The immense range in wines from Italy continues to keep any Old World wine lover on their toes. I recently had the opportunity to taste a handful from the gorgeous country. I sipped quite a few from the beautiful Veneto region, known for both its dried fruit and earth-filled Amarone, as well as fresh and balance Soave, a perfect white wine to transition from summer into fall with. Also, balanced and earthy Sangiovese wines from Tuscany. (Here are a few stand outs, some of which were sent for editorial consideration.)
I have been a fan of the light and approachable white wines of Soave in the heart of Veneto, one of the first DOC wine regions in Italy, created in 1931. Unlike many DOC regions in Italy, Soave produces only white wine and always from predominantly one grape variety, Garganega. For a relatively small space there are over 3000 growers in the region working over 16,000 acres of vines, producing wine for 90 wineries and 4 cooperatives growing grapes in the volcanic, limestone and chalk, and sand filled soils found in the region. Styles can be light and fresh made with the use of stainless steel fermentation, to rounder and richer thanks to the use of oak aging or lees (yeasts) stirring to add texture and depth to the wine.
In the late 1880s winemaker Leonildo Pieropan found his historic winery in the town of Soave, dedicating his passions and talent to crafting quality Soave wine from mineral rich soils bearing his name. Today, after over a century of Soave production the family is still crafting elegant, exceptional Soave grown in volcanic soils of their sustainably managed estate hillside vineyards in the Soave Classico zone. Pieropan Soave Classico DOC is made from vines averaging in age from 6-60 years, creating a lush, fresh and inviting wine filled with honeysuckle, honeydew, ripe nectarine and apricot with hints of toasted almond and creamy lemon curd. $20, available at Spec’s.
Gini Soave Classico melds freshness of the floral filled fruit, with earthiness of the terroir. Produced from vines averaging 70 years old, planted in mineral rich, nutrient poor volcanic and limestone soils. The fruit is fermented using only native yeasts and then aged on the lees in small stainless steel vats for 6 months, creating an expressive, fragrant, concentrated and textured wine with notes of white flowers, stone fruit and quince with hints of raw almond and crushed stone. $17, available at Total Wine & More.
One of the most well known producers in the Veneto region of Italy is Bolla, known for their concentrated Amarone wines. However, it was a Soave wine that began the legacy when founder Abele Bolla crafted his first Soave wine to serve at his small family inn in the region’s hillside. Over 100 years later they are still producing award winning Soave wine, including their mineral rich, highly concenrated, nicely textured Bolla Soave Classico DOCG Superiore “Tufaie,” named for the marly-tuffaceous volcanic soils of the region. Filled with orange blossom, honey, golden pear and melon with steely minerality and a touch of brininess. $19, available here.
History reigns as well in one of the oldest DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) regions in Italy, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano from the medieval town of Montepulciano in the southern part of Tuscany. Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is one of the most noble wines of the region, and historically a favorite of everyone from President Thomas Jefferson to Voltaire. Today there are 76 producers of the wine, gathering grapes from 3,304 acres of vineyards producing fruit for Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. One of these, Avignonesi owns 495 acres of vines in both Montepulciano and nearby Cortona producing their sustainably farmed, 100% estate grown wine with a focus on protecting their land for future generations while producing an elegant, fresh and vibrant wine that tells the story of the land and terroir. Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG has a definite lighter, fruit filled touch to the wine that is unlike some of the headier, heavier wines of the region. Filled with juicy red cherry, raspberry jam, wild flowers and sweet spice, melding into earthy umami and balsamic notes, the wine has depth and texture while maintaining freshness. $32, available at Goody-Goody stores.
Though our mind often takes us to food friendly red wines from Tuscany and it’s surrounding areas, the picturesque region also grows quite a bit of white and even a rose or two. La Valentina, just south of Tuscany in Abruzzo, was started in 1990 and has quickly become a leader in producing quality wine from estate fruit grown in an environmentally conscious manner. In addition to their wild flower, licorice and pencil lead filled La Valentina “Spelt” Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC Riserva ($20,) they produce a juicy, briney white made from the Pecorino variety. La Valentina Pecorino Colline Pescaresi IGT ($16) is filled with honeysuckle, green mango, and crisp citrus with hints of soft herbs and steely minerality, making it a great food wine or a perfect way to start an evening. Their Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo DOC ($12,) made from Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, is light and fresh, filled with bing cherry, wild berry and lively floral notes. Pogo’s and Jimmy’s carry the La Valentina wines.
The Piccini family began their winemaking legacy in Tuscany in 1882 and today the family run winery is still known for producing high quality, elegant, earthy wines in the region, always following the flavors and influence of the region, melding them with their family’s passion. Piccini Chianti Classico DOCG ($16) leaps from the glass with layers of black cherry, wild blackberries and woody herbs. Grown in clay and limestone soils, the earthy Sangiovese takes on the mineralic notes of the teroir while maintaining s soft, smooth and inviting palate, perfect to enjoy with tomato based dishes and grilled meat. The hallmark wine of the family, their Piccini Brunello di Montalcino DOCG Villa Al Cortile ($50) follows the philosphy to only be produced in the very best of years, which the latest 2010 vintage was in Italy. Grown sustainably, the vineyard sits at around 1000 feet above sea level, helping maintain acidity as evening temperatures drop from hot summertime days. Warm days help the earthy, aromatic fruit ripen. The resulting wine is filled with ripe cherry, berry and black plum flavors with sweet baking spice and soft herbal notes. Bold, elegant and inviting. Blending fruit from throughout Italy, Piccini crafts their expressive Piccini Memoro ($12,) a wine made from a blend of Primitivo, Montepulciano, Nero d’Avola and Merlot del Veneto from Veneto, Sicily, Puglia and Abruzzo. Not the common wine for Italy, but created to celebrate the diverse flavors of the country, essentially creating a wine that felt as much like Italy as it tasted. With the name Memoro, or remember in Italian, the wine is a celebration of the family heritage and their Italian pride. Filled with espresso, black cherry and dried fig notes, the affordable wine is a great pairing for anything from charcuterie and hard cheese to braised meat and game. Total Wine and More carry the Piccini wines.