Sunday, 8 December 2013

2013 IWR Awards - Italian Regional Awards

Italian Regional Awards
The wines of Italy have always been the main focus of The Independent Wine Review and since early 2011 (when The Independent Wine Review was first established) Italian wines have made up the majority of the reviews posted upon the website.

Rather than focussing on just the “big three” wine producing regions (Piedmont, Veneto and Tuscany) as so many international publications opt to, The Independent Wine Review has always aimed to provide a guide to many of Italy’s lesser known regions and wines too.

This year The Independent Wine Review has provided coverage to 16 out of the 21 major Italian geographic regions (with Calabria, Molise, Sardinia, Lazio and Liguria the regions to miss out) with wines from 100 separate IGT/DOC/DOCG classifications reviewed overall.

126 Italian wines achieved a score of in excess of 90 points this year with 14 regional awards decided. Each region is listed alphabetically below, along with a brief commentary and the award winners.

IWR Regional Award for Abruzzo
Winner: 2006 Masciarelli “Villa Gemma” Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC

For many years the image of wines from Abruzzo in the UK has suffered from the fact the only time most people would see wines from Abruzzo was when they saw vast quantities of mass-produced Montepulciano on the shelves, or in the special offer areas of their local supermarket. However, those prepared to undertake the arduous search required to find top quality wine from Abruzzo could still find a few bottles available from the some of the region’s most quality orientated producers.

This outlook has not changed in the last 12 months, although this year again provided reassurance that some of Abruzzo’s most outstanding wine does make it to the UK.

Whilst 75% of the wines that scored over 85 points in Abruzzo this year were red (and based upon the Montepulciano grape), high scores for the Bove winery’s “Safari” Pecorino (here) and the Masciarelli winery’s superb “Marina Cvetic” Trebbiano (here) prove that Abruzzo can produce high quality white wine too.

In fact, the Masciarelli winery (named after the late Gianni Masciarelli and now run by his widow Marina Cvetic) was the real stand out producer in Abruzzo (again) this year, with three of the four top scores awarded to wines from this winery. The “Villa Gemma” Montepulciano d’Abruzzo topped the pile with a score of 95 points (here), with the aforementioned “Marina Cvetic” Trebbiano and the “Marina Cvetic” Montepulciano (here) extremely impressive too.

An honourable mention goes to the other standout Montepulciano tasted this year in the form of Fratelli Barba’s “Vignefranca” Montepulciano (here).

In the end though, there was to be no denying Masciarelli’s 2006 “Villa Gemma” Montepulciano.


IWR Regional Award for Alto Adige
Winner: 2011 Cantina Tramin “Nussbaumer” Gewurztraminer, Alto Adige DOC

The Alto Adige is an Italian region with which few UK-based wine aficionados will be familiar, as much of its small volume of wine production remains inside Italy (and indeed mainland Europe each year).

Located right up in Italy’s North East corner, up against the Swiss and Austrian borders, this mountainous region’s cool climate is primarily used to good effect to produce aromatic white wines and interesting reds from indigenous grape varieties (such as Lagrein).

Ruled for many years by co-operative wineries, these still have a big impact on wine production in the region with nearly all the top wineries (such as Cantina Tramin, Erste & Neue and Terlano) either co-operative wineries now, or having been based upon the foundations of a co-operative winery of the past.

Two wines were awarded 90+ scores this year in Alto Adige, one from Cantina Tramin and the other from Alois Lageder. Alois Lageder’s biodynamic, single vineyard “Porer” Pinot Grigio blew apart the stereotype that this grape variety can only produce bland and uninspiring wines (here), although was just pipped to the top award by Cantina Tramin’s supremely expressive “Nussbaumer” Gewurztraminer (here).

Whilst the French have done a much better job than the Italians at making Gewurztraminer their own, most experts will now agree that it originated (as the “Traminer” grape) in the Alto Adige – this award seems somewhat fitting as a result.


IWR Regional Award for Basilicata
Winner: 2009 Cantine del Notaio “La Firma” Aglianico del Vulture DOC

Basilicata (like the Alto Adige) is an Italian wine producing region that is relatively unknown in the UK. Except here, perhaps the reason for this is different: until recently (since maybe 2005/6) the wines of Basilicata simply were not deemed good enough to import into the UK. Investment and modern winemaking techniques came later to all of southern Italy than more recognised regions in the north, but in Basilicata they took a while to catch on.  

Today though the future looks brighter. Overall the quality of wine produced in Basilicata seems to have improved and there are a greater number of UK importers listing wines from Basilicata as part of their portfolio. Whilst the vast majority of wines imported to the UK are red and made from the Aglianico grape (either under the “flagship” Aglianico del Vulture DOC or the more generic Basilicata IGT classifications), some more innovative wines such as Cantine del Notatio’s “Il Preliminaire” white blend (here) and Bisceglia’s “Armille” Shiraz (here) are also making the trip across to the UK.

Unsurprisingly perhaps (for those that know the wines of this region) the awards shortlist for this region was led by wines made under the Aglianico del Vutlure DOC classification. Produced from 100% Aglianico grapes vultivated on the slopes of the volcano Mount Vulture the best of these reds offer power, depth of flavour and age-worthiness.

The best example found was Cantine del Notatio’s “La Firma” (here) which was a modern style of Aglianico that had seen 12 months in new French oak. Dark cherries, plums and earth gave way to impressive complexity.


IWR Regional Award for Campania
Winner: 2005 Montevetrano, Collio di Salerno IGT

There is considerable excitement surrounding Campania in the UK wine trade at the moment and the region backed this up with 8 top scores this year. Certain comparisons can be drawn with Basilicata, in that fifteen years ago Campania too was slowly adapting to increased investment and modern winemaking techniques before, however now it seems that Campania is really showing the rest of Southern Italy the way when it comes to high quality wine production.

Perhaps the most exciting things about Campanian wine at the moment are the wide number of different grape varieties being used to produce top-drawer wines and also the fact that (unlike some Italian regions) Campanian winemakers have largely stuck to their roots in the form of their indigenous grape varieties, rather than ripping up their ancient vineyards to replace them with Bordeaux varieties.

In terms of white wines it is certainly the Fiano di Avellino and Greco di Tufo DOCG classifications that are leading the way. Feudi di San Gregorio’s “Cutizzi” was the best Greco found this year (here), with Tenuta Sarno’s “1860” Fiano di Avellino also extremely impressive (here).

However, it was a red wine that was crowned “Best in Campania” this year and that wine was Montevetrano’s eponymously named flagship wine from the 2005 vintage (here). Actually just 30% Aglianico (and 70% Cabernet Sauvignon) this wine, along with Feudi di San Gregorio’s 2001 “Serpico” (here) illustrates that not can Campania produce superb red wines, but also proves their propensity for aging too.

The Taurasi DOCG (that has for many years been considered Campania’s “best” red wine classification) was represented in the 90+ club by Mastroberardino’s “Radici” Taurasi (here) and Feudi di San Gregorio’s “Piano Montevergine” Taurasi Riserva (here).


IWR Regional Award for Friuli Venezie Giulia
Winner: 2007 Russiz Superiore Pinot Bianco Riserva, Collio DOC

The white wines of Friuli Venezie Giulia have long been highly regarded within Italy, yet in the UK these excellent wines are rarely widely distributed thanks to their relatively high price, often low production quantities and reliance upon grape varieties that sometimes have little profile in the UK.

Located right up in Italy’s North Eastern corner (against the Slovenian border) it is grape varieties such as Friulano (formally known as Tocai Friulano), Malvasia and Traminer Aromatico (Gewurztraminer) which cause confusion, although excellent Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay and highly expressive Sauvignon Blanc is also being produced in Friuli Venezie Giulia at the moment.

Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Pinot Nero are all important red grape varieties in the region.

That said five 90+ scores were awarded to wines that originated in Friuli Venezie Giulia this year and all were awarded to white wines. Wines formed from blends of grape varieties, such as Jermann’s “Vintage Tunina” here and Vie di Romans’ “Flors di Uis” (here) joined three wines that were made from single grape varietals.

Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Blanc were all represented with Attems’ Sauvignon Blanc showing rare complexity and character (here); Jermann’s “W... Dreams...” Chardonnay impressing with its length and intensity (here); and Roberto Felluga’s “Russiz Superiore” Pinot Bianco demonstrating the complexity and harmony that can be achieved with a high quality product and a little bottle age (here).

Ultimately the 2007 bottling of Roberto Felluga’s “Russiz Superiore” Pinot Bianco Riserva could be denied.


IWR Regional Award for Lombardy
Winner: (NV) Cantina Villa Rosé Demi Sec Franciacorta DOCG

17 top scores makes Lombardy the 4th most successful Italian region this year and this exciting result really emphasises the abundance of high quality wine that is being produced in Lombardy at the moment and the fact that more and more of it is becoming available in the UK.

Franciacorta (Lombardy’s flagship sparkling wine region) particularly stands out, with 11 top scores awarded to wines from here and a conscious push by the Franciacorta Conzorzio to raise awareness in the UK. Some of the highest scoring producers included Montenisa, Lo Sparviere, Ca del Bosco, Il Mosnel and Cantina Villa. You can see the full Franciacorta group tasting report here.

Outside of Franciacorta the white wine region of Lugana also impressed this year. Whilst only two 90+ scores were awarded (one to Provenza’s “Ca Maiol PRESTIGE” Lugana and one to Olivini’s “Demesse Vecchie” Lugana) the average score of the wide range of Lugana reviewed this year was extremely impressive. Again you can see the full Lugana group tasting report here.

Whilst much UK consumer interest will be directed towards the fine sparkling and white wines made in Lombardy, four red wines also achieved top score this year. Headed by a Bordeaux blend produced by the small producer Avanzi (here) the other three awarded reds focused on indigenous grapes such as Gropello and Marmezino. The Garda DOC classification particularly stood out.


IWR Regional Award for Marche
Winner: 2008 Belisario “Cambrugiano” Verdicchio di Matelica Riserva DOC

Wine-making in the Central Italian region of Marche really is focussed on the Verdicchio grape these days. Offering freshness and great value on the one hand (try Monte Shiavo’s “Coste del Molino” – here), on the other hand it is also a grape variety that can offer impressive complexity and propensity for bottle maturation (as is evidenced by wines such as Villa Bucci’s Verdicchio dei Castelli dei Jesi Classico Riserva – here).

Three Verdicchio in all attained top scores this year, although this total number of top scores owes as much to the very limited quantity of top quality Vedicchio that makes it to the UK as it does the impressive quality of these wines.

Monte Schiavo’s “Le Guincare” Verdicchio dei Castelli dei Jesi Riserva (here) is an elegant classic that has been known to The Independent Wine Review for many years, whilst Villa Bucci’s Verdicchio dei Castelli dei Jesi Classico Riserva offed a slightly richer and more oak influenced tone.

Overall award winner, Belisario’s “Cambrugiano” Verdicchio di Matelica Riserva (here) was new to The Independent Wine Review this year, but paired an impressive level of developmental complexity with a majestic sense of balance to claim the top prize.

Aside from the many Verdicchio tasted, production of red wine (which is primarily produced using the Montepulciano grape variety in Marche) seems to be declining. However, a few good bottles from the Rosso Piceno and Rosso Conero designations were tasted.


IWR Regional Award for Piedmont
Winner: 2008 Gaja “Dagromis” Barolo DOCG



Score
Wine
Vintage
96
2008
95
2006
94
2008
94
2008
93
2004
93
2011
93
2006
92
2008
92
2008
92
2010
91
2007
91
2009
91
2010
91
2009
91
2011
91
2009
91
2008
91
2009
Piedmont is one of Italy’s most highly regarded wine producing regions and 18 top scores this year illustrates both the abundance of high quality wine that is made here (and imported to the UK) and the variety of that wine (with the 18 scores awarded across five different grape varieties and seven different designations). Flagship sub-zones such as Barolo and Barbaresco were joined by some much more original offerings on the list of top scores.

2008 in Barolo can probably be described as a good (but not an extraordinarily good) vintage and whilst some producers have now begun to show their 2009 wines, it is primarily wines from 2008 that remain on the market at the moment. A wet start to the summer caused issues in some cases and on the whole, wines that were traditionally vinified were classically structured and should reward cellaring. Plusher and “more modern” styles of Barolo (that perhaps saw less skin contact time and/or maturation in new barriques rather than larger, older casks) from 2008 are the more accessible at the moment. Top scoring wines included Gaja’s “Dagromis” (here), Aldo Contero’s “Cicala” (here) and Massolino’s “Margheria” (here). A full directory of all the Barolo reviewed in 2013 can be found here.

Away from Barolo, Marchesi di Gresy’s 2004 “Gaiun” Barbaresco showed that Barbaresco too can produce Nebbiolo of enviably high quality (here), whilst their simply labelled “Monferrato Rosso” (actually 100% Merlot) was a surprising addition to the table of top scores (here). La Spinetta reinforced their reputation as a producer of superb Moscato di Asti (here) and Guasti Clemente (here) and Carlin de Paolo (here) were two producers to impress with high class wines based on Barbera.

An honourable mention must go to Poderi Colla’s “Campo Romano” Pinot Nero that secured a second consecutive 90+ score this year (here) and continues to enrich the mix of grape varieties from which fine Piedmontese wine can be produced.


IWR Regional Award for Puglia
Winner: 2001 Rivera “Il Falcone” Castel del Monte Riserva DOC

Of all the Southern Italian regions, Puglia (the region that coveres the “heel” of Italy’s “boot”) has got it right over the past few years. A sizeable production of accessible, fruit-led and reasonably priced wines has appealed to the mass market and led to wider UK distribution than was previously the case. Things aren’t going so badly towards the “fine wine” end of the market either... a fact to which 7 top scores this year attests.

Negroamaro, Primitivo and Nero di Troia are the “holy trinity” of Puglian winemaking, although dessert wines produced from Aleactico grape (such as this Aleatico Passito – here) and white wines from grape varieties such as Fiano are also beginning to enjoy wider UK distribution.

Amongst the Puglian high scorer, wines from the producers Rivera and Masseria Li Veli really stood head and shoulders above the crowd, despite Terre di Sava’s “Pazzia” Primitivo di Manduria (here) also showing extremely well.

The award winning 2001 “Il Falcone” from Rivera is a stunning blend of Nero di Troia and Montepulciano that is now fully developed, mature and drinking at its best. Not only is this one of Puglia’s best wines, but it bears comparison (along with the other award winners listed here) as one of Italy’s best.


IWR Regional Award for Sicily
Winner: 1998 Tasca d’Almerita “Rosso del Conte” Contea di Sclafani DOC

Sicily is regularly named as the Italian wine region with the most exciting future when it comes to quality wine production and even if a year where “only” 6 top scores were achieved, signs of that prodigious and broad potential were clear, with each the top scoring Sicilian wines based upon a different grape variety.

The award winner was Tasca d’Almerita’s now iconic “Rosso del Conte” Nero d’Avola from the 1998 vintage (full review here), with the other top scoring reds accounted for by Donnafugata’s “Tancredi” (here) and Duca di Castelmonte’s “Dinari del Duca” Syrah (here).

Sicilian sweet wines featured strongly this year, with Donnafugata’s “Ben Rye” Passito di Pantellaria seriously impressing (here) and Tasca d’Almerita’s “Capofaro” Malvasia also scoring well (here).

Planeta’s superb “Cometa” Fiano was the best of the Sicilian whites (here).

Outside of the very highest scores, newcomer Pietradolce provided a compelling range of wines that included a highly impressive rosé produced from Nerello Mascalese grapes (here).



IWR Regional Award for Tuscany
Winner: 2000 Tenuta San Guido “Sassicaia” Bolgheri Sassicaia DOC


Score
Wine
Vintage
96
2000
95
2007
95
2008
95
2004
95
2007
94
2008
94
2006
94
2010
94
2010
94
2010
93
2003
93
2009
93
2008
93
2006
93
2007
93
2008
92
2008
92
2007
92
2009
92
2009
92
2006
92
2010
92
2010
91
2008
91
2010
91
2010
91
2011
91
2008
91
2009
91
2008

That Tuscany attained more top scores (30) than any other region this year (it’s closest rival was Veneto with 21) is a product of three factors: 1) the fact that there is no shortage of top quality top wine produced in Tuscany; 2) that much of Tuscany’s best wine is imported to the UK and 3) that The Independent Wine Review was able to gain access to much it (even older vintages that are no longer commercially available).

Leading the way when it came to scoring were some of Tuscany’s biggest names, with Tenuta San Guido, Castellare di Castellina, Marchesi di Frescobaldi, Tenuta dell’ Ornellaia and Barone Ricasoli all featuring with wines that attained score of 94 points or above. Yet reassuringly there were also a significant number of top scores achieved by wineries that were new to the pages of The Independent Wine Review (look up Pietro Beconcini and Cantina Petra for just two examples).

The top scoring Chianti was Barone Ricasoli’s “Colledila” (here) whilst the most highly thought of Brunello was Gaja’s Pieve Santa Resituta (here). Tenuta dell’Ornellaia scored 95 points with the 2007 iteration of their eponymously named “flagship” wine (here) yet after a year of tasting the most complete Tuscan wine was found to be Tenuta San Guido’s 2000 “Sassicaia” (here). “An extraordinary and now mature bottle” the 2000 “Sassicaia” from Tenuta San Guido “should be on every wine enthusiast's bucket list” the original review enthuses.


IWR Regional Award for Umbria
Winner: 2008 Colpetrone Montefalco Sagrantino Passito DOCG

In terms of viticulture Umbria is largely represented by red wines made under the Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG and white wines made under the Orvieto DOC on the international stage these days.

Previously regarded as bulk production grape varieties, in the last decade producers have found a new level of quality when working with Grechetto and Trebbiano (the grapes that form the basis for most Orvieto) that can result in truly impressive white wines being made.

Sagrantino di Montefalco owes much to the work of Marco Caprai (at the Arnaldo Caprai) winery who has been tireless in creating more modern and less extracted examples of Sagrantino and in promoting them around the world.

The top contenders for Umbria’s top award though were neither from the Sagrantino di Montefalco or the Orvieto classifications. The Colpetrone winery’s Sagrantino Passito is a sweet red wine that captured the history of Umbrian wine making perfectly (here), whilst Castello della Sala’s “Cervaro della Sala” blend of Chardonnay and Grechetto combines past and present just as successfully as the Antinori family have in their Tuscan projects (here).

In the end Colpetrone’s Sagrantino Passito couldn’t be denied though.


IWR Regional Award for Valle d’Aosta
Winner: 2011 Enfer “Soleil Couchant” Pinot Gris, Valle d’Aosta DOC

Virtually no wine from the Valle d’Aosta (a tiny wine producing region located in Italy’s far North West) is imported into the UK but thanks to a few small and dedicated importers you are able to find a few bottles of wine from the Valle d’Aosta in the UK if you really search for them.

Vineyard holdings are tiny in the Alto Adige (any producer with more than 10 hectares of vines can be considered large) and vineyards genuinely are carved into the sides of mountains, where the cool alpine air yields unique fragrances and sensations in the finished wines.

The Enfer co-operative (the producer of the award winning “Soliel Couchant” Pinot Gris) is one of the larger producers in the region with an annual production of around 50,000 bottles per year – a total production quantity that is less than the production of many Italian “icon” wines.

Wonderfully expressive in the glass, this Enfer “Soleil Couchant” Pinot Gris is a “wine that fills you with joy of summer when tasting it” and that is fully deserving of its top award.

See the original tasting notes here.


IWR Regional Award for Veneto
Winner: 2001 Romano dal Forno Valpolicella Superiore DOC


Score
Wine
Vintage
94
2001
94
2007
93
2003
93
2003
93
2006
93
2010
93
2010
92
2010
92
2007
92
2010
92
2007
92
2008
92
2010
92
2003
92
2010
91
2011
91
2010
91
2008
91
2009
91
2003
91
2009

Veneto’s 21 top scores this year are spread across 8 wine producing regions and 15 producers in a result that really shows how much high quality wine is arriving in the UK from this part of Italy and indeed the variety within the top part of the quality spectrum.

10 wines from within the Valplicella zone of production top scored this year, with offerings from Quintarelli (here) and Dal Forno (here) securing the plaudits under the “basic” Valpolicella DOC designation and Tenuta Sant’Antonio (here) and Masi (here) adjudged to have produced the finest Amarone della Valpolicella. Despite fears of a recent boom in production, six top scores overall highlights the fact that the Amarone della Valpolicella designation is not in entirely poor health. A 2003 version of Tedeschi’s “Monte Fontana” Recioto della Valpolicella topped the range of Venetian sweet wines tasted (here).

A focus on Prosecco at the Independent Wine Review this year found three fine examples from Nino Franco (here), Silvano Follador (here) and Bisol (here), whilst four Soave also top scored four times with Suavia’s superb “Monte Carbonare” Soave Classico (here) leading the way.

Away from the better known Venetian designations, an honourable mention must go to Marcato’s “Pian Alto” blend that was bottled under the Colli Berici DOC (here).