One of the best aspects of my job is the number of fantastic, diverse wines that I get to try every year, and 2015 was no exception. Boasting more native grapes than any other country in the world as well as international varieties, grown in both lauded and emerging wine growing areas, Italian wines have never been more exciting. Here are some of the best that I tried over the last 12 months.
Monprivato has long been considered one of the best vineyards for Barolo production, thanks to its southwest exposure and its Nebbiolo-friendly altitude of 920 feet. The combination of this prime vineyard site, old vines (over 55-years old), scrupulous winemaking and a stellar vintage all resulted in one of the year’s most breathtaking wines. Mauro Mascarello and his son Giuseppe run this historic family firm and turn out superb wines year after year, but the 2010 Barolo Monprivato is one of the winery’s best to date. It’s loaded with finesse and is more complex than powerful. It’s already drop-dead gorgeous, and will age beautifully for decades. If I could choose one bottle to find under the Christmas tree this year, this would be my choice.
The small Il Marroneto estate is one of the true gems of Montalcino, and I’ve been lauding the firm’s elegantly structured wines for more than a decade. Hailing from a tiny vineyard just outside of the hilltop town’s northern gate, Madonna delle Grazie is made with forty-year old vines grown 1,312 feet above sea level, where Sangiovese grapes ripen slowly, resulting in vibrant, fragrant wines. Owner Alessandro Mori’s goal is to make classic, age-worthy Brunellos and to this end, he ferments in large Allier oak vats and ages in Slavonian casks. His radiant 2010 Madonna delle Grazie is all about finesse, fragrance and impeccable balance. It’s already stunning but it will continue to develop even more complexity over the next few decades.
Made entirely with native grape Sagrantino, Montefalco Sagrantino is a powerfully structured red from Umbria’s Montelfalco growing area. Thanks to a serious tannic backbone and an extremely high level of polyphenols, it has an impressive, age-worthy structure and often needs several years to come around after release. Founded in the late 1960s, the Milziade Antano firm was one of the pioneers in the production of Montefalco Sagrantino. The bold, classically crafted 2010 Montefalco Sagrantino Colleallodole is a superb, intriguing wine. It boasts alluring scents of blue flower and tobacco while the rich, concentrated palate delivers layers of fruit and spice packed in velvety tannins. Despite its heroic structure, the wine also has an intriguing weightless quality. It will get even better over the next two decades.
Vermentino is grown in different parts of Italy but it’s most associated with Sardinia. Now planted all over the island, it excels in the windswept vineyards in Gallura in the north, where granite cliffs soar above the island’s emerald coastline. Realizing the grape’s potential to make fine wine, the Ragnedda family, owners of Capichera, began investing in quality winemaking in the mid-1970s and the firm’s debut 1980 bottling put Vermentino on the map upon its release in 1981. Capichera’s 2013 VT Vermentino is a compelling wine. Made with late ripened grapes, it has an alluring fragrance of white spring flower and a rich, mineral-driven palate with layers of flavor and intensity.
Sparkling wine production has recently taken off all over Italy but in the mountainous northern region of Trentino, growers and producers have been focusing on bubbles for more than a century. The extremely high altitudes, unique microclimates and drastic day and night temperature variations allow grapes to reach ideal ripening. Thanks to perfectly matured grapes, a small but growing number of producers are forgoing the addition of the liqueur d’expedition, dubbing their wines “Dosaggio Zero” or “Pas Dosé.” Maso Martis Trento DOC 2010 Dosaggio Zero Riserva is one of the best from this exciting category. A blend of 70 percent Pinot Nero and 30 percent Chardonnay, it’s fragrant, focused and elegant, with layers of flavor and a bone dry finish.