted nebbiolo for their Nebbiolo d’Alba along with riesling, freisa and the pinot noir vines that make the excellent pinot nero, Campo Romano. From these vineyards comes the dolcetto and nebbiolo for their blend Bricco del Drago, the original super-Piemontese blended wine. The vineyards here are between 330 and 400 meters in altitude.

Tino and Federica describe their philosophy as a commitment to “naturalness and originality”. Originality may seem a strange claim to make for wines so traditional in method and character, but in today’s world of wines made for judging, not drinking, the refined wines of Poderi Colla may indeed be original. These are wines made with as little human intervention as possible, even the anti-mold sprays used by most wineries are avoided in their vineyards, which are farmed in an organic style.

“Most of today’s wines are very similar, albeit obtained from very different climates and varieties: dense, dark wines with high alcohol content and loads of wood, oftentimes difficult to drink or match with food. We, on the other hand. wish to go in an entirely different direction, seeking not excess and forcibly “international wines”, but balance, finesse and original nuances. Our wines are not high-tech. They are man-made, with a strongly human element and outstanding concentration thanks to terroir and fruit and (no thanks to wood and machinery) and very sophisticated components. They are wines to be enjoyed with food, not to make a superficial splash at tastings,” say Tino and Federica.

One of the key aspects of the style of Poderi Colla is their obsession with picking their grapes at optimum ripeness - not over-ripeness. The super-maturity that mars so many Baroli and Barbaresci is the antithesis of the Colla style which features balance and complexity not power. “We don’t want a jammy nose,” says Tino Colla. “The passito flavors of Amarone are not correct for Barolo and Barbaresco.”

The wines of Poderi Colla are among the finest wines produced in the Langhe and the Barolo Dardi Le Rose and Barbaresco Roncaglie are a must-buy for anyone interesting in collecting wines for long-aging that exhibit the pure beauty of the nebbiolo grape. While the winemaking in the ripe 2000 vintage is to be commended for its restraint, the glories of the 1999 and 2001 vintage are very clear and the Colla’s have produced stunning wines in these fine vintages.

Tasting notes:

1999 Poderi Colla, Barolo, Bussia, Dardi Le Rose ($55)
Bright scarlet/ruby with hints of garnet. Translucent. Smoky, dried porcini aromas slowly open into tart raspberry fruit. Closed and intense on the palate with layers of flavors: mushrooms, leather, cherry and raspberry. The finish is concentrated, long and very tannic. Truly an outstanding, classic wine destined for long- term greatness; this wine needs at least ten years of aging and can benefit from more patience in good storage conditions. A classic Barolo that collectors should seek out. (Rating A++, a must-buy worth a special search of the market)
2000 Poderi Colla, Barolo, Bussia, Dardi Le Rose ($55)
Brilliant ruby, garnet, Just translucent. Deep ripe plums mixed with leather and dried roses on the nose. Big and rich on palate with a warm alcohol punch. A deep brooding wine with layers of bitter licorice and tar blended with sweet ripe cherry fruit. The finish is very concentrated and still closed with firm tannins made sweeter by ripe fruit and a warm, ripe richness. Perhaps the most ageable 2000 I have tasted and certainly among the most interesting. One of the few I would rate above an A. (Rating A+, outstanding)
2001 Barbaresco Roncaglie ($48)
Brilliant scarlet with orange garnet highlights. Quite translucent. Expansive, elegant wild flower highlights blend with an exotic spiciness and a firm, mineral tinged bittersweet raspberry fruit. A complete, pure nebbiolo on the palate. Firm black licorice, bitter tar and iodine touches intertwine with light hints of cassis and black truffles expand on the palate and grow in the firm, still angular finish. The tannins are still aggressive in the finish, but everything you could hope for is there and clearly this will be a grand wine in ten years or so. Classic in every aspect. (Rating A++, a must-buy worth a special search of the market)
2001 Campo Romano, Pinot Nero, Langhe DOC ($26.00). Bright scarlet/ruby with just a touch of garnet. Translucent. Layered complex nose. Ripe spiced plums and strawberry aromas broaden into dark wild cherry. Racy and complex on the palate with wave after wave of flavor. Ripe cherry and wild strawberries expand into complex tar, porcini and oak flavors. Still a bit lean and closed on the mouth and nose but very promising. The finish is long and spicy with apparent but well integrated tannins. (Rating A, excellent)
2002 Nebbiolo d’ Alba ($24)
Brilliant light scarlet with orange hints. Quite translucent. The nose is layered with delicate fresh cherry fruit and bitter tar with a smoky porcini highlight. Elegant, balanced and restrained on the palate, it is already drinking well for such a firmly structured wine. The finish has plenty of grip, but is shows a silky gracefulness. Drink now and over the next several years. Aged in large casks for 10 to 12 months. (Rating A-, excellent)
2002 Barbera d’Alba, Costa Bruna ($24)
Brilliant bright ruby, just translucent. Fresh, lively cherry aromas with a nice spicy touch. Very clean and lively on the palate with a brilliant, juicy finish. Drink this wine while young and fruity. A nice effort from a difficult vintage. Aged in large casks for 10 to 12 months. (Rating B+, very good)
2000 Bricco del Drago, Langhe Rosso ($30)
Bright ruby with hints of purple and garnet highlights. Just translucent. Brilliant bright cherry fruit blends with earthy warm aromas on the nose. Forward ripe fruit with a sudden hard mineral impact. The finish has a dense ripe plum fruit blended with a firm tannic punch and a warm roundness. A unusual blend of clean sweet fruitiness with warm, brooding earthiness. The only Colla wine to see any barrique aging, some of which are new and aging ranges between 12 and 18 months. 85% dolcetto and 15% nebbiolo(Rating A-, excellent)
2003 Dolcetto d’Alba Pian Balbo ($14 - Best Buy)
Brilliantly purple with ruby highlights. Just translucent. A fantastic dolcetto packed with mouth watering fruit. Expansive bright plums and cranberries on the nose lead to lively deep sweet cherry flavors with a fine mineral backbone and bitter tang. The finish is filled with warm raspberry fruit brought alive by a zesty acidity. Just plain delicious. drink now and over the next several years. Aged only in stainless steel. (Rating A-, excellent)
2003 Freisa, Langhe DOC ($14)
Freisa does not get any better than this. Brilliant bright ruby with purple highlights. Tooth jarring acidity explodes into deep sweet plum and blueberry fruit flavors. The finish is zesty with cassis highlights. A little gas is left in the wine for even more liveliness. Drink as soon as you can! (Rating B+, very good)

Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato

AgataruchenavotaRuché just doesn’t taste like it comes from Piemonte. It is a graceful wine, elegant and floral with a body more defined by its lively acidity than its soft, round tannins. If there is a wine in Italy to relate to fine Beaujolais it is most certainly not the tart dolcetto, which is often referred to in that context, but the refined smoothness of ruché can be more than a little reminiscent of a Fleurie or Chènas. Of course, ruché is not Beaujolais and has its own distinct character, but as most people have not tasted this delicious wine it is a fair way to set a point of reference.

Ruché now sports its own DOC, Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato, and this small zone in the hills just outside of Asti is responsible for all the production from this rare variety. Now that DOC status has been awarded to this region you can expect to see production expand perhaps making ruché easier to find. This is one of those wines that one sip is likely to inspire gulps and case purchases. Ruché is pure forward fruit flavor.

Ruché is a bit of a mystery vine. Local wisdom says it is an ancient variety probably indigenous to the Monferrato hills. Even the origin of the name is unclear with some claiming it came from the name of a local monastery while another source points to a resistance to a particular vine disease. Whatever the case, little documentary evidence exists and the history of ruché is more folklore than fact.

Cantine Sant’Agata is making an exceptional assortment of ruché wines and excellent wines from Asti’s two other important red wine vines: barbera and grignolino. Founded in 1916, the present generation, Franco and Claudio Cavallero, produces 150,000 bottles of wine from their own vineyards, which total 30 hectares. Other than a small amount of chardonnay all their vines are indigenous and all their wines are of excellent quality and value.
Tasting Notes:
2003 Cantina Sant’Agata, Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato, ‘Na Vota ($19)
Brilliant ruby with a just a touch of purple, quite translucent. Smooth, forward ripe cherry vanilla nose with a bitter tinge. a touch of cassis and lovely hints of wildflowers and violets. Firm and fresh on the palate with flavors that expand and grow mirroring the forward yet complex fruit and flowers of the bouquet. In the finish the cassis dominates carried by a refreshing acid zip.(89) The warm 2003 vintage produced particularly rich versions of lesser known Piemontese varietals like ruché. grignolino and freisa and you should keep an eye out for them as they are now in the market. They also offer a special selection ruché, Pro Nobis, to continue the Beaujolais reference, it is to regular ruché what Moulin-a-Vent is to normal Beaujolais. It has all the characteristics of the ‘Na Vota on steroids. I will confess I prefer what I consider the more balanced ‘Na Vota, but I am probably in the minority on that choice with most consumers preferring the chunky Pro Nobis.

A John Given Selection-Imported by John Given Wines (Northeast and other states)
Imported by Siema Wines (southeast and other states)
and other importers including: Wine Appellations