I've often said that if forced to choose a single country, I'd drink the wines of Italy for the rest of my life, forsaking all others. It wouldn't be an easy choice, mind you, but in that proverbial gun-to-the-head scenario, I could certainly face my fate with a certain amount of equanimity, knowing I could range from Lombardy to Sicily for the rest of my life.
Yes, I love Italian wine, and I'm not afraid to admit it.
That's why, when I got the chance to show up a couple days before VinItaly this year to attend an event called OperaWine, I jumped at the chance.
OperaWine can best be described as a high-class pre-party the night before the world's largest wine tasting event. The concept is simple: choose the best 100 wineries in Italy, and have them each pour their best wine.
Simple in concept, difficult in execution. This is, after all, Italy.
Given that the event is put on and sponsored by the folks who bring you VinItaly, and who nominally are supposed to represent the entire Italian wine industry, choosing 100 wineries to pour at this event seems akin to walking naked through an alligator swamp.
So what do they do? They pass the buck, of course, and let someone else do the choosing. That someone else happens to be the folks at the Wine Spectator.
At a press conference the morning before the tasting, Thomas Matthews, Executive Editor for Wine Spectator explained how they make their choices for the event.
"We review twenty thousand wines a year, of which three thousand and growing are Italian," said Matthews. "Why would we partner with an entire country to put on a wine tasting event? We've never done this before. Americans love Italy. It's the first destination for American tourists. It's the #1 most imported wine in the United States. Italian wine and food are in fashion now. I live in Brooklyn and the whole restaurant scene has become Italian there. We're not just in the good old days of Chianti, every corner of the country is fascinating to Americans.
For us to do justice to our readers we needed to be more understanding and engaged. The idea behind OperaWine was to present a distilled version of Italy. A condensed version of this abundance. VinItaly couldn't do this -- how could they possibly pick the wines? So we did.
How do you turn 4000 wineries into just 100? You make 3900 enemies. There are many more wineries qualified to present today than we can show. 100 was just a round number.
How did we pick the wines? We used three criteria. The first, of course, was quality, judged by our blind tastings in New York. We selected wineries that showed well year after year. We were also concerned to represent the incredible diversity of Italy. We tried to pick wineries from every region we could. We reached into Liguria, Puglia, and Sicily because there are so many exciting things happening all over Italy. And finally because this is a nation with deep historical roots, we looked for people with tradition, with history over time -- those who were pioneers.
It was not an easy choice. Since last year, some wineries have left, and others have come in. We don't want this to be a marble statuary hall of fame. Italy is dynamic, and OperaWine will reflect that dynamic. We hope you will find many fine things to discover."
I was quite excited to work my way through this selection of wines. While my tastes don't always align with the critics at the Spectator, many of their choices were hard to argue against.
I could spend time ticking off the wineries clearly missing from the group (Miani, Gravner, Soldera, Giacomo Conterno, etc.) but the point of this post is to share my thoughts on what I tasted, not to re-write a hall of fame nomination.
The event itself was quite classy, held in the entrance hall of Verona's Palazzo della Gran Guardia. The amount of people invited, however, were probably 30% more than the space could have handled comfortably. The wines were organized by region (and maddeningly, the tasting booklet was not, which meant it was all but useless). Thankfully most of the wineries were represented by the owners and winemakers, which made for some good conversations. I wasn't wearing a tie, and felt under dressed. Several of my journalist colleagues were drafted to roam the event with a camera crew in tow. The OperaWine web site now features many of their interviews.
The wines? Well, the wines were fabulous on the whole. Some disappointed, but most justified their presence as representatives of the form at the very least.
Should you ever have occasion to attend the event, I highly recommend it.
WHITE WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 9 AND 9.5
1999 Avignonesi Vin Santo di Montepulciano DOC, Tuscany
Light coffee-brown in color and smelling of honey roasted nuts and sweet coffee, this wine presents itself as a voluminous cloud of flavor on the palate. Thick and silky, yet somehow levitating above the tongue, flavors of coffee, honey, brown sugar, molasses, and dried prunes all prickle with excellent acidity as they float for a long time in the mouth. Cost: $250. click to buy.
2010 Pieropan La Rocca, Veneto
Light greenish gold in color, this wine smells of melon and hone and citrus peel. In the mouth, elderflower and citrus peel aromas have a faint sweetness to them that is quite charming as is the nice stony minerality that underlies them. Good acidity. Cost: $30. click to buy.
2011 Livio Felluga Terre Alte - Rosazzo DOCG, Friuli
Near colorless in the glass, this wine has a bright floral aroma with apple and pear scents. In the mouth, flavors of Asian pear, jasmine, and wet stones have a crackling bright quality that is quite gulpable. Fantastic acidity brightens the mouthwatering wine. Cost: $75. click to buy.
2006 Bellavista Franciacorta Vittorio Moretti, Lombardy
Pale greenish gold in the glass with very fine bubbles, this wine has a wonderful aroma of toasted sourdough bread, sea air, and citrus zest. In the mouth flavors of apple, unripe pear, and a toasty brioche quality mix with a saline and lemon zest brightness that are quite compelling. Soft mousse and great acidity round out a very pretty mouthful. Cost: $150. click to buy.
2011 Cantina Terlano Quarz Alto Adige Terlano Sauvignon Blanc, Alto Adige $55. click to buy.
2009 Tenuta J. Hofstätter Barthenau Vigna S. Michele - Pinot Bianco, Alto Adige $42. click to buy.
2010 Terredora Fiano di Avellino DOCG Campore, Campania $24. click to buy.
2006 Cantine Ferrari F.Lli Lunelli Ferrari Perlè Nero, Trentino $90. click to buy.
WHITE WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 8.5 AND 9
2011 Lunae Etichetta Nera Colli di Luni Vermentino DOC, Emilia-Romagna
2010 Terre Bianche Arcana Bianco, Emilia-Romagna
2011 Planeta Cometa Chardonnay, Sicily
WHITE WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8.5
2010 Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio Metodo Classico Alto Adige DOC, Alto Adige
NV Villa Sandi Cartizze Vigna la Rivetta, Veneto
WHITE WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 8 and 8.5
2011 Bisol Desiderio & Figli Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze Dry DOCG, Veneto
NV Mionetto Mionetto Mo Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze DOCG NV, Veneto
RED WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9.5
2009 Damilano Barolo Cannubi, Piedmont
Light to medium ruby in color this wine smells of sweet strawberry and dried flower petals. In the mouth raspberry and strawberry fruit is caressed by suede tannins and layered with floral earthy complexity that lingers for a long time on the palate. Extraordinary acidity makes the wine juicy and mouthwatering even as darker notes keep it quite serious as opposed to frivolous. Cost: $85. click to buy.
2009 Poderi Aldo Conterno Barolo Cicala DOCG, Piedmont
Light to medium ruby in color with purple highlights, this wine smells of roses and violets with a hint of peaty earth underneath. In the mouth suede-like tannins caress flavors of cherry, raspberry, and forest floor that bears only the slightest hint of new wood. Powerful, and juicy thanks to extraordinary acidity. The finish sails on for minutes. Cost: $120. click to buy.
2006 Altesino Brunello di Montalcino DOCG Riserva, Tuscany
Light to medium ruby in color, this wine smells of sandalwood, nutmeg, cherries and dried flowers. In the mouth velvet tannins regally present a precious sculpture of cherry and sandalwood flavors etched with gorgeous acidity. The wine has a wonderful silky weight in the mouth and flows effortlessly across the palate, almost leaving a dreamlike feeling in its wake. Exceptional balance and poise, juicy and tasty as all get out. Cost: $85. click to buy.
2009 Nino Negri 5 Stelle Sfursat di Valtellina DOCG, Lombardy
Light to medium ruby in the glass, this wine smells of rose petals and other dried flowers, including fennel. In the mouth flavors of fennel seed, cherry and leather mix with deep earthy notes as the wine lingers for some time in the finish. Good acidity, and a deep resonant quality help this wine transcend lovely flavors and go somewhere new the longer you keep it in your mouth. Cost: $70. click to buy.
2004 Mascarello Giuseppe E Figlio - Barolo Monprivato Riserva Cà d'Morissio DOCG, Piedmont
Light to medium ruby with orange highlights, this wine smells of dried flowers drifting over a dry crunchy forest floor. In the mouth flavors of leather and earth seem filtered through a mash of fresh berries and dried flowers. Herbal notes of fennel and other greens that grow in the nooks and crannies of the forest emerge over time. Leathery tannins gently grasp the whole, and press insistently in as the wine lingers for minutes on the palate. Cost: $400. click to buy.
2007 Paolo Scavino Barolo DOCG Rocche dell'Annunziata Riserva, Piedmont
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of bright cherry and raspberry fruit tinged with the delicate scents of dried flowers. In the mouth the wine is first earthy and then beautifully juicy with bright berry, rose petal and citrus peel flavors. Supple but muscular tannins hang in the background and let the fruit shine. Excellent acidity. Cost: $190. click to buy.
2009 Gaja Barbaresco, Piedmont
Medium ruby in color with a hint of garnet, this wine smells of floral aromas mixed with cherry and mulberry. In the mouth cherry and earth flavors rest on a bed of slightly rustic, leathery tannins woven loosely over depths of deep dark wet leaves and wet wood. The longer this wine remains on the palate, the more mysterious it gets. Fantastic. Cost: $280. click to buy.
1993 Valdicava Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany
Medium ruby in color, this wine smells of smoked meat, leather, prunes, and dusty sandalwood. In the mouth flavors of brown sugar, red apple skin, leather and dried herbs are coated in dusty, powdery tannins. Wonderful notes of fennel waft above the fruit which has transmuted to something between candied and herbal. Gorgeously balanced and delicious.
2009 Tenuta Argentiera Argentiera - DOC Bolgheri Superiore, Tuscany
Medium ruby with purple highlights, this wine smells of bright cherry fruit and wet stones. In the mouth cherry, cedar and wet stone flavors are wrapped in a dusty blanket of tannins. The fruit core of this wine, however, has an exceptional electricity thanks to fantastic acidity. All the swirling flavors, and especially the mineral component of this wine linger in a long finish. Outstanding. Cost: $??.
RED WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 9 AND 9.5
2009 Di Majo Norante Don Luigi Riserva, Molise
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of licorice, wet earth, and exotic flowers. In the mouth the wine is like a massive shadow moving across the landscape. Leather, violets, and dark cassis fruit vibrate with a rich earthiness that is quite compelling. Not for the faint of heart or the low alcohol maven, but deeply pleasurable in its richness. Cost: $30. click to buy.
2006 Masi Agricola Vaio Armaron Amarone Classico della Valpolicella Serego Alighieri, Veneto
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and dark chocolate. In the mouth ripe cherries coated in dark chocolate float on a bed of velvet tannins. The rich, ripe flavors are brightened by exceptional acidity, which carries the flavors through an exceptionally long finish. Cost: $70. click to buy.
2006 Zenato Amarone delle Valpolicella DOC Cl Riserva Sergio Zenato, Veneto
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of prunes and black cherry fruit. In the mouth sweet black cherry fruit mixes with velvety textured tannins that reveal additional flavors of black plum, chocolate, and earth as they coat the mouth. Great acidity. Long finish. Cost: $110 . click to buy.
2001 Carpineto Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Sant'Ercolano DOCG, Tuscany
Dark ruby in color, this wine smells of oak, cedar, leather, and cherry. In the mouth the wine has a wonderful wet cement quality that balances the flavor of oak that also pervades this earthy, cherry stained wine. Smooth tannins have a tight, muscular quality, like a coiled spring. Leather and cherry linger in a very long finish. Cost: $42.
2001 Allegrini Amarone della Valpolicella Classico, Veneto
Dark ruby in the glass, this wine smells of raisins dipped in chocolate. In the mouth rich chocolate and raisin flavors mix with cassis and wet earth, leather and black cherry as voluminous velvety tannins caress the sides of the mouth. Nice balance despite its richness. Cost: $80. click to buy.
1998 Mastroberardino Radici Taurasi Riserva DOCG, Campania
Light to medium ruby in the glass, this wine has a wonderfully meaty nose of earth, leather and wet leaves mixed with smoked meat aromas. In the mouth Flavors of leather counterpoint sunshine-bright flavors of cherry and citrus peel. Leathery tannins wrap the package up with a rustic bow, and it lingers long in the mouth. Cost: $70. click to buy.
2004 Col D'orcia Poggio al Vento Brunello di Montalcino Riserva DOCG, Tuscany
Light to medium ruby in the glass, this wine smells of sandalwood and wet concrete. In the mouth tacky tannins grip tightly to a vibrant core of leather, orange peel, and red apple skin flavors that merge into a red berry brightness through a long finish. Outstanding acidity makes this a mouthwatering mouthful. Cost: $125. click to buy.
2008 Castello Di Fonterutoli Siepi, Tuscany
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of earth, cocoa and black cherry fruit. In the mouth black cherry fruit sweeps across the palate on a bed of velvety tannins. Rich cherry and cassis flavors swirl with earthy depths for a long time. Good acidity. Great length. Cost: $125. click to buy.
2007 Tenuta Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Vigna Paganelli, Tuscany
Medium ruby in color, this wine has a stony nose of cherry and wet wood. In the mouth flavors of sour cherry, cedar, and red apple skin have a tautness to them that commands attention even as aggressive tannins make an appearance with leather and wet dirt backing them up. This is a wine that has not yet settled into itself, but once it does, it will be spectacular. Excellent acidity and length. Cost: $100. click to buy.
2006 Fattoria Del Cerro Antica Chiusina Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG, Tuscany
Medium ruby in the glass, this wine smells of sandalwood, cherries and raisins. In the mouth flavors of sandalwood, leather, cherries and dried flowers are wrapped in a suede blanket of tannins. Fantastic acidity keeps the very ripe fruit bright and boisterous. Nice finish. Cost: $50. click to buy.
2008 Tasca D'almerita Rosso del Conte, Sicily
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine has a minty aroma, mixed with plum and cherry. In the mouth the wine is stony and smooth, with supple tannins wrapping around a core of black cherry, prunes, chocolate, and a gorgeous minty herbal quality that lingers through the finish. Great acidity, excellent balance. You'd think it quite ripe, but it surprisingly weighs in at only 13.5% alcohol. This might well be the best Nero d'Avola I've ever had. Cost: $75. click to buy.
2010 Librandi IGT Val Di Neto Rosso "Gravello", Calabria $30. click to buy.
2004 Feudi Di San Gregorio Piano di Montevergine, Campania $80. click to buy.
2009 Umani Ronchi Cumaro, Conero Riserva DOCG, Marche Cost: $25. click to buy.
2008 Cantine Dei Marchesi Di Barolo Barolo Cannubi DOCG, Piedmont $100. click to buy.
2008 Ceretto Barolo Bricco Rocche, Piedmont $270. click to buy.
2010 Michele Chiarlo La Court Barbera Asti Sup. DOCG Nizza, Piedmont $40. click to buy.
2008 Pecchenino Barolo Le Coste, Piedmont $62. click to buy.
2003 Sandrone Luciano Barolo Le Vigne, Piedmont $100. click to buy.
2009 Vietti Barolo DOCG Rocche, Piedmont $160. click to buy.
2007 Donnafugata Mille Una Notte - Contessa Entellina DOC, Sicily $90. click to buy.
2007 Bibi Graetz Colore, Tuscany $??
2007 Biondi Santi Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, Tuscany $180. click to buy.
2008 Casanova Di Neri Brunello di Montalcino "Tenuta Nuova", Tuscany $65. click to buy.
2009 Castello Di Ama L'Apparita, Tuscany $200. click to buy.
2009 Fèlsina Rancia Riserva Chianti Classico DOCG, Tuscany $42. click to buy.
2006 Masciarelli Montepulciano d'Abbruzzo Villa Gemma Rosso, Tuscany $90. click to buy.
2008 Mastrojanni Brunello di Montalcino Vigna Loreto, Tuscany $80. click to buy.
2006 San Felice Il Quercione Brunello di Montalcino Riserva DOCG, Tuscany $120. click to buy.
2009 Tenuta San Guido DOC Bolgheri Sassicaia, Tuscany $170. click to buy.
2007 Tedeschi La Fabriseria Amarone della Valpolicella DOC Classico, Veneto Cost: $250.
2009 Tommasi Viticoltori Tommasi Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC, Veneto Cost: $75. click to buy.
RED WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9
2008 Les Crêtes Fumin, Valle d'Aosta
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine has a grapey, plummy aroma that sits on top of a deep, wet stone smell. In the mouth the wine is both plummy and stony at the same time, with mulberry flavors washing over crushed rocks with a hint of lavender in the background. Smooth tannins and great acidity give this wine a cavernous quality. Made from Fumin, an indigenous grape to the region. Cost: $50. click to buy.
2006 Mezzacorona Nos Teroldego Rotaliano DOC Riserva, Alto Adige
2008 Castelluccio Massicone IGT Di Forli' Rosso, Emilia-Romagna
2009 Drei Donà Tenuta La Palazza Pruno, Emilia-Romagna
2009 Fattoria Zerbina Pietramora, Emilia-Romagna
2009 Casale Del Giglio Mater Matuta Lazio Rosso IGT, Lazio
2009 Velenosi Roggio del Filare, Marche
2010 Braida Bricco dell'uccellone, Piedmont
2005 Casa E. Di Mirafiore Mirafiore Barolo Riserva DOCG, Piedmont
2008 Pio Cesare Barolo "Ornato" DOCG, Piedmont
2009 Prunotto Bric Turot Barbaresco DOCG, Piedmont
2008 Argiolas Turrica Isola dei Nuraghi, Sardinia
2010 Cusumano Sàgana, Sicily
2009 Duca Di Salaparuta Duca Enrico, Sicily
2010 Barone Ricasoli Castello di Brolio, Tuscany
2008 Castellare Di Castellina I Sodi di San Niccolò, Tuscany
2008 Castello Banfi Poggio alle Mura Brunello di Montalcino Selection, Tuscany
2009 Castello Di Volpaia Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG, Tuscany
2009 Le Macchiole Paleo Rosso, Tuscany
2008 Ornellaia Ornellaia, Tuscany
2010 Petrolo Galatrona, Tuscany
2007 Siro Pacenti Brunello di Montalcino Ps Riserva DOCG, Tuscany
2009 Tenuta Guado Al Tasso Guado al Tasso, Tuscany
2010 Tenuta Rocca Di Montemassi Maremma Toscana IGT, Tuscany
2010 Tenuta Sette Ponti Oreno, Tuscany
2007 Tenute Silvio Nardi Brunello di Montalcino DOCG Vigneto Manachiara, Tuscany
2010 Falesco Montiano, Umbria
2008 Lungarotti Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG, Umbria
2004 Cesari Gerardo Bosan Amarone della Valpolicella DOC, Veneto
2009 Tenute Ambrogio e Giovanni Folonari Nozzole Il Pareto, Veneto
RED WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 8.5 AND 9
2010 Montevetrano Montevetrano, Campania
2009 Renato Ratti Barolo Rocche, Piedmont
2011 Tormaresca Torcicoda Salento IGT, Puglia
2007 Tenuta San Leonardo San Leonardo, Trentino
2008 Cecchi Riserva di Famiglia Chianti Classico Riserva
2009 Fontodi Flaccianello della Pieve, Tuscany
2009 Rocca Delle Macìe Riserva di Fizzano Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG
2009 Tenuta Di Biserno Biserno, Tuscany
2008 Arnaldo Caprai 25 Anni Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG
RED WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8.5
2010 Galardi Terra di Lavoro, Campania
2007 Terre Degli Svevi Re Manfredi Vigneto Serpara Aglianico del Vulture DOC, Campania
2009 Marchesi De' Frescobaldi Mormoreto, Tuscany
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