A Fun New Variety for Me From Alto Adige

Today’s Story: Weingut Niklas

Weingut Niklas is a family owned and operated wine estate situated in the village of St. Nikolaus within the Alto Adige region of Northeastern Italy. Originally established in 1969, Weingut Niklas now encompasses three generations of passionate family winemaking and today the estate is under guide of Dieter Sölva. The property consists of about 17 acres of vineyards spread across the winegrowing region of Kaltern, including the sites of Prutznai, Galgenwiese, Schweigeregg, Barleit, Muttergarten, Kardatsch, Lavardi, Lavason, Salt, Vial, Trifall, and St. Georgen. Dieter specializes in Pinot Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Kerner, Schiava, and Lagrein, however he has small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot as well. From a winemaking perspective, Dieter ferments the wines in a combination of large oak barrels and stainless steel followed by barrel aging and lees contact. This process varies by wine and vintage, however the ultimate goal is to produce wines that demonstrate a sense of place in the most transparent way possible.

Today’s Wine: 2019 Kerner

100% Kerner; 13.5% ABV

The 2019 Kerner is medium yellow in color. Aromas are of pronounced intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of crisp yellow apple, lemon zest, mango, honeysuckle, grass, a hint of petrol, and crushed stone. Meanwhile the flavors are of medium (+) intensity, while the palate displays notes of yellow apple, grapefruit, lime, mango, white florals, mild green herbs, and mineral. This dry white is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium alcohol, and a medium length finish. Good quality and fun to try, though nothing mind-blowing to write home about on this summer sipper.

Price: $22. While it might not be the most exciting wine I’ve had, this is pretty well-priced considering the intensity and complexity. I wish the finish was longer, which is mainly my biggest mark against the wine. This is my first time trying a Kerner, so I’ll definitely seek out more.

If this wine seems like something you might enjoy, you may find this link helpful in locating it.

Strong Value From a Tuscan Second Wine

Today’s Story: Orma

Orma is a relatively young wine estate, established in 2004 when it was purchased by Tenuta Sette Ponti owner Dr. Antonio Moretti. Situated in the district of Castagneto Carducci of Bolgheri DOC in the Italian region of Tuscany, Orma consists of 5.5 hectares (13.6 acres) of vineyards planted to Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc. The first vintage was released in 2005 and received immediate praise, with some comparing it to the property’s neighbors of Sassicaia and Ornellaia. Orma has continued to increase in quality and reception over the years, and they released their second wine, Passi di Orma, during the exceptional 2015 vintage. Both wines are typically Merlot dominant, followed by Cabernet Sauvignon and ultimately Cabernet Franc.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Passi di Orma

40% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc; 14% ABV

The 2018 Passi di Orma is medium ruby in color with hints of deep garnet at the rim. I decanted this for an hour and drank it over the following two hours. The aromas are of pronounced intensity, with the rather complex nose showcasing notes of blackberry, black plum, black cherry, strawberry rhubarb, blood orange rind, licorice, dried tobacco, smoked game, charred green herbs, coffee grounds, cedar, vanilla, and a pinch of cinnamon. There’s a slight funky aspect to the nose as well. Meanwhile the flavors are also of pronounced intensity and the palate offers up notes of blackberry, blueberry, spiced plum, black cherry, violet, licorice, sweet tobacco, charred green herbs, mocha, vanilla, baking spice, iron, and charred oak. This dry red blend is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) but velvety tannins, high alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish. Very good quality and quite surprisingly complex for a “second” wine.

Price: $30. This is an outstanding value in my opinion. Though it’s still young and needs the time in a decanter now, this offers great intensity, length, and complexity for its price-point. Balance is pretty solid as well already, though it will improve with a couple more years of bottle age.

If this wine seems like something you might enjoy, you may find this link helpful in locating it.

A Fun New Variety for Me

Today’s Story: Ciavolich

Ciavolich is a historic winery situated in the town of Miglianico in Italy’s Chieti provence, and they are dedicated to the indigenous varieties of Passerina, Cococciola, Pecorino, Trebbiano, and Montepulciano. The Ciavolich family traces their roots back to about 1500 when they were wool merchants of Bulgarian origin, though they migrated to Miglianico around 1560 to escape the Saracen invasion in their homeland. The family’s history with wine, however, came much later in 1853 when Francesco Ciavolich built the winery and cellars near his home. Though this winery still stands today as a testament to some of the earliest winemaking in Abruzzo, the family was forced out of their home in 1943 during an occupation by German soldiers just after harvest. Therefore, the 1943 harvest was the last by the family at their historic property. During the 1960s, though, the Ciavolich family inherited the 50 hectare (123 acre) estate of Loreto Aprutino in the province of Pescara from Donna Ernestina and they resumed winemaking. Giuseppe Ciavolich planted his vineyards here to Montepulciano, Trebbiano, and Cococciola. The estate remained in the family ever since, and beginning 2004 is under the guide of Chiara Ciavolich and her husband Gianluca.

Today the Ciavolich estate consists of two main vineyard sites in the towns of Loreto Aprutino and Pianella. In Loreto Aprutino, Chiara has 35 hectares (86 acres) of vineyards with additional land dedicated to olive groves and arable land. This makes up the heart of the estate and its production. In Pianella, she has 15 hectares (37 acres) with six hectares planted to Montepulciano and one hectare planted to Pecorino. The rest is planted to olive groves. Chiara practices a modern take on the traditional winemaking practices of the region, working with a range of vessels that include stainless steel, oak, concrete, and terracotta amphorae. Her main line of wines goes through what she calls contemporary vinification, though Chiara makes sure to pay respect and transparency to the variety. Her Fosso Cancelli wines, on the other hand, follow more traditional practices such as spontaneous fermentation in the ancient vessels made of terracotta, oak, and concrete.

Today’s Wine: 2020 Aries Pecorino

100% Pecorino; 13% ABV

The 2020 Aries Pecorino is pale gold in color. After this opens up in the glass and comes up in temperature, the medium intense aromas on the nose include lemon zest, white peach, pear, mango, ginger, chamomile, mild green herbs, and crushed rock minerality. Meanwhile on the palate, the flavors are also of medium intensity while showcasing notes of pineapple, peach, tangerine, lemon zest, white floral, chopped grass, and marine mineral. This dry white is light- to medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium alcohol, and a medium length finish. Good quality, as this is fairly delicate but it offers decent depth in a crisp and enjoyable wine.

Price: $20 (though this can be found for $15 depending on location). This offers decent QPR if you can find it at the $15, though I do also feel $20 is pretty fair. This is the first time I’ve tried Pecorino, and I look forward to giving more bottlings a try.

If this wine seems like something you might enjoy, you may find this link helpful in locating it.

Brunello di Montalcino With Great Typicity and a Solid Price-Point

Today’s Story: Azienda Agricola Altesino

Altesino is a well-known and fairly large producer of Brunello di Montalcino, established in 1970 in the northeastern hills of Montalcino in central Tuscany. Situated in the 15th-century Palazzo Altesi, the estate’s historic cellars remain in use today though the winery has since expanded to a larger production facility built into the hillsides behind the vineyards. The property today consists of 100 hectares (247 acres), though only half of this area is planted to vineyards. These vineyards are then subdivided into the six parcels of Altesino, Macina, Cerbaia, Montosoli (which is the first-ever Cru/single-vineyard bottling of Brunello di Montalcino), Pianezzine, and Velona. A majority of the vines are planted to Sangiovese for the production of Brunello, Rosso di Montalcino, and Palazzo Altesi, however the property also contains Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Trebbiano, Malvasia, Vermentino, Chardonnay, and Viognier to round out a rather robust portfolio of wines.

Today’s Wine: 2011 Brunello di Montalcino

100% Sangiovese; 14.5% ABV

The 2011 Brunello di Montalcino is deep garnet in color. I decanted this for about an hour, allowing the wine to open with aromas of medium (+) intensity and a nose of bing cherry, black raspberry, redcurrant, red rose, anise, tomato leaf, leather, charred green herbs, dried earth, a hint of mushroom, and dried gravel. The flavors are also of medium (+) intensity, with the palate offering up notes of cherry, red plum, raspberry, dried strawberry, grilled red tomato, licorice, tobacco, charred herbs, crushed rock, a hint of smoke, and terracotta. This dry red is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) but tightly-knit tannin, high alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish. Very good quality and a great representation of the variety and region.

Price: $60. I think this offers pretty decent value for Brunello. The typicity here is top notch as this offers a very classical representation of Sangiovese and Brunello di Montalcino, all while being well-balanced and fairly complex relative to pricier bottles.

A Must-Try to Spice up Your Rosé Game

Today’s Story: Tenuta delle Terre Nere

Tenuta delle Terre Nere is a somewhat young but highly regarded wine estate founded by Marc de Grazia on the northern slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily. The first commercial vintage was in 2002, and the estate focuses on local Sicilian varieties with Nerello Mascalese and Carricante of principal importance. The estate today consists of about 55 hectares, of which 27 hectares are planted to vines in production and 7 hectares are breeding. The holdings are broken up into 24 parcels across six crus and range in elevation from 600 to 1,000 meters above sea level, with an ultimate plan to reach 38 hectares planted to vine. Aside from the 7 hectares recently planted, Terre Nere works with vines aged 50 to 100 years old, and the estate even has one parcel that survived phylloxera and is 130-140 years old!

Marc de Grazia has long been a proponent of single cru Etna wines, so he vinifies, ages, bottles, and labels each of his crus individually. These include Calderara Sottana, San Lorenzo, Bocca d’Orzo, Santo Spirito, Guardiola, and Feudo di Mezzo. All viticulture has been organic since Terre Nere was established (certified in 2010), and the prior owners farmed their vineyards organically for the previous two generations as well. Winemaking is meant to be minimally invasive, allowing de Grazia to showcase the unique Etna terroir in all of his wines.

To learn more, view images of the estate and vineyards, or explore the range of wines from Tenuta delle Terre Nere, I recommend visiting their website here. I also previously reviewed their 2019 Etna Bianco if you care to explore or revisit my thoughts on another wine in the portfolio.

Today’s Wine: 2020 Etna Rosato

100% Nerello Mascalese; 13% ABV

The 2020 Etna Rosato is pale copper in color, rather light for many rosé wines I’ve enjoyed. The aromas are of medium intensity, but the rather complex nose shows itself over time with notes of white strawberry, cherry, peach, raspberry, cured charcuterie meat, rose petal, flint, and saline mineral. Meanwhile the flavors are also of medium intensity and the palate displays notes of Rainier cherry, freshly-picked strawberry, peach, cantaloupe, chopped green herbs, crushed rock, sea salt, and white pepper. This dry rosé is medium-bodied though very crisp and lean with high acidity, medium alcohol, and a long finish.

Price: $23. I think this is a great buy, as it offers beautiful balance, length, and complexity while being immensely chuggable on a hot day. This is the most fun, delicious, and rock-solid rosé I’ve had in a long, long time and I’ll be buying more as soon as I can.

An Etna Rosso to Introduce You to Etna Rosso

Today’s Story: Girolamo Russo

Girolamo Russo is a family-owned and operated wine estate located near the town of Passopisciaro on the north side of Mt. Etna in Sicily, Italy. The estate was “re-established” by Giuseppe Russo in 2005 who, though formerly a pianist, desired to continue his family’s tradition of winegrowing and named the estate in honor of his father. Girolamo Russo consists of 18 hectares of vineyards situated between 650 and 780 meters (2,132 and 2,559 feet) above sea level, with all farmed adhering to organic viticulture. Russo grows fruit in the crus of San Lorenzo, Feudo, and Feudo di Mezzo with many vines being a century old. In culmination with a minimally invasive winemaking philosophy that includes fermentation with indigenous yeasts and minimal oak influence, the wines are often described as pure representations of place.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Etna Rosso ‘a Rina

94% Nerello Mascalese, 6% Nerello Cappuccio; 13.5% ABV

The 2018 ‘a Rina is medium garnet in color with hints of pale ruby. I decanted this for about an hour but drank it over several. The aromas are of medium (+) intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of red cherry, stemmy strawberry, orange rind, a hint of rose petal, thyme, volcanic earth, mild smoke, and slight peppery spice. Meanwhile the flavors are of medium intensity and the palate displays notes of dried cherry, cranberry, dried strawberry, licorice, tobacco, leather, crushed gravel, cracked pepper, and stony mineral. This dry red is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium but fine-grained tannins, medium (+) alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $32. I think this offers pretty solid value for Etna Rosso, as it demonstrates good balance, intensity, complexity, and an obvious sense of place. Though it isn’t the best Etna Rosso I’ve had, for the price this is worth trying.

Fun Sicilian Amber Wine That Needs a Few More Years

Today’s Story: Azienda Agricola COS

Azienda Agricola COS is a revered wine estate established in 1980 in Vittoria on the Italian island of Sicily. COS was established by three friends, Giambattista Cilia, Giusto Occhipinti, and Cirino Strano, with the first letter of their last names creating the acronym of COS for which the project is named. COS is largely considered a pioneer and champion for Sicilian wines, namely seeking to prove that world-class and high-quality wines can come from the island. COS farms all of their vineyards adhering to organic and biodynamic principles, and they have never used synthetic or chemical fertilizers throughout the life of the venture. This philosophy carries over into the cellar as well, where the wines are made as naturally as possible. For instance, COS is an adopter of clay amphorae dug into the ground for aging because Occhipinti believes them to be a vessel that doesn’t mask any terroir-driven element of the wines. For any bottlings that do not age in amphorae, they use large neutral Slavonian oak botti or concrete tanks to similar effect. All wines see extended maceration, including the whites, which Occhipinti uses as natural preservative so zero sulphur needs to be added during winemaking and at most a minimal dose is added at bottling.

I previously wrote about the 2014 Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico delle Fontane from COS, which is a fun wine made from 60% Nero d’Avola and 40% Frappato.

Today’s Wine: 2019 Pithos Bianco

100% Grecanico; 11% ABV

The 2019 Pithos Bianco is pale amber in color. Given some time to blossom in the glass, the aromas are of medium (+) intensity and the nose showcases notes of orange rind, apricot, tangerine, peach skins, honeysuckle, delicate dried green herbs, honeycomb, and finely crushed rock. Meanwhile the flavors are of medium intensity and the palate displays notes of peach, tangerine, apricot, melon, honey, saline, and crushed rock minerality. This dry amber wine is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (-) tannins, medium (-) alcohol, and a long finish. Quite good, though this is lacking some intensity I was hoping for and I will be curious to see how this develops over the next several years.

Price: $35 (closer to $20 in Europe). This is a very good value closer to the prices found in Europe, however for an average price of $35 in the US (I paid $40) I think this is just okay in value terms. The nose is gorgeous and quite complex, though the palate is lacking in intensity for me to really wow me. Given the acidity, great balance, and length though this should only improve.

Blending Traditional and Modern Practices in Piedmont

Today’s Story: Luciano Sandrone

Luciano Sandrone is a highly regarded producer in Piedmont, Italy, established by Luciano in 1978. Luciano was passionate for winemaking at a young age, exploring viticulture as young as 14 or 15 years old and ultimately working as a cellar hand at Marchesi di Barolo. In 1977, Luciano depleted his savings and purchased his famed Cannubi Boschis vineyard. Starting with his first vintage in 1978, Luciano crafted all of his wines at home and started in his parents’ garage so he could learn and hone his style and talents over time. When his wines started receiving high critical acclaim for the 1989 and 1990 vintages, Luciano started to think of building a winery which was completed in 1998 and first used for the 1999 vintage. Luciano today produces wines from Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Dolcetto, with his most famous and prized bottling being the Cannubi Boschis Barolo.

Sandrone’s viticulture and winemaking styles are often characterized by straddling traditional and modern techniques. Sandrone farms about 27 hectares (67 acres) of vineyards, of which roughly 75% are owned and the balance is leased out under long-term contracts. They practice green harvesting with an incredible focus on training, pruning, and harvesting to limit yields and enhance quality of their fruit. Winemaking is where the blending of traditional and modern practices occurs most notably, as all wines ferment with native yeasts but typically see shorter maceration times than tradition dictates. During the maturation process, Sandrone also utilizes some new oak in 500 liter French barrels and ages his wines for slightly shorter periods which also blends the lines between traditional and modern. These wines are often much more approachable in their youth due to this blending of practices, though they retain the same structure and characteristics to provide for long aging potential as well.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Barbera d’Alba

100% Barbera; 14% ABV

The 2018 Barbera d’Alba is deep ruby in color and opaque. I decanted this for about 45 minutes, which the wine needs at this stage. The aromas are of medium intensity, with a rather gorgeous nose showcasing black plum, crushed blackberry, black cherry, anise, violet, scorched earth, sandalwood, and cracked black pepper. Flavors are also of medium intensity, and the palate displays notes of juicy blackberry, blueberry, cherry sauce, plum, dried green herbs, truffle, and mild peppery spice. This dry red is full-bodied with high acidity, medium (-) tannins, high alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish. Overall a very enjoyable Barbera that should only improve with a couple more years in bottle.

Price: $37 (though there’s a wide range of pricing depending on location). This is a very solid value to step into Piedmont with, particularly if you haven’t explored the region or the Barbera variety yet. It’s showing very solid complexity at this stage and is a high-quality offering from a great producer.

Clean and Pure Amber Wine From the Carso Region of Italy

Today’s Wine: Azienda Agricola Škerk

Azienda Agricola Škerk is a small family-owned winery situated very close to the Slovenian border in the Carso region of Friuli-Venezia-Giulia in northeastern Italy. The winery is run by father and son Boris and Sandi Škerk, and they focus on the varieties of Malvasia, Vitovska, Sauvignon, and Terrano. The Škerk family cultivates seven hectares of vineyards, with densely-planted but low-yielding vines that see rigorous pruning but minimal treatments and no chemical fertilizer additions. Come harvest, everything is done by hand and the minimal intervention practices continue into the cellar. The wines ferment in contact with the skins using only indigenous yeasts, and there are no added enzymes or other winemaking additions. Sandi adds little to no SO2 throughout the winemaking process, and the wines are bottled unfined and unfiltered in an effort to showcase the varieties and a true sense of place. Škerk produces about 1,700 cases per vintage across four wines, including the Vitovska, Malvasia, Ograde (blend of Vitovska, Malvasia, Sauvignon, and Pinot Grigio), and Terrano.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Vitovska

100% Vitovska; 12% ABV

The 2018 Vitovska is pale amber in color. Given some time to blossom in the glass, this opens up with aromas of medium intensity. The nose showcases notes of peach, dried apricot, orange marmalade, perfumed florals, white mushroom, herbs de Provence, and wet slate. Meanwhile the flavors are also of medium intensity, with the palate displaying notes of apricot, mandarin orange, tangerine, honey, eucalyptus, saline, and a hint of smoke. This dry amber wine is light- to medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, no noticeable tannins, medium alcohol, and a medium length finish.

Price: $40. This is only my second Vitovska from the Carso region in Northeastern Italy, so while I am still exploring how this stacks up on a value perspective it is a very fun, delicious, pure, and well-made wine that I do recommend trying. Great balance to this wine.

Fun Representation of Sicilian Terroir

Today’s Story: Azienda Agricola Arianna Occhipinti

Azienda Agricola Arianna Occhipinti is a continuously rising star of a winery established by Arianna Occhipinti in the Vittoria region of southeastern Sicily in 2004. Though Arianna started making her own wines at the young age of 22, she first got into wine even younger at age 16 thanks to a visit to Vinitaly with her uncle Giusto Occhipinti of COS, another benchmark Sicilian wine producer. Today Arianna works with estate fruit, sourced from her 25 hectares of certified organic vineyards which are planted to about 50% Frappato, 35% Nero d’Avola, and 15% between the white varieties of Albanello and Zibibbo. Arianna never irrigates her vineyards or uses any chemicals, and since 2009 she transitioned to biodynamic viticulture. As far as philosophy goes, Arianna’s wines are meant to showcase the terroir of Vittoria, and they are made in as “natural” a way as possible. Vineyard work is very manual, all grape and wine movements use gravity, and the wines ferment with only indigenous yeasts in concrete tanks before aging in neutral oak. Arianna produces ten wines (including three single-vineyard bottlings called Vino di Contrada) and total production each vintage is around 10,000 cases.

I somewhat recently reviewed the Occhipinti 2019 SP68 Rosso, so feel free to check that out if you missed it!

Today’s Wine: 2018 Il Frappato

100% Frappato; 12.5% ABV

The 2018 Il Frappato is pale to medium ruby in color. This is still very youthful and requires a good 45 minutes to blossom in the glass, though it’s already showing a very elegant representation of Frappato. The aromas are of pronounced intensity, showcasing a nose of strawberry, red cherry, leather, clay pot, tilled rocky soil, charred savory green herbs, mild chocolate, exotic spices, and clove. Meanwhile the flavors are also of pronounced intensity, with the palate displaying notes of dried strawberry, tart cherry, pomegranate, anise, sweet tobacco, ground green herbs, clove, and white pepper. This dry red is light- to medium-bodied with medium acidity, medium (-) tannins, medium alcohol, and a medium length finish. Certainly has the stuffing to go a few more years, but it is rather delightful and hard to resist already.

Price: $45 average in the US (cheaper in Europe). I haven’t had enough 100% Frappato to say how this compares to other representations of the variety, however compared to other wines of a similar price-point I think this offers great value. This drinks so pure and shows a lot of complexity for its age already, all while being decidedly high quality and a great representation of the terroir.