At the end of October, I was looking forward to the return of the Simply Italian Great Wines’ U.S. Tour 2013 the way my grandsons were looking forward to the return of Halloween. Held at the sleek Mr. C Hotel in Beverly Hills – notably, an endeavor from Ignazio and Maggio Cipriani, the fourth generation of the famed restaurateur family – the event attracted a decent mix of trade and consumers on this particular stop.
Simply Italian Great Wines is on its 11th year, making it a long-running trade tasting. Hosted by IEM of Verona and IEEM of Miami, the goal is to connect wine industry professionals with a wide range of Italian wines via guided tastings and seminars. More than 100 wines from all over Italy were showcased, as were many noted Italian winemakers.
I was fortunate enough to attend two seminars. The first focused on the character of Veneto wines. We had seven glasses in front of us, bearing four whites and three reds. We waited eagerly for the three experts at the front of the room to begin speaking. Unfortunately, there was some trouble balancing out the translator’s need to face the Italian speakers and the need to face the microphone. The audience was the loser in that battle. But we all eventually followed along some critical points and carefully tasted as coached. Also regrettably, my tasting notes were accidentally cleared away by a zealous cleaner between sessions, so my notes here are from memory.
My favorite of the Veneto whiles was the organic Selezione Raphael Dal Bo Organic Prosecco Extra Dry DOC, by Ralphael Dal Bo. The wine had a fresh appeal, reinforced by its 11% alcohol content. Its nose was delicate, flowery and refreshing. Rather than having fruit on the start, it possessed a pleasing fruity finish — a surprisingly long finish at that. All in all, this is a light wine perfect for celebrations.
My second favorite of the Veneto panel was the Il Cattivo Amarone Della Valopicell AOC 2009–Azienda Agricola Le Albare. This is a small producer, doing maybe 8,000 bottles annually. The grapes come from Molinara and Rondinella Corvina, and are dried for 90 days after harvest. Fermentation starts in temperature-controlled steel tanks for a month, then the wine moves to traditional oak barrels for another three years. The end result is a deep garnet wine that envelops the palate with a velvety softness. Filled with red fruits, this is the perfect wine to pair with roast meats, pasta and aged cheese.
My second panel was conducted by Paul Wagner, President of Bacchus Communications, a prominent wine PR firm in California. (Full disclosure – Paul was one of the first to encourage me to start the LAWineFest and has been a supporter over the years.) Paul led us through six wines, masterfully walking us through an interesting selection of Chianti Classicos.
I liked the first wine, a Poggio Al Sole Chianti Classico DOCG 2010– Poggio Al Sole This vintner has vineyards located in the Florence area and produces 40,000 bottles every year. The wine is a blend of 90% Sangiovese, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Canaiolo. They macerate the grapes for roughly two weeks (12-15 days to be exact), and then the wine is aged in used barrels for 12 months. In the glass, the wine is a true ruby red, with an herbaceous nose. The wine, which has 14% alcohol and retails for a fair $24, shows appropriate cherry on the palate and a light yet discernible finish that bodes well for a wide range of food pairings.
Next, Paul presented the San Felice Chianti Classico DOCG 2009, San Felice. Let me start by saying that l liked this wine so much I have already tracked down one of its importers so I can buy some for friends and colleagues. (It currently retails at $18.) The winery produces approximately 300,000 bottles of wine annually, from a blend of 80% Sangiovese, 10% Colorino and 10% Pugnitello. The grapes are fermented for about 10 days in the skins, followed by the malolactic fermentation in steel. The wine shifts to Slovenian oak barrels for its maturation process, which lasts for 10 to 12 months, and then spends its final maturity time in bottles for a couple more months. The garnet-colored wine presents lovely notes of cherry, raspberry, and sweet violets while still being pleasantly dry on the palate. It features subtle tannins along with a fresh, crisp acidity. With a smooth 13% alcohol, I think the San Felice will be really good with full-flavored first courses.
My last notable bottle to feature is the Guarnellloto Chianti Classico Riserve DOCG 2009, from Castello San Sano. Imported by Mike Miller – another longtime friend of the Fest — this wine is from the Siena area of Tuscany. This Classico is a blend of Sangiovese and Canaiolo grapes, and spends approximately 15 months in traditional Chianti barrels before spending six months in steel tanks, and then another year in the bottle. This long road results in a smooth, balanced and vivid wine that at 13.5% alcohol is perfect for roasts, wild game, and other characteristic Tuscan main courses. At approximately $25, this would make a very nice buy for the many holiday meals coming up fast.
Keep an eye out for these Italian winners next time you’re browsing your favorite wine store!