Monday, May 21, 2012

Italian Wine: Viva Vino Los Angeles 2012


The week-long festivities for Viva Vino Los Angeles 2012 peaked in the middle, with the mid-week grand tasting event on May 16th at The Mark For Events.

Hundreds of Italian wines were poured, from producers large and small.  Assuming you love Italian wines, it was a chance to wallow in them to your heart’s contento.  If nothing else, you could add a few grapes to your Century Club efforts - quite a few.  There were grapes like Cortese, Grechetto, Corvina, Rondinella, Turbiana, Malinara, Teroldego - and those are from just the first two tables at which I stopped.  If you are new to Italian wines, I apologize in advance for the extreme grape geekiness you are about to encounter.  If you have not sampled these wonders, though, you really owe it to yourself to do so.

Notable Wines:

The white wines at Viva Vino were simply outstanding.  From table to table, one white after another impressed with acidity and minerality.  Green apples here, a touch of lime there, but nearly all the whites I tasted were driven by extreme minerality, laced with bracing acidity and just waiting for a meal to come along.

The most impressive wines of the day, for me, were from La Castellada in Oslavia.  Winemaker Stefano Bensa (right) was on hand to guide me through three scintillating whites.  The 2007 Friuliano, 2006 Ribolla Gialla and 2002 Bianco Della Castellada are among the best wines I’ve had in a while.  They all spend four days on skins, a year in oak, a year in the tank and a year in the bottle.  Bensa told me they are produced as naturally as possible, from low-yield vineyards.  The intensity and complexity of these wines is mind-blowing and they are definitely age-worthy.

Also in Oslavia, Robert Fiegl is producing three exceptional DOC Collio wines - a savory Ribolla Gialla, a playful Pinot Grigio and a pungent Sauvignon Blanc.

A lovely Gavi, La Maddalena Gavi DOCG 2009, from Cantina Produttori di Gavi in Piemonte, is produced from 100% Cortese grapes.  It has beautiful acidity and the taste of green apples.  It’s a completely refreshing wine.

Tuscany’s Robert Pitti Vermentino Bianco Toscano IGT 2010 slathers the minerals  in a nice salinity.  The palate is savory and the acidity lingers on the finish.

Terre de la Custodia is owned by the Farchioni family in Umbria.  Their 100% Grechetto Colli Martani DOC 2009 is savory and mineral driven.

Gruppo Montresor showed a Pinot Grigio Veneto IGP, Pinot Grigio Marche IGP Brumaio Organic and Lugana DOC Gran Guardia, which is 100% Turbiana.  All three display nice acidity and savory minerality.

Sicily’s Donnafugata presented two wines produced with 100% Zibibbo grapes, a clone of Muscat of Alexandria.  The grapes are dried on the winery rooftop before fermentation, which steps up the concentration of aromas and flavors.  The raisiny sweetness is abetted by bracing acidity.

From the Friuli hill country comes Vidussi.  The Malvasia Vidussi DOC 2011 is one of the few wines I sampled which showed a blast of fruit and flowers on the nose, rather than rocky minerality.  Unoaked, the wine still plays richly on the palate.  Their Ronchi di Ravez Bianco Collio DOC 2011 combines four grapes - Ribolla Gialla, Malvasia Istriana, Friuliano and Picolit.  There is plenty of earthy fruit after spending three months in a large cask.

Also from Friuli, Valter Ciani was represented by sons Alessandro and Andre.  The pair poured five outstanding white varietal wines - Friuliano, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and  a Prosecco - which they told me wholesale for around four dollars per bottle.  They are looking for someone to import these wines, and they would seem to be a great addition to some distributor’s portfolio.  Contact them at andre@viniciani.it.

Distinctive Reds:

Tuscany’s Palagetto poured their Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2004.  This is the way you want your Sangiovese to taste.  Beautiful, earthy cherries and plums are framed by firm tannins.

Terre de la Custodia is owned by the Farchioni family in Umbria. Their Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG 2005 has great acidity, tannins and very dry, raisiny, cherry notes.

Gruppo Montresor poured Amarone Della Valpolicella DOC Classico Capitel Della Crosara.  A blend of 60% Corvina, 30% Rondinella and 10% Molinara, it has great tannins, acidity and a raisiny edge to the fruit.

From Veneto, Masi showed their prowess with Amarone.  The Costasera Amarone Della Valpolicella Classic DOC 2007 has fabulous acidity and the trademark dried fruit and raisins on the palate.

Conti Wallenburg’s Trentino Teroldego Rotaliano DOC 2011 is composed entirely of the Teroldego Rotaliano grape.  It shows rich, ripe cherry and a dash of tartness, along with great acidity.  With only two months in oak, it’s fresh and vibrant.

Trentino-Alto Adige’s Barone Fini Merlot 2010 is enjoyed at the Vatican, I’m told.  The importer’s representative said the earthy fruit and nearly toothless tannins make it “one of the only reds the older Cardinals can handle.”

Tuscany’s Castello di Monastero Chianti Classico 2007, on the other hand, sports big tannins and smoke-cloaked fruit.

Sicily’s Villa Pozzi Nero d’Avola is earthy and quite smooth, while Umbria’s Moretti Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG 2007 has tannins in play, but they are not overwhelming.  20% of these grapes are pressed by foot - stompin’ it old-school.

From Basilicata, in southern Italy, D’Angelo’s Aglianico del Vulture DOC 2008 is big and brawny.  Their Riserva is a much smoother version.

Sparkling:

Bubbles were provided by Gatta Winemakers’ sparklers, produced in the Champagne method in the Lombardia region.  Their Brut Franciacorta DOCG, 80% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Nero, bubbles up nicely and shows a sweet edge to the fantastic acidity.  Zero Franciacorta DOCG is 100% Pinot Nero, and offers a toastier nose.

Conti Wallenburg poured a Trentino sparkler, Rosé Costantinopoli.  It is 100% Pinot Nero and has a fabulously funky nose with mineral-driven strawberry flavors.

Food:

I have to give a shout out to a really tasty discovery - Italian Magic Olives.  These gourmet stuffed olives are really something to sign up for.  They appear to come from Gardena, California via Chicago.  That’s the gist of what the very Italian representative told me.  One winery rep had a bowl full of them delivered to him by a very attractive young woman.  I told him she must like him a lot, and he raised an eyebrow and asked how I knew.  I said that if she didn’t like him, she would have kept those olives for herself.

Objets d’art:

There were some arty, one-of-a-kind wine gift bags designed by Caroline Hallak of Beverly Hills on display during the event.  No prices are given online, but I’m told the bags go for between $14 and $19 each.  She’s open by appointment only, due to the exclusive nature of her clientele.  It’s a lot to pay for a wine gift bag, so make sure the wine you’re gifting is worth putting in a designer tote.

There were some paintings on display as well, from wine artist Elisabetta Rogai.  She paints with wine, or at least with paints made from wine.  Her work is worth a look.  Hopefully it ages like wine, and not like Dorian Gray.


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