Exploring Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC Wines – Toronto

I spend this afternoon tasting and exploring Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC wines at the historic Carlu, Toronto.

Participating wineries included:

Cirelli – Azienda Tilli – Tenuta Micoli – Ausonia – Caprera – Castorani– Colle Moro – Nicodemi – Cantina Tollo – San Lorenzo – Stefania Pepe – Valle Martello

Did you know?
That Abruzzo has been dubbed Europe’s greenest region. Approximately half of this area has been being designated a national parkland and habitat for endangered species as part of a massive “rewilding” project.

Despite its natural beauty and bounty, as well as a 2,500-year-long history of winemaking, this region in Southern Italy is still under-the-radar.

Italian Wine Travel Pioneer and Writer Filippo Magnani Celebrates 25th Anniversary of Fufluns Wine Travel Concierge in Italy

Celebrating a quarter-century of excellence, Fufluns Wine Travel Concierge, led by Filippo Magnani, commemorates its 25th anniversary, marking a significant milestone in delivering unparalleled wine travel experiences throughout Italy. As a renowned wine travel expert and wine writer, Magnani has spent decades exploring and documenting Italy’s rich wine heritage, showcasing its diverse destinations and the personalities behind its celebrated wines. This occasion reflects not only the success of Fufluns Wine Tours but also Magnani’s contributions to the global appreciation of Italian wine culture through his writings and curated experiences.

Castello di Monsanto, Barberino Val d’Elsa , Chianti, Toscana, Italia

Inspired by the flourishing wine tourism industry in Napa Valley during the 1990s, Magnani recognized Italy’s untapped potential and sought to elevate the wine touring experience in his native country. In July 1999, he founded Fufluns Wine Travel Concierge, pioneering the path as the first Italian wine travel planner dedicated exclusively to Italy’s rich wine heritage. Named after the Etruscan God of Wine, Fufluns, under Magnani’s stewardship, has built a reputation for its immersive itineraries that seamlessly blend ultra luxury experiences with Italy’s undiscovered gems. Fufluns unwavering commitment to authenticity, quality, and personalization has cemented its status as a leader in the industry, creating the opportunity for people from around the world to engage with the wine regions and people of Italy.

“Reflecting on 25 years of Fufluns Wine Tours, I am filled with gratitude for this quest we’ve undertaken,” says Filippo Magnani, Founder and Supervisor, who oversees a team of ten wine expert guides – all holding WSET or Master Sommelier certifications. “We craft a diverse range of thoughtfully designed wine travel experiences led by a team of knowledgeable wine experts, ensuring an authentic and enriching experience for each guest, from avid wine enthusiasts and collectors to wine schools, wine clubs, and industry professionals such as sommeliers and importers.”

Magnani’s extensive experience in the wine trade, including holding the Wine & Spirit Education Trust Diploma (DipWSET), as a wine writer, and wine travel advisor, has enriched Fufluns’ offerings with depth and sophistication. His and his team’s commitment to excellence and their ability to weave together the cultural, historical, and sensory aspects of Italian wine make Fufluns Wine Tours not just a journey, but a celebration of Italy’s enduring wine legacy.

To celebrate the company’s 25th Anniversary, Magnani and his team are thrilled to debut an enhanced Fufluns website, featuring a range of new personalized, comprehensive, and deluxe wine itineraries throughout Italy. Visit www.fufluns.com to learn more. Filippo is also pleased to showcase a refreshed version of his personal website, www.filippomagani.it, focused on his writings and collaborations, consulting experiences, and career achievements.

In addition, Magnani is proud to announce the launch of a quarterly newsletter, along with a new logo ”A Journey Through Italian Wines”. Featuring captivating insights into Italy’s wine destinations, exclusive interviews with key personalities in the wine and hospitality industry, detailed wine tasting notes, and selected excerpts from Magnani’s personal blog, Tales Behind The Wines, this newsletter aims to further enrich the understanding and appreciation of Italian wine culture among enthusiasts and professionals worldwide.

Furthermore, throughout 2024, Magnani will personally lead tours for various wine club groups and private wine collectors across Italy. These tours, featuring long-standing partners and loyal clients, are a special celebration of Fufluns’ 25th anniversary, allowing Magnani to share the beauty and richness of Italy’s wine regions and producers with those who have supported his journey. As Fufluns continues to innovate in the wine travel space, Magnani’s goal is to strengthen his expert team, further enhancing Fufluns’ ability to offer unique and memorable wine experiences while maintaining the personal touch that has distinguished them in the industry.

Magnani will also be participating in a charity auction as part of The Golden Vines Awards this October in Madrid. For this event, he has created a special auction item: “VIP Experience — Discovering the Iconic Bolgheri”, in which he will personally accompany six passionate donors on a visit to the historic estates of this famed Tuscan region. All proceeds will be donated entirely to the Gérard Basset Foundation.

Source: Fufluns Wine Tours

The Future of Amarone: Identity and Evolution by Filippo Magnani

There is perhaps no better place in the world to bring together opera and wine than Verona, Italy. Opera was born in Italy and Verona hosts one of the world’s most famous opera festivals in its magnificent Roman Arena. The region also produces one of Italy’s most celebrated red wines, Amarone. It was only fitting that on February 3rd, the Valpolicella Wine Consortium celebrated the 20th anniversary of Amarone Opera Prima with a moving performance from the world-renowned tenor, Vittorio Grigolo. Since he was a child Griglio sang as a soloist in the Sistine Chapel and quickly became one of the youngest, most talented opera singers on the world stage, and the local star of the Arena Opera Festival since 2013.

The whole Amarone Opera Prima event took place over three days with 70 participating producers and was set in the 17th century Gran Guardia building on the Piazza Brà in the heart of Verona. The Consortium’s President Christian Marchesini announced in his keynote speech that the theme of the event would be focused on the future of Valpolicella within the current global market and with regards to consumer preferences which have shifted significantly over the past few years. As global demand has stagnated or shrunk in most international markets, it’s clear the region is being put to the test.

Master of Wine and the consortium’s vice-president, Andrea Lonardi, explained that past Amarone production was oriented towards a market demand for silky smooth reds that were warming, easy to drink and could be made in high quantities. Now that market is shrinking and so there is a need for a stylistic change and the ability to reorient these wines to different markets. The modern consumer is increasingly looking for fine wines with a deeper connection to their territory of origin and a distinct identity that can be easily communicated and understood.

He went on to suggest that the region’s focus needs to be one of synergy between method, territory, producers, and messaging. A shift from volume to value requires change on several levels whether those be cultural, legislative, or related to production.

Overall, the consortium assessed Valpolicella’s 2019 Amarone vintage to be 5-star quality, thanks to its intense aromatics and balanced profile that truly represents the key characteristics of the appellation in a balanced, modern way.

So, what is the true identity of Valpolicella?

The unique qualities of this region lie in its rich winemaking history combined with a variety of picturesque landscapes and soil types. Its rolling hills are nestled against the Dolomite mountains and Lake Garda. Vineyards are protected to the north by the Monti Lessini plateau which shields against the cold currents from the Alps. Thanks to Lake Garda to the west, they also benefit from milder winters and good ventilation. A longer growing season helps produce wines with good concentration and high acidity. For centuries these ideal conditions have attracted winemakers who developed the traditional method of ‘appassimento’, or drying of grapes, to produce a unique style of wine famously known as Amarone which has become the flagship wine of the region. This long-standing tradition of Amarone and special grape drying techniques used to make it are a fundamental part of the region’s identity.

The classification of wines in the Valpolicella region can seem complex at first because there are both wine styles and wine territories with similar names. The region produces four traditional wines: Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG, Valpolicella DOC, Valpolicella Ripasso DOC and Recioto della Valpolicella DOCG. These are classified according to how the wine is made. Then all four of these wines can come from three distinct territories within the Valpolicella region: Valpolicella DOC, Valpolicella DOC Classico and Valpolicella DOC Valpatena.

Experiencing Valpolicella

Valpolicella’s picturesque vineyards attract wine enthusiasts, foodies, and nature lovers alike. Guided tours take visitors through the charming countryside, offering breathtaking views of rolling hills, terraced vineyards, and ancient olive groves. The countryside is dotted with charming historic villages that provide a glimpse into the region’s cultural and architectural heritage. One such village is San Giorgio di Valpolicella, where visitors can admire the 12th-century Romanesque church and explore the narrow streets lined with traditional houses. The town of Fumane boasts the historic Maso degli Orzi, a beautifully preserved rural complex that offers a captivating glimpse into rural life in the area. The hilltop village of San Pietro in Cariano is crowned by the enchanting Villa Serego Alighieri, a gracious Renaissance villa that serves as a winery and museum.

Verona is an ideal starting point for day trips out to some of Valpolicella’s best producers, but it is also worth spending time in the city to discover its cultural and historical highlights. Also classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Verona is renowned for its ancient architecture, rich culture, and romantic ambience. Visitors can explore the well-preserved Arena di Verona, an imposing amphitheater dating back to the Roman era, take a walk to Juliet’s House, the enchanting landmark that inspired Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and then on to the beautiful Piazza delle Erbe, the vibrant heart of the city and home to historic buildings, cafes, and markets.

If it is natural beauty and outdoor activities you’re looking for, Lake Garda is just an hour to the east. As Italy’s largest lake, Garda offers stunning landscapes with lakeside villages and historical landmarks surrounded by mountains. The lake provides plenty of adventurous activities like windsurfing, kite surfing, stand-up paddleboarding, and parasailing.

Of course, Valpolicella is not only famous for its wines but also for its delectable gastronomy. Local restaurants and trattorias delight visitors with traditional dishes featuring the rich flavors of the region. Popular culinary delights include hearty pasta dishes like “bigoli” with duck ragu and “paparotte” (cabbage and beans soup), along with succulent cuts of grilled or stewed meats. These flavorsome dishes perfectly complement the robust Valpolicella wines and create a memorable dining experience.

My choices of Valpolicella’s producers
Below are a few notable producers that caught my eye, and palate, during this year’s Amarone Opera Prima event. They range from historic estates to new state-of-the-art wineries and small, passionate producers focused on terroir and sustainability:

Bertani – www.bertani.net

Bertani has a rich and fascinating history. The Bertani brothers founded their winery just a few years before the unification of Italy. One of them, Gaetano, studied in Burgundy with none other than Jules Guyot. He returned home to the heart of Valpolicella applying what he learned and quickly Bertani wines gained recognition. Soon their wines were being served at the royal court in both Italy and England. As they expanded their vineyards and production, Bertani became a historical reference for the region and is now the only winery in Valpolicella that still releases its old vintages dating back to the 1960’s.

Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG Valpantena 2019
Deep ruby core, paler on the hedge. The nose shows beautiful aromas of plum and blackcurrant with notes of rhubarb and liquorice. The palate is balanced, the acidity matches well with soft tannins and with the alcohol. Harmonious structure with long finish – a beautiful wine.

Gerardo Cesari – www.cesari.it

Founded in 1936 by Gerardo Cesari, the winery was one of the first in Italy to export to all five continents, making Cesari a global name in Amarone. Their wines are known for their authentic, regional character and a tradition of excellence. They have two wineries near Verona. Their historical first winery, Fumane, is used for the grape drying process as well as the pressing, fermentation and a first refining of the wines. Their new facility in Cavaion Veronese is used for the production, bottling and barrel aging of their fine wines. They offer guided visits of their vineyards and barrel rooms followed by several tasting options paired with food upon request.

Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG Classico 2019
Intense ruby red colour with paler reflections. Attractive bouquet of strawberry and violet mixed with spicy notes of black pepper. Full body with lots of red fruit in the center palate with smoky scents on the back. Sweet, tannins and quite long aftertaste – A harmonious wine.

La Collina dei Ciliegi – www.lacollinadeiciliegi.it

The charming Collina dei Ciliegi is nestled in the hills of the Valpantena territory. It is the dream of winemaker Massimo Gianolli who got his start in 2005 with a small production of grapes that would become the first Amarone produced in the small village of Erbin. Now La Collina dei Cilliegi produces 3 collections (Classic, Riserve and Emporium) that are exported to over 20 countries worldwide. They have some of the highest vineyards in Valpolicella (750m) and with their chalky soils produce wines with excellent acidity and minerality. Their modern approach includes new blends that combine traditional and international varieties.

A visit to the winery takes you on a memorable journey of the land, culture and flavors of Valpantena. Their beautifully restored farmhouse Ca’ Del Moro welcomes visitors for tastings, vineyard walks and fine dining along with 6 finely refurbished rooms each named after symbolic wines of the region (Amarone, Valpolicella, Recioto, Ripasso, Garganega and Corvina).

Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG 2019
Deep garnet core, paler towards the edge. The wine displays intense flavour of cherry, balsamic overtones and light earthy notes. A dry, full body wine with good acidity, well balanced structure and firm tannins. Elegant finish. Great potential for aging.

Contrada Palui – www.contradapalui.com

A relatively new producer, Contrada Palui was created by the innovative and passionate Hannes Pichler. After studying renewable energies in London and Milan, Hannes found a naturally organic green meadow in the Valpolicella region just northeast of Verona which had never seen pesticides and planted a vineyard there. The unique location benefits from 500 meters elevation and 180 degrees of sun exposure. The soil composition is that of clay and limestone with flint and black basalt. This combination of soils and location allows Hannes to produce very terroir driven wines. He converted an old hay barn to store his barrels and amphorae.

Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG 2019
Brilliant and clean. It shows a lovely bouquet of ripe plum, violet and chocolate with a hint of tobacco. The palate expresses ripe cherry, blackberries with a hint of spiciness. Good acidity, soft tannins and medium finish.

Massimago – www.massimago.com

Hidden in the valley of Mezzane in Valpolicella is the Massimago winery which dates back to 1883. The name comes from latin meaning “maximum wellness” and that is certainly what they have created here. Current owner and winemaker Camilla Rossi Chauvenet renovated the entire estate in 2003 expanding their cellars and creating a Wine Relais with 7 elegant country-style suites, a pool, private spa and restaurant serving dishes created from ingredients grown on the property. Visitors can enjoy a variety of tasting experiences from a vineyard walk to a picnic or e-bike tour.

Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG 2019 Conte Gastone
Bright with a deep ruby core. Pronounced flavour of ripe plum with scents of new leather. Good structure with medium-plus acidity, medium alcohol and leathery overtones. Velvety tannins, well integrated with the fruit – a great wine.

Novaia – www.novaia.it

On the top of a gentle hill overlooking Marano Valley in Valpolicella Classica sits a 15th century manor, home to Novaia winery. The name means “new farmyard”, a place where the Vaona family settled in the 1800’s to cultivate vines, olives, cherries, corn and silkworms. Here they found an ideal location with the right topography, soil, water and climate for growing grapes and the subsequent grape-drying process. Their vineyards are divided into three different ‘Cru’. The family offers visitors a ‘Woods and Wine Tour’ which consists of a guided walk among the olive groves, forest and vineyards followed by a tour of the ancient cellar and a tasting of their wines and olive oil.

Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG Classico 2019 Corte Vaona
Bright core it shows expressive flavour of strawberry, blueberries, and violet mixed with scents of rhubarb and mint. Full bodied with rich fruit, well balanced with firm tannins with long finish – A lovely wine.

Terre di Leone – www.terredileone.it

Another relatively young producer, Terre di Leone is a small, family run production that has made a name for itself in a short amount of time. They cultivate 10 hectares of vineyards at 400 meters elevation. Owned by the couple Chiara Turati and Federico Pellizzari, they give meticulous attention to their vineyards which they have trained with the guyot system. Their plantings are very dense to ensure small yields of excellent quality.

Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG Classico 2019 Il Re Pazzo
Brillant, ruby red with compacted rim. Pronounced flavour of cassis and violet. Spicy with overtones of leather. Present delicate tannins and quite long aftertaste -mA great wine.

Tenuta Villa Bellini – www.tenutavillabellini.com

A historic producer with a château-like estate whose roots date back to the 15th century. They were the first organic certified winery in the region and pioneered wild yeast fermentation in the early 90’s which was not a favored practice at the time. Their vineyards hold an impressive amount of old vines, some already reaching 200 years old, and all of which are cultivated according to organic and biodynamic principles.

Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG Classico 2019 Centenarie
The colour is intense ruby with a compact rim. Intense bouquet of black cherry and prune with a note of rhubarb. A full body wine with good freshness. Dry and fragrant, with a long persistence. Harmonious finish.

ZYME’ – www.zyme.it

Last but certainly not least is Zýmē, a state of the art winery ingeniously built on a 15th century sandstone quarry in the heart of Valpolicella Classica. The owner and winemaker, Celestino Gaspari, grew up in the fields outside of Verona and was deeply influenced by the soil and seasons. In his 20’s he studied with renowned winemaker Giuseppe Quintarelli and through much hard work developed his own personal vision of the winegrower’s profession. In 1999 he was ready to build his own winery that represented a synergy between tradition and innovation, man and nature. His wines are meant to be transparent to all, so that those who drink it can “read in every sip” his connection with the land.

Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG Classico 2019
Colour ranging from ruby core to light garnet rim. Complex nose with flavour of dark cherry and prune. Vibrant, fresh palate with velvety tannins well matched with a lovely fruit and a lively acidity. Silky tannins and fresh finish. Outstanding wine.

Benvenuto Brunello 2023, Presenting the Iconic Elixir of Tuscany – Filippo Magnani

On November 28th wine enthusiasts and professionals in nine key cities worldwide gathered to celebrate Brunello Day. London, New York, Dallas, Miami, Toronto, Vancouver, Zurich, Shanghai, and Tokyo all raised their glasses in honor of Brunello di Montalcino, the iconic elixir of Tuscany. This celebration is in fact the culmination of a 10-day event called Benvenuto Brunello, organized by the Brunello di Montalcino Consortium. Although Brunello Day is just a couple years old, this was Benvenuto Brunello’s 32nd edition and marked the release of the 2018 and 2019 vintages represented by 118 producers and 310 labels. These wines were evaluated by 90 Italian and international journalists and trade professionals, several of which were hand-picked by the Vinitaly International Academy, now supported by the Brunello Consortium.

During the inaugural weekend the 2023 vintage was presented and the 32nd Leccio d’Oro prize was awarded to five restaurants and wine retailers with an exceptional list of Montalcino wines: Ristorante Veranda at the Hotel Villa d’Este in Cernobbio, The Sistina restaurant in New York, The Il Quadrifoglio in Asti, The Berry Bros. & Rudd in London and the Osteria Il Bargello in Siena which also owns the Salotto del Vino, a wine bar and shop with nearly 100 Montalcino wines served by the glass.

A Story of Visionaries – The Rise of Brunello

After almost 50 years since its DOCG status, Brunello di Montalcino wines continue to grow in popularity and gain market share worldwide. To truly understand why, one must delve into its intriguing history. Montalcino was a very important stop of the Via Francigena, a road that ran from England to Rome and, therefore, it welcomed and hosted important men of power, nobles, politicians and popes. The great wines of Montalcino were crafted to satisfy the illustrious visitors who were traveling to reach the Eternal City, and that’s why the hamlet has displayed absolute quality winemaking for centuries.

The modern success of Brunello di Montalcino started in the late 19th century and is intertwined with the vision and passion of a few key figures who recognized the potential of the Sangiovese grape in a unique terroir. One such visionary was Ferruccio Biondi-Santi, a winemaker from the Montalcino region who experimented with the Sangiovese grape, selecting superior clones and implementing innovative winemaking techniques. He was one of the first to introduce the practice of aging Brunello di Montalcino in large oak casks for an extended period.

This patient aging process proved to be the key to unlocking the full potential of the Sangiovese grape. Over time, the wine developed a deep, complex character with earthy aromas, intense dark fruit flavors, and an impressive ability to age gracefully. Biondi-Santi’s wines gained recognition and set the standard for what Brunello di Montalcino would become.

As the reputation of Biondi-Santi’s Brunello spread, other winemakers in the Montalcino region started to adopt similar winemaking practices. In 1966, Brunello di Montalcino was first recognized as a Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) and in 1980 it was granted the highest classification in Italian wine, Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG). This prestigious recognition solidified Brunello di Montalcino’s status as one of Italy’s most exceptional and iconic wines.

The Sangiovese Grape – A Match Made in Montalcino

The secret behind the exceptional character of Brunello di Montalcino lies in its main grape variety – Sangiovese. This indigenous grape has been cultivated in Tuscany for centuries, and although it is Italy’s most widely planted black grape variety, many would agree that it finds its ultimate expression in the hilly vineyards of Montalcino.

The name “Sangiovese” is derived from the Latin words “sanguis Jovis” meaning “blood of Jove,” reflecting the grape’s deep red color. It is known by other names too such as Brunello and Sangiovese Grosso. The grape has a remarkable ability to express itself in a range of styles, from light and fruity to full-bodied and complex. Sangiovese is known for its distinctive aromas, lively acidity and tannic backbone. Closely associated with Sangiovese are fragrances of cherries – both fresh and dried – as well as ripe strawberries and plums that often intertwine with appealing herbal nuances like thyme, oregano, and sweet tobacco. This flavor profile captures beautifully the essence of the Tuscan terroir. Its vibrant and refreshing acidity preserves the wine’s balance, enhances its food pairing versatility and contributes to the wine’s aging potential, enabling it to develop complexity and maintain freshness over time.

Sangiovese wines often exhibit a pronounced tannic structure, delivering a firm and grippy texture that can be attributed to both the grape variety and the extended skin contact during fermentation. These tannins not only contribute to the wine’s structure but also bestow it with excellent aging potential. With time, the tannins soften, allowing the wine to evolve and develop greater complexity while retaining its inherent elegance. This is why the Brunello di Montalcino DOCG requires a minimum of 4 years aging, including 2 years in barrel and 4 months in bottle. The Riserva takes another year of aging which includes an additional 2 months in bottle.

The Terroir of Montalcino – A Sublime Expression of Complexity

The terroir of Montalcino is a tapestry of diverse microclimates, soils, and altitudes that contribute to the distinctive character of Brunello di Montalcino.
The vineyards of Montalcino are nestled on slopes and plateaus at varying elevations, ranging from 250 to 600 meters above sea level. This diverse topography results in different microclimates within the region, allowing winemakers the opportunity to express different facets of the Sangiovese grape.

The soils in Montalcino are rich and varied, giving Brunello di Montalcino its multifaceted personality. The northern region of Montalcino has soils dominated by limestone and shale, bringing finesse and elegance to the wines. In the central part, clay and marl prevail, imparting structure and depth. In the southern areas, volcanic soils contribute to wines with power and intensity.

The climate of Montalcino plays a crucial role in the ripening of the grapes. Summers are warm and dry, while winters are mild, providing the perfect balance of sun and rainfall. The significant diurnal temperature variation during the growing season helps to retain the grapes’ natural acidity, resulting in wines with vibrant freshness.

These factors, combined with the expertise and dedication of the winemakers, shape the flavor profile of Brunello di Montalcino. The wines are characterized by their remarkable complexity, intense aromas, lively acidity, and structured tannins that contribute to their exceptional aging potential.

Preserving Tradition, Embracing Innovation – The Future of Brunello di Montalcino

While rooted in centuries-old traditions, the producers of Brunello di Montalcino embrace innovation and strive for excellence in their winemaking practices. In recent years, there has been a greater emphasis on sustainable viticulture and organic farming methods. Many wineries in Montalcino have adopted practices that respect the environment, ensuring a healthy balance between vineyard management and the preservation of the unique terroir. Over half of them are now certified organic.

Modern winemaking techniques have also allowed winemakers to refine their craftsmanship further. Advances in technology have made it possible to control temperature during fermentation, ensuring optimal extraction of aromas and flavors from the grapes. Precision in oak aging has also become a focus, allowing winemakers to strike a perfect balance between the fruit purity and the subtle influence of oak.

Experiences Around Montalcino – A Perfect Blend of Culture, Gastronomy, Wine, and History

For visitors and wine enthusiasts, a journey to Montalcino offers much more than just a tasting experience. Here, you can immerse yourself in the rich cultural heritage, savor delicious culinary delights, explore the ancient history, and indulge in the stunning beauty of the Tuscan landscape.

For those with a passion for culture and history, a visit to the medieval fortress that overlooks Montalcino is a must. The fortress, known as the Rocca, offers panoramic views of the surrounding vineyards and the charming town below. Inside, the Museo Civico showcases archaeological finds and artifacts that tell the story of Montalcino’s past. The main street and square are lined with boutiques, restaurants and wine shops perfect for a day of shopping, eating and wine tasting.

Gastronomy connoisseurs will find themselves in heaven as they explore the local cuisine. The traditional dishes of Montalcino are a perfect pairing for Brunello di Montalcino, from hearty wild boar ragù to Pecorino cheese made from the milk of sheep that graze among the vines.
Many wineries in the area welcome visitors, offering guided tours of their vineyards and cellars. The winemakers take great pride in sharing their knowledge and passion, allowing visitors to gain a deeper understanding of the winemaking process and the philosophy behind their wines. And of course, the tastings of Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino are an absolute highlight, immersing visitors in the flavors, aromas, and history of these exceptional wines.

For those who are captivated by the natural beauty of the region, a drive through the rolling hills of Montalcino is an enchanting experience. The vine-laden landscapes, dotted with rustic farmhouses and charming villages, create an idyllic setting that begs to be explored. Hiking and biking are great ways to fully appreciate the picturesque scenery and immerse yourself in the soul of this incredible region. In fact there are two famous events that take place every year here: the Brunello Crossing for walkers and hikers and L’Eroica for cyclists. Among other scenic landscapes, both will take you through Val d’Orcia, a UNESCO World Heritage site that embodies the best of the Tuscan countryside.

In Conclusion

Brunello di Montalcino DOCG is not just a wine; it is an embodiment of the passion, dedication, and the magic of the Montalcino terroir. The Sangiovese grape nurtured in this exceptional climate and soil produces wines of unrivaled elegance, complexity, and longevity. A visit to Montalcino is an opportunity to experience the rich heritage, indulge in the gastronomic delights, immerse yourself in the mesmerizing landscapes, and uncover the secrets of Brunello di Montalcino. With every sip, you will taste the rich history, feel the love and respect for the land, and be transported to the heart of Tuscany’s winemaking excellence. Cheers to a truly unforgettable wine experience!

Let’s Discover the Wines of Barbera d’Asti & Monferrato – Part l

This jewel of Piedmont became part of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites in 2014.  It is interesting to note, that this was the first time an Italian vineyard landscape “Monferrato, Piedmont” was recognized as having exceptional value by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, and these landscapes were listed as such.

UNESCO states:

“are an exceptional living testimony to the historical tradition of grape cultivation, the processes for wine-making, a rural social context, and an economic fabric based on the culture of wine.”

I was thrilled to learn more about this exceptional area. I attended a Masterclass, a few weeks ago, which was conducted by the very knowledgeable Andrea Dani, at Palazzo Crova. For history buffs, Palazzo Crova, is a stunning example of an 18th-century noble residence in this region.

Andrea, a member of Associazione Italiana Sommelier, conducted an overview on Barbera D’asti DOCG, Nizza DOCG and Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG.

The Consortium

The Barbera d’Asti and Monferrato Wines Consortium was founded in 1946 to protect and promote its denominations, and their image, on national and international markets. Currently, the Consortium has more than 404 membered- companies and 13 protected denominations.

Filippo Mobrici, Vice President of Barbera d’Asti and Monferrato Wines Consortium, says:

“There are many wine souls that find expression in Monferrato, and the Consortium has had the objective, since its inception, precisely to act as a bond to keep these multiplicities united, to promote the entire territory and its excellence in a unitary and uniform way.”

Barbera

Barbera is a northern Italian grape that produces fresh, light-bodied red wines with low tannins. Like so many Italian wine grape varieties, Barbera has ancient origins that traces back to the 17th Century. Barbera was first cited in 1798, in a document, by Count Giuseppe Nuvolone-Pergamo of Scandaluzzo.

With this history, Barbera likely originated in Piedmont, the region for which it is well known. Alongside Barbera d’Alba DOC and Barbera d’Asti DOCG, the grape also gives its name to the Barbera del Monferrato DOC and Barbera del Monferrato Superiore DOCG titles – all in the Piedmont region.

The “Barbera” grape variety is also referred to as ‘La Barbera’, treating it in the feminine context. This variety is challenging to cultivate as it produces many shoots, therefore requiring regular pruning and low yields. Century-old vines still exist in many regional vineyards. It ripens relatively late, has a unique balance between sugar and acidity, and is a deep ruby colour.

General tasting notes include:
Lively and bright colours, intense fruit aromas, spicey notes, some toasted and balsamic notes, crunchy acidity, low tannins and excellent food pairing options

Barbera can also be found outside Piedmont: Oltrepò Pavese, Colli Piacentini, Franciacorta, Umbria, Campania, Puglia, Sicilia, and has been adopted by winegrowers around the world: California and South America.

The Soils of Monferrato

The soils on which Barbera and the other Monferrato grape varieties are grown date back to 2 million years ago.  The sea began to leave the current Po Valley, initiating a process of landscape shaping that has characterized the change and the present-day conformation of the hills.

The soils, generally poor in organic matter, and often dry in summer, can be divided into two main types: white soils and Asti sands. White soils are more ancient and widespread in the Canelli area, southern Asti area, Alessandria area and the Casale area. The wines produced from these grapes are often full-bodied, rich in color, and are suitable for long aging. The sands of Asti soils spread mainly in the center of the Asti Monferrato area to the right and left of the Tanaro River and are found on much steeper hills. The wines produced from these grapes here are characterized by lower acidity,  ripen faster, and are more for immediate consumption.

                    Climate

The Climate in this area is Continental with hot summers (+/- 35 degrees), some drought and cold winters ( -/+15 degrees).  Rainfall between May and November is 700-800 mm/year.

Barbera D’Asti DOCG

Ancient farming traditions are representative in this area, which forms 116 municipalities in the province of Asti, and 51 municipalities in the province of Alessandria. 90% of Barbera is produced on the best-exposed hills of Asti and Monferrato. Barbera DOCG is usually harvested in the second half of September. Vinification is usually in steel, which produces fresher and more immediate wines, the use of barriques and barrels has developed, aimed at producing the Superiore which, tends to be more complex, and long-aging.

With respect to the organoleptic characteristics, the color is ruby-red, particularly intense in Superiore, tending towards garnet with aging. The aromas are intense: cherry, plum, dark berries prevail, which evolve into hints of jam, some balsamic, spicy, and floral notes. The taste is full, with great harmony. Aging often gives complexity and richness of velvet tannins and long taste-olfactory persistence.

Barbera D’Asti DOCG Timeline

1970 – Acquired DOC Barbera d’Asti
2008 – DOC Barbera d’Asti DOCG Barbera d’Asti. 3 subzones:

    1. Nizza
    2. Tinella
    3. Colli Astiani

2016 – Nizza DOCG (18 municipalities – Nizza Monferrato)

Production specifications include:

Territory: 167 municipalities in the province of Asti and Alessandria

Ampelography: min.90% Barbera grapes + 10% max other non-aromatic red grapes allowed in Piedmont

Yield: 9 ton/ha

Minimum natural alcohol content: 12%vol., 12.5%vol. Superiore

Minimum aging: 4 months – 14 months (Superiore, with min.6 in wood)

Nizza DOCG

Produced with only Barbera grapes, Nizza DOCG comes to life in the heart of Monferrato, in a production area that includes 18 municipalities. Nizza DOCG was in fact initially recognized as a sub-area of Barbera d’Asti and obtained its DOCG recognition in 2014.

These wines are usually aged for 18 months, of which 6 months in wooden barrels. Nizza DOCG is a wine characterized by intense aromas of cherry, plum and dark berries, which evolve into hints of jam, with some balsamic, spicy and floral notes. If aged in wood, the wine develops notes of cinnamon, cocoa and licorice. The taste is full, with great harmony. Aging gives complexity and richness of sweet and velvety tannins and long taste-olfactory persistence.

Nizza DOCG Timeline

1970 – DOC Barbera d’Asti

2000 – (vintage) Nizza as a subzone of the Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza

2008 – DOCG Barbera d’Asti

2014 – (vintage) Nizza DOCG (18 municipalities – Nizza Monferrato)

Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG

It’s interesting to note, that the origin of the Ruchè varietal cannot be confirmed. Its history can be reconstructed of verbal traditions passed on from generation to generation.

Ruchè is one of the rarest native vines grown in the Asti Monferrato area, in calcareous, dry soils subject to great exposure to the sun. It obtained DOCG status in 2010 and its production now reaches one million bottles. Made with 90 to 100% Ruchè grapes (with Barbera and/or Brachetto grapes permitted up to a maximum of 10%), Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG is distinguished by an intense and original bouquet, with floral and spicy notes, sometimes combined with hints of mixed berries and morello cherries. The flavor is dry, harmonious and pleasantly soft, with good aromatic persistence.

Wines of Barbera d’Asti & Monferrato
By the Numbers

404 associated companies

13 Protected designations

4 DOCGs:
Barbera d’Asti, Nizza, Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato and Terre Alfieri

 9 DOCs:
Albugnano, Cortese dell’Alto Monferrato, Dolcetto d’Asti, Freisa d’Asti, Grignolino d’Asti, Loazzolo, Malvasia di Castelnuovo Don Bosco, Monferrato, Piemonte

In the Vineyard

The area claimed by all the Designations of the Consortium in 2021 was equal to 10,430 hectares.

4,142 hectares claimed to Barbera d’Asti DOCG

3,827 hectares claimed to Piedmont DOC

In the Wine Cellar

As of 2021, the total amount of bottled wine registered by all protected Designations was equal to 492,986.21 hl for 65,731,495 bottles.

Barbera d’Asti DOCG: 149,689.70 hectoliters and 19,958,627 bottles

Piemonte DOC: 275,696.83 hectoliters and 36,759,577 bottles