Italy 2014 The Grand Tour with Berry Bros & Rudd – 24/11/14

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Monday dawned bright and cheery this week thanks to the expectation of lunch at the Grand Hyatt with a top selection of BBR’s Italian wines accompanied by their winemakers. For once, getting out of bed was no struggle at all!

If I had to drink one country’s wines for the rest of my life, Italy would be it. Something about that unique acid/tannin structure just keeps me coming back for more. I can’t help it. They’re addictive! So a chance to taste seven top wines from seven of Italy’s top regions, with seven of Italy’s finest winemakers, was a serious treat.

We started with the NV Prosecco Asolo Extra Dry from Bele Casel, a perfect aperitivo to get us warmed up. Fresh and peachy on the nose with some nice yellow apple and pear character alongside some floral notes. Off-dry, rounded and harmonious on the palate. (16)

Next up was the 2011 Barbera d’Alba from Cantina Bartolo Mascarello presented by Maria Teresa Mascarello who gave us the background to her 5-hectare estate in the heart of Barolo. Staunchly traditional (no email or website, just phone or fax!) her philosophy is simple: wine should be allowed the time to make itself, rather than be driven by the market. Barolo is the main focus of the estate, always a blend of their 4 cru vineyards (Cannubi, San Lorenzo, Rue & Rocche di Annunziata), and the wine is sold off almost immediately each year to die-hard fans who come to the estate to taste the wine and purchase their yearly allocation. Demand has now far outstripped supply of this highly sought after estate.

Grapes for the Barbera come from the San Lorenzo vineyard. Once harvested they are fermented in cement tanks and aged in large Slovenian oak botti. Brilliant ruby in colour with fragrant floral and black plum perfumes alongside a touch of spice and blackberry. Smooth and round on the palate with fresh acidity and a touch of chalky tannin bringing structure. A lovely expression of Barbera. (17)

Alberto Aiello Graci presented his 2012 Etna Rosso Contrada Arcuria Passopisciaro next, a stunning example of what Mount Etna can really deliver with its Nerello Mascalese. Pale ruby in colour with fragrant floral and thyme notes alongside bright red berry fruits particularly strawberries and raspberries. Hugely elegant and attractive. A lovely herb intensity on the palate with touches of fennel and wild strawberries. Very fine chalky tannins, a smoky mineral edge and fresh acidity give a seamless linear structure to this wine, which draws itself right through the centre of the palate. Truly delicious and very good value. (18

Alberto’s estate is 19 hectares on the slopes of the still very much alive and kicking Mount Etna volcano. He produces both red and white wines, reds from Nerello Mascallese and Nerello Cappuccio, and whites from Catarratto and Carricante grown on two prime sites: Contrada Barbabecchi in the village of Solicchiata and Contrada Arcuria in Passopisciaro. The winemaking is again very traditional without temperature control, using large oak botti and where possible using wild yeast to bring out the true sense of place in the wines.

I was lucky enough to be sat next to Sebastiano Capponi, the first generation of his family to actually manage the 200-hectare family estate in the heart of Chianti Classico. Villa Calcinaia dates back to 1524, and is now making great strides thanks to Sebastiano’s hands-on approach. Just 27 hectares of the estate are planted with vines in the Greve commune of Chianti, which has a mix of sand, schist and limestone soils bringing true elegance and finesse to the wines. Predominantly working with lots of different clones of Sangiovese, Sebastiano tells me he is also vinifying some local indigenous varieties that he found in the old sharecropper's lanes of the estate. I’ll be making a beeline straight for those the next time I’m in Chianti!

We tasted his 2008 Chianti Classico Riserva which was pale ruby in colour with a touch of garnet on the rim. Sweet strawberry and fresh cranberry aromas with a hint of earthiness on the nose. Soft, rounded tannins give a silky structure lifted by fresh acidity. A very long, tea-scented and ripe red berry fruit finish. Wonderful balance. (18)

Stella di Campalto has single handedly grown her tiny San Giuseppe estate in Montalcino into one of the most sought after wineries in the region and on tasting her Brunello 2007 I can see why. Pale ruby with a garnet core this has savoury, earthy, mushroom and forest floor complexity developing alongside the cranberry, plum and strawberry fruit. A touch of tea leaves adds even greater complexity to the abounding aromas and flavours. Very elegant on the palate yet with good weight and rounded tannins with a characteristic chalky edge. Great richness, intensity, depth and complexity here yet still highly elegant. Really delicious. A truly beautiful wine. (19)

Located to the south of the town of Montalcino, the estate comprises 6 small vineyard plots, 5 in the Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, 1 in DOC Saint Antimo. Each plot is considered a small cru with its own distinct character and the wines are vinified separately in oak vats. The estate has been biodynamic since 2002 ensuring the expression of the vineyard shines through in each glass.

Zeno Zignoli (amazing name!) had never before left the winery to travel in such a capacity to show his wines so we were truly lucky to have him there. Italian speaking with no English, David Berry Green was luckily on hand to translate his fascinating story. Doing everything himself, from ploughing the vineyards with a couple of horses to making the wine, Zeno is at the very heart of his Monte dei Rangi estate. Very measured and thoughtful, with a clear sense of humour, Zeno makes his wines from fruit grown on the white calcareous Lessini stone soils that characterize the Fumane terraces in Valpollicella. The vines are trellised largely on high pergola and produce very small yields of 23hl/ha.

Zeno’s Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico 2007 has rich black cherry, blackberry and dark chocolate aromas with iodine-mineral touches. Very full on the palate, rich and intense with firm tannins yet with a fragrance and overriding elegance not often seen in Amarone. Very well balanced for a wine so high in alcohol, which goes unnoticed. Dangerous! (18)  

Barbaresco and Barolo producer Luca Roagna was presenting his 2008 Barbaresco Pajé. Savoury, earthy, tar aromas with a touch of violet and some bramble fruit, I felt, however, this was a touch closed on the nose. Grippy chalky tannin structure classic of Nebbiolo with a long violet finish. More time is, I believe, needed to express its true colours. (17.5)

Father and son team (Alfredo and Luca) run the Roagna estate in Castiglione Falletto in the heart of La Pira vineyard in Barolo. They farm both their Barolo and Barbaresco estates organically and are fortunate to have a wealth of old vine fruit at their disposal. Vinification is done traditionally with extended macerations in large oak.

Last but certainly not least was my other dining companion who was sat on my other side, Davide Rosso. A big character and a man who has in a very short time since first bottling his family’s Serralunga d’Alba fruit in the late 1990s, gained a reputation as one of the region’s finest (Nebbiolo) winemakers.

We tasted his 2008 Barolo Cerretta. A touch of garnet in amidst the pale ruby tints, scented and perfumed on the nose with violet and rose petal alongside red berries and a touch of tar. Lovely mouthfeel and complexity, rounded tannins with good grip and a long earthy, violet finish. Intense, juicy and concentrated. Still young. A good ten years to go. (18.5)

I would highly recommend any of the above wines, all of which can be purchased direct through BBR in HK. I will certainly be buying some of these for my own personal consumption. Happy drinking! 

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