When you think of Italy and sparkling wine, two words spring to mind: Prosecco and Asti. Whereas both can be rather good (although it is rare in the case of the latter), neither are on a par with the sparkling wines of France and even Spain.
Italy’s true sparkling wine production region is, without doubt, Franciacorta – situated in Northern Italy’s Lombardia region. Made using Chardonnay Pinot Noir/Nero and Pinot Blanc/Bianco in a similar way to Champagne (second fermentation in the bottle), it is some of Europe’s finest sparkling wine.
The higher annual temperatures make an impression on the final wines which are fruitier and less sour than their Northern-French counterparts. Unlike Champagne, Franciacorta must spend a minimum of 18 months in the bottle during the second fermentation (Champagne 15 months) although the classification requirements in relation to residual sugar are exactly the same.
Due to the majority of consumers being less aware of the wines, Franciacorta is rather well-priced. A decent wine costs seldom over 25€ and even the vintage stuff is priced at around 30€. The quality is however very similar and, although there is a fuller, neater feel to Franciacorta, there are certain parallels between it and the world’s most famous bubbly.
Contadi Castaldi is a producer of Franciacorta DOCG in beautiful Adro. This is their entry-level wine and it is priced around 20€/£. 80% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Nero and 10% Pinot Bianco make up the final cuvée which is aged for a minimum of 18 months before release.
A pale satin colour with a very fine and discreet mousseux.
Fresh citrus was the first thing I picked out – lemon peel and ripe lemon juice. A hint of lime was in there too as well as a handful of stone fruits: particularly white peach. There were also unique nutty notes: almond and walnut but also a feel of fine fresh white bread.
The attack was mild and yet dominated by fresh lemon and grapefruit. Alongside melon, orange, clementine and peach in the body a uniquely fresh sense of freshly-baked white bread and lemongrass was present. The finish was smooth rather than yeasty and the whole affair felt rather light.
A fantastically well-composed bubbly – both light and full of flavour, it felt discreet and yet offered a great deal of character. I can imagine this as a brilliant aperitif or even a companion to simple pasta dishes or those based on freshwater whitefish. One of the best-value sparklers I’ve had in a long time.
Chianti is a complicated affair: either sour and off-balance or luxuriously elegant, it can be hard to know what to expect when opening a bottle. Much like with most things though, spending a couple more of your pounds, dollars or euros has an effect.
Another thing that makes a difference is exactly who makes it: when the name of Tuscany's and perhaps Italy’s most famous producer is printed on the label, the chances of receiving a clumsily-mixed, basket-bottle-style wine are greatly reduced.
Known for their Supertuscans Solaia and Tignanello, Marchese Antinori make a number of DOC and DOCG wines all over Tuscany. From the fantastic (and fantastically affordable) Montepulciano and Montalcino wines through to the Toscana IGT ones, Antinori has a wine for everyone. Alongside these wines, Antinori create a handful of Chiantis: the simplest being from their Santa Cristina Marque. In the middle of the road is the famous Pèppoli: a classically elegant Chianti Classico DOCG which I reviewed a few years back (click here).
Their prized Chianti carries the company name though: Marchese Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva.
Made of 90% of some of Tuscany’s best chocolately Sangiovese and some of the ripest Cabernet Sauvignon this side of the Atlantic, the wine is aged in French and Hungarian oak for a year before spending another twelve months ripening in the bottle.
Thich cherry red with an almost syrupy appearance. The hue is brownish and rather clear.
Underneath the initial tone of rather potent oak there is an immense amount of hidden fruit waiting to be picked out. Black cherry and blackberries characterise the fruit part of the nose and offer up some more exotic tones as well.
Initially, the fruit attack feels rather overwhelming and yet it develops into an incredibly well-blended concoction of black cherry, blackcurrant, blackberries and blueberries with, thanks to the oak, a vanilla undertone. There’s chocolate, licorice and even some espresso in the body and the finish is long and, whilst rewarding, rather strong: the oak is both very present and yet it really feels very much a part of the wine's structure which is clearly set-out from the attack until long after finishing.
A beautiful drop of Tuscan wine: both classically fruity, chocolately and racy, it brings with it a decent amount of structure and elegance making this age-old production region’s produce seem rather modern. The oak is the wine’s swansong and the combination of that much excellent black fruit together with the wood is both rare and a reason to try the wine at all.
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG, Tuscany, Italy
To me, Brunello has always been the most elegant Tuscan choice - long refined notes of mostly perfect control: discipline. The Chianti regions on the other hand offer, less than superfine wines praised for their easy-drinkability and mass-appeal. What if there was a wine that could combine the both of these things? Fine and elegant and yet fun and racy: there is, Vino Nobile.
Also made almost entirely from a mutation of Sangiovese (in this case Prugnolo Gentile and a splash of Merlot), VIno Nobile often offers up some of the notes that Sangiovese is better known for: sassy, tart and exciting fruit with long, luscious minerals and a handful of luxury aromas.
This wine, from Tenuta La Braccesca, is the brainchild of that famous Tuscan producer, you know: the one which makes Tignanello, Solaia, Pèppoli, Santa Cristina and the like. The Antinoris bought the estate back in the early 1990s and whilst it might not be their most-famous Tuscan product, it's a very good wine nonetheless.
Deep red-purple with a bright pink hue.
The first sense on the nose is one of a bright black fruit mixture: a big sense of blackcurrant but also black cherries, redcurrants and blueberries. Some lovely sweet Virginia tobacco, a patch of leather and even some freshly-roasted espresso are all in there too.
A much more subdued explosion of taste than expected and one that implemented the alternative sides to the fruit rather than their sweet sides: slightly sour berry tannins eventually gave way to ripe red and black fruit, lead entirely by the blackcurrant and black cherry. A nice toasty finish with well-worked in tannins completed the wine rather elegantly.
A great wine and a brilliant example of how Vino Nobile is the most accessible of the finer Tuscan DOCs and DOCGs. With enough elegance and pride to impress the drinkers of the stuff grown 20 or so miles to the South West, the tart and lively notes of Montepulciano make Sangiovese-based DOCG wines attractive to anyone: not just the classic wine drinker.
Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, Tuscany, Italy
Brunello di Montalcino comes from a small town/commune in Eastern Tuscany called…well, Montalcino. The vines must grow in the foothills surrounding the town and must be made of Sangiovese – a rare mutation of the varietal that only occurs here. The warm sun and steep slopes create remarkably elegant wines – something Sangiovese might typically not be associated with.
Deep pomegranate red with a clear, peachy hue.
A very thick and dense berry compote was the first thing I picked up: lots of blackberry and redcurrant but also cranberry and plummy stone fruit. There was also a remarkable neat set of other aromas to pick out: finest tobacco, leather, long notes of polished wood and a generous helping of licorice.
Like most good Brunello, the taste was discreet: whereas the berries did come through, they weren’t nearly as extreme as they were in the nose: the whole wine felt very concise and there wasn’t a single note out of place. The feel was very smooth and the fruit on the pinnacle of ripeness. The tannins were firmly in place and their abrupt appearance was evidence for this wine not having been quite ready to drink yet – nevertheless a superb drop of red with an even brighter future.
Something to lay down and leave for another five to ten years in the cellar but already offering some beautiful promise. Some of the best young Brunello I’ve ever tried.
Marchese di Frescobaldi - Chianti Rùfina DOCG
It’s been a while since I last reviewed Chianti so I thought I’d go for something not from Classico but from Rùfina – if you wish to find out more about the region, you can check out my guide to it here.
So, I selected the only Chianti Rùfina from the racks of where I work and having only one or two wines to compare it with (tasting notes saved in my skull somewhere), I am rather a novice in this DOCG.
Marchese di Frescobaldi is one of the biggest names in Tuscany and, at least in this price category, it literally wipes the floor with wines from biggest rivals – quality of wine is factor number one and when you start comparing price against quality, you’ll find seldom an Italian vintner who’ll be able to do anything similar.
Nipozzano retails in Germany for 12-15€ but you’ll find it in the UK as well.
Purple-red with a clear peach-like hue.
With a big burst of red fruit to start with, immediately noticeable are strong notes of cassis and sour red cherries but there is a lot of red fruit to be dealing with. There appears to be some kind of a dried fruit character possibly plums and the mineral note after a few sniffs is rather complicated – dark chocolate, a splash of freshly-roasted espresso and some rather festive spices come through too.
The first fruit that hit me was wonderful blackcurrant. This eventually made way for the cassis and raspberry of the red-berry nose and the refreshing level of acidity eventually approached bringing with it the spice promised in the nose. A very faint sense of oak was to detect and it was coupled with the rather mild but finish-shaping tannins which left the wine going on and on and on. The finish wasn’t quick but it was sharpened and defined.
A very well made Chianti, certainly heavily reliant on the spice hidden in the nose and finish in stark contrast to the wines of the other DOCs and DOCGs within the Chianti itself. Both rounded but sharp and refreshing, a perfect red for an evening on the balcony or with some simple fresh food (Tapas, light BBQ). The wine was well made and represents good value, particularly in a region where a decent red can set you back up to 100€.
Chianti Classico DOCG - Sangiovese Cuvee - Barcode: 0087236350147 - Price: 13-20€
I’d been wanting to try this wine for a few years now but the rather hefty price tag (for a Chianti) had always put me off. I had always had the experience that, whilst very enjoyable, Chianti is simple wine and, although many producers’ entry level wines start at 20€ a bottle, usually quite cheap as well.
I bought this bottle in Siena from an old-world wine retailer called Enoteca Piccolomini just off of Siena’s market square (shown in the last James Bond film and famous for the Il Palio event that takes place twice a year there). It set me back about 14€.
The wine carried a deep satisfying purple red colour and appeared very thick in the glass.
Strangely enough, the first thing that hit me was a whiff of citrus, something that is unusual with red wine. However, soon afterwards came big but relaxed notes of cassis and red berries with a pleasant plum aroma to finish it off – a good sign of decent Chianti.
There was a unique sense of acidity to the wine and, considering this wine was being enjoyed in Tuscany with about 30˚C outside, it was very refreshing. There were big notes of cherry and cassis but sweeter berries were to pick out as well – raspberry and blackberry. The cherry led into a hidden woody note that was then finished off with mild but important tannin.
This is an excellent Chianti and a superb red wine to enjoy with literally any meal. It felt a tad more modern than most of the other Chianti I’ve ever tried with less kick from the Sangiovese than I’m used to but I like that. I do however feel that the wine is a splash overpriced but certainly enjoyable to lovers of Tuscan red.
-Sud de France
-Pinot Blanc (Weißburgunder)
-Pinot Gris (Grauburgunder)
-Pinot Meunier (Schwarzriesling)
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
-Medium / off-dry
-Brut Zero/ Brut Nature
-Medium / off-dry