If you had to guess which country leads in wine imports to the U.S. who would you choose among France, New Zealand, Spain, Italy and Australia? "Ding, ding, ding" if you picked Italy. Italy leads in both volume and dollar value of wine imported into the U.S.
Sparkling wines and vermouths are the fastest gainers, thanks to the intense demand in prosecco and the cocktail revolution that has increased sales of Italian vermouths.
These numbers were the foundation of a recent seminar, "Vino 2017," we attended in New York City. In addition to having the opportunity to taste literally hundreds of wines from producers from every corner of the Italian peninsula, we heard from several speakers about grape growing and wine production in Italy.
Italy is the home to approximately 500 indigenous grape varieties, according to Ian D’Agata, author of “Native Wine Grapes of Italy” (University of California Press, Berkeley), who spoke about rare grapes.
D'Agata said, “Since Italy is a poor country, grapes were sought out that were high producers.” More obscure grapes thusly were ignored.
Other factors for rare grapes are susceptibility to disease -- rot from dense clusters or thin skins --and poor juice-to-skin ratios.
Another seminar featured Italian rosato. In France and most other wine-producing countries, rosé is made from less than a dozen mostly international varietals. In Italy rosato is made from literally hundreds of indigenous varietals with hues ranging from the barest color to brightly tinted pink -- almost intensely red.
We were impressed with the wide variety of rosé styles, particularly the Mastroberadino Irpinia Rosato DOC “Lacrimarosa” 2015 ($14) made entirely of aglianico from Irpinia in Campania. Very light in color, bright fresh fruit nose and flavors with a delightful creamy presence and very long length in the mouth.
We also enjoyed two rosés made from somewhat obscure grapes. The Cantina Le Grotte Puglia Rosato IGP Nero di Troia “Selva della Rocca” 2016 is made from the nero di troia grape and made a delightful mineral-driven, quaffable rosato.
Our favorite rosato was the Torrevento Castel Del Monte DOCG Bombino Nero “Veritas” 2016. Made from bombino nero grapes and also from Puglia, this gem offers a very intense cherry/strawberry nose and flavor and a light pink color.
Another seminar featured barolo and barbaresco from regional bottlings and individual vineyards. We learned that single vineyard bottlings only began in 1961 and weren’t tightly regulated until 2011. These single crus are important in Barolo and Barbaresco because the regions feature highly varied soils and a myriad of microclimates. Usually single vineyard offerings indicate higher quality and also higher prices than regionally bottled and labeled wines.
Two of our favorites were single-vineyard wines from G.D. Vajra. The Barolo DOCG Luigi Baudana 2012 and Barolo DOCG Cru Bricco delle Viole 2012 are made in the modern, early dinking style that many barolo and barbaresco winemakers are adopting.
The wines were characterized by easily accessible, berry flavors and enticing rose and violet scents and flavors. Consumers looking for ready-to-drink barolo and barbaresco should consider these versions. These wines should be available in the $80-$90 range.
MORE ITALIAN WINES
Tenuta Cisa Asinari dei Marchesi di Gresy Martinega Barbaresco 2012 ($50). We liked the elegance and sensual texture of this beautiful barbaresco. Made entire of nebbiolo grapes from the estate vineyard of Martinega, it has a violet and tobacco-like nose with rich cherry flavors.
Tenuta di Arceno Chianti Classico Riserva Strada al Sasso 2010 ($35). This is an unbelievably delicious chianti. Intense plum and jasmine aromas with rich cherry and chocolate flavors and a hint of spice.
Tenuta di Arceno Valadorna 2011 ($80). Missing the indigenous sangiovese grape, this Tuscan blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc is stunningly delicious. Plum notes with ripe cherries and figs, but it has terroir notes of graphite and earth.
Piccini Memoro Rosato Italia N/V ($15). Although non-vintage rose is somewhat unusual we found this example very agreeable. Made from widely grown grapes sources from all over Italy…. Montepulciano from Abruzzo, Nero d’Avola from Sicily, Merlot from Veneto and Negroanaro from Puglia. Very pleasant and refreshing with dominant strawberry elements, and just a touch of residual sugar.
Tommasi Casisano Brunello di Montalcino 2011 ($60). Intense but targeted aromas with delicious dark berry and spice flavors. Well balanced and long in the finish, this is an outstanding wine.
Fontanafredda Serralunga d’Alba Barolo 2011 ($40). Made from nebbiolo grapes, this sleeping giant has approachable dark fruit flavors, an intense nose and tantalizing hints of spice, vanilla and oak.
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