We arrived in Tuscany the end of July fully expecting to be doused by the region’s heat and humidity that is common this time of year. Instead, we were greeted by mild conditions more typical of Northern California. You see, it’s been an unusually wet and mild summer in Tuscany. And with that we began our weeklong expedition in search of Brunello and Chianti Classico wines. First stop, the medieval village of Montalcino where we began our search for what is perhaps the most famous of Italian reds—Brunello di Montalcino.
The reputation of Brunello wines dates back to the 16th century. By the late 1800’s Brunello wines had gained international attention, even competing with the well-known French red wines from Bordeaux. Brunello di Montalcino wines were one of the first to receive official designation as a DOC wine, “Denominazione di Origine e Controllata” (meaning the origin is controlled) in 1966; and, in 1980, was the first Italian wine to be granted the highest quality designation, DOCG, (controlled and guaranteed). You can find the complete history of Brunello di Montalcino at the Consorzio Del Vino Brunello di Montalcino. It’s this rich history of making world-renowned wines that allows these wines to command some of the highest prices for all Italian wines.
Standing in front of the Fortezza (Fortress) di Montalcino, built in 1361, and overlooking the vineyards blanketing the steep hillsides you cannot avoid being overwhelmed with the grandeur and history of this district. If you happen to be standing here during the Middle Ages, you would have been concerned about attacks from Siena or Florence; and while I felt fairly secure from Senese attacks this week, the task of finding one exquisite Brunello from the 209 members of the Consorzio Del Vino Brunello di Montalcino that span the 24,000 hectares covering the township of Montalcino seemed formidable. Our five merchant team was up for the challenge, and thanks to Deb’s planning, we set up an exceptional base camp at Castel Brunello, located in the quaint village of Sant’ Angelo in Colle, and overlooking the Tuscan valleys below.
For five days the merchants drove the narrow paved and gravel roads throughout the township meeting with small, family producers with a deep, rich heritage of growing Sangiovese grapes and producing fine Brunello wines. Each family we met consistently greeted us with warmth and hospitality. They wore their love for their land, vineyards and family on their sleeves; and while most already had exclusive contracts with importers, they were proud and excited to share their wines with us.
We met Luca Brunelli at Vinitaly in Verona in April, and we were immediately impressed with the quality of his Montalcino wines. Luca’s winery, Poggio Apricale, is located just a few hundred yards from the Fortezza on a panoramic hillside overlooking the Ombrone valley and river. We spent a wonderful afternoon with Luca, tasting his wines, touring his vineyards, and learning about his deep family heritage in Montalcino. Luca’s mother and father, Anna Sarini and Mauro Brunelli, are both from farming families with deep roots in Montalcino. In 1964, the Brunelli family moved to Martoccia, a small farm of about 3 hectares near the Fortezza. Today, son, Luca, and Maura combine their love of their land and respect for tradition in their care for their vineyards. Their passion and enthusiasm was expressed in every glass we tasted.
Our visit with Luca culminated in an unforgettable lunch he hosted in the home he was born, over homemade pasta and wild boar that was hunted and smoked by his father, Maura. We found our Brunello! Look for Luca’s Poggio Apricale wines to be available to our clients in November.
Drive 70 km north of Montalcino and you arrive in Gaiole in Chianti, the heart of the Chianti Classico district. Statues, portraits, and pictures of the Gallo Nero (Black Rooster) abound; and if you aren’t familiar with the legend of the black rooster click here. A few kilometers south of the village of Gaiole in Chianti, perched on a hilltop, was our destination, Cantalici, Società Agricola L’Antica Fornace di Ridolfo.
I was immediately struck by the 360-degree panoramic views of the Tuscan hills and valleys, spotted with medieval castles and lined with cypress trees. Carlo Cantalici and Angela Butini greeted us warmly and proceeded to tour us through their historic cantina. The original building on the property was a medieval kiln that dates back to 1583. The oldest documentation identifies the building as “Fornace di Ridolfo Zati”, a member of a wealthy Florentine family at that time.
Loris Cantalici purchased the property in 1972; and, along with sons, Carlo and Daniele, have not only restored and preserved the historic ruins, but also built a beautiful wine production facility adjacent to the “Fornace”. Carlo and Angela spent the afternoon with us, sharing their wines, family history, love for their land, and philosophy of winemaking. Our merchant team quickly realized our search for a Chianti Classico was over. Carlo and Daniele’s wines deliver a tasting experience that embodies the essence of this historic district. The Cantalici’s vineyards cover 90 hectares where they cultivate Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malvasia and Trebbiano varieties.
The Chianti Classico Baruffo and Baruffo Riserva deliver a distinctive uniqueness and boldness found only in the Chianti varietals from this zone. And, for the “Super Tuscan lover”, I have one word for you—Tangano! This Toscana IGT is “in your face” with fruit, spice, and rich currant flavors. We are very proud to add the Cantalici Family wines to our rich collection of exceptional Italian wines. Look for Cantalici wines to be available to our clients in November. And, don’t forget to look for the Gallo Nero on every bottle!
Warmer weather signals the time to break out the rosato (rosè) wines and begin to enjoy the pink juice with your favorite summer meals. Italy is the second largest producer of rosato wines (source: Italian Wine Central). There are a number of Italian rosatos produced from red varietals in the various regions. Commonly used reds include sangiovese, barbera, and nebbiolo to name a few. This month we take you to Italy’s central region—the Abruzzo—where you will find an amazingly bright, seductive rosato produced from the big red grape of the region, Montepulciano, called Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo (pronounced “chay-rah-swo-lo”). Taste this wine and your will immediately understand the origin for the name. Hint: the latin word for “cherry” is cerasum.
Discovering Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo was one of my most pleasant surprises while exploring the Abruzzo region. My experience with California rosès has not been memorable; but don’t even attempt to compare this juice to any of the California rosè wines. If you approach this wine expecting a light, timidly sweet wine, you will be in for a big surprise. This is a rosè with some depth and muscle. I went to the region with great anticipation of finding the big red Montepulciano, and left in love with both the powerful red and its rosato relative.
Corrado De Angelis Corvi’s Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo is produced from the same vineyards that bring us his flagship Montepulciano d’Abruzzo “Elevito”. This rosato shares the same body, structure, and acidity as its parent Montepulciano red. Corrado selects the ripest of fruit in the last week in September when the fruit brings enhanced complexity, flavor and acidity to the wine. After a very brief maceration on the skins, approximately 4 hours, the juice is fermented at very low temperatures to bring out the most complexity and flavor from the fruit. You are immediately struck by the brilliant salmon red color in the glass. The nose hints of berries and then lands firmly on your palate with crisp, rich cherry, strawberry and raspberry notes and a bold fruit finish.
Corrado’s Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo is a very versatile wine that complements and enhances a wide variety of foods including summer soups, fish, shellfish, risotto, and white meats. Enjoy with appetizers of fresh berries and light cheeses. This is a fantastic wine to serve at your summer BBQ of grilled chicken, oysters, or vegetables. If you are looking for a wine to take to the beach or picnic, don’t look any further. For maximum enjoyment, serve this wine very chilled at 45-50 degrees.
Fire up the BBQ and enjoy!
It’s not often you have a chance to spend a month with an Italian winemaker during his first visit to the U.S. and Sonoma’s wine country, and observe his reactions to the wines, the land, and the people. I quickly realized that this was a special opportunity to view the part of the world I have lived for the past 30 years, through the young lenses of an Italian winemaker. Matteo Pola is 23 years of age and the middle son of the Italian winemaking family at Fontanabianca, in the ancient village of Neive, and with a deep, rich heritage in making world-class Barbaresco wines. Matteo works with his father Aldo and their business partner Bruno Ferro. He is the fourth generation winemaker, and the first to be formally educated in chemistry-enology at a university. When we met in his village in October, he spoke little English, but enough to express a desire to come to the U.S. and learn more. After finishing his coursework in February, Matteo elected travel to the U.S. for an opportunity to live with the family that was importing his family’s wine to California. So, when I met Matteo at International Arrival Lobby G at SFO on February 17th, our month long journey together began.
Through the assistance and generosity of my friends and acquaintances in the industry, I was able to present Matteo with a wide range of experiences our region has to offer. He toured the production facility of a large winery that produces millions of bottles a year, so he could compare them to the methods of his family winery that produces 40,000. He met a Sonoma winemaker of relatively similar size to his, and exchanged their knowledge and experiences. And, he experienced a personal tour of the unique, biodynamic farming methods used by a very successful grower and winemaker in the Sonoma Valley, which are not seen widely in the Sonoma wine country or the Piemonte region of Italy. While each day’s experiences varied, Matteo’s comment, as each day came to an end was always the same, “This was the most amazing day.”
While Matteo studied the wines of Europe, he had never tasted California juice. So, we tasted our way through the Sonoma Valley, with a few excursions through the Dry Creek and Alexander valleys. The objective was to sample the diversity of wines available in the region including Sav Blanc, Chardonnay, Vignone, Pinot Noir, Cab Sav, Merlot, Cab Franc, Zin, Petite Sirah, Syrah, and a spectrum of blends. A stop at a winery producing a wine from an Italian varietal, and yes there are several in Sonoma County, always led to an in-depth discussion and prolonged visit. But it was Barbera that emerged as the common denominator, the international bond and universal language between Matteo and the local winemakers. While they shared their experiences working with this ancient varietal, there was common agreement around how and why the Barbera wines from Sonoma, Barbera d’ Alba, and Barbera d’Asti were dramatically different due to the terroir, climates, soils, and production methods. I was the attentive student for these in-depth discussions, and here is a summary of their sometimes passionate opinions.
Sonoma Barbera is a new world wine that tends to have good acidity that produces and hold bright color in the wine. The acidity also leads to zesty, astringent notes along with spice, blackberries, and greener tannins. The warm growing climate ripens the fruit fast, and sugar levels can climb quickly leading to higher alcohol.
Barbera is native of the Piemonte region. It is the 1st most planted variety in Piemonte and the 6th most planted variety in Italy (Source: Italian Wine Central). Barbera d’ Alba is grown in the cool climate of the Barbaresco, where the fruit ripens more slowly, and alcohol levels tend to be below 14%. This old world wine tends to be soft and velvety in the mouth with aromas of blackberry and anise on the nose, and then lands on the palate with notes of cherry, black currants, chocolate and soft tannins. The wine is softer and more elegant than its cousin a few kilometers north in Asti.
I write this as Matteo’s month long journey is coming to an end. I can’t let him leave without capturing his most memorable impressions and opinions of the past several weeks. Using a mixture of Italian and much-improved English, Matteo expressed his surprise at the diversity of the varietals grown in California, the immense size of the large production facilities, and the importance placed on branding, packaging, and marketing in the U.S. He shared his perception that California Pinot Noir was similar in style to the Barbaresco wines from Piemonte. He was quick to notice the extensive irrigation systems utilized in the California vineyards, as irrigation systems are neither employed nor permitted in is region. Finally, and with a great deal of emotion, he expressed his gratitude for the immense generosity and hospitality shown him by all the winemakers he met. He felt a common bond with each.
I would like to acknowledge with great appreciation the following friends for their kindness and generosity with their time and knowledge: Chris Silva of St. Francis Winery, Chris Benziger of Benziger Family Wines, and Phil Staehle of Enkidu.
Featured Wine: 2010 Fontanabianca Barbera d’Alba DOC Superiore
Variety: 100% Barbera
Tasting Notes: rich, fruity aromas of ripe berries, plum and cherry give way to lucious fruit landing on the palate with plum red currant and black cherry. Velvety soft in the mouth and a rich, long finish.
Pairing Suggestions: Roasted red meats, ripe cheeses
Our travels this past year through the Italian wine regions have introduced us to many wonderful Italian families who have taken us into their homes, shared their wines, and shared their families. While we are not able to share this holiday season with them, families from three regions -- Veneto, Piemonte, and Abruzzo -- give us a window into their family traditions through their messages below. Enjoy a glass of their wine while you are reading. It’s the next best thing to being there!
Our gratitude and holiday cheers go to all of our customers who have followed our journey, and to our new friends and families in Italy. We have created memories together that will last a lifetime! May you all have a safe and peaceful holiday season!
-The Chigazola Family
By Eleonora Corsi
“Christmas at Le Marognole Winery, with the Corsi’s family, starts with preparation from the 24th December: this is the day that we dedicate to prepare everything for the Holy Day. The whole family is reunited and everybody has his own task for the success of the lunch.
Everything is hand-made: somebody prepares the starters, some other the pie with ragout. Someone cares for the broth (made with capon and with beef meat).
Then the broth is served with tortellini, and the capon is stuffed with a mix of breadcrumbs, garlic, parsley, capon livers, eggs, Parmesan, pepper and salt. The capon then is parched.
The beef-meat is served warm, accompanied by a “pearà sauce” (special sauce of Verona made of bread crumbs, broth, many pepper and cooked for long time) and with horseradish sauce, along with seasonal fresh and cooked vegetables. The typical desserts from Verona served by Christmas lunch are “nadalin” and “Pandoro”.
The whole lunch will be accompanied by Le Marognole wines, of course, starting with Classico for starters and first courses, and passing to Ripasso, “el Nane”, and Amarone for the second courses. Nadalin and Pandoro are enjoyed by drinking Recioto. And at the evening it starts again for dinner with Risotto all’Amarone and the meat that has been leftover at lunch!
Buon Natale e Buon Appetito”...Eleonora & Fabio Corsi
By Luisella Pola (translated from Italian)
“On Christmas Eve we are with our families to unwrap the presents and exchange greetings. The following day, December 25th, we find ourselves again with the family to have lunch together. The Christmas typical Piedmontese menu is Agnolotti [a type of ravioli from the Piemonte], Brasato al Barbaresco [pot roast cooked in Barbaresco wine], bunet [typical sweet, chocolate pudding with hazelnuts] and seasonal fruit. [Each course] is matched [Fontanabianca] red wines Barbera D’Alba, Nebbiolo and Barbaresco “Bordini”, of course. It's a day of rest and family togetherness. After lunch it is our habit to play bingo or cards.
Luisella” (Left to right, Luisella & Aldo Pola, Stefania Ferro, Bruno Ferro)
By Corrado De Angelis Corvi (translated from Italian)
“We gladly [share] our Christmas traditions that are about to come; and on this occasion, I express to you and your family best wishes also from mine. The anniversary is being felt on the eve of Christmas, the evening of the 24th, we meet at home with our closest relatives, we make “una cena di magro strettissima” [a"light" dinner], (i.e. without meat), spaghetti with tuna and olives, salt cod all'ascolana (with raisins and pine nuts), boiled or fried fish, with some small sweets, [paired with] wine, strictly Trebbiano d'Abruzzo. Then after a short prayer before the “presepio” [Nativity scene], with the kids each holding a candle, we all go to Midnight Mass at the Cathedral of Ascoli. The next day, December 25th, as soon as we awake, we exchange large and small gifts around the tree. Then we go to our own country house, for lunch, always with the family. [Food] abounds a bit too much, such as Cappelletti in brood [meat filled pasta in broth], “timballo di all'ascolana’ [pasta], “olive fritte allascolana” [fried olives of Ascoli], other types of fried, “arrosto di tacchino” [roasted turkey], desserts of all kinds, and [paired with] the wines Cerasuolo and Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, all in great serenity. The afternoon pastime for all is bingo that we play at home with the same folders and numbers that was used by our ancestors in [the year] 800. To you and your family the most sincere wishes for the upcoming holidays.
Whether you are in charge of bringing the wine or providing the food, liven up the experience this year and bring some Italians to the table! The Old World wines of Italy have never been more popular, and it is for good reason. The 20 wines regions of Italy offer an enormously diverse range of varietals, that due to the different terroirs, offer unique blends of tannins, acids, and sugar levels that pair perfectly with food. The Old World Italian wines are crafted to accompany food. There is an Italian wine for every dish!
I have been very fortunate to have met 10 marvelous winemaking families from 6 very different wine regions of Italy. It is with great pride that I am able to offer their wines to you for your enjoyment with your holiday festivities. On behalf of their families and mine, Buon Natale and Buon Anno!
If you are serving... We recommend pairing with...
Aperitifs and Appetizers (Aperitivi, Antipasti)
First Course (Primo)
Second Course (Secondo)
Fruit & Cheese (Formaggi e Frutta)
We are very excited to welcome 3 new producers, (Sobrero, Fontanabianca, and De Angelis Corvi), to our family along with their exceptional wines. Our first shipment focused on classic wines from the Veneto region. These new arrivals represent classic native Italian varietals from the Piemonte (Barolo, Barbaresco) and Abruzzo (Montepulciano) regions, including our first whites (Arneis, Trebbiano) and a rosé (Cerasuolo). I suspect many of our followers will be unfamiliar with these wines, which is fine. Understanding wine is about continual learning; so don’t feel unworldly. It would be easy to write a page of descriptions on each wine, but I will attempt to summarize the characteristics of each and provide just enough of a description to peak your interest in trying these wines. Andiamo! (Let’s go!)
2006 Barolo Riserva Pernanno
Region: Piemonte Zone: DOCG Barolo
Varietal: Nebbiolo Style: Dry Red, Full Body
2006 was an exceptional vintage for this commune. This is a powerful, concentrated Barolo with bold fruit and exceptional balance. Appreciate it now, or cellar it 15-20 years. A great addition to a collector’s cellar. WS 92 Points
Give this wine a try if you like: a big California Cab.
2007 was a warmer growing season and produced a more easy-going and approachable Barolo with good fruit on the palate and a velvety finish. Very approachable now, but best in 5-10 years.
Give this wine a try if you like: California Cabs.
2012 Dolcetto d’Alba
Region: Piemonte Zone: DOC Alba
Varietal: Dolcetto Style: Dry Red, Medium-body
“The Little Sweet One”, a brightly colored red that is meant to be enjoyed right away and not aged. This is a “daily” wine with nice fruit and soft tannins. Drink it now.
Give this wine a try if you like: California Merlot
2012 Moscato d’Asti
Region: Piemonte Zone: DOCG Asti
Varietal: Moscato Style: Slightly sweet white
An effervescent white with a straw yellow color, floral nose with fresh fruits, apple and pear on the palate, and a slightly sweet finish. Drink as an aperitif or with dessert.
Give this wine a try if you like: Sweet Riesling.
2009 Barbaresco “Bordini”
Region: Piemonte Zone: DOCG Barbaresco
Varietal: Nebbiolo Style: Dry Red, Full-Bodied
A full-bodied, complex red from the Bordini cru brings intense floral perfume to the nose, red currents and plum to the palate, and a long elegant, spicy finish. Appreciate it now, or cellar for 15-20 years. WS 93 Points.
Give this wine a try if you like: Full-bodied Pinot Noir.
2010 Barbera d’Alba
Region: Piemonte Zone: DOC Barbaresc
Varietal: Barbera Style: Dry Red, Full-bodied
A full-bodied red that is complex, with fruity aromas, and delivers luscious plum, red currant and black cherry on the palate, and soft tannins on the finish. Enjoy it now.
Give this wine a try if you like: California Merlot.
2012 Langhe Arneis
Region: Piemonte Zone: DOC Barbaresco
Varietal: Arneis Style: Dry white, medium-bodied
A medium-bodied white that delivers a floral bouquet of fresh fruit on the nose, and a crisp, clean finish with hints of lemon. Enjoy this now.
Give this wine a try if you like: un-oaked Chardonnays.
2008 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo “Elevito”
Region: Abuzzo Zone: DOCG Colline Teramane
Varietal: Montepulciano Style: Dry Red, full-bodied
A big red with intensely dark ruby red color, complex aromas of ripe berries and spices, and a velvety soft landing on the palate with rich, ripe fruit flavors. Excellent now, but you can cellar this one 10-15 years.
Give this wine a try if you like: a big, California Merlot.
2012 Trebbiano d’Abruzzo
Region: Abruzzo Zone: DOC Superiore
Varietals: Trebbiano, Malvasia, Paserina
Style: Dry white
A medium-bodied white with straw yellow and golden hues that delivers floral and ripe apple notes to the nose. Balanced acidity allows for a soft, fruity landing on the palate with a clean finish. Enjoy now.
Give this wine a try if you like: un-oaked Chardonnay
2012 Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo
Region: Abruzzo Zone: DOC Superiore
Varietal: Montepulciano Style:Dry Rosé
A light-bodied rose with intense red cherry color that delivers delicate and elegant hints of berries on the nose, and rich fruit flavors on the palate. Enjoy now.
Give this wine a try if you like: a California Syrah Rosé.
We made our first trip to the Langhe in 2011 and while it has only been six months since our most recent visit, I felt a warm welcome back by friends made over the past two years. We return again, this time to welcome Sobrero Francesco in the Barolo, and Fontanabianca in the Barbaresco as new members of our family of producers, and to sample new vintages. Barolo and Barbaresco are two zones separated by only 10 kilometers, but when comparing wine characteristics, they may as well be on the other side of the country from each other. Look for more on that later.
It’s early October, and it’s vendemmia, (harvest)! The whites (Arneis) are already in and well into maceration. The Dolcetto (little sweet one) and Barbera harvests have begun, but the “King”, Nebbiolo, continues to hang and will likely continue for one to two weeks longer. The winemakers assure me that this is normal for Nebbiolo, and one must be patient. This October is dropping some light rain on the vineyards, and as long as it doesn’t persist, no one seems concerned about muffa (mildew).
Barolo is referred to as both the King of Wines and the Wine of Kings. There are eleven communes that comprise the DOCG, but only five are included in the original communes from 1980 when the region was promoted to DOCG status—Barolo and La Morra in the Central Valley, and Monforte d’Alba, Castiglione Falletto, and Serralunga d’Alba in the Serralunga Valley. These are two adjacent vinicultural zones with significantly different soil types and microclimates that produce wines of significantly different characteristics. The Helvetian soils in the Serralunga Valley with its relatively high composition of limestone produces wines that are concentrated, powerful, rich and full-bodied. In contrast, the Tortonian soils in the Central Valley are a mix of clay and sand and produce wines that are aromatic, lighter bodied, and considered more approachable when young. The wine characteristics between these five subzones, or communes can even be differentiated further, and if you want to dive deeper on your own, search Ratti’s 1979 sub region classification. I recommend you research while enjoying your favorite glass of Nebbiolo. Blending fruit from the five communes was common until the 1960’s when winemakers shifted to production of single vineyard crus. Today you will find reference to forty different crus in Barolo, each known for its unique characteristics.
We met the family at Sobrero Francesco of Castiglione Falletto in March of 2013 and were immediately taken by their 2006 and 2007 Barolo Riserva from their “Pernanno” vineyard with their bold, generous fruit, velvety texture, and lasting complex finishes. The winery was started in the 60’s by Francesco Sobrero and is now operated by his grandchildren Flavio (winemaker), Francesca and Federica. Flavio does an excellent job of blending traditional Barolo methods with modern technologies. And, you are not going to experience better views than at their agriturismo Casa Sobrero.
The hilltop village of Castiglione Falletto is as welcoming as it is historic. We enjoyed exceptional regional cuisine by Angelo and Maria Cristina at Le Torri Ristorante and Andrea Valentina’s cucina at Locanda Del Centro. We always enjoy a cafè or glass of wine and talking to the locals at the Bar La Terrazza “da Renza” and enjoying the view.
Drive minutes north from the Barolo on A33 and you are in the Barbaresco. If Barolo is The King, then Barbaresco is the Queen. While both wines are 100% Nebbiolo, their similarities stop there. This is where Nebbiolo demonstrates its ability to produce wildly different characteristics based on soils and microclimates. The Barbaresco is subject to slightly higher temperatures than its neighbor. And indeed, the Nebbiolo in Barbaresco matures earlier, is harvested earlier, and delivers wines that are more aromatic, perfumed and delicate.
We first met Luisella Pola at Fontanabianca in Neive during our visit in March 2013 and were quickly won over by their flagship Barbaresco “Bordini”. We returned again this trip to spend time with the two families who share a long history together producing fine Barbaresco wines. Aldo Pola and Bruno Ferro, along with their wives, Luisella and Mariangela and daughter Stefania, carry on the traditions of their fathers Franco Pola and Ottavio Ferro who began making wine in 1969. Their Bordini cru in the heart of the DOCG, faces southwest, and directly faces the historic hill town of Neive. It has consistently produced rich, elegant and beautifully complex Barbaresco. The village of Neive is both inviting and enchanting. Aldo and Bruno hosted us for an afternoon of dining at La Luna nel Pozzo where we were treated with pairings of fresh, local dishes and Fontanabianca Arneis, Barbera, and Barbaresco wines. Magnifico!
Our favorites from Sobrero Francesco and Fontanabianca are on their way to Northern California. Look for them on our website by mid October.