On a very wet and grey, un-Sydney weathered day, I was fortunate enough to be invited to a master class tasting of the Grandi Marchi, essentially Italy’s First Families Of Wine who have banded together to create the Istituto del Vino Italiano di Qualità:
The “Institute of Fine Italian Wines – Premium Brands” is the result of the determination and enthusiasm of nineteen of the most important Italian wineries to promote the culture and commercialisation of Italian high quality wine on world markets. It unites families and brands which characterise the Italian wine-making tradition – each one extremely innovative yet highly representative of the production of their region. Each winery is defined by the high standards of its products and brand image at national and international levels. They are families and brands which encapsulate the identity of Italian wine which is synonymous with quality and style throughout the world.
The Institute aims to:
- give direction and incisiveness to the development of quality Italian wine and to the brands which
express this on world markets.
- organise and develop training and educational activities contributing to the promotion of Italian wine culture in the world.
With a collection of 13 representatives of the families touring Australia for the 1st time, it was a once in a life time event to have spent time with them and taste some of the flagship wines of Italy.
Carpene Malvolti 1868 Cartizze Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG
Grape: 100% Glera
Incredibly creamy mousse that sticks like latte foam to the edge of the glass. Rosewater and flowers and apple and a spine of refreshing acidity. Unexpected complexity. Lingering flavour and a unique expressive aperitif style. Easily one of the finest Prosecco I’ve ever tasted.
Ca’del Bosco, Cuvee Prestige Franciacorta, DOCG
Franciacorta not quite as popular a sparkling alternative as its neighbour in the north, Prosecco. The family are keen to build up the regional branding and promote Franciacorta in Australia…but this wine was something of an enigma. Our side of the room was presented with a flat-ish, slightly dulled wine that still had flavour but very little bubble or effervescence and left us a little perplexed as to what the other side of the room was describing as a great sparkling wine. Maybe cork was to blame…
Grapes: Chardonnay 75%, Pinot Bianco 10% and Pinot Nero 15%
Biscuits & honey, plums & straw. Broad, solid palate with Waxy leesy characters. Chardonnay dominated the palate and finished a little lifeless. A shame.
Argiolas, Is Argiolas, Vermentino di Sardegna, DOC, 2012
Now to the big island, Sardinia and a wonderfully exquisite, textbook “that’s what I was after when I said Vermentino” Vermentino.
Grape: 100% Vermentino
Soft, almost straw gold. Fresh spring morning lemon zest and rind. Archetypically zingy, but fruit/acidity balanced with some salty air and good amounts of flavour. Salty fish & seaside grazie!
Antinori, Tignanello Toscana IGT 2010
Moving into big boy red territory now and the heart of Italian wine, Tuscany. The Antinori have been pressing grapes for about 625 years, reckon they’re just getting into the stride. The Antinori were pioneers of “alternative” grapes being used into “Super Tuscans;” that is, those not made according to the DOCG grape laws. In this instance, the inclusion of French interlopers of Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc, signify the classification as IGT, Indicazione Geografica Tipica. Loosely translated: Made from grapes you can find growing in the area. This of course, is potentially the biggest understatement if one was to base their quality assessment on this alone. Maestro Antinori thinks that the next generation are starting to swing back to the traditional ways and embracing the indigenous grapes of areas.
Grapes: 80% Sangiovese, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc.
Raspberries and savoury goodness. Rustic Italian qualities from the Sangiovese hedged by blackcurrant edges & dusty violets. Good tannin length. Oak domination for the moment, but see past that and embrace where it is going.
Umani Ronchi, Cumaro Conero Riserva, DOCG, 2008
Across now to the east coast of Italy, and the Adriatic facing coast. Not to be confused with the township of Montepulciano in Tuscany (and home to Sangiovese), Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo can be seen throughout many areas in Italy, usually as a lower priced wine, but this is an excellent example of how to do it right.
Grape: 100% Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo
Purple edged. Floral and ripe nose of choc/raspberry licorice dark red fruits. Hints of spice adding complexity. Sweet rusticity and medium bodied red fruits with lovely balanced tannic grip. In the Zone.
Tasca, Rosso del Conte, Contea di Sclafani, DOC 2008
Now to the slightly smaller island of Sicily, home to a grape that had hardly seen the light of day in the homeland, but is fast gaining a following. Nero d’Avola.
Grapes: Nero d’Avola, Perricone and “other red varieties among those authorised by the DOC (28%).
Unlike any other in the line up. a Confusing mix of old and new: fresh leather with contrapuntal aged prosciutto and rubber. Palate dominated with red licorice/red fruits and a herbaceous edge. Fresh herbs (bay leaf) and juicy acids, framed with medium tannins and long finish.
Mastroberardino, Taurasi Radici, DOCG 2007:
My wife who speaks decent Italian, laughs at me each time I try to pronounce a G in this wine. The Mastroberardino family focus on indigenous varieties of Campania (west coast) and are oft noted as a guardian of the traditional grapes. They also produce Fiano and Greco, a variety which pre-dates Romans and has its roots from the colonising Greeks.
Grape: 100% Aglianico
Interesting coffee, herb, hint of varnish/polish from the oak. Dark Choc Bounty like cherry and spice and all things dark fruited. A varietal that is not often seen in Australia, but worth seeking out.
Rivera Il Falcone, Castel del Monte Riserva, DOC 2007:
From the Murgia Hills, in the Puglia region, another indigenous grape that is rarely seen outside its homeland. In this case, Nero di Troia.
Grapes: 70% Nero di Troia, 30% Montepulciano d’Abruzzo
Wow. Heady, full, dry, desiccated. That’s just the nose. Repeat same for palate but with long baked plums and super ripe red/purple fruits like mulberry. Add acid & tannin. Unique.
Michele Chiarlo, La Court Barbera d’Asti, DOC Sup Nizza 2007
Headed north now, towards the Alps in the Piedmont region and the area more famous for its sparkling, Asti. Nizza being the acknowledged sub-region for Barbera d’Asti. An earlier ripening variety, Barbera is/was traditionally harvested and drunk whilst waiting for the Nebbiolo to get its act together.
Grape: 100% Barbera
Sour dark but ripe cherry, length with coffee essence. Choc/mocha and dark red fruits across the palate. Subtle tannins beautifully rolling in and weaved tightly. Just simply a lovely wine.
Pio Cesare, Barolo, DOCG 2009
Ah, the “Little Fog.” Does exactly what it says on the label.
Grape: 100% Nebbiolo.
Deception of light rust, drying blood colour: Lovely nutmeg spice and iron/stone. Light floral notes drift in and out whilst. There’s medium tannins, not overtly drying with potential for ageing but can drink now. This is an important point as most think Barolo are unapproachable in their youth. Not so this one, built for the long haul as well as ready to be something special if you open up now.
Biondi Santi, Tenuta Greppo, Brunello do Montelcino DOCG, Riserva 1997:
Grape: 100% Sangiovese Grosso (BBS11 clone-only they are allowed to use)
Just only a hint of drying at the edge for the age. Smooth, attractive, mature floral nose of roses, mocha and creamy tea. Drying tannins. Length. More length. Mature elegance, perfect grape flavours and just almost savoury. Integration of all elements…. Beautiful wine, sublime experience.
Masi Agricola Costasera Amarone Classico DOC, 2008:
Made with the traditional Amarone method of “appassimento” which involves drying some of the picked grapes in order to promote the natural sugars as they raisin. In this instance, the Corvina grapes were also affected by Botrytis (Noble Rot) which also develops the sugars, resulting in a very unique, distinctive flavour.
Grapes: Corvina 70%, Rondinella 25%, Molinara 5%
Purple to black in the glass, but not opaque. Baked fruits, bitumen, savoury ash, red to dark fruits and a little heady from the alcohol. Dense in the palate, rich and full but not overtly sickly sweet, only just hints of the drying fruits showing as raisin. Vanilla/chocolate supplementing glycerol slipperyness from botrytis on the Corvina counterbalanced with plenty of delicate, fine tannin.
Donnafugata, Ben Ryé Passito di Pantelleria, DOP 2010.
The last wine for the masterclass. Served from 375 ml bottles, at around 12º so as to still allow luscious fruit characters to shine. Made from dried grapes in stainless steel (left for approx 7 months) before being transferred to bottle and released after 12 months.
Grape: 100% Zibibbo (Muscat Of Alexandria.)
Extreme sweet fruits, apricot jam, apricot preserve and then some baked apricot. Almost a bourbon edge. Raisin/grape & long long layers of sweet stone fruit flavours. Candied fruits, luscious without being unctuous. Balanced and long. Perfect to finish the day on.
I attended the Masterclass as a guest of Dig & Fish Marketing and the Istituto del Vino Italiano di Qualità – Grandi Marchi