Reviews: ITALY

Villa Cerna, Chianti Classico (Tuscany, Italy) Riserva 2010 ($24, Banfi Imports): Andrea Cecchi and his brother represent the fourth generation of the family making wine.  They have four estates, one in Umbria, and three in their home base of Tuscany, including this one, Villa Cerna.  Located in the Chianti Classico region, it is their ancestral home, which probably explains why wines from this estate are always so stunning.  They are traditionally proportioned — not fruit bombs — and reflect the spice and savory quality unique to Chianti Classico.  Villa Cerna’s 2010 Chianti Classico Riserva, from a great vintage, is especially noteworthy.  The earthy non-fruit elements complement its dark cherry-like nuances.  The flavors explode in the mouth, yet the wine is not overdone, nor heavy.  The tannins are refined so it’s easy to enjoy now with a hearty pasta dish, but its balance suggests it will evolve beautifully. In short, it’s a gorgeous wine — and a bargain to boot.
93 Michael Apstein Feb 18, 2014

Boscarelli, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (Tuscany, Italy) “Nocio dei Boscarelli” 2009 ($82): This single vineyard Sangiovese-based wine shows the potential and glory of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.  Its explosive dark cherry-like flavors are balanced–and indeed, enhanced–by a firm minerality.  It’s paradoxically both austere and mouth-filling.  As good as Boscarelli’s regular Vino Nobile is, the Noci just has more of everything without being overdone or overblown.  A vertical tasting of the Noci back to the 1983 vintage held at the estate last year, showed how beautifully these wines develop.  The 2009, from a great vintage, should develop beautifully given its ripeness, structure and balance, so this is one for the cellar, not tonight’s dining table.
94 Michael Apstein Feb 18, 2014

Monsanto, Chianti (Tuscany, Italy) “Monrosso” 2011 ($14, Mionetto): Monsanto is one of the great producers of traditionally framed Chianti Classico.  This one, from the greater Chianti region, not the Classico subzone, is what they call their “entry level” wine.  With the inclusion of Merlot (about 20%) in the blend, it has a far more fruity and modern profile than their Chianti Classico, but serves as a good introduction to their wines.  With good concentration, bright fruitiness and freshness, it’s a good choice for current drinking with pasta bathed in a tomato-based sauce.
88 Michael Apstein Feb 18, 2014
Castello Banfi, IGP Toscana (Italy) Centine Rosso 2011 ($12, Banfi Imports): Castello Banfi, a stellar producer of Brunello di Montalcino, one of Italy’s great wines, consistently shows its talent with this superb bargain-priced wine.  In many ways it’s easier to make great Brunello than a low-end wine because of the grandeur of the site. That’s one of the reasons why this red Centine (Banfi also makes a white and rosé under the Centine label) is so impressive.  It’s a blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot that delivers incredible complexity at the price.  It’s far more polished than you’d ever imagine for the price. Every year, I think the current vintage is their best yet, and that assessment holds with the 2011.  It’s hard to imagine getting more enjoyment from a $12 wine.  The price suggests it’s suited for pizza, but its balance and complexity means it’s perfect for an “important” meal; just don’t tell your guests the price.
90 Michael Apstein Feb 11, 2014

Boscarelli, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (Tuscany, Italy) 2010 ($31): Though a DOCG, Italy’s highest level of wine, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is often overlooked.  Other Tuscan wines, such as Chianti Claissico or Brunello di Montalcino seem to bask in the limelight.  Boscarelli, a stellar producer in Montepulciano, is trying to change that perception with their consistently stellar wines.  Their 2010, with lovely austerity and penetrating minerality, is easy to recommend for current drinking, though my experience with their wines tells me that the 2010 will evolve beautifully over a decade.  Not a stand alone, aperitif-type drink, this wine’s firm fruitiness is made for a hearty pasta dish or seared lamb chops.  Its beauty expands on the palate and its bracing acidity keeps you coming back for more.
92 Michael Apstein Feb 11, 2014

Pertinace, Barbera d’Alba (Piedmont, Italy) Barbera 2011 ($12, MW Imports): Pertinace is a small (only 15 members), high-quality cooperative in Piedmont that controls only 175 acres of vines but makes a great Barbera.  Their 2011 is bright and lively with an ideal balance of fruit and spice with slightly briary undertones.  Barbera’s well-known energetic acidity stimulates the palate without puckering tartness.  It’s amazing to find the hallmark of a “food” wine, an attractive bitterness in the finish, in a $12 wine.  Perfect for current drinking.
90 Michael Apstein Feb 11, 2014
Ricci, Colli Tortonesi (Piedmont, Italy) “Terre del Timorasso” 2011 ($23, Adonna Imports): Here is another gem unearthed by Jeannie Rodgers at Adonna Imports, a small importer who concentrates solely on Italian wines.  The Timorasso grape, an obscure white grape, grows in the equally unknown DOC of Colli Tortonesi (hills of Tortonesi) near Piedmont’s border with Lombardy.  Judging from this wine, it pays to learn about both the grape and the DOC.  It’s a big-shouldered floral white wine filled with flavors of dried fruits balanced by vibrant acidity and verve. Not a wine to drink by itself, its weight demands food–and substantial fare at that.
90 Michael Apstein Feb 4, 2014

Le Piane, Boca (Piedmont, Italy) 2008 ($59, Adonna Imports): There is no one better than Jeannie Rogers, owner of Adonna Imports, at finding and importing Italian wines.  She is one of a diminishing breed of importers who specializes in one country.  She knows Italian wines like few others. The Adonna Imports name on a label is as good a guarantee of quality and distinctiveness as you’ll find.  She scourers Italy, finding wines from obscure areas, such as Boca, a tiny DOC in northern Piedmont that had widespread popularity prior to World War II.  Le Piane’s Boca, a blend of Nebbiolo, Vespolina and Bonarda, has plenty of spice and mineral notes to balance its dark fruit profile.  Indeed, its character comes from these non-fruit flavors that provide a Barolo-like sensibility. It has surprising elegance for a wine of its size.  Firm, but not aggressive, tannins provide structure. Le Piane’s Boca is a fine choice for hearty winter fare now, but has the requisite structure and balance to evolve beautifully, much like a fine Barolo.
93 Michael Apstein Jan 21, 2014

Teruzzi & Puthod, IGT Toscana (Italy) “Terre di tufi” 2011 ($16, Palm Bay International): Teruzzi & Puthod is a, perhaps the, leading producer of Vernaccia di San Gimignano.  For Terre di Tufi, they blend a touch of Chardonnay and Sauvignon along with Vernaccia to create a delightfully nutty and rich wine with excellent depth and uplifting vibrancy.  It’s like San Gimignano on steroids — in a nice way.  Consider it a Super San Gimignano.  It’s a bargain and a great match for grilled fish, pasta with a clam sauce or sautéed chicken breasts with butter and capers.
90 Michael Apstein Jan 21, 2014

Dora Forsoni, Rosso di Montepulciano (Tuscany, Italy) “Poderi Sanguineto I e II” 2011 ($24, Adonna Imports): Though Montepulciano is, indeed, a widely planted Italian grape, the Rosso di Montepulciano in this instance refers to a “baby” Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, much as Rosso di Montalcino is often called a “baby” Brunello.  A blend predominantly of Sangiovese (locally known as Prugnolo Gentile), with Canaiolo Nero and Mammolo included for good measure, this mid-weight wine delivers bright uplifting red fruit flavors intertwined with spicy notes.  Mild tannins lend needed structure without overwhelming.  It’s a great match for a dish of pasta bathed in a rich tomato-based sauce.
88 Michael Apstein Dec 31, 2013

Cantina Zaccagnini, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (Abruzzo, Italy) “Tralcetto” 2011 ($15, Viva Vino Import): Buying Montepulciano d’Abbruzzo can be tricky because the range of quality is vast, from a rough and tumble wine to one with surprising class. Cantina Zaccagnini’s Tralcetto falls into the latter category.  Spicy and red fruity notes predominate in this nicely concentrated mid-weight red wine. Zaccagnini’s version provides lively acidity and vibrancy while avoiding an under ripe sour edge.  Overall this uncomplicated wine is an excellent value and an obvious choice for weekday pasta dishes.
88 Michael Apstein Dec 31, 2013

Querciabella, IGT Maremma (Tuscany, Italy) “Mongrana” 2010 ($22, Maisons Marques & Domaines): Often when Tuscan winemakers blend Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese, Cabernet dominates the wine because it’s more powerful than the more nuanced Sangiovese.  Querciabella avoids that pitfall with Mongrana.  Despite a hefty dose of New World grapes (25% each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) blended with Sangiovese, the Old World style persists.  Herbal and earthy flavors, more than sweet fruitiness, grab your attention.  Silky tannins make it easy to drink now.  Those looking for a glass of red before dinner should look elsewhere because the bright Tuscan acidity is jarring without food, but is absolutely perfect with hearty pasta or a steak.  Don’t miss this great value.
90 Michael Apstein Nov 26, 2013

Grotta del Sole, Asprinio d’Aversa (Campania, Italy) Vigneti Alberata NV ($18, Belvino): Asprinio d’Aversa is a tiny DOC in Campania for sparkling wine made from the Asprinio grape, recently recognized as being identical to Greco, as in Greco di Tufo, one of Campania’s stellar varieties. Light and crisp, Grotta del Sole’s version has a delicate and alluring lemony edge.  Its penetrating flavor persists long after the wine has left your mouth.  It’s a versatile sparkler, working equally well as a great way to start an evening, with cold shellfish, or simply grilled fish.
88 Michael Apstein Nov 19, 2013

Guido Berlucchi, Franciacorta (Lombardy, Italy) “Cuvèe ’61” Rosé NV ($22, Terlato Wines International): This gorgeous Rosé sparkling wine, made predominantly from Pinot Noir, has, paradoxically, lovely power and delicacy.  Floral and redolent of strawberries, it has a creamy roundness that makes it irresistible as a stand-alone aperitif.  It’s hard to imagine at more enjoyable Rosé bubbly on the market for the price.
90 Michael Apstein Nov 19, 2013

Antica Fratta, Franciacorta (Lombardy, Italy) Rosé 2009 ($36, Mascarelli Wine Company): Pierot Bonomi, Antica Fratta’s winemaker, almost apologetically commenting on his Rosé’s pale color notes that rosé “must be drunk with the mouth, not with the eyes.”  No apologies needed.  This powerful blend of Pinot Noir (70%) and Chardonnay delivers delightful fresh strawberry-like flavors accented by a creamy mousse.  Lovely by itself, it’s an excellent choice for smoked or even, grilled, salmon.
90 Michael Apstein Nov 5, 2013

Antica Fratta, Franciacorta (Lombardy, Italy) Brut NV ($26, Mascarelli Wine Company): Despite this wine’s strong personality, its elegance is apparent.  Made entirely from Chardonnay, this Brut has attractive power and yeastiness along with a luxurious suaveness.  Though quite firm and ideal with food, it is still round enough to stand alone as a celebratory drink.  It reminds us that these sparkling wines from Franciacorta often over deliver for their price.
90 Michael Apstein Nov 5, 2013

Majolini, Franciacorta (Lombardy, Italy) Pas Dosé 2006 ($36, Franciacorta Imports): Since the sparkling wines from Franciacorta are inherently softer than Champagne because the warmer climate results in riper grapes, the added verve imparted by a Pas Dosé (a.k.a. non dosage) provides welcome structure.  This one is gorgeous. Despite its power and persistence, it’s gentle and graceful on the palate.  Its silky texture is unusual for a non-dosage sparkling wine and makes it all that more appealing.  Though a great choice as a stand-alone celebratory drink, it has enough backbone to stand up to a rich sautéed scallop dish.
94 Michael Apstein Oct 22, 2013

Majolini, Franciacorta (Lombardy, Italy) Brut NV ($29, Franciacorta Imports): Franciacorta is Italy’s top locale for sparkling wines and Majolini is one of the area’s star producers.  Soft and creamy, this graceful Brut caresses the palate.  It spent an incredible four years on the yeast before disgorgement, which helps explain its amazing complexity.  This very stylish wine has uncommon sophistication for the price.  Your Thanksgiving guests will thank you.
93 Michael Apstein Oct 22, 2013

Guido Berlucchi, Franciacorta (Lombardy, Italy) “Cuvée ‘61” NV ($19, Terlato Wines International): Franciacorta, a small, relatively obscure (at least in the US) appellation in Northern Italy is a treasure trove for fine sparkling wines.  The Guido Berlucchi firm is credited with inventing the category in 1961, hence the name of the Cuvée.  This mostly (90%) Chardonnay-based sparkler is crisp and nicely structured, but not aggressive. Although its slightly rounder fruitiness makes it a lovely choice as an aperitif, there’s enough backbone that allows it to hold up well next to a creamy risotto.  At $19–and I’ve seen if for less–it’s a great buy.
90 Michael Apstein Oct 15, 2013

Guido Berlucchi, Franciacorta (Lombardy, Italy) “Rosé Cuvée ‘61” NV ($22, Terlato Wines International): Arturo Ziliani, the winemaker at Guido Berlucchi, describes making the Rosé as “a challenge,” because he says that dealing with Pinot Noir is always a challenge. He clearly slayed that dragon with this Pinot Noir dominant (60%) Rosé Cuvée 61.  Paradoxically both powerful and delicate, its aromatics and strawberry-like fruitiness are hard to resist.  Its roundness makes it ideal as a welcoming glass at a party, while its depth makes it a good choice to accompany smoked salmon.
90 Michael Apstein Oct 15, 2013

Scacciadiavoli, Sagrantino di Montefalco (Umbria, Italy) 2007 ($45, Selected Estates of Europe): With a 15.5%-stated alcohol it’s not surprising that this Sagrantino di Montefalco has a riper and plusher style.  The tannins are similarly riper and have been tamed, making it a more approachable wine than many wines made from Sagrantino, a notoriously tannic grape.  Still, this is a wine to save for a hearty slow cooked stew on those blustery wintery nights ahead.  Despite the high alcohol, which often imparts sweetness, there is a lovely bitterness in the finish.
88 Michael Apstein Oct 15, 2013

Arnaldo-Caprai, Sagrantino di Montefalco (Umbria, Italy) “Collepiano” 2007 ($51, Folio Fine wine Partners): Arnaldo-Caprai is one of the finest producers in Sagrantino di Montefalco, a small DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, Italy’s highest category of appellations for wine) zone in Umbria.  The wines must be made exclusively from the Sagrantino grape, a dense and tannic variety, and generally need considerable bottle age before the tannins have been tamed.  Despite being six years old, this densely concentrated wine is still youthful and needs more time for the tannins to mellow and the flavors to merge.  The succulent fruit in the finish–which paradoxically has an appealing bitter component–predicts the wine will, indeed, come together nicely, but have patience.  Or decant it several hours before serving with a rich cut of beef.
90 Michael Apstein Oct 8, 2013

Tenuta CastelBuono, Sagrantino di Montefalco (Umbria, Italy) 2007 ($32, Palm Bay International): Sagrantino di Montelfalco could be the Cornas of Italy.  Just as Cornas, those hefty Syrah-based wines from the Northern Rhône, need time to shed their tannic structure, so do the Sagrantino grape-based wines of Montefalco.  Tenuta CastelBuono’s 2007, though still dense and tarry, is starting to become approachable.  The tannins have been subdued, allowing a dark earthy essence to appear.  Though ripe, there is a lovely subtle bitterness in the finish.  This powerhouse is best decanter a couple hours before serving with a hearty roast on a wintery night.
90 Michael Apstein Oct 8, 2013

Cesari, IGT Veneto (Italy) Corvina “Jema” 2008 ($45, Opici Wines): Cesari, who makes lovely Valpolicella from the usual blend of Molinara, Corvina and Rondinella, also makes a wine, which if it were in Tuscany it would be called a Super Tuscan (maybe we should call it a Super Veneto) exclusively from Corvina, the most highly prized grape of the region. The layers of flavors in this elegant yet powerful wine come from the old (35 year) vines planted in this single vineyard.  Its polished suaveness makes it lovely for current drinking with rich pasta dishes or grilled beef.
93 Michael Apstein Oct 1, 2013

Zanatta, Cannonau di Sardegna (Italy) NV ($14, Angelini Selection): This Cannonau, the local Sardinian name for Grenache or Garnacha, is delightfully meaty and earthy more than fruity, though lovely sour cherry-like notes peek through in the finish. It’s really an ideal choice for the grilling season because the wine has intensity — it’s even chewy — without being heavy. And there’s uplifting freshness in the finish that keeps you coming back for more. This is a value-packed wine.
90 Michael Apstein Jun 4, 2013

Falesco, Lazio (Italy) “Ferentano” 2004 ($25, Winebow): Lazio, the region surrounding Rome, is not known for great wine.  The Cotarella brothers, Riccardo and Renzo, two of the most famous names in Italian winemaking, changed that image in 1993 when then launched Montiano, a sleek and silky Merlot, from their estate.  (Riccardo, who consults for 60 or so Italian wineries, is that country’s answer to France’s Michel Rolland.  Renzo has worked with Antinori for 25 years and is now their managing director responsible for wine such as Tignanello and Solaia).  They have now changed the image of white wine from Lazio with Ferentano.  Made entirely from the Roscetto grape, an indigenous grape, and fermented in barriques, it is a harmonious combination of creaminess and a stony minerality.  A classy and seamless wine, you feel–but do not taste–the effect of barriques. It has intensity and length without being heavy because of the underpinning of acidity.  It is a sensational wine. 94 Michael Apstein Jan 30, 2007

Drei Dona/Tenuta La Palazzo, Sangiovese di Romano (Italy) Superiore Riserva “Pruno” 2004 ($47, Vineyard Brands): As is often the case with European wines, the names can be a source of confusion.  Paul Lukacs, my colleague here at WRO, lists the producer as Tenuta La Palazzo.  The family’s name is Drei Dona.  But let there be no confusion about the quality of the wine.  This powerful–but not overdone–pure Sangiovese-based wine shows that in the right hands that variety needs no help from Cabernet Sauvignon to deliver intensity and structure.  Fine tannins and hallmark acidity from Sangiovese support an alluring black cherry-like richness, add grip, and prevent this concentrated wine from being jammy.  Although enjoyable now, this succulent offering would benefit from another year or so to allow its flavors to unfold even more. 91 Michael Apstein Oct 2, 2008

Mionetto, Veneto/Trentino (Italy) Rosé Extra Dry “Sergio” NV ($22, Mionetto USA): Mionetto, the stellar Prosecco producer, has expanded his portfolio outside of the traditional Prosecco zone to make this lovely Rosé sparkler.  Darker pink than many rosés, it has a softness–not exactly a sweetness–that makes it easy to drink as an aperitif. 88 Michael Apstein Oct 30, 2007

Bolla, Soave Classico (Italy) 2012 ($9, Banfi): Bolla introduced a generation of Americans to the delights of the white wine from Italy’s Soave region in the 1960s and 70s.  But the company and brand was sold and the quality slipped.  In 2009, Bolla was acquired by a large Italian wine company, Gruppo Italiani Vini, and Banfi (the American company whose stunningly good Brunello di Montalcino was, in large measure, responsible for the explosion in popularity of that denomination).  Judging from the last three vintages, including the currently available 2012, Bolla Soave is back in top form and ready to charm another generation. The Classico designation means the grapes, exclusively Garganega, came from the heart of the denomination, which explains, in part, the wine’s appeal.  It’s bright and fresh, with an alluring roundness that allows you to enjoy it as a stand-alone aperitif.  But good density means it stands up to simply broiled or grilled fish.  At less than $10 a bottle, it’s an extraordinary value.  Stock up.
88 Michael Apstein Apr 23, 2013

Livio Felluga, Colli Orientali (Friuli, Italy) “Sassó” Riserva 2001 ($46, Moet Hennessy USA): A marvelous blend of mostly Merlot with Refosco and Pignolo, the 2001 Sassó is even more engaging than Livio Felluga’s regular Merlot.  The first aromas tell you this is a special wine.  Rich with black fruit flavors supplemented by minerality, herbal nuances and spice, it’s wonderfully balanced and complex. The ever-changing flavors in the finish will bring back for more. 93 Michael Apstein Feb 20, 2007

Livio Felluga, Colli Orientali (Friuli, Italy) Merlot 2004 ($24, Moët Hennessy USA): As with past vintages, Livio Felluga’s 2004 Merlot is worthy example of that variety.  Ripe, but not over ripe, it has real character, with an exotic earthiness in the finish.  The moderate tannins are supple yet add necessary structure.  This bright and balanced wine is definitely meant for the table, not as an aperitif. 90 Michael Apstein Feb 20, 2007

Azienda Fratelli Pighin, Collio (Friuli, Italy) Pinot Grigio 2004 ($23, Kobrand): Pighin makes great Pinot Grigio. Located in Friuli Venezia Giulia region, they make two Pinot Grigio from their vineyards in two major DOCs, Grave, or Grave del Friuli, and Collio. With so many vapid Pinot Grigio on the market, it is refreshing to find serious ones. The bottling from Grave has spice, vivacity and unexpected-for Pinot Grigio-length (91); the Collio Pinot Grigio is more complex and denser, with an intriguing earthiness. 92 Michael Apstein Aug 8, 2005

Conte Brandolini, Grave (Friuli, Italy) “Vistorta” 2007 ($25, Palm Bay International):  It should come as no surprise that Count Brandino Brandolini d’Adda can turn out a marvelous Merlot.  He is the president of Château Greysac, a leading Bordeaux property where Merlot accounts for half the blend.  And he brought in Georges Pauli, who consults with many Bordeaux properties, to lend his expertise to this wine, which is made entirely from Merlot.  With so much insipid wine labeled Merlot that gives the variety a bad name, it’s a pleasure to find one that really sings.  It’s a polished aromatic mixture of black fruit and earth notes highlighted by Italian vivacity.  Filled with “not just fruit” flavors, the 2007 Vistorta delivers far more than the price suggests.  It’s a beauty to drink now. 93 Michael Apstein Aug 21, 2012

Azienda Fratelli Pighin, Grave (Friuli, Italy) Pinot Grigio 2004 ($16, Kobrand): Pighin makes great Pinot Grigio. Located in Friuli Venezia Giulia region, they make two Pinot Grigio from their vineyards in two major DOCs, Grave, or Grave del Friuli, and Collio. With so many vapid Pinot Grigio on the market, it is refreshing to find serious ones. The bottling from Grave has spice, vivacity and unexpected-for Pinot Grigio-length. 92 Michael Apstein Aug 8, 2005

Azienda Fratelli Pighin, Grave (Friuli, Italy) “Terre di Risano” 2004 ($16, Kobrand): Although the Grave DOC is perhaps best known for Merlot, this wine is a beautiful blend Friuli’s major white grapes-Tocai Friulano, Pinot Blanc, and Sauvignon Blanc. It takes its name from the town of Risano, where the bulk of the Pighin estate is located. An alluring combination of floral and fruity elements, it has hints of ripe peaches, but without the sweetness. Its lively acidity, from Sauvignon Blanc, delivers the balance. 91 Michael Apstein Aug 9, 2005

Pighin, Colio (Friuli Venezia Giulia, Italy) Pinot Grigio 2005 ($23, Kobrand): For those tired of innocuous Pinot Grigio, look no further than the wines from Pighin.  This one, from Collio, one of the best zones within Friuli, has tropical fruit flavors and more complexity than the norm.  Fuller than most Pinot Grigio, it retains crisp acidity and a welcome bite. 89 Michael Apstein Mar 20, 2007

Livio Felluga, Colli Orientali del Friuli (Italy) “Terre Alte 2004 ($45, Moet Hennessy USA): An innovative blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Bianco and Tocai Friulano that Livio Felluga created in 1981, it is always their most complex and alluring white wine.  Felluga’s exacting standards means it’s not made every year (Felluga made no Terre Alte in 2005).  The Sauvignon and Pinot Bianco undergo fermentation and aging in stainless steel tanks to capture and preserve their fruitiness, while part of the Tocai undergoes barrel fermentation and aging for additional complexity.  It’s a blend of grapes and techniques that works well to create a complex, layered wine that has richness and depth, all balanced by bright acidity.
93 Michael Apstein Mar 5, 2007

Schiopetto, Collio (Friuli, Italy) Pinot Bianco 2010 ($29, Vintus):  Those who believe Pinot Bianco (a.k.a. Pinot Blanc) is only a light innocuous white wine need to try this one.  Schiopetto, one the region’s best producers, holds their Pinot Bianco back a year before release because they know its stature.  One sip tells you this is like no other Pinot Bianco because of its extraordinary texture and depth.  Still, it’s sparkling clean and refreshing.  Thirty bucks for an Italian Pinot Bianco–who would’ve thunk it?  But it’s worth it. 92 Michael Apstein May 8, 2012

Schiopetto, Collio (Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy) Sauvignon Blanc 2010 ($29, Vintus):  Sauvignon Blanc from Collio, a DOC tucked away in Italy’s northeastern corner, is unique, aping neither those from Sancerre nor those from New Zealand.  Schiopetto’s has a subtle mineral quality and just the right amount of bite, without being aggressive.  Pure and crisp, it’s the perfect antidote for the heat and humidity of the summer. 91 Michael Apstein Jun 5, 2012

Schiopetto, Collio (Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy) Friulano 2010 ($28, Vintus):  The Friulano grape (formerly known as Tocai, but changed at the EU’s insistence to avoid potential confusion with the Hungarian wines, Tokaji) is Schiopetto’s most important cultivar, comprising almost half of their production.  They do a splendid job with it.  The 2010 has a gorgeous texture and subtle stone fruit or honeyed quality without being heavy.  Lip smacking acidity keeps it fresh and vibrant.  Great length just makes it all that more enjoyable with grilled swordfish. 90 Michael Apstein May 22, 2012

Branko, Collio (Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy) Friulano 2010 ($28, Masciarelli Wine Company):  Friulano is the name given to the grape and wine previous known as Tocai or Tocai Friulano.  The Hungarians had long lobbied that Tocai, although a zesty dry white wine, could be confused with their delectable sweet wine, Tokaji (sometimes spelled Tokay) and were successful in having the name banned beginning in 2008.   But the appeal of the wine remains.  The zestiness in this Friulano is balanced by real substance and concentration. It’s easy to recommend with roast chicken or hearty seafood preparations. 88 Michael Apstein Jan 24, 2012

Pighin, Grave (Friuli, Italy) Pinot Grigio 2010 ($14, Kobrand):  I’m always surprised at the popularity of more expensive Pinot Grigio when ones like this one are widely available.  The Grave area of Friuli is one of the best places in Italy for white wines in general and Pinot Grigio in particular.  And the brothers Pighin have been a leading producer for decades.  Their 2010 demonstrates why this varietal is so popular.  Delicately floral, it delivers bright subtle fruit nuances and great length.  Vibrant acidity refreshes and amplifies the flavors. 88 Michael Apstein Nov 29, 2011

Pighin, Grave (Friuli, Italy) Pinot Grigio 2006 ($14, Kobrand): The incredible popularity of Pinot Grigio has resulted in a plethora of vapid examples on retailers’ shelves.  Thankfully, Pighin’s version is not one of them.  Its engaging aromatics, a lovely texture and refreshing crispness remind us why Pinot Grigio is so popular. 87 Michael Apstein Apr 1, 2008

Schiopetto, Venezia Giulia IGT (Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy) “Blanc des Rosis” 2010 ($28, Vintus):  Usually a blend of four grapes, Friulano, Pinot Grigio, Malvasia, and Sauvignon Blanc, Schiopetto sometimes includes a fifth, Ribolla Gialla, when the wine lacks acidity. The 2010, an engaging wine with a broader flavor profile, has plenty of verve and vibrancy.  It would be a good choice for hearty seafood dishes. 90 Michael Apstein Jun 5, 2012

Ceretto, Barbaresco (Piedmont, Italy) Bricco Asili 2006 ($130, Wilson Daniels):  Ceretto, one of Piedmont’s leading producers, has a separate winery for their Barolo and Barbaresco in each of those areas to minimize damage to grapes that occurs during transportation from vineyard to winery.  Hence, this wine is sometimes called Bricco Asili Bricco Asili Barbaresco because both the winery, which is located in the vineyard, a rarity in Piedmont, and the vineyard have the same name.  From a great vintage in Piedmont, this 2006 has more power and tannic backbone than Ceretto’s other Barbaresco.  That said, it’s not a massive wine, but rather graceful and even charming, emblematic of Ceretto’s style.  A seemingly contradictory combination of floral and tarry notes is captivating and adds to the Burgundian-like allure of flavor without weight.  With only 500 cases produced, Barbaresco fans will need to search for it.  It’s worth the effort. 95 Michael Apstein Oct 2, 2011

Ceretto, Barbaresco (Piedmont, Italy) Bricco Asili 2001 ($170, Moet Hennessy USA): I believe the Bricco Asili is Ceretto’s finest Barbaresco generally and certainly in 2001. It’s a staggering wine, not for its power, but for its elegance and length. Like a grand cru Burgundy, it wows you with its expansive-but not heavy-flavors. The flavors sneak up on you as opposed to ‘hitting you over the head.’ Tannic now-after all it is young Nebbiolo-the floral nose and impeccable balance indicate it will evolve beautifully over the next decade. 95 Michael Apstein Sep 26, 2006

Marchesi di Gresy, Barbaresco (Piedmont, Italy) “Martinenga” 2006 ($55, Dalla Terra):  Martinega is one of the rare vineyards in Barbaresco owned by one producer. Although he makes consistently impressive wines from the site, the 2006 is one of his best.  Beautifully balanced and fragrant, it’s well structured without coming across as hard.  It delivers a Burgundian-like paradox of enormous flavor without weight.  Despite spending six months in French barriques, the oak and tannins are beautifully integrated.  Its fragrance is haunting.  Wonderfully layered, hints of leather peak out from sweet fruit flavors.  Although a splendid young Barbaresco, this elegant wine will reveal even greater complexity and more grandeur after a decade of bottle age. 94 Michael Apstein Feb 16, 2010

Sandrone, Barbera d’Alba (Piedmont, Italy) 2009 ($40, Vintus):  All too often the third B (Barbera) of Piedmont wines is forgotten behind the more regal Barolo and Barbaresco.  But what Barbera has going for it is it’s immediate drinkability.  It’s one of my favorite red wines in an Italian restaurant.  Sandrone, an A-list Barolo producer, does an equally good job with Barbera.  Their 2009 delivers ripe red fruit, an appealing spiciness and the all important lip-smacking freshness from bright acidity.  Bold enough to stand up to hearty pasta dishes, it’s not heavy or alcoholic. 90 Michael Apstein May 8, 2012

Vietti, Barbera d’Alba (Piedmont, Italy) Tre Vigne 2005 ($21, Remy Cointreau): Vietti, one of Piedmont’s great producers, makes engaging, versatile Barbera as well as stylish traditional Barolo, so when I saw this one on a wine list recently, I did not hesitate.  I took my WRO colleague Ed McCarthy’s advice about chilling red wines in summertime and asked the sommelier to put this bottle in an ice bucket.  The absence of tannins (both from the grape as well as wood casks) meant that the wine’s astringency was not magnified, but chilling amplified the inherent vibrant acidity of Barbera that balanced succulent black fruit flavors.  It was a good match for lamb-filled ravioli. 90 Michael Apstein Aug 28, 2007

Damilano, Barbera d’Alba (Piedmont, Italy) 2005 ($17, Vias Imports): Rightly known for their Barolos, Damilano also produces this juicy Barbera.  It’s filled with bright red and black fruit flavors and lip-smacking acidity.  Very polished, it is still in the traditional style with only 10% of the wine undergoing oak aging.  Mild and supple tannins combined with a zippy character make it a perfect choice for flavorful pasta dishes now. 88 Michael Apstein Mar 25, 2008

Cascina delle Rose, Barbera d’Alba Superiore (Piedmont, Italy) “Donna Elena” 2008 ($27, Polaner): With only a 7.5-acre estate, this small producer focuses on and is justifiably well known for their Barbaresco.  Nonetheless, this Barbera is a stunning wine that deserves attention because of its high quality.  It doesn’t hurt that it’s well priced for the enjoyment it delivers.  (Superiore in this case is similar to the Riserva designation is other parts of Italy.  The grapes are slightly riper as measured by minimal alcohol of the wine and it is aged a bit longer.)  Beautifully ripe red fruit-like flavors are intertwined seamlessly with a firm minerality.  The acidity for which Barbera is known, balances the whole package perfectly without intruding.  They’ve aged this classy wine in large old barrels (botti) for two years so its beauty comes out unencumbered by oak.
92 Michael Apstein Mar 12, 2013

Cascina Roera, Barbera d’Asti (Piedmont, Italy) “Cardin” 2004 ($30, Adonna Imports):  Jeannie Rogers, the owner of Adonna Imports, is extraordinarily knowledgeable about Italian wines.  (I’m sure she has forgotten more about Italian wine than most people know).  She scours Italy to find small quality-oriented producers.  The name, Adonna Imports, on a bottle is a guarantee of quality.  She believes the key difference between Barbera d’Asti and those from Alba is that in Asti, Barbera is the most important grape–it doesn’t play second fiddle to Nebbiolo–and therefore producers focus on it.  Barbera can be thin and acidic or all gussied up with oak.  This one from a single vineyard, Cardin, is neither, just lush and layered, with sufficient black cherry-like flavors to harmonize with a savory earthiness.  Bright acidity awakens the palate with each sip and the tannins add just the right balance without being intrusive. 92 Michael Apstein Feb 9, 2010

Michele Chiarlo, Barbera D’Asti (Piedmont, Italy) “Nizza La Court” 2009 ($40, Kobrand):  This, Chiarlo’s single vineyard Barbera, is far more serious and sophisticated than their Le Orme.  Though more polished and glossier, it still retains the energy and acidity for which Barbera is known.  Chiarlo has not overdone it with super ripe grapes or gobs of oak; it still retains an attractive bitter element in the finish.  Even at the price, it’s easy to recommend. 92 Michael Apstein Nov 20, 2012

La Spinetta, Barbera d’Asti (Piedmont, Italy) “Ca’ Di Pian” 2004 ($24, Opici Wine Company): The ever expanding range of style of Barbera-extending from lots of oak aging to the more traditional use of large old barrels–makes selecting Barbera more difficult these days.  La Spinetta hit the balance perfectly with this wine.  Big and juicy, with ripe fruit and some sweet oak flavors, it’s still lively and fresh–not jammy or heavy–because of the inherent acidity of the grape. 90 Michael Apstein Mar 13, 2007

Michele Chiarlo, Barbera D’Asti (Piedmont, Italy) “Le Orme” 2010 ($13, Kobrand):  What a terrific wine for the price.  Savory and bright, as Barbera should be, Chiarlo does not try to make it “important” with lots of oak or manipulation.  Buy it by the case for hearty winter fare or just the take out pizza. 88 Michael Apstein Nov 20, 2012

I Quaranta, Barbera d’Asti (Piedmont, Italy) “Asia” 2005 ($25, Terra Verus Trading Company): Barbera is the ‘workhorse’ grape of Piedmont.  The locals might wax eloquently–as they should–about the majestic Barolo and Barbaresco from the region, but Barbera is what everyone drinks.  Many producers are experimenting with oak aging for Barbera, but I Quaranta is not, at least not with this wine.  This wine conveys straightforward, bright, slightly spicy red fruit flavors. It’s full-bodied but not over-worked, and has the uplifting acidity for which the varietal is known.  A solid, satisfying wine, it’s a good choice now for a grilled veal chop or hearty pasta. 87 Michael Apstein Mar 10, 2009

Brovia, Barbera d’Alba (Piedmont, Italy) “Sori del Drago” 2004 ($26, Neal Rosenthal): This wonderful Barbera has density and power without relying on intrusive wood flavors from barrique (small French oak barrels) aging.  Aged entirely in large barrels-botti-the incredible hints of cherries, dark chocolate and smoke come from the grapes.  The silky tannins buttress the wine without adding astringency. 93 Michael Apstein Dec 5, 2006

Vietti, Barbera d’Alba (Piedmont, Italy) Scarrone “Vigna Vecchia” 2003 ($38, Remy Amerique): About 20 percent of Vietti’s Scarrone vineyard has 80-year old vines, and the Currados have been vinifying a separate Barbera from these vines since 1992. I especially love this wine with some age, after the oak tannins from the barrique aging become resolved in the wine. The 2003 Vigna Vecchia is rich and ripe, with intense, tart cherry fruit flavors. It has great concentration and depth for a Barbera. It will be even better in two or three years. 92 Michael Apstein Feb 21, 2006

Damilano, Barbera d’Alba (Piedmont, Italy) 2005 ($18, Vias Imports): Known more for their Barolo–they own part of the famous Cannubi vineyard–Damilano also makes a lovely Barbera.  The 2005 combines the freshness and lively character inherent to that grape, along with full ripeness.  A balanced wine, its charm is, fortunately, not obscured by oak.  An excellent choice for pasta and a hearty tomato based sauce. 88 Michael Apstein May 22, 2007

Ceretto, Barolo (Piedmont, Italy) Bricco Rocche 2004 ($200, Wilson Daniels):  Ceretto has separate wineries for their Barolo and Barbaresco, which has the potential for confusion.  This wine is sometimes listed as Bricco Rocche Bricco Rocche Barolo because the winery and the vineyard, both located in the town of Castiglione Faletto, have the same name.  Let there be no confusion about the beauty of this Barolo.  It’s a magnificent wine.  Still tightly wound with firm tannins, all its components are integrated and balanced.  It has a Burgundian-like paradox of power without weight.  Layers of flavors, from sweet fruit to savory earthiness, explode on the palate and flow together seamlessly.  I hate to praise such an expensive, limited production (fewer than 600 cases from the 4.5-acre vineyard) wine, but consumers who love Barolo and can afford it should search for it. 98 Michael Apstein Sep 13, 2011

Fontanafredda, Barolo (Piedmont, Italy) “Vigna La Rosa” 2007 ($95, Palm Bay International):  This Barolo comes from Fontanafredda’s La Rosa vineyard within the commune of Serralunga d’Alba.  It’s a denser, more robust and earthier version of their Barolo labeled Serralunga d’Alba.  Fabulously long and balanced, it’s a gorgeous wine with layers upon layers of excitement.  It has a “modern” patina without losing any of the traditional mixture of savory and fruit flavors found in top notch Barolo.   This young Barolo simultaneously bombards and caresses the palate. 96 Michael Apstein Sep 18, 2012

Francesco Rinaldi, Barolo (Piedmont, Italy) Cannubbio 2008 ($69): Rinaldi is one of Barolo’s great traditional producers, whose wines develop magnificently with proper cellaring (I had a stunning bottle of the 1988 of this wine last Thanksgiving).  This one, from perhaps the region’s best-known vineyard, Cannubi (which he labels with its ancient name) is classic Barolo with its magical combination of floral and tarry elements.  Extraordinarily perfumed, the mineral-infused flavors dance across the palate.  The impressive tannins are there but somehow don’t seem out of place and certainly not drying or aggressive.  The wine shows an uncanny combination of great flavor with little weight.  The extraordinarily long finish just adds to its appeal.  I would give it at least a decade of cellaring given my experience with the 1988.
95 Michael Apstein Mar 12, 2013

Michele Chiarlo, Barolo (Piedmont, Italy) “Cerequio” 2007 ($82, Kobrand):  Chiarlo owns a parcel within the Cerequio vineyard, one of Barolo’s most famous sites and in 2007 he made a fabulous wine from it.  Very aromatic, it conveys the classic sensation of tar and roses attributed to Barolo.  The tannins are prominent at this stage as would expected for a young Barolo but are perfectly in balance with the ripe, almost flamboyant flavors.  Despite its power, it has considerable elegance and indeed, its layered nuances are what impress the most.  Knowing how his Cerequio evolves, I suggest at least a decade of cellaring.  You won’t be disappointed. 95 Michael Apstein Nov 20, 2012

Sandrone, Barolo (Piedmont, Italy) Cannubi Boschis 2008 ($167, Vintus):  As Barbara Sandrone explains, Cannubi is large–just over 110 acres.  The 15-acre Boschis area is one of four distinct plots within the vineyard that she believes produces even more special wine.  And their 2008 is special, indeed.  It’s just fabulous with the classical combination of tar and roses.  Elegant and powerful all at once, the tannins are firm, but nothing can hide the explosive power of this wine.  Having just tasted the 1996, which is just entering its mature phase, I’d have no hesitancy about putting the 2008 in the cellar for a couple of decades.  If you want to know why people rave about Barolo, have money and patience, this is one to buy. 95 Michael Apstein May 8, 2012

Elio Grasso, Barolo (Piedmont, Italy) Gavarini Vigna Chiniera 2001 ($55): Elio Grasso, although labeled a ‘modernist’ in Barolo, ages this wine, from the best part of their Gavarini vineyard, in traditional large-2,500 liter-Slovenian botti (as opposed to small-225 liter-French oak barrels). It’s quintessential Barolo with the enticing floral component balancing the ripe, almost tarry, intensity. Long and remarkably suave for young Barolo, it will evolve beautifully for decades. 93 Michael Apstein Sep 19, 2006

Elio Grasso, Barolo (Piedmont, Italy) Gavarini Vigna Chiniera 2003 ($60, Classic Wine Imports): Elio Grasso produces three Barolos in most years.  They age this one, from the Gavarini Chiniera vineyard, in large oak barrels–as opposed to new small French oak that they use for Runcot Barolo–for two years before bottling.  Floral notes are prominent in this powerful, yet elegant, wine.  Tarry elements combined with its floweriness remind you it’s clearly Barolo.  Lovely freshness in the finish is a pleasant surprise. 92 Michael Apstein Oct 23, 2007

Fontanafredda, Barolo (Piedmont, Italy) “Serralunga d’Alba” 2007 ($45, Palm Bay International):  Fontanafredda’s 2007 Barolo from its vineyards in Serralunga d’Alba, one of the communes that comprise the Barolo DOCG, is a deceptive wine.  Surprisingly approachable initially–perhaps the nature of the vintage–the tannins and structure become readily apparent in the finish.  The tannins, however, do not obliterate the elegance and overall class of the wine, allowing the lovely combination of pure fruit and earthy flavors to shine.  The classic “tar and roses” description of Barolo is apt here.  It’s a young wine with a bright future. 92 Michael Apstein Sep 18, 2012

G. D. Vajra, Barolo (Piedmont, Italy) Bricco delle Viole 2004 ($46, Adonna Imports):

This is a traditionally styled Barolo–not gussied up with lots of oak–with superb length and elegance. Intriguing nuances of earth and herbal notes complement the ripe fruit flavors.  Firm tannins lend support.  Impeccably balanced, this Barolo–from a great vintage–will evolve beautifully, so put it in your cellar.  You’ll be very happy you did five or ten years from now.

92 Michael Apstein Dec 29, 2009

Elio Grasso, Barolo (Piedmont, Italy) Ginestra Vigna Casa Mate 2003 ($60, Classic Wine Imports): This wine, another one of Grasso’s Barolo’s aged in large old oak barrels, has more intensity and richness combined with an alluring tarriness because the Ginestra Casa Mate vineyard’s heavier soil produces riper grapes.  It will warm the hearts of those who prefer more power in their Barolos. 91 Michael Apstein Oct 23, 2007

Caparzo, Brunello di Montalcino (Piedmont, Italy) 2007 ($45, Vineyard Brands):  Caparzo consistently makes terrific Brunello, from this one to their top of the line one, La Casa.  The 2007 fits their mold of a dark core of minerality surrounded by plush and polished tannins.  A young wine, the 2007 slowly gives up layers of earth and other non-fruit flavors as it sits in the glass.  It’s actually accessible now because of its richness, polish and youthful charm.  It has remarkably good structure that balances the ripeness characteristic of the 2007 vintage. 91 Michael Apstein Jul 10, 2012

La Maggiorini, Colline Novaresi (Piedmont, Italy) “Le Piane” 2004 ($13, Adonna Imports): Colline Novaresi is a relatively new (1994) DOC area in easternmost Piedmont bordering Lombardy.  Nebbiolo, the revered grape of Barolo and Barbaresco, is blended with other indigenous varieties to make traditional red wines.  Le Piane is not a wine for everyone because it lacks the vibrant fresh fruit flavors to which many consumers have become accustomed.  I recommend it nevertheless because it offers a glimpse of the grandeur of Nebbiolo–with its classic signature of tobacco and leathery elements–at a fraction of the price of Barolo or Barbaresco.  Moreover, Le Piane is ready to drink now, unlike Barolo or Barbaresco, which take years to mature.  Those searching for good, inexpensive Nebbiolo-based wines need look no further. 88 Michael Apstein Feb 20, 2007

La Querciola, Dogliani (Piedmont, Italy) “Cornole” 2007 ($21, Vignaioli Selection): This Dolcetto-based wine is ideal when you’re throwing hamburgers on the grill because it’s full-bodied and deep, yet neither tannic nor heavy.  Despite the grape’s name, it’s not sweet, but rather has a savory barely bitter finish, which just adds to its charm.  It would also be an excellent match for a hearty pasta dish.
90 Michael Apstein Jun 11, 2013

Vigne Regali, Dolcetto d’Acqui (Piedmont, Italy) “L’Ardi” 2006 ($12, Banfi Vintners): Those who think they need to spend big bucks to get good wine should check out this one.  Bright, fresh, and fruity–but not jammy–this mid-weight Dolcetto delivers red cherry flavors and is the ideal bottle for pizza or simple pasta dishes. 86 Michael Apstein Feb 5, 2008

Marchesi di Gresy, Dolcetto d’Alba (Piedmont, Italy) “Monte Aribaldo” 2007 ($20, Dalla Terra):  This single-vineyard–Monte Aribaldo–Dolcetto strikes the right balance between black fruit flavors, backbone and sour cherry-like acidity.  Mild supple tannins add to its immediate appeal.  Plenty rich and plump, it’s 12.5%-stated alcohol shows that winemakers can extract plenty of flavor without resorting to over ripe grapes. 90 Michael Apstein Feb 16, 2010

Baroli, Dolcetto d’Alba (Piedmont, Italy) “Madonna di Como” 2006 ($17, Dalla Terra):

This wonderfully rich, supple and easy-to-drink Dolcetto has balancing acidity and an attractive hint of bitterness in the finish.   Though plenty ripe–it carries its 14.5% stated alcohol effortlessly–it has sufficient structure so it’s not a fruit bomb.  A perfect choice for a hearty pasta dish.

88 Michael Apstein Dec 29, 2009

Marchesi di Gresy, Dolcetto d’Alba (Piedmont, Italy) Monte Aribaldo 2007 ($22, Dalla Terra): Monte Aribaldo refers to a hill in the commune of Treiso, in the heart of Piedmont, and is the source of di Gresy’s Dolcetto.  Fresh with bright, blackberry-type fruitiness and mild tannins, this Dolcetto is reminiscent of Beaujolais but with more depth and body.  Good acidity prevents its fruit forward profile from being boring and makes it an excellent choice for pasta with a rich meat sauce. 87 Michael Apstein Mar 24, 2009

Vigne Regali, Dolcetto d’Aqui (Piedmont, Italy) “L’Ardi” 2008 ($11, Banfi Imports):  Dolcetto is often called the Beaujolais of Piedmont because of its fruity nature and easy drinkability.  And although the analogy is not perfect, there is some truth to it.  This one is filled with succulent black fruit-like flavors and lip-smacking acidity.  With tannins hardly noticeable, it’s delightful slightly chilled. What it lacks in complexity it makes up for with pure pleasure.  Remember it when you’re throwing hamburgers on the grill. 88 Michael Apstein Apr 27, 2010

Elio Grasso, Dolcetto d’Alba (Piedmont, Italy) 2005 ($14, Various importers): The father and son team of Elio and Gianluca, respectively, do an admirable job with Dolcetto, Nebbiolo and Barbara grapes grown on their 35-acre estate. This Dolcetto is bright and fresh, filled with juicy fruit flavors buttressed by lip-smacking acidity. 88 Michael Apstein Oct 24, 2006

Michele Chiarlo, Gavi (Piedmont, Italy) 2004 ($18, Kobrand): Chiarlo, best known for his complex Barolo and Barbera from his vineyard holdings in those locales, owns a little land in Gavi. To his Cortese grapes he adds an equal quantity from selected neighboring producers with whom he has contracts to fashion this lovely, mineral-infused, zippy wine. It cuts the summer’s heat and humidity. 90 Michael Apstein Aug 9, 2005

Eliot Grasso, Langhe (Piedmont, Italy) Nebbiolo “Gavarini” 2005 ($19): Think of this wine as “poor man’s Barolo” with the added benefit that it is ready to drink now. Sure, it lacks the depth and complexity — not to mention price — of his great Barolo from the same vineyard, but it has a touch of the “not-just-fruit” character that makes Nebbiolo such a wonderful grape for making wine. Bright and clean without a hint of wood, it’s a good choice for a hearty pasta dish. 88 Michael Apstein Oct 24, 2006

Fontanafredda, Piedmont (Italy) Barbera “Briccotondo” 2010 ($15, Palm Bay International):  Purple and juicy, this Barbera focuses on bright fruit flavors, imbuing it with a Beaujolais-like easy-to-drink character.  It takes a chill nicely, which makes it a good choice for burgers on the grill this summer. 87 Michael Apstein Aug 28, 2012

Fontanafredda, Gavi (Piedmont, Italy) 2010 ($20, Palm Bay International): Vigorous and bursting with character, this wine shows why Gavi is a DOCG (Italy’s highest category for wine).  As a Gavi should, Fontanafredda’s 2010 has firmness, but, paradoxically, also conveys an almost creamy texture.  A subtle bitterness in the finish is refreshing and enlivens the wine even more.
92 Michael Apstein Sep 25, 2012

Tenuta Merlassino, Gavi (Piedmont, Italy) 2006 ($18, Terra Verus Trading Company): Gavi has a famous name–often more than it deserves–both within Italy and in the US that accounts for its price.  Merlassino’s rendition shows why.  With minerality, depth, and freshness, every sip of this Gavi refreshes the palate.  The uplifting acidity reinforces its laser-like focus.  Unusual length makes you pause. 91 Michael Apstein Feb 24, 2009

Michele Chiarlo, Gavi (Piedmont, Italy) 2005 ($17, Kobrand): This steely, razor sharp wine is a paradox because it is piercing without being aggressive or overly acidic.  Although that should be the character of wines from Gavi, many lack it and disappoint consumers because they’re hollow acidic shells.  This one is not.  If you wonder what all the fuss about Gavi is, try this wine and see.  Bring on fish or clams with garlic and oil. 90 Michael Apstein Mar 20, 2007

Araldica Vini Piedmontese, Gavi (Piedmont, Italy) “La Battistina” 2012 ($17, Angelini Wines Ltd): Araldica Vini Piedmontese is a co-op, but don’t let that deter you from buying this wine.  Co-ops in general get an undeservedly bad rap.  In my experience they can stratify their products quite precisely, selecting their best wines and bottling them separately.  In addition, in this instance, Angelini, a top-notch producer in Tuscany and who has selected this Gavi, is a name you can trust.  Fresh and vivacious, this Gavi has a sharp cutting edge that offsets a hint of pear-like flavors.  There’s a lovely firmness that keeps you interested throughout a meal.  It’s an ideal and refreshing choice for grilled fish this summer.
89 Michael Apstein Jul 16, 2013

Principessa Gavi, Gavi (Piedmont, Italy) 2009 ($13, Banfi Vintners):  Although Gavi holds DOCG status, Italy’s highest official recognition, there plenty of innocuous overpriced ones on the market.  This is not one of them.  Delicate, but piercing, it’s tinged with minerality and finishes with bracing citrus notes.  Bright and lively, it’s far better with grilled or broiled fish dribbled with olive oil than as an aperitif. 88 Michael Apstein Apr 5, 2011

Michele Chiarlo, Moscato D’Asti (Piedmont, Italy) “Nivole” 2011 ($14, Kobrand):  Chiarlo has bottled springtime.  Airy and lacey, its delicate sweetness is offset perfectly by vibrant and cleansing acidity.  Drink either before or after a meal–or both. And it’s a bargain, even in its 375ml bottle. 92 Michael Apstein Nov 20, 2012

G. D. Vajra, Moscato d’Asti (Piedmont, Italy) 2005 ($16, Adonna Imports): Anyone for bottled springtime?  That would be an apt description for this lacy and floral wine.  With an alcohol of only 5.5%, it’s the perfect beverage for brunch.  You could probably drink it all day and barely notice its effect.  A delicate spritziness balances the slight sweetness, which means it’s refreshing, not cloying nor heavy. 88 Michael Apstein Feb 20, 2007

Vietti, Moscato d’Asti (Piedmont, Italy) “Cascinetta Vietti” 2012 ($15, Dalla Terra Winery Direct): Vietti is one of Piedmont’s star producers. Though best known for a stunning array of Barolo wines, wise consumers should take note of any wine Vietti produces. This low alcohol (5.5%) wine with its slight spritz and a touch of sweetness is like bottled springtime. It delivers bright peach-like flavors offset by tangy citrus notes. A versatile wine, it works well as an aperitif, to cut through the spices of Asian dishes, or to sip while sitting by the pool.
89 Michael Apstein Jan 8, 2013

Tenuta dell’Ornellaia, Bolgheri (Tuscany, Italy) “Ornellaia” 2007 ($180, Folio Wine Company):  I tasted this wine upon release last year and thought it was excellent–polished and ripe with considerable complexity–but not really exceptional, especially next to the 2006.  Well, a year in bottle makes all the difference.  It has blossomed and expanded, while the 2006 has, like a tortoise, pulled back into its shell.  The 2007 Ornellaia is positively explosive without being overdone. It remains graceful, which is difficult for a wine that has this kind of impact.  Its seamless, polished tannins still add a luxurious silky texture.  Hard to resist now, its balance suggests it will continue to unfold beautifully. 97 Michael Apstein May 3, 2011

Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia, Bolgheri (Tuscany, Italy) 2007 ($55):  Ornellaia, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc is one of the world’s outstanding wines.  Part of its greatness came from a decision with the 1997 vintage to make a severe selection, using only the very top grapes for it; the grapes that didn’t make the cut would be used to make a “second” wine, Le Serre Nuove.  Over time, to bolster the quality of Le Serre Nuove, some of the estate’s fruit was combined with purchased fruit for their “third” wine, Le Volte.  Typically, the major difference between a first and second wine is the quality of the tannins, not its power or complexity.  The tannins in the 2007 Serre Nuove are astonishingly fine and polished.  It’s only by tasting Le Serre Nuove side-by-side with the Ornellaia that the difference is apparent.  Extraordinarily fragrant and glossy, the 2007 Le Serre Nuove is very refined. Their winemaker, Axel Heinz, accurately described it as “light on its feet.”  It’s a wonderful balance of aromatics, savory notes and cedar intertwined with black and red fruit flavors.  Delectable now, its balance suggests it will develop even more complexity with time. 94 Michael Apstein Mar 30, 2010

Le Serre Nuove, Bolgheri (Tuscany, Italy) 2004 ($50, Folio Wine Company): Le Serre Nuove is the ‘second’ label of Ornellaia, one of the most sought after Super Tuscan wines.  Introduced about a decade ago, Le Serre Nuove spends its first year of life as though it were Ornellaia.  The wine from each of Ornellaia’s 65 different vineyard sites is aged separately in barrels for 9 to 12 months before blending to make the final wine.  At blending, those lots, usually from younger vines that aren’t of sufficient quality for Ornellaia, will go into Le Serre Nuove.  It usually has a higher percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend because Cabernet vines, as compared to Merlot vines, take longer to produce high-quality grapes in their part of Bolgheri.  The 2004 Le Serre Nuove, beautifully floral, shows a delectable balance of cassis-like fruit and minerality reminiscent of a great wine from Pauillac, but with an energizing twist that clearly identifies it as Tuscan.  Remarkably suave and supple–which makes it enjoyable now–it has the requisite structure to evolve beautifully over the next decade.  But I predict few consumers will have the restraint to let it develop in the cellar. 93 Michael Apstein Feb 27, 2007

Tenuta Ornellaia, Bolgheri (Tuscany, Italy) Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia 2006 ($65, Folio Wine Company): First produced in 1997 as a ‘second’ wine to improve the quality of Ornellaia, a benchmark Super Tuscan, Le Serre Nuove, gets better and better each year as the estate’s vines get older.  The estate has 65 distinct vineyard sites for Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.  Grapes from each site are vinified and aged separately and then blended to produce Ornellaia.  At blending, wines–usually from sites with young vines–that are not up to snuff are selected for Le Serre Nuove, which comprises about 25% of the estate’s total production. The wines not suitable for Le Serre Nuove are used, along with Sangiovese, for Le Volte (previously reviewed).  As with second wines of the great Bordeaux estates, Le Serre Nuove has power and concentration similar to the first wine.  What Le Serre Nuove, and all second wines lack, is the extraordinary polish and finesse of the standard bearer.  But make no mistake; this is serious, complex wine with the almost magical combination of dark fruit flavors and an earthy minerality.  Smokey nuances emerge from nowhere and persist into the long finish.  New flavors appear with each sip.  Its youthful vigor is apparent and suggests a few years in the cellar–or a few hours in a decanter if you insist on drinking it now–will allow it to settle down. 93 Michael Apstein Mar 31, 2009

I Greppi, Bolgheri (Tuscany, Italy) 2005 ($60, Sherbrooke Cellars):

The I Greppi estate is another example of a venerable Chianti producer (Viticcio) expanding into the Bolgheri region–home to Sassacaia and Ornellaia–to produce a Bordeaux blend.  A blend of Merlot (50%), Cabernet Sauvignon (40%) and Cabernet Franc, this lush and balanced wine has surprising complexity considering the vines are young, less than a decade old.  While it has unmistakable New World plushness and mouth filling cassis-like flavor, it avoids the oak bomb trap.  Uplifting vibrancy reminds you it’s Italian.

90 Michael Apstein Apr 21, 2009

Tenuta San Guido, Bolgheri Sassicaia (Tuscany, Italy) “Sassicaia” 2006 ($200, Kobrand):  The 2006 is a stunning example of Sassicaia, one of Italy’s greatest wines.  The Italian regulators–often slow to recognize greatness–awarded Sassicaia its own DOC in 1994, making it the only single estate to have its own DOC.  Always a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (80-85%) and Cabernet Franc, Sassicaia in general–and the 2006 in particular–shows the grandeur of these Bordeaux grapes in Bolgheri.   Rather intense and ripe, the 2006 retains superb balance and polish.  The gloriously complex nose predicts greatness and you are not disappointed.  Layers of fruit, earth, herbs and spice delight the palate.  The supporting tannins are glossy.  The finish is exceptionally long.  It’s a fabulously classy wine.  97.
97 Michael Apstein Jan 26, 2010

Castello Banfi, Brunello di Montalcino (Tuscany, Italy) Poggio all’Oro 2004 ($150, Banfi Vintners):  As good as Banfi’s 2004 Poggio alle Mure Brunello is (previously reviewed), their flagship single-vineyard Poggio all’Oro is even better.  Frost harmed this vineyard in 2001, which like 2004 was another great year for Brunello, reducing quality, so Banfi, not wanting to soil the reputation of Poggio all’Oro, opted against making it that year.  They must be making up for it with this vintage, which could be their best ever.  It is a classic Brunello, with a core of dark mineral-infused black cherry-like fruit.  But there are a multitude of other subtle flavors–smoke, spice and herbs–that contribute to its complexity.  A lingering imprint of oak aging is still apparent, but not intrusive.  Still tightly wound, it will be even better in five to ten years.  Brunello lovers should not miss this one. 97 Michael Apstein Jun 14, 2011

Col d’Orcia, Brunello di Montalcino (Tuscany, Italy) Riserva “Poggio Al Vento” 2001 ($160, Palm Bay Imports): At a tasting of Brunello from the superb and rightly high-acclaimed 2004 vintage, this wine shone.  It had heavy competition since the 2004 vintage produced many outstanding Brunello.  But this wine was a cut above everything else in the room.  It had a rich, earthy, smoky black fruit dense core that is the hallmark of Brunello, but a length and complexity that was staggering.  A wine to cellar, it has plenty of supple and ripe–not green and hard–tannins befitting a young wine.  But its impeccable balance suggests a gorgeous evolution.  In my private scoring system, this wine gets the highest level, WB (for ‘would buy’). 97 Michael Apstein Mar 24, 2009

Pieve Santa Restituta, Brunello di Montalcino (Tuscany, Italy) “Sugarille” 2004 ($195, Terlato Wines International):  As distinctive and impressive the “regular” Pieve Santa Restituta Brunello–labeled Rennina–is, their Sugarille, from a single 9-acre vineyard on the estate, is even better.  Although they made only about 800 cases of it in 2004 and it is pricey–few will be able to put it in their cellars– Angelo Gaja and his team have realized the potential of Brunello, one of Italy’s great wines.  Compared to their Rennina (previously reviewed), the Sugarille has more complexity and length without being over done or losing the wonderful core of dark minerality characteristic of Brunello.  Despite its power and depth, it retains the impeccable balance, polish and elegance for which Gaja’s wines are known. 97 Michael Apstein Jan 26, 2010

Castello Banfi, Brunello di Montalcino (Tuscany, Italy) “Poggio Alle Mura” 2004 ($82, Banfi Vintners):  I first reviewed this wine two years ago just before it was released.  It was glorious then and is even better now.  Banfi, a leading Brunello producer, bottles three different Brunello.  The Poggio alle Mura, the middle tier, is made from a selection of their best grapes from a variety of vineyards.  Although I cringe at the idea that an $80 wine is a good value, if you are lucky enough to have $80 to spend on a bottle of wine, it truly is.  It’s explosive without being flamboyant.  Velvety tannins surround a core of dark cherry and almost chocolate-like flavors.  The overall glossy texture imparts a luxuriousness and amplifies its gorgeous deep minerality.  Long and suave, it’s a wine to savor over a meal as new layers of flavor emerge with each sip.  Perfectly harmonized acidity keeps it vibrant and fresh.  If you want to see the magic of Brunello, here it is. 96 Michael Apstein May 31, 2011

Frescobaldi, Brunello di Montalcino (Tuscany, Italy) Castelgiocondo Ripe al Convento Riserva 2001 ($120, Folio Wine Company): Frescobaldi’s Brunello Riserva comes from a single vineyard, Ripe al Convento, on their Castelgiocondo estate.  The 2001 is a magnificent wine.  Its almost tarry-like minerality is complemented by a glorious floral essence.  Despite its power, it has elegance and finesse that is especially notable in the finish.  Not an ‘old-fashioned’ style of Brunello, it still retains a clear Tuscan character.  The firm edge to the tannins tell me to wait a good five years before drinking it, but like all great wines, it’s really good now. 96 Michael Apstein May 22, 2007

Castello Banfi, Brunello di Montalcino (Tuscany, Italy) “Poggio alle Mura” 2007 ($82, Banfi Imports):  Brunello-lovers have a treat with two great back-to-back vintages, 2006 and 2007.  In general the 2006s are more structured while the 2007s are plusher.  At a recent tasting in New York City introducing the soon-to-be-released 2007 Brunello to the market, Banfi’s 2007 Brunello Poggio alle Mura stood out.  Not from a single vineyard wine like their Reserva, Poggio all’Oro, the Poggio alle Mura is a selection of their best vineyards from around the Castello.  It’s a cut above their regular Brunello and a notch below their single-vineyard Poggio all’Oro.  Reflecting the vintage, it is plush and concentrated.  Reflecting Banfi’s talents, its deep dark core of minerals, which is the hallmark of Brunello, remains despite its ripeness.  Not overdone, the flavors explode and persist, buttressed by suave tannins and enlivened by Tuscan acidity.  It’s remarkably approachable now, but knowing how Banfi’s Brunellos develop, I’d put it in the cellar for five to ten years. 95 Michael Apstein Feb 14, 2012

Castello Banfi, Brunello di Montalcino (Tuscany, Italy) “Poggio alle Mura” 1998 ($70, Banfi Vintners): Although not their current release, this fabulous wine is still widely available in San Francisco and on the East Coast. It’s worth finding because at eight years of age it has a beautiful complexity as well as the signature Banfi suppleness. Not just fruity — although there’s still plenty of fruit — there is an engaging earthiness and minerality. The wine has great depth and the uplifting quintessential Italian acidity. It’s a great example of why Brunello deserves its revered reputation. 95 Michael Apstein Sep 5, 2006

Castello Banfi, Brunello di Montalcino (Tuscany, Italy) Poggio alle Mura 2004 ($95, Banfi Vintners): One of the stars at a recent tasting introducing the 2004 Brunello vintage, this wine, like all Brunello, will be released in the spring.  I recommend it now because it is simply stunning and available as a ‘futures’ purchase through retailers, such as Zachy’s in New York, for about $65.   Not from a single vineyard, this fabulous Brunello is a selection from Banfi’s best vineyards surrounding the Castello.   With a nod to the modern style of Brunello, a patina of oak is still apparent at this stage.  But the overall profile–a substantial core of dark black fruit flavors complemented by an earthy minerality–is traditional Brunello.  A hint of dusty cocoa adds to the allure.  This polished powerhouse reveals additional nuances with each sip. 95 Michael Apstein Feb 24, 2009

Pieve Santa Restituta, Brunello di Montalcino (Tuscany, Italy) Rennina 2004 ($175, Terlato Wines International):  Angelo Gaja, one of Italy’s top producers, purchased and rejuvenated this property in the mid-1990s.  He continues to tweak his techniques to make even better wines.  Prior to the 2004 vintage, Gaja aged the wine for a year in 225-liter barriques for a year, in large oak barrels for another year and then two years in bottle before release.  With the 2004, he still fermented the wine in stainless steel tanks, but he dialed back the oak influence by aging the wine for two years in 500-liter casks, followed by a year in concrete vats and then a year in bottle.  It’s difficult to know whether it’s the change in technique, the overall exceptional vintage or both that explains why this wine excels.  But it does.  It leads with gorgeous aromatics, follows with a deep dark minerality and finishes with exceptional elegance.  You’re left with an impression of delicacy and power–the classic iron fist in a velvet glove. 95 Michael Apstein Jan 12, 2010

Col d’Orcia, Brunello di Montalcino (Tuscany, Italy) 2006 ($62, Palm Bay International):  Col d’Orcia is one of my favorite Brunello producers because they make a range of high quality wines consistently.  (Their single vineyard Brunello, Poggio al Vento, which they do not produce every year, is a phenomenal wine).   This one, their 2006 straight Brunello, with its dark mineraly core, is quintessential Brunello.  One whiff announces its stature.  Suave, yet powerful, it’s a beautifully balanced young wine.  It deserves a place in every Brunello-lover’s cellar. 94 Michael Apstein Sep 18, 2012

Frescobaldi, Brunello di Montalcino (Tuscany, Italy) “Luce” 2005 ($82, Folio Wine Company): Once a joint project of Frescobaldi, one of the giants of Tuscany, and Robert Mondavi, the Luce della Vita estate is now owned solely by Frescobaldi. The estate, 20 percent of which is located in the Brunello zone, is best known for Luce, a blend composed of roughly equally parts of Sangiovese and Merlot, and Lucente, a Sangiovese dominated blend augmented with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Both were created in the mid 1990s. The Brunello from this estate is a more recent addition (the first vintage was 2003) and far less well known than the other two wines. Well, judging from its quality in 2005, a less highly regarded year, the Luce Brunello could become the estate’s flagship. Tasting more like a Reserva, it is tightly wound with a dark core of mineral infused black fruit. This imposing wine has great power balanced and supported by polished tannins and bright, almost black cherry-like, acidity. If you’re looking for Brunello to drink now, try Frescobaldi’s 2005 CastelGiocondo. The Luce Brunello needs five or so years in the cellar. 94 Michael Apstein Aug 2, 2011

Castello Banfi, Brunello di Montalcino (Tuscany, Italy) 2004 ($60): Although by law the 2004 Brunello cannot be released until later this spring, many retail stores are offering them for purchase now for future delivery.  In my view, it’s a great vintage–one to buy and put in the cellar.  Banfi’s Brunello, while not as impressive–or pricey–as their Poggio alle Mure Brunello (reviewed previously) is still a marvelous wine and easy to recommend.  It has the quintessential combination of rich dark fruit flavors, earth and cocoa that makes Brunello so alluring.   Wonderfully balanced, its component flavors merge seamlessly with one another.  Although its moderate tannins do not detract from its appealingly glossy texture, it’s still a young wine that needs a few more years to reveal itself. 93 Michael Apstein Mar 31, 2009

Castiglion del Bosco, Brunello di Montalcino (Tuscany, Italy) “Campo di Drago” 2000 ($60): I hesitate to recommend this Brunello because it is in absurdly short supply–only a couple thousand bottles of it were made.  And yet I have to recommend this Brunello because it is so luscious.  Loaded with the concentrated flavors of fine fruit preserves, and reasonably priced compared to many of its peers, this wine is definitely worth snapping up if you can find it. 93 Michael Apstein Feb 6, 2007

Ruffino, Brunello di Montalcino (Tuscany, Italy) Tenuta Greppone Mazzi 2001 ($65, Ruffino Import Company): It’s astounding how the same grape–Sangiovese in this case–can produce such different wines depending on where it is grown.  This Brunello has a class, elegance and complexity that doesn’t exist in wines from Montepulciano, a town barely 60 miles away, regardless of vintage.  (Of course, you pay for this leap in quality.)  One whiff of this wine reveals why Montalcino has such a grand reputation.  The interplay of flavors–minerality, dark fruit and earth–is dazzling.  Fine, supple tannins lend support, but do not intrude.  Captivating now, this is a wine to bring out of the cellar in five or ten years. 93 Michael Apstein Oct 30, 2007

Fattoria dei Barbi, Brunello di Montalcino (Tuscany, Italy) 2004 ($53, Pasternak Wine Imports):  Barbi, a traditional producer of Brunello, allows the distinctive minerality and earthiness of the region to shine by eschewing new small oak barrels–barriques–for fermentation or aging.  That philosophy combined with a fabulous vintage, such as 2004, has produced a beautifully structured, tightly wound wine whose core of dark fruit emerges as the wine sits in the glass.  Impeccably balanced, this Brunello reveals itself slowly at this stage.  My advice: drink Barbi’s Morellino di Scansano (also reviewed this week) now and put this Brunello in the cellar for at least five years. 92 Michael Apstein Mar 16, 2010

Castello Banfi, Brunello di Montalcino (Tuscany, Italy) 2006 ($55, Banfi Vintners):  The 2006 vintage produced a stunning array of Brunellos.  This is one of them.   Over the years, Banfi has managed to modernize Brunello by imbuing it with slightly more concentration and refinement without losing its unique Tuscan identity.  Their 2006, a polished wine with a deep core of almost chocolate-like minerality, continues in that vein.  Although from the same grape, Sangiovese, used for many Tuscan wines, Banfi’s Brunello has a unique and alluring glossiness coupled with a mineral-laden black fruitiness not found in other Tuscan wines.  This Brunello, Banfi’s basic one, in contrast to their more upscale bottlings–Poggio alle Mura and Poggio all’Oro–is easy to enjoy now. 91 Michael Apstein May 17, 2011

Castello Banfi, Brunello di Montalcino (Tuscany, Italy) 2008 ($70, Banfi Imports): Banfi, one of Montalcino’s leading estates, effectively reinvented and popularized Brunello in the late 1970s by modernizing the wine without eviscerating its character or its Tuscan roots.  They’ve been making fine Brunello even since.  Though firm and dense and replete with the dark minerality characteristic of Brunello, Banfi’s 2008 is remarkably approachable now.  Try it with a grilled Porterhouse steak.
91 Michael Apstein Sep 17, 2013

Donatella Cinelli Colombini, Brunello di Montalcino (Tuscany, Italy) 2008 ($45):  The 2008 vintage in Brunello was variable, but did produce some excellent wines.  And this is one of them.  Cinelli Colombini has cut back on the amount of oak aging and I think the wine benefits because it’s more expressive — more Brunello.  Aromas of fruit, spice and earth pour from the glass.  It’s a dark, brooding wine with supple tannins and considerable finesse.  Its breeding is apparent in a long and sumptuous finish.
91 Michael Apstein Apr 2, 2013

Tenuta Friggiali, Brunello di Montalcino (Tuscany, Italy) 2001 ($70, Vinifera Imports): This typical Brunello, redolent of cherries and minerals both on the nose and the palate, has a lively lift in the finish.  The tannins add structure and balance, but are not intrusive.  This young wine needs time, but has a good future. 91 Michael Apstein Mar 13, 2007

Lisini, Brunello di Montalcino (Tuscany, Italy) 2001 ($55, Empson USA): Very deep in color, this shows a dense, layered nose, with blackberry and mineral notes. Firm in structure, with layered fruit, creamy texture, and good length and balance through the finish. 90 Michael Apstein Feb 28, 2006

Tenuta Caparzo, Brunello di Montalcino (Tuscany, Italy) 2000 ($50, Henry Wine Group): Brilliant medium ruby color. The nose is a little shy but showing black cherry and spice accents. On the palate, there is medium fruit, spicy and gamy notes, supported by firm but not heavy tannins. The finish is long and refined. 90 Michael Apstein Feb 28, 2006

Castello Banfi, Brunello di Montalcino Riserva (Tuscany, Italy) Poggio alle Mura 2007 ($95, Banfi Imports): Banfi, one of Brunello’s top producers and the one who was largely responsible for catapulting the area’s wines onto the world stage, did years of research to determine which clones of Sangiovese did best in the region.  As a result of that research, they planted their Poggio alle Mura vineyard with the most suitable clones.  Banfi has produced an excellent and easy to recommend Brunello from that vineyard for years.  The 2007 marks the first time they’ve produced a Brunello Riserva from Poggio alle Mura.  And it is stunning.  It is pure Brunello with a core of darkness — bitter black cherries and a hint of dark chocolate.  There’s a whiff of new oak — it is a young wine — but has plenty of underlying concentration and density that prevents the oak from being distracting.  The tannins are apparent but very polished and suave, which adds elegance and refinement to this powerful wine.   This is a real success.  Could you enjoy it now?  Sure.  But given its harmony and Banfi’s track record, it’s an excellent candidate for a decade of cellaring. 96 Michael Apstein Apr 2, 2013

Villa di Capezzana, Carmignano (Tuscany, Italy) 2003 ($30, Moet Hennessy USA): Carmignano, a district just 15 miles west of Florence should rightly be known as the first Super Tuscan because of its traditional use of Cabernet Sauvignon with Sangiovese–in this instance 20% Cabernet and 80% Sangiovese.  Capezzana consistently makes a terrific Carmignano.  The 2003 is ripe, as would be expected given the vintage, but not overdone, and balanced by fresh acidity.  An attractive, slightly pruney character adds complexity and the smooth tannins allow it to be enjoyed now. 90 Michael Apstein Feb 6, 2007

Capezzana, Carmignano (Tuscany, Italy) Barco Reale di Carmignano 2004 ($15, Moet Hennessy USA): Although it’s not a second label, you wouldn’t be criticized for thinking of this wine that way.  Its appeal lies in a lovely earthiness–a ‘not just fruit’ character–that lends complexity, a rare component these days in young red wines.  Fresh cherry-like flavors remind you of the Sangiovese component and the length, in a wine at this price, is just a great surprise.  An excellent value, not to be missed. 88 Michael Apstein Feb 6, 2007

Cecchi, Chianti (Tuscany, Italy) “Conatio” 2007 ($15, Banfi Imports): A traditional blend, Sangiovese (90%) and Canaiolo, vinified and aged traditionally in old barrels–new oak need not apply–Cecchi’s Conatio explains why Chianti has great renown. This mid-weight wine has just the right mix of dried cherry-like fruit, snappy acidity and savory elements.  Mouth-filling with good length, it would make an ideal match for meat-based pasta dishes or veal chops. 88 Michael Apstein Mar 17, 2009

DaVinci, Chianti (Tuscany, Italy) 2005 ($16, DaVinci USA): Times have changed.  Thankfully, Chianti no longer-okay, rarely-comes in straw covered pot-bellied bottles that sell for $4.99.   Fuller than most, this simple, every day Chianti is fresh and juicy with lively black cherry acidity.  Try it with take-out pizza or a simple pasta with meat sauce. 88 Michael Apstein Dec 26, 2006

Cecchi, Chianti (Tuscany, Italy) 2009 ($11, Banfi Vintners):  Straight Chianti–not Chianti Classico or Chianti Rufina–has gotten a bad reputation for producing thin and acidic wines.  And sometimes that reputation is justified.  But let’s not paint all of them, and certainly not this one, with the same brush.  Cecchi’s Chianti delivers a dark rich cherry fruit profile and lip-smacking acidity.  A good “pizza wine,” it’s also a good choice for lasagna and other pasta dishes with uncomplicated tomato sauces.  We need more simple satisfying wines at this price. 87 Michael Apstein May 31, 2011

Monrosso, Chianti (Tuscany, Italy) 2004 ($13, Moet Hennessy USA): Castello di Monsanto is one of the leading traditional producers in the Chianti Classico zone.  Their single vineyard Chianti Classico Riserva, Il Poggio, is always a stunning example of the potential greatness of the region.  Monrosso is their wine made from grapes, primarily Sangiovese, grown outside the Classico zone, but still within Chianti.  With the plethora of wines from the Chianti Classico zone on the market, consumers tend to overlook wines from the larger area of Chianti. I wouldn’t overlook this wine.  Good body and depth with cherry-like vibrancy typical of Chianti, it’s a good choice for pizza or simple pasta dishes. 87 Michael Apstein Mar 6, 2007

Castello di Brolio, Chianti Classico (Tuscany, Italy) 2006 ($65, Dreyfus, Ashby & Co.):  Brolio is an iconic name in Chianti.  Bettino Ricasoli, a member of the family who owns Castello di Brolio, is credited with “inventing” the Chianti blend in the 19th century by adding white grapes to soften the Sangiovese.  As fabulous as this wine is, it is not their Super Tuscan, which carries the name Caselferro.  It also should not be confused with the Brolio Chianti Classico, which they make from purchased grapes.  This one, made entirely from estate grown fruit and a blend primarily of Sangiovese with–instead of white grapes–a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, is, in my mind, their flagship wine.  The vineyards are perfectly located at about 1,000 foot elevation and facing south southwest, which gives them ideal sun exposure.  Although it has “modern” trappings of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot along with one and half years of aging in French barriques, it maintains clear Tuscan character.  Plush supple tannins surround a combination of ripe fruit flavors and earth notes.  The flavors explode in the mouth, yet the wine is not overdone or overblown.  It’s just expansive, beautifully balanced and layered.  A class act.  Bettino would be proud of this blend. 95 Michael Apstein May 11, 2010

Villa Cerna, Chianti Classico (Tuscany, Italy) Riserva 2004 ($22, Banfi Imports): If all Chianti tasted like this one, there never would have been a reason to invent the Super Tuscan category.  Villa Cerna produces classically proportional, stylish Chianti year after year, so when a vintage like 2004 comes along, it’s no surprise that they made fabulous wine.  Eschewing new French oak and the addition of Cabernet or Merlot to their Chianti, Villa Cerna’s version delivers bright, cherry-like flavors, alluring savory earthiness, and vibrant acidity, all supported by fine tannins.  Drink now or watch it evolve over the next decade. 93 Michael Apstein May 6, 2008

Isole e Olena, Chianti Classico (Tuscany, Italy) 2006 ($20, Carolina Wines):  Paolo di Marchi, the thoughtful and modest owner and winemaker of Isole e Olena, makes stellar wines.  He’s a traditionalist–preferring to use only Sangiovese for his Super Tuscan, Cepparello, and eschewing international grapes for his Chianti Classico–but he also makes wonderful wines from Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.  His Chianti Classico is a hit year after year and easy to recommend.  His 2006, from a great vintage, is no exception.  It’s a marvelous balance of bright cherry-like fruitiness, spice and energizing acidity.  Fine tannins provide backbone without astringency.  It has real character.  Lovely to drink now, I know from experience that his wines develop beautifully, so there’s no hurry. 91 Michael Apstein Apr 20, 2010

Nozzole, Chianti Classico (Tuscany, Italy) “La Forra” Riserva 2001 ($40, Kobrand): I realize three of my WRO colleagues have reviewed this wine, rating it between 87-91 points, but that will not deter me from adding my opinion.  This is classic upscale Chianti with richness and character balanced by the quintessential Tuscan acidity that keeps it lively throughout a meal.  Not an aperitif type wine, La Forra’s juicy ripeness calls for savory pasta or a veal chop. 91 Michael Apstein Nov 28, 2006

Querciabella, Chianti Classico (Tuscany, Italy) 2010 ($33, Maisons Marques & Domaines): Querciabella must have an extremely talented winemaking team.  They have the ability to make impressive wines that appeal to consumers looking for traditionally proportioned wines and well as a line that appeal to consumers looking for something richer and robust.  This Chianti Classico is classically structured revealing earth and herbal flavors, what I refer to as “not just fruit,” all supported by bright acidity that keeps it fresh.  Not gussied up with oak, it’s perfect for hearty pasta or a dense slow cooked meat-falling-off-the-bones stew.
91 Michael Apstein Sep 10, 2013

Antinori, Chianti Classico (Tuscany, Italy) “Pèppoli” 2008 ($27, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates):  From Antinori’s Pèppoli estate, this Chianti Classico is a blend of Sangiovese (90%) with Merlot and Syrah.  The Merlot and Syrah beef up the Sangiovese lending supple fruitiness without dominating or overwhelming Tuscany’s traditional grape.  Bright vibrant acidity, a hallmark of Tuscan wines, amplify the flavors in the finish.  Polished tannins allow enjoyment now. 90 Michael Apstein Nov 8, 2011

Antinori, Chianti Classico (Tuscany, Italy) “Pèppoli” 2007 ($23, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates):  This lovely Chianti conveys both fruity–red cherry–flavors and earthy undertones.  It’s a gorgeous combination of earth, minerals and fruit that’s immediately apparent in the nose, continues on the palate and into the finish.  The freshness, typical of Tuscan wines, balances and offsets the ripe cherry-like notes.  The hallmark of Antinori’s wines–harmony and grace–combined with supple tannins means you can enjoy it now.  But my experience with his Chianti is that they evolve beautifully with bottle age, delivering even more complexity.  So put some in the cellar. 90 Michael Apstein Nov 23, 2010

Antinori, Chianti Classico (Tuscany, Italy) “Pèppoli” 2007 ($23, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates):  This lovely Chianti conveys both fruity–red cherry–flavors and earthy undertones.  It’s a gorgeous combination of earth, minerals and fruit that’s immediately apparent in the nose, continues on the palate and into the finish.  The freshness, typical of Tuscan wines, balances and offsets the ripe cherry-like notes.  The hallmark of Antinori’s wines–harmony and grace–combined with supple tannins means you can enjoy it now.  But my experience with his Chianti is that they evolve beautifully with bottle age, delivering even more complexity.  So put some in the cellar. 90 Michael Apstein Nov 30, 2010

Banfi, Chianti Classico (Tuscany, Italy) Riserva 2007 ($18, Banfi Vintners):  A Riserva designation in Chianti Classico has legal meaning, unlike Reserve in California.  Regulations require slightly riper grapes and an extra year of aging before release.  Practically speaking, the winery selects the more concentrated and powerful wines for their Riserva bottling.  Befitting a Riserva, this is a heftier wine with more going on.  Denser and more substantial, it’s still not heavy or ponderous because of the bright Tuscan acidity that keeps it fresh.  Ripe cherry notes harmonize with alluring smoky and savory elements.  Tannins are nicely polished and not intrusive.  A more “serious” wine, it delivers far more than the price would suggest.
90 Michael Apstein May 24, 2011

Borgo Scopeto, Chianti Classico (Tuscany, Italy) 2008 ($15, Vineyard Brands):   Borgo Scopeto, like Caparzo, its sister property in Montalcino, makes consistently fine wine.  The 2008 Chianti Classico, a blend of mostly (90%) Sangiovese with equal amounts of Merlot and Colorino, delivers a lot of bang for the buck.  Dense and concentrated, it has marvelous uplifting acidity that reminds you of its Tuscan origins.  And for all its stuffing, it’s remarkably polished and easy to enjoy now with a grilled veal chop.  It’s an excellent buy. 90 Michael Apstein Jul 10, 2012

Borgo Scopeto, Chianti Classico (Tuscany, Italy) Riserva 2003 ($28, Vineyard Brands): The 2003 growing season in Tuscany –n and all of Europe — produced ripe, intense red wines, such as this Chianti Classico. It is remarkable not so much for its luscious black cherry-like flavors but rather for its uplifting acidity, which is a rare commodity in 2003. The long finish is just a great dividend. 90 Michael Apstein Oct 3, 2006

Castello di Meleto, Chianti Classico (Tuscany, Italy) Riserva “Vigna Casi” 2003 ($37, Vias Imports): Castello di Meleto has fashioned a modern styled Chianti that still shows its Tuscan roots.  The vineyard, Vigna Casi, is well located in Gaiole at over 1,000 feet elevation, which means it’s cooler, especially at night, so the grapes can retain their acidity.  The vineyard’s southwest exposure assures plenty of sunshine for ripening.  Half of the wine was aged for two years in large Slovenian oak and half for one year in small French oak barrels and then blended.  You feel the effect of oak aging in the form of a certain charm and roundness, yet without being overwhelmed by the wood’s flavor.  Ripe, rather dense black cherry flavors are prominent, especially in the finish and remarkably–for the vintage–good acidity keeps it lively. 90 Michael Apstein Mar 13, 2007

Castello di Uzzano, Chianti Classico (Tuscany, Italy) 2010 ($17):  A rather weighty Chianti Classico, the Castello di Uzzano actually delivers slightly tarry notes and other non-fruit nuances along with deep black fruit flavors.  Although its ripeness suggests inclusion of Merlot in the blend, the wine is made entirely from Sangiovese. Befitting a top-notch Chianti Classico, its Tuscan roots are clear with fresh acidity that keeps it lively throughout a meal.  It certainly does not have an “international” profile.  It’s another satisfying choice for hearty pasta dishes.
90 Michael Apstein Apr 2, 2013

Castello di Volpaia, Chianti Classico (Tuscany, Italy) Riserva 2005 ($26, Wilson Daniels):  The 2005 vintage in Chianti has been overshadowed largely by 2004 and 2006.  Make no mistake, good wines came out of that region in 2005 and this is certainly one of them.  Bright cherry-like notes are intertwined with gamey nuances.  Mild tannins allow for immediate enjoyment and lively acidity keeps it from tiring throughout the meal. 90 Michael Apstein Sep 13, 2011

Villa Cerna, Chianti Classico (Tuscany, Italy) Riserva 2003 ($22, Banfi Vintners): The Cecchi family makes a range of wonderful, fairly priced wines.  Villa Cerna, their home, is their flagship Chianti Classico wine.  They wisely have avoided making an ‘international’ style of Chianti by blending in Cabernet Sauvignon and aging everything in small barrels.  Instead they maintain the local tradition by using 90% Sangiovese and 10% other local grapes, such as Canaiolo or Colorino.  The 2003 has the ripeness and richness expected from the heat of that summer coupled with uplifting black cherry acidity.  The appealing earthiness adds complexity and keeps it interesting throughout the meal. 90 Michael Apstein Dec 26, 2006

Castello Banfi, Chianti Classico (Tuscany, Italy) Riserva 2002 ($19, Banfi Imports): This wine is an example of why we need to taste wines instead of being slaves to vintage reports. The 2002 vintage in Tuscany was terrible because of a cold wet growing season and rains at harvest. So how did Banfi fashion such a delicious Chianti Classico? They purchase wine for their Chinati and clearly do so very selectively. It tastes as though theres some Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend and Cabernet actually did much better than Sangiovese in Tuscany is 2002. 89 Michael Apstein Jun 20, 2006

Castello di Gabbiano, Chianti Classico (Tuscany, Italy) 2007 ($12, FWE Imports):  This wine shows the giant leap in quality since Foster’s, the Australian company that owns Beringer, purchased Castello di Gabbiano in 2000.  A blend of Sangiovese (90%) with Colorino and a little Merlot, it’s a succulent mid-weight wine with nuances of cherries, floral elements and the quintessential enlivening Tuscany acidity.  Aged for 6 months in large botti to round it out, smooth tannins allow immediate enjoyment.  I suggest buying this tremendous value by the case because of its versatility with simple pasta dishes, pizza, or quickly grilled flank steak. 89 Michael Apstein Apr 27, 2010

Castello di Volpaia, Chianti Classico (Tuscany, Italy) 2008 ($25, Wilson Daniels):  Castello di Volpaia makes a wonderful array of wines from the Chianti region.  This one has the quintessential bright cherry-like fruit intertwined with slightly earthy, herbal notes.  Hallmark Tuscan acidity keeps it fresh and you coming back for more throughout the meal.  It’s a perfect choice for lasagna or even a grilled streak. 89 Michael Apstein May 3, 2011

Cecchi, Chianti Classico (Tuscany, Italy) 2008 ($13, Banfi Vintners):  In keeping with the Cecchi style, this is a substantial, but traditional, Chianti Classico filled with black, more than red, fruits flavors offset by subtle leathery notes.  Typical Tuscan acidity keeps it fresh and you coming back for more.  Refined tannins make it easy to enjoy now.  The price makes it very easy to recommend. 89 Michael Apstein May 17, 2011

Dievole, Chianti Classico (Tuscany, Italy) 2007 ($17, Pasternak Wine Imports):  he 2007 vintage in Tuscany delivered ripe, concentrated wines, such as this one.  A savory earthiness, uplifting Tuscan acidity and mild tannins complement its fullness and richness.  It’s a succulent, easy-to-recommend wine, perfect for a hearty pasta dish. 89 Michael Apstein Oct 18, 2011

I Fabbri, Chianti Classico (Tuscany, Italy) 2003 ($12, Siema): Although this is atypically generous for an entry-level Chianti Classico (due to the unusual heat of the growing season), it remains recognizable for its breed at the upper level of ripeness, and carries off this ripe style very convincingly. Really straddling the line between light- and medium-bodied wines, it shows nice acidity and fine but grippy tannins that balance the ripe fruit very effectively. Given all the character and class shown by this wine at this price, it is a steal. 89 Michael Apstein Jan 17, 2006

Viticcio, Chianti Classico (Tuscany, Italy) Riserva 2005 ($30, Sherbrooke Cellars): The Riserva designation requires additional aging before release and implies higher quality grapes.  Frequently they require more bottle age after release before consumption, but this one is remarkably approachable now.  The Merlot component (15%) adds fleshiness to the wonderful array of dried fruit flavors, spice and vivacity that Sangiovese–the remainder of the blend–brings to the table.  A mid-weight wine, it is an excellent choice with a grilled veal chop, osso bucco or other veal stew. 89 Michael Apstein Mar 24, 2009

Badia a Coltibuono, Chianti Classico (Tuscany, Italy) 2006 ($18, Dalla Terra): This wine delivers precisely what you’d expect from a Chianti Classico.  Lovely cherry-like flavors from Sangiovese grown in the area harmonize with a hint of earthiness that enhances the fruitiness by complementing it.  Mild tannins and vibrant acidity balances it and keeps it lively throughout the meal. 88 Michael Apstein May 12, 2009

Banfi, Chianti Classico (Tuscany, Italy) 2008 ($14, Banfi Vintners):  Banfi, the largest landowner in Montalcino and one of that region’s best Brunello producers, owns no vineyards in the nearby Chianti Classico zone.  For decades, even before they established themselves in Montalcino, Banfi purchased grapes and newly made wine from growers in Chianti Classico and completed the winemaking process.   With their 2008, they’ve managed to capture both the bright cherry-like aspect and the earthy, slightly leathery, notes typical of Chianti Classico.  Bright acidity keeps it lively and makes it an excellent match for hearty pasta dishes. 88 Michael Apstein Mar 8, 2011

Banfi, Chianti Classico (Tuscany, Italy) 2009 ($13, Banfi Vintners):

Banfi, the great Brunello producer, is on a roll with its well-priced Chianti Classico bottlings.  The 2008 (previously reviewed) was easy to recommend and so is this one.  Savory, subtle earthy notes balance the bright cherry-like flavors characteristic of Sangiovese planted in this part of Tuscany.  The uplifting acidity of this mid-weight wine makes it a good match for pizza or simple pasta.  A great buy.

88 Michael Apstein May 24, 2011

Brolio, Chianti Classico (Tuscany, Italy) 2003 ($25, Paterno): The searing heat of the summer of 2003 helped vine varieties such as Sangiovese that sometimes have a difficult time achieving ripeness in their grapes. Brolio’s 2003 Chianti Classico has lush cherry flavors balanced by the quintessential acidity of Sangiovese. 88 Michael Apstein Oct 25, 2005

Castello di Verrazzano, Chianti Classico (Tuscany, Italy) 2005 ($21, Palm Bay Imports): This is a traditional blend of Sangiovese (95%) and Canaiolo combined with traditional aging in older Slavonian oak barrels, which explains why this wine delivers the classic profile of Chianti–bright cherry-like flavors intertwined with earthy nuances, all supported by vibrant acidity and mild tannins.  It has plenty of ripeness without being overdone and the absence of new French oak barrels allows the multitude of earthy nuances to shine.  This is why Chianti in general is such a popular wine. 88 Michael Apstein Apr 7, 2009

San Leonino, Chianti Classico (Tuscany, Italy) 2006 ($20, Wilson Daniels): A traditional blend of 95% Sangiovese and Canaiolo, translates, in this case, into a classically proportioned Chianti Classico.  Bright, cherry-like flavors shine and are unadulterated by oak influence.  Firm tannins remind you this is a wine intended for food, not sipping on its own. 88 Michael Apstein Mar 3, 2009

Piccini, Chianti Classico (Tuscany, Italy) 2006 ($16, AV Brands): The range of wines sold as Chianti Classico–the central and classic zone of the vast Chianti area between Florence and Siena–varies enormously from fabulous to mundane. Piccini’s is closer to the fabulous end of the scale and an especially good value.  It has fullness and richness without being overblown or losing its Tuscan character.  Bright cherry-like flavors, savory elements and zippy acidity are apparent because they don’t need to battle vanilla-scented oak. 87 Michael Apstein Mar 24, 2009

Principe Corsini, Chianti Classico (Tuscany, Italy) “Le Corti” 2006 ($19, Henriot):  The Principe Corsini estate, with its 125 acres of vineyards, is located in the northern part of the Chianti Classico region, not far from Florence.  They produce a trio of Chianti Classico, this one, which is a blend of Sangiovese (95%) with Canaiolo and Colorino (Chianti’s other traditional grapes), a Riserva called Cortevecchia and one labeled Don Tommaso, which contains a touch of Merlot.  Fermented and aged entirely in stainless steel, Le Corti retains the classic fresh cherry-like flavors and pleasantly herbal character we expect from Chianti.  It’s a great choice for everyday meal of pasta or pizza. 87 Michael Apstein Apr 20, 2010

San Fabiano Calcinaia, Chianti Classico (Tuscany, Italy) 2007 ($15, Omniwines):  This mid-weight traditional–not gussied up–Chianti hails from an excellent vintage.  Plenty of spicy savory elements enhance the appealing cherry-like flavors. Lively acidity means it’s not an aperitif kind of wine, but it’s a delight with pasta and a rich meat sauce. 87 Michael Apstein Feb 1, 2011

Straccali, Chianti Classico (Tuscany, Italy) 2006 ($13, Palm Bay International): This is a classically fashioned Chianti, neither thin and astringent nor syrupy and sweet.  Charmingly rough and tumble, it delivers ripe cherry-like notes, supporting acidity and a hint of earthiness unencumbered by oak.  Not for sipping alone, try this good buy the next time you’re having a simple pasta dish. 87 Michael Apstein Apr 14, 2009

Tenuta di Nozzole, Chianti Classico (Tuscany, Italy) 2009 ($15, Kobrand):  Weighing in with a 15% stated alcohol, this is an atypical Chianti, especially for a traditional producer, such as Nozzole, that emphasizes ripe fruitiness over everything else.  Those who embrace richness and power will like it.  Those looking for traditional Chianti Classico should spend an extra 5 bucks for Nozzole’s classically framed 2008 Chianti Classico Riserva (also reviewed this week). 86 Michael Apstein Jun 12, 2012

Antinori, Chianti Classico Riserva (Tuscany, Italy) Badia a Passignano 2007 ($53, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates):  Even though Antinori, one of the truly star producers of Italian wine, has established outposts outside of Tuscany in Puglia, Umbria and even California and Washington, they have not forgotten their Tuscan roots.  They produce a bevy of wines from the Chianti region, including this one, their flagship Chianti Classico.  Made entirely from Sangiovese, it combines spice and fruit seamlessly.  Quite ripe, reflective of the 2007 vintage, it nonetheless conveys earthy and herbal tones that lend an intriguing savory element.  Despite its power, it has the quintessential Antinori suaveness and grace.  Nonetheless, a few years in the cellar will bring out even more complexity. 93 Michael Apstein Jun 12, 2012

Tenuta di Nozzole, Chianti Classico Riserva (Tuscany, Italy) La Forra 2007 ($45, Kobrand):  La Forra, Nozzole’s single vineyard flagship Chianti Classico, combines the richness of the 2007 vintage with a penetrating minerality.  Not just fruity, it speaks clearly of a place.  Herbal notes act as a counterpoint to the charming dark black cherry fruitiness.  Suave tannins and bright Tuscan acidity give it balance and structure without being aggressive. It blossoms in the glass, so if you’re planning to open it now, decant it an hour before you plan to serve it.  Otherwise keep it in the cellar for at least 5 years. It’s a serious Chianti that shows why this region remains so popular. 93 Michael Apstein Jun 12, 2012

Castellare di Castellina, Chianti Classico Riserva (Tuscany, Italy) 2007 ($30, Winebow):  Castellare di Castellina, an excellent traditional producer of Chianti Classico, has hit the mark with their 2007 Riserva.  Using time honored techniques (no new small oak barrels) and grapes (Sangiovese and Canaiolo–no Cabernet or Merlot) they have married charming ripe cherry-like fruit and earthy notes in this Riserva.  Beautifully balanced, the tannins are smooth, but provide structure, and the uplifting acidity keeps you coming back for more.  This is classy Chianti Classico. 92 Michael Apstein Jan 4, 2011

Castello di Volpaia, Chianti Classico Riserva (Tuscany, Italy) “Coltassala” 2005 ($49, Wilson-Daniels):  Castello di Volpaia is one of the reliable, “go-to” producers for fine Chianti Classico.  Their Coltassala bottling is from one of their single vineyards.  It has the same lovely interplay of dark cherry-like fruit and savory notes as their very good straight 2005 Chianti Classico.  It’s just bigger, riper and richer, without being overdone.  The tannins, as expected, are more apparent, which suggests it will be even better with a few more years in the cellar.  But it’s terrific now with a grilled steak or leg of lamb. 91 Michael Apstein May 31, 2011

San Felice, Chianti Classico Riserva (Tuscany, Italy) ‘Il Grigio’ 2008 ($21, San Felicie USA):  Made entirely from Sangiovese, San Felice’s 2008 Il Grigio is a terrific value.  San Felice’s location in Castelnuovo Berardenga, a southern and warmer region of Chianti Classico, explains the wine’s ripe and concentrated character.  But this burly wine has plenty of verve and spice balancing the fruit.  And it has a pleasant subtle bitterness in the finish that adds extra appeal.  It’s an excellent choice for a hearty pasta dish. 91 Michael Apstein Apr 2, 2013

Villa Cerna, Chianti Classico Riserva (Tuscany, Italy) 2007 ($24, Banfi Vintners):  Villa Cerna is the home estate of Cecchi, one of the Chianti region’s most reliable producers.  I have always been an enthusiastic fan of Villa Cerna because it has concentration but remains in the “traditional” camp rather than the “modern” or “international” style.  This one, from the highly acclaimed 2007 vintage, is no different.  This multi-layered Riserva has richness without being over the top.  Savory notes are a welcome counterpoint to the black fruit flavors.  Firm, but not astringent tannins, lend support and make it more appropriate to drink with hearty pasta or beef, rather than sip before dinner.  In short, it’s a serious wine–and a good value to boot. 91 Michael Apstein May 17, 2011

Antinori, Chianti Classico Riserva (Tuscany, Italy) “Marchese Antinori” 2007 ($35):  In contrast to their Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva, which comes from a single vineyard, this one, labeled Marchese Antinori, comes from a variety of the Antinori estates, including Tignanello, Pèppoli and Badia a Passignano.  More approachable at this stage then the Badia a Passignano, it too is an attractive amalgam of spice and cherry-like fruit.  It’s ripe–a product of the vintage–but lively Tuscan acidity prevents it from being jammy.  Judicious oak aging adds a lovely glossy patina without obscuring its underlying charm.  It’s a good choice for current drinking. 90 Michael Apstein Jun 12, 2012

Brancaia, Chianti Classico Riserva (Italy) 2009 ($40, Brancaia USA): Brancaia, a produced who has eschewed the traditional DOC or DOCG wines, has always focused on the so-called Super Tuscans. What makes this wine remarkable is that it is their first foray into the Chianti Classico DOCG. And it’s a winner. A blend of mostly (80%) Sangiovese and Merlot it delivers gutsy earthy flavors in addition to ripe black and red fruit notes. It has an international feel to it, without losing its Tuscan roots. 90 Michael Apstein Jan 1, 2013

Tenuta di Nozzole, Chianti Classico Riserva (Tuscany, Italy) 2008 ($20, Kobrand):  Nozzole, a leading Chianti producer, turned out a wonderful Riserva in 2008.  Although Chianti regulations require only 85% Sangiovese, Nozzole opts to use that grape exclusively in this Riserva.  Beguiling smoky and earthy elements add a savory aspect to the expected ripe cherry-like notes of Sangiovese.   An overall charming rusticity makes you come back for more.  It’s a fine choice for full-flavored pasta dishes or a grilled steak. 90 Michael Apstein Jun 12, 2012

Cecchi, Chianti Colli Senesi (Tuscanay, Italy) “Arcano” 2004 ($12): The Colli Senesi–hills around Siena–lack the cachet of Chianti Classico, but still produce refreshing, what I like to call, everyday “pizza wine.” 87 Michael Apstein Jun 20, 2006

Frescobaldi, Chianti Rufina (Tuscany, Italy) Castello Nipozzano Vigneto Montesodi Riserva 2001 ($44, Folio Wine Company): The Rufina zone of the Chianti region may lack the renown of the Classico zone, but some of the wines from there, such as those from Frescobaldi’s Castello Nipozzano estate, cannot be beat.  Frescobaldi, still a family-run estate that spans 27 generations, makes sensational Chianti.  The Montesodi, a single vineyard wine, is their flagship.   The 2001, an exceptional wine is powerful and rich.  Its astounding depth is balanced by lively, black cherry-like uplifting acidity in the finish.  It could redefine your notion of Chianti. 95 Michael Apstein May 22, 2007

Selvapiana, Chianti Rufina (Tuscany, Italy) Riserva “Vigneto Bucerchiale” 2006 ($28, Dalla Terra):  Selvapiana is one of the best producers in the Chianti Rufina subzone, just east of Florence.  Made entirely from Sangiovese, this Riserva, from a single vineyard, is stellar.  More muscular and more structured than their regular Chianti Rufina (also reviewed this week), it would benefit from a few more years of aging to allow its glorious to unfold.  Lots of spice and earthy notes accompany black cherry-like fruit profile and acidity.  The use of oak aging–a hint of barrique suaveness–is in perfect proportion to the other elements.  The layers of flavor continue reveal themselves over time as the wine sits in the glass. 94 Michael Apstein Jun 8, 2010

Frescobaldi, Chianti Rufina (Tuscany, Italy) 2007 ($17, Folio Wine Company):  Although the Rufina subzone of Chianti may be less well known than the Classico subzone, the wines are every bit as good.  And Frescobaldi’s from their Nipozzano estate never disappoints.   It has the richness and plushness of the 2007 vintage in Tuscany while retaining vigor and freshness.  Savory notes add intrigue and supple tannins allow for current drinking pleasure.  A terrific buy. 91 Michael Apstein Apr 5, 2011

Selvapiana, Chianti Rufina (Tuscany, Italy) 2008 ($19, Dalla Terra):  Although less well-known than the more famous Chianti Classico subzone, the Chianti Rufina subzone is home to some stellar producers, including Selvapiana.   Made from a traditional blend of Sangiovese and Canaiolo, this is a serious wine that amply demonstrates that this sub zone’s wines are worth exploring.  This mid-weight wine delivers a pleasing combination of bright cherry-like fruit flavors intertwined with earthy, woodsy notes.  Mild tannins and bright acidity lend structure without aggressiveness.  Easy to recommend for current consumption with pasta and meat sauce, this Chianti Rufina will continue to evolve over the next several years. 90 Michael Apstein Jun 8, 2010

Marchesi de Frescobaldi, Chianti Rufina (Tuscany, Italy) Nipozzano Riserva 2005 ($25, Folio Wine Company): The Rufina subzone of the Chianti region may lack the visibility and cachet of the Classico subzone, but the wines, as this one shows, can be every bit as enchanting.  Frescobaldi, one of the great names in Italian wine, makes distinct and serious wines and his Chianti Rufina shows why Chianti has worldwide recognition.  Not just a fruit bomb, it’s a wonderfully balanced array of dried cherries, hints of chocolate and a little spice all supported by fine tannins and refreshing acidity.  Drink it now or cellar it for several years, you can’t go wrong. 89 Michael Apstein Mar 31, 2009

Frescobaldi, Chianti Rufina Riserva (Tuscany, Italy) 2006 ($20, Folio Wine Company):  The Rufina subzone of Chianti, like the Classico subzone, is home to many stellar producers.  And Frescobaldi is one of the best.  Their Nipozzano Riserva is always easy to recommend and their 2006 is no exception.  It delivers a marvelous combination of black cherry-like flavors and earthy overtones.  It is a more muscular version of Chianti, but well balanced and not overdone.  It would be an excellent choice for hearty pasta dishes or a long-simmered stew. 90 Michael Apstein Dec 21, 2010

Castello Banfi, IGP Toscana (Italy) “Belnero” 2010 ($28, Banfi Imports): Banfi introduced this wine, a blend of mostly Sangiovese with a dollop of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with the 2007 vintage. The 2010 is their best yet.  With it, Banfi has captured wonderfully deep, dark, Brunello-like concentration and minerality that’s a perfect foil for the abundant black cherry-like fruitiness.  Waves of flavor emerge as the wine opens after pouring, making each sip a new delight. The Banfi signature of polished tannins lends support without astringency and makes Belnero easy to enjoy now.  Mouth watering acidity (it is from Tuscany, after all) keeps it fresh and you coming back for more.  Tasted blind, it took a Platinum Medal at 10th International Critics Challenge wine competition and was also voted best red wine by the assembled judges.  A fabulous buy!
96 Michael Apstein Jul 2, 2013

Mate, IGT Toscana (Montalcino, Italy) Syrah “Banditone” 2002 ($65, Romano Brands): Who knew Syrah could do well in Montalcino? Banfi, of course, makes a luscious Syrah there, but it turns out that so does Máté (He purchased vineyards from Banfi). With ripe black fruit, plum-like flavors — as opposed to the peppery Syrah of cooler climes — this wine is gorgeously layered and seductive. It’s all the more remarkable because it comes from the 2002 vintage, a hard year to make good wine in Tuscany. If they make wine like this in 2002, I wonder what it will be like in a year like 2004. 92 Michael Apstein Sep 5, 2006

Tenuta Frescobaldi di Castiglioni, IGT Toscana (Tuscany, Italy) 2009 ($25, Folio Fine Wine Partners):  Is there a better estate in Tuscany producing the range of wines that Frescobaldi does?  There may be, but I doubt it. In this wine, Frescobaldi blends international varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon [50%], Merlot [30%], Cabernet Franc [10%]) with Sangiovese with great success.  Not-just-fruit, Frescobaldi has captured an earthy minerality buttressed by uplifting Tuscan acidity.  Often these types of blends overwhelm, but not in Frescobaldi’s hands.  This wine retains balance and polish, the signature of Frescobaldi wines. 91 Michael Apstein Jun 12, 2012

Rocca di Frassinello, Maremma (Tuscany, Italy) “Le Sughere di Frassinello” 2004 ($40, Vias Imports): This relatively new (1999) joint venture between Paolo Panerai, owner of Castellare di Castellina (one of Chianti’s great estates) and Baron Eric de Rothschild (Lafite), is making excellent wines in Maremma already.  Located in the northern part of Maremma–just south of Bolgheri–Rocca di Frassinello uses a blend of grapes that reflects the partnership: Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet France, Merlot and Petit Verdot.  The ‘middle’ wine of their range, Le Sughere, is a glorious combination of floral and mineral elements buttressed by fine tannins.  Not overworked, its complexity extends into its long finish.  I actually prefer it to their more expensive, ‘top-of-the-line’ wine–Rocca di Frassinello–which is named after the estate. 93 Michael Apstein May 22, 2007

Tenuta del Terriccio, Maremma (Tuscany, Italy) “Tassinaia” 2004 ($45, Kobrand): A Super Tuscan blend of roughly equal parts Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, Tassinaia shows once again how well suited the Bordeaux varieties are to the maritime climate of Maremma on Tuscany’s coast.  Very aromatic, it’s quite rich, but not overdone.  Beautifully balanced, the three varieties complement each other seamlessly.  Aged in older oak barriques, you feel the effect of oak–a glossy smoothness–without tasting it.  Black fruit flavors sprinkled with spicy notes and supple tannins make this wine lovely to drink now.  Bright acid in the finish keeps it vibrant throughout the meal. 92 Michael Apstein Sep 2, 2008

Tenuta del Terriccio, Maremma (Tuscany, Italy) “Tassinaia” 2004 ($45, Kobrand): A Super Tuscan blend of roughly equal parts Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, Tassinaia shows once again how well suited the Bordeaux varieties are to the maritime climate of Maremma on Tuscany’s coast.  Very aromatic, it’s quite rich, but not overdone.  Beautifully balanced, the three varieties complement each other seamlessly.  Aged in older oak barriques, you feel the effect of oak–a glossy smoothness–without tasting it.  Black fruit flavors sprinkled with spicy notes and supple tannins make this wine lovely to drink now.  Bright acid in the finish keeps it vibrant throughout the meal. 92 Michael Apstein Sep 2, 2008

Tenuta del Terriccio, Maremma (Tuscany, Italy) “Tassinaia” 2004 ($45, Kobrand): A Super Tuscan blend of roughly equal parts Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, Tassinaia shows once again how well suited the Bordeaux varieties are to the maritime climate of Maremma on Tuscany’s coast.  Very aromatic, it’s quite rich, but not overdone.  Beautifully balanced, the three varieties complement each other seamlessly.  Aged in older oak barriques, you feel the effect of oak–a glossy smoothness–without tasting it.  Black fruit flavors sprinkled with spicy notes and supple tannins make this wine lovely to drink now.  Bright acid in the finish keeps it vibrant throughout the meal. 92 Michael Apstein Sep 2, 2008

Brancaia, Maremma (Tuscany, Italy) “Ilatraia” 2005 ($65, William Grant): This modern style Super Tuscan, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (60%), Sangiovese (30%) and Petit Verdot (10%), is dominated by the firm structure of Cabernet and gorgeous and overt patina of oak at this stage.  The expected toasty, creamy elements from aging in barrique balance and complement the wine’s intense black fruit and herbal character. Though powerful, the balance and interplay of components suggests it will evolve nicely with several more years of bottle age.  This is a good wine for the cellar.  Some might fault it for being too ‘international,’ but I think its Tuscan roots will be clear after more bottle age. 90 Michael Apstein Aug 26, 2008

Querciabella, Maremma (Tuscany, Italy) “Mongrana” 2006 ($20, Maisons, Marques and Domaines):

This is the second vintage of Mongrana from Querciabella, the highly-regarded Chianti-based producer. And like the 2005, it’s a wonderful wine and value.  A blend of Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, it has slightly more power and a pinch less finesse compared to the 2005, but delivers the same earthy, slightly tarry elements, intertwined with ripe black fruit character.  Intense, yet nicely balanced, the tannins are noticeable–but not intrusive–and suggest it will be even more enjoyable in another year.

90 Michael Apstein Jun 24, 2008

Cecchi, Maremma IGT (Tuscany, Italy) Sangiovese “Bonizio” 2008 ($9, Banfi Imports):  Looking for an everyday “pizza wine” at a great price?  Look no further.  This straightforward mid-weight wine delivers bright flavors of red and black cherries mixed with savory nuances.  Snappy acidity makes it the perfect foil for rustic fare such as sausage and peppers or burgers. 85 Michael Apstein Nov 2, 2010

Cecchi, Morellino di Scansano (Tuscany, Italy) Val delle Rose Riserva 2006 ($24, Banfi Imports):  Cecchi, the noted Chianti Classico producer, expanded their family estates into the Maremma when they purchased the Val delle Rose property in the Morellino di Scansano area in 1996.  This wine, their best Morellino to date, reflects the investment, attention to detail and hard work they did there.  Fleshy ripe black fruit flavors are apparent, but do not dominate, allowing floral and mineral elements to emerge.  Finely polished tannins lend structure without a trace of astringency.  Succulent and juicy, it not just fruit flavors that fill your mouth.  The savory earthy notes lend intrigue.  Paradoxically, it’s powerful, yet delicate.  A classy wine and lovely to drink now with a steak. 93 Michael Apstein Nov 2, 2010

Doga delle Clavule, Morellino di Scansano (Tuscany, Italy) 2006 ($21, Vineyard Brands): Scansano, a tiny town in the Maremma–western Tuscany near the sea–is home to the Morellino grape, yet another name for Tuscany’s ubiquitous Sangiovese.  Beginning with the 2007 vintage, Morellino di Scansano was awarded DOCG status.  But even without that designation on this 2006, it’s worth a search for this wine.  A touch of Merlot and Alicante add power to cherry-like fruitiness of this mostly (85%) Sangiovese-based wine.  Polished tannins and enlivening acidity support its intensity.  Pull the cork the next time you are grilling sausages or any meat.  You will not be disappointed. 90 Michael Apstein Sep 1, 2009

Le Pupille, Morellino di Scansano (Tuscany, Italy) 2005 ($20, Domaine Select):  Elisabetta Geppetti at Le Pupille is responsible for one of my all time favorite Super Tuscan wines, Saffredi, which hails from her property in the Maremma.  Her talents extend to less exalted bottlings as well, such as this Morellino di Scansano, a DOCG in Maremma.  Although the 2006 is the current release, this 2005 is still widely available at the retail level and is perfect for current consumption with hearty pasta dishes or even grilled beef.  It’s loaded–but not overdone–with all the bright cherry-like fruit you’d expect from a wine made entirely from Sangiovese, but it also delivers a healthy dose of earthy, non-fruit notes.  Typical Tuscan vibrancy keeps you coming back to it throughout a meal.  It has style and complexity found usually only in far more expensive wines. 90 Michael Apstein Aug 31, 2010

Val delle Rose, Morellino di Scansano (Tuscany, Italy) Riserva 2004 ($20, Banfi Imports): Another wine that highlights the stature of the 2004 vintage in Tuscany, Val delle Rose’s Morellino di Scansano has an engaging combination of bright cherry-like flavors atop an earthy minerality.  Finely honed tannins balance the ripe fruit notes and make it terrific for current consumption. 90 Michael Apstein Jun 3, 2008

Val delle Rose, Morellino di Scansano (Tuscany, Italy) Riserva 2001 ($23, Excelsior Wine & Spirits): Not a New World “fruit bomb,” the Val delle Rose Morellino Riserva has smoky earthy qualities supported by moderate tannins. Try it with a hearty pasta dish. 90 Michael Apstein Sep 5, 2006

Fattoria dei Barbi, Morellino di Scansano (Tuscany, Italy) 2007 ($19, Pasternak Wine Imports):  Morellino–literally “little cherry”–is yet another name for the Sangiovese grape in Tuscany.  Whether it’s a different clone of Sangiovese or the same as the one planted in Chianti is debated.  But the wines from Scansano, a small village southwest of the Chianti region and nearer the coast, do have some similarity to those from its more famous neighbor.  This part of Tuscany is warmer than Chianti and, as a result, the wines are slightly plumper and riper, but still with good balancing acidity.  Barbi’s has a supple fruit-forwardness to it without being jammy or overdone.  A gentle dose of earthiness adds intrigue to this mid-weight wine.   It shows how charming the wines from this area can be. 89 Michael Apstein Mar 16, 2010

Val delle Rose, Morellino di Scansano (Tuscany, Italy) Riserva 2003 ($23, Banfi Vintners): Just when you thought you knew about Sangiovese–it’s the primary grape of Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano–along comes yet another Tuscan name for it.  When Sangiovese grows in the town of Scansano in the Maremma it takes the name Morellino, or ‘little cherry.’  It’s a name to remember since the area has just been elevated to DOCG from DOC.  The 2003 Val delle Rose is very ripe and dense with distant hints of tobacco.  Its round plushness makes is a good choice for drinking now with a hearty pasta dish. 89 Michael Apstein Dec 26, 2006

Poggio alle Sughere, Morellino di Scansano (Tuscany, Italy) 2009 ($18, W J Deutsch):  This is one of three estates owned by Lionello Marchesi, an industrialist turned wine producer 30 years ago.  The Morellino di Scansano DOCG zone is in the Maremma area of southern Tuscany, where it is considerably warmer than in the Chianti region.  The added warmth typically gives the Sangiovese grown here more ripeness, which explains the distinct fresh cherry-like flavors.  Appealing dried fruit notes complement the fresh cherry-like flavors.  The small amount (10%) of Cabernet Sauvignon adds drive without obliterating subtle dried fruit notes or upsetting the wine’s balance.  Typical Tuscan acidity keeps it bright.  A good choice for current drinking. 88 Michael Apstein Oct 18, 2011

Col d’Orcia, Rosso di Montalcino (Tuscany, Italy) 2003 ($17, Palm Bay Imports): The infamous heat in Europe during the summer of 2003 makes selecting wines from that vintage hazardous. Some winemakers wound up with overextracted, tannic, unbalanced wines while others make glorious ones. Put this wine in the latter category. Extraordinary length and complexity, coupled with lip smacking acidity, make this easy to recommend highly. One of the best Rosso di Montalcino I’ve tasted! 94 Michael Apstein Feb 21, 2006

Fossacolle, Rosso di Montalcino (Tuscany, Italy) 2005 ($34, Vias Imports): This is a mini-Brunello that’s ready to drink now.  A big wine, filled with ripe, cherry-like flavors, an alluring earthy minerality, and exceptional finish, it’s a more modern style of Rosso, but still clearly Tuscan. 91 Michael Apstein May 22, 2007

Silvio Nardi, Rosso di Montalcino (Tuscany, Italy) 2010 ($22, Kobrand): Rosso di Montalcino is often referred to as “baby Brunello.” Just as often, it isn’t. But Silvio Nardi’s really is. It combines a dark core of minerality with black fruit notes, supple tannins and vibrant acidity. It’s lovely to drink now. 91 Michael Apstein Dec 4, 2012

Argiano, Rosso di Montalcino (Tuscany, Italy) 2005 ($30, Vias Imports): More and more, as producers focus of quality, Rosso di Montalcino is becoming a wine to buy.  Dubbed  ‘baby Brunello’ by some, Rosso’s chief advantages over its renowned big brother are a much smaller price tag and a more forward profile that is easier to enjoy while the wine is young.  Rosso, made from Sangiovese, the same grape as Brunello, comes either from vineyards that could produce Brunello or ones classified solely for Rosso.  Argiano’s modern style does not mask this wine’s Tuscan roots.  Minerality and bright acidity complement the supple style, making for an unusually complex Rosso. 90 Michael Apstein May 22, 2007

Caparzo, Rosso di Montalcino (Tuscany, Italy) 2006 ($24, Vineyard Brands): The 2006 vintage produced stunning Brunello, which means by extension that the Rosso bottlings from Montalcino from that year are the “go to” wines in these economic times.  Another plus for Rossos is that they give immediate gratification–unlike Brunellos, which require further cellaring after release to really come into their own.   Caparzo, a consistently excellent producer, turned out a stunning Rosso filled with dark fruit flavors intertwined with nuances of earth and minerals supported by suave fine tannins.  Great length and balance show the stature of the 2006 vintage. 90 Michael Apstein Sep 1, 2009

Castello Banfi, Rosso di Montalcino (Tuscany, Italy) 2006 ($20, Banfi Vintners): Rosso di Montalcino, which by law is made entirely from Sangiovese, gives a glimpse of the potential of that Tuscan region.  Roughly half of the Sangiovese for this Rosso comes from vineyards designated for Rosso production.  The other half comes from Brunello approved vineyards–and could be used to make Brunello di Montalcino.  However, Banfi, one of the region’s leading producers, feels it is not quite up to their standards for Brunello, so they opt to declassify it into their Rosso.  Unlike Brunello, which needs considerable aging (the 2004 Brunello are just appearing on retailers shelves this spring and they will still need a few years to settle down), Rosso is ready to drink almost immediately upon release.  This one conveys ripe black cherry notes, a haunting earthiness, and supple tannins.  Not oaky or ‘international,’ it delivers plenty of substance buttressed by characteristic Tuscan acidity.  It’s a great twenty-dollar bottle of wine. 90 Michael Apstein Apr 7, 2009

Col d’Orcia, Rosso di Montalcino (Tuscany, Italy) 2006 ($24, Palm Bay Imports): Rosso di Montalcino can provide a hint of what Brunello can offer, but at a lower price and without the need for time in the cellar.  Sometimes called, ‘baby Brunello,’ Rosso is made entirely from Sangiovese grown either in vineyards certified to produce Brunello–but the producer opts not to–or in vineyards designated for Rosso only.  Col d’Orcia’s 2006 is a great example because it delivers rich dark fruit flavors and a hint of earthy minerality all supported by mild supple tannins.  It lacks the complexity of Brunello, but then again, it lacks the price tag, and is perfect tonight with a hearty pasta preparation or simple flank steak. 90 Michael Apstein Mar 31, 2009

Val di Suga, Rosso di Montalcino (Tuscany, Italy) 2005 ($33, Wilson Daniels): Val di Suga is the Montalcino estate owned by the venerable producer, Tenimenti Angelini.  This 100% Sangiovese is a lovely expression of minerals and earth characteristic of the red wines from Montalcino.  Consider it, a ‘baby Brunello’ with a combination of dark black cherry-like nuances and an almost bitter chocolaty minerality.  Far more approachable then Val di Suga’s Brunello, savor it now with a rich pasta and meat sauce. 90 Michael Apstein Feb 3, 2009

Camigliano, Rosso di Montalcino (Tuscany, Italy) 2005 ($22, Vias Imports): Camigliano turns down the volume in favor of elegance in this Rosso, which is nevertheless still pretty ripe.  The minerality and charm grabs you in the finish and then holds your attention. 89 Michael Apstein May 22, 2007

Castello Banfi, Rosso di Montalcino (Tuscany, Italy) 2011 ($25, Banfi Imports): Rosso di Montalcino is frequently called “Baby Brunello.”  More often than not, it really isn’t, and not in a good way.  With Banfi’s 2011, it really is.  Bright cherry-like fruit underpinned by a fine minerality reminds you of Brunello.  A firm structure adds character and backbone without imparting a detracting hardness.
88 Michael Apstein Sep 17, 2013

Fassati, Rosso di Montepulciano (Tuscany, Italy) “Selciaia” 2003 ($13, Palm Bay): Fassati’s Selciaia is a wonderful example of how the heat of 2003 helped these “lesser” DOCs achieve unusual ripeness and depth without robbing the Sangiovese of its acidity. Ripe with gamy and smoky elements, it has balancing structure and an alluring finish. It is a far more complex wine that you’d expect from this DOC, and a great bargain. 93 Michael Apstein Dec 6, 2005

Poderi Sanguineto I e II, Rosso di Montepulciano (Tuscany, Italy) 2007 ($14, Adonna Imports):  Rosso di Montepulciano does for Montepulciano what Rosso di Montalcino does for Brunello.  It’s a more forward, less prestigious wine from a famous area.  This one has a captivating combination of earthy, savory nuances, lively cherry-like fruit flavors and mild, unobtrusive tannins.  Better with food than as an aperitif, it would be a great match for a tomato-based pasta dish. 88 Michael Apstein Feb 9, 2010

Brancaia, Rosso Maremma Toscana (Italy) “Ilatraia” 2009 ($60, Brancaia USA): Fortunately, I tasted this wine before I read the technical sheet, which showed the blend as a whopping 40% of Petit Verdot (along with an equal amount of Cabernet Sauvignon with Cabernet Franc filing out the rest) and weighing in at a stated 14.5% alcohol. And did I mention, it was aged in French barriques, both old and new? On paper it was a combination that’s not my style — too big, too oaky and too ripe. But on the palate it was none of those. Yes, it was a large wine, but balanced and not overdone. A creamy lushness with glossy tannins gave it a certain “modern” feel and made it remarkably accessible now. It was freshness and lively despite its size. It would be an excellent choice for a steak. 92 Michael Apstein Jan 1, 2013

Cecchi, Sangiovese di Maremma (Tuscany, Italy) “Bonizio” 2005 ($12): Cecchi, a wonderful, traditional Chianti producer (their flagship Villa Cerna is always a treat) expanded its holdings in Maremma, the western part of Tuscany and home to such famous high-end producers Ornellaia and Sassicaia.   An appealing slight earthiness and fragrant black cherry type flavors make Bonizio far more complex than the price would indicate.  Mild, supple tannins allow you to enjoy it now.  A great bargain. 87 Michael Apstein Feb 5, 2008

Castello Banfi, Sant’ Antimo (Tuscany, Italy) Syrah Colvecchio 2003 ($36, Banfi Vintners): Banfi, best known for their fabulous Brunello, has been experimenting with Syrah in their vineyards in the Montalcino area of Tuscany for over 15 years. I have followed their Syrah from the outset. They hit a home run with their 2003, their best to date. It is not only rich and lush-not surprisingly given the heat of the vintage-but it also has exquisite balance and complexity-black fruit and spice-which is a surprise given the potential for awkward, out of balance wines that year. 91 Michael Apstein Oct 17, 2006

Banfi, Sant’Antimo (Tuscany, Italy) Merlot “Mandrielle” 2004 ($35, Banfi Vintners): As marvelous a job as Banfi did with their 2003 Mandrielle, the 2004 is simply more stunning.  There is an intriguing tarry, earthy overlay to the lush and deep black fruit component.  Banfi has combined formidable power with a glossy elegance in this wine.  This is a rich wine that demands rich food.  Added complexity will emerge with additional bottle age, so there’s no rush to drink it. 93 Michael Apstein Apr 8, 2008

Castello Banfi, Sant’Antimo (Tuscany, Italy) Merlot ‘Mandrielle’ 2003 ($33, Banfi Imports): Red wines from the torrid 2003 summer in Europe are either terrific or marred by over-extraction and bitter tannins.  Banfi’s Merlot is an example of the former.  I suspect this Merlot shows well because the vines are planted on water-retaining clay, which mitigated the stress of the dry heat of the 2003 growing season.  It has richness and real class with minerality and slight earthiness.  The fine tannins add good structure without bitterness. 90 Michael Apstein Dec 19, 2006

Isole e Olena, Toscana IGT (Tuscany, Italy) “Cepparello” 2006 ($65, Carolina Wines):  Paolo di Marchi was one of the leaders in Chianti Classico region of Tuscany to show the world that you could make a Super Tuscan wine entirely from Sangiovese without adding Cabernet Sauvignon to the blend.  (He clearly doesn’t have anything against Cabernet because he also makes a wonderful wine from that varietal as well).  He named his 100% Sangiovese Cepparello, after a stream that runs through his property.  It’s a consistently marvelous wine, but the 2006 may be his best ever.  Dark ripe fruit flavors are intertwined seamlessly with earthy and spicy minerality.  The fine tannins impart a silky texture.  The finish is seemingly endless.  Each sips rewards the palate with new flavors.  It gets my highest personal recommendation–WB–for “would buy” and in fact, I did put a case in my cellar. 97 Michael Apstein Feb 9, 2010

Frescobaldi, Toscana IGT (Tuscany, Italy) “Mormoreto” 2006 ($60, Folio Wine Company):  This Super Tuscan shows that the name needn’t end in “aia” to be grand.  Though Cabernet Sauvignon is the major component is this glorious Bordeaux blend, it does not dominate on the palate.  Rather, you get a seamless combination of ripe–but not overpowering–black fruit, minerals and earth.  It’s classy, long and elegant.  It combines glossy tannins with vibrancy and brightness keeps you coming back for more, which is good because with each sip, new flavors emerge.  Tasted blind with lots of heavy hitters from Bordeaux and Tuscany, it was a standout.  Consumed with a perfectly grilled steak, it was even better. 96 Michael Apstein Mar 15, 2011

Ca’Marcanda, Toscana IGT (Tuscany, Italy) “Magari” 2006 ($90, Terlato Wines International):  Arguably the man who propelled Italian wine onto the world’s stage, Angelo Gaja needs no introduction.  Everyone took notice when, in the mid-1990s, he purchased unplanted land in Bolgheri, not far from Sassicaia and Ornellaia, planted Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Sangiovese, and built an architectural gem of a winery there.  He makes three wines: Promis, a blend of Merlot, Syrah and Sangiovese, and two from a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc–this one and Ca’Marcanda, named after the estate.  The combination of an excellent vintage in Tuscany and Gaja’s increasing familiarity with his vineyards has resulted in a superb wine. True to the Gaja style, it is elegant and polished, not flamboyant or bombastic.  It conveys a deep earthy minerality and lively black fruits notes that play off one another. Its length and complexity make it a joy to take another sip. 95 Michael Apstein Jan 4, 2011

Il Columbaio di Cencio, Toscana IGT (Tuscany, Italy) “Il Futuro” 2001 ($50, Aventine Hill): This wine has developed extraordinary complexity and grace with bottle age.  Dominated by new oak when young, the blend of equal parts (40%) Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon–the remaining 20% is Merlot–have come together beautifully.   This silky smooth Super Tuscan now delivers an alluring combination of earthiness and smokiness that accentuates the black and red fruit flavors.   With oak tinged flavors deep in the background, this wine is a study of power and elegance. 94 Michael Apstein Apr 21, 2009

Petrolo, Toscana IGT (Italy) “Galatrona” 2009 ($135):  This may be 100% Merlot, but it tastes like very few Merlots on the market.  It has the plushness and lushness often associated with the variety.  But what sets it apart is an engaging, slightly tarry, vaguely mineraly component.  It shows that Merlot planted in the right place can produce outstanding wine.  It has a “not just fruit” earthy component that lingers on the palate and demands another sip to try to define it.
94 Michael Apstein May 1, 2012

Castello Banfi, Toscana IGT (Tuscany, Italy) “Cum Laude” 2004 ($33, Banfi Imports): It should come as no surprise given the overall quality of the 2004 vintage in Tuscany, that Banfi’s 2004 Cum Laude gets my vote for the best rendition of this wine that they’ve ever made.  A seamless blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sangiovese and Syrah, it has terrific power, grace and harmony.  Powerful, but certainly not over-done, it shows unusual elegance and complexity with a glorious combination of ripe black fruit elements and an earthy minerality. 93 Michael Apstein Mar 17, 2009

Castello Banfi, Toscana IGT (Tuscany, Italy) “Summus” 2004 ($69, Banfi Imports): This gorgeous blend of Sangiovese (40%), Cabernet Sauvignon (40%) and Syrah emphasizes the black fruit–rather than the earthy–facet of wines from the Montalcino area.  Darker and more intense than Banfi’s excellent 2004 Cum Laude (another one of their non-Brunello blends and reviewed previously), this wine is additional evidence that the 2004 vintage in Tuscany is a great one. Like their Cum Laude, this Summus could be the best Banfi has ever produced.  It has the hallmark Tuscan acidity coupled with a lovely suppleness that makes it remarkably easy to enjoy now.  Having just had the wonderfully developed and expressive 1998 Summus (from a less exalted vintage) I would bet the 2004 has a bright future and will reward cellaring. 93 Michael Apstein Mar 24, 2009

Poggio al Tesoro, Toscana IGT (Tuscany, Italy) “Mediterra” 2006 ($25, Winebow):  Poggio al Tesoro is Allegrini’s new project in Bolgheri, a region on the Tuscan coast and home to Sassicaia and Ornellaia.  Everyone seems to agree that Cabernet–both Sauvignon and Franc–and Merlot are well suited to Bolgheri.  Some, like Allegrini and Gaja, both of whom have planted Syrah there, believe that varietal will flourish as well.  Judging by this wine, their assessment is correct.  A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah, the 2006 Mediterra is plush and polished, with silky tannins.  Not flamboyant or over the top, there’s a good balance of ripe fruit flavors offset by nuances of herbs and spices, all enlivened by quintessential Tuscan acidity. The 2006 was the first vintage of Mediterra and their success was either beginner’s luck or talent.  Knowing Allegrini, I suspect the latter. 92 Michael Apstein Jan 4, 2011

Tenuta San Guido, Toscana IGT (Tuscany, Italy) “Guidalberto” 2007 ($45, Kobrand):  Although the first vintage–the 2000–had Sangiovese in the blend, this glossy wine is now solely a Cabernet Sauvignon (60%) and Merlot blend.  The Cabernet comes from the famed Sassicaia vineyard–mostly the young vines–which explains why some people think of Guidalberto as a “second” wine of Sassicaia.  But it’s not because the Merlot–also from the Sassicaia estate–is used exclusively for this wine since there is never Merlot in Sassicaia.  It does, however, have a similar harmony and elegance to its more famous stablemate.  The Merlot lends a forward fleshiness while Cabernet delivers spice and cedar-like flavors and aromas.  Uplifting acidity imparts a mouthwatering freshness.  Winemaker, Sebastiano Rosa, advises, “drink Guidalberto while you wait for Sassicaia (to mature).”  Not a bad idea if you’ve got the funds to afford it. 92 Michael Apstein Jan 26, 2010

Argiano, Toscana IGT (“Non Confunditur”) 2004 ($23, Vias Imports): Showing that a traditional producer such as Argiano is not bound by its past, they have introduced this lovely, New World-style blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.  It’s a big wine with attractive smoky, meaty, almost gamy elements that I assume come from the Syrah component.  Polished and supple, this nonconforming wine is sure to please. 90 Michael Apstein May 22, 2007

Banfi, Toscana IGT (Tuscany, Italy) “Centine” 2005 ($12, Banfi Vintners): Banfi is one of the biggest–and best–producers in Montalcino, home of Brunello.  One advantage of size is an incredible selection of fruit to maintain the integrity and quality of each level of wine.  Wine that doesn’t make the cut for their Brunello can go into Rosso di Montalcino, and wine not suitable for Rosso can find its way into Centine–and so on.  Which means that good raw material winds up in Centine consistently, because of Banfi’s exacting standards.  The 2005, a harmonious blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, is a medium-bodied bright wine with sufficient structure to keep it interesting while downing a meaty pasta dish or even roast chicken.  As usual with this wine, you get more than you’d expect for the price. 90 Michael Apstein Jan 29, 2008

Castello Banfi, Toscana IGT (Tuscany, Italy) “Centine” 2004 ($10, Banfi Imports): Year in and year out Banfi’s Centine (a blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) is a satisfying everyday reasonably priced wine. The 2004 seems even a little better than usual with more brightness and lift to accompany the solid juicy flavors. It’s one of the best $10 wines on the planet. 90 Michael Apstein Jun 27, 2006

Marchese Antinori, Toscana IGT (Tuscany, Italy) “Villa Antinori” 2006 ($24, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates):  Antinori, the producer who reinvigorated Tuscan wines in the 1970s by leading the charge to eliminate white grapes from the Chianti blend and helped propel the Super Tuscan concept forward with Tignanello, continues to push the corners of the envelope–in a very good way.  This blend of Sangiovese (60%), Cabernet Sauvignon (20%), Merlot (15%) and Syrah delivers plush ripeness without losing its singular Tuscan identity.  Cherry-like nuances–Sangiovese speaking there–harmonize with some earthy savory elements in this mouth-filling juicy wine.  Unobtrusive tannins lend support and the Italian hallmark, uplifting acidity, keeps it fresh.  A mini Super Tuscan. 90 Michael Apstein Nov 23, 2010

Marchese Antinori, Toscana IGT (Tuscany, Italy) “Villa Antinori” 2006 ($24, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates):  Antinori, the producer who reinvigorated Tuscan wines in the 1970s by leading the charge to eliminate white grapes from the Chianti blend and helped propel the Super Tuscan concept forward with Tignanello, continues to push the corners of the envelope–in a very good way.  This blend of Sangiovese (60%), Cabernet Sauvignon (20%), Merlot (15%) and Syrah delivers plush ripeness without losing its singular Tuscan identity.  Cherry-like nuances–Sangiovese speaking–harmonize with some earthy savory elements in this mouth-filling juicy wine.  Unobtrusive tannins lend support and the Italian hallmark, uplifting acidity, keeps it fresh.  A mini Super Tuscan. 90 Michael Apstein Nov 30, 2010

Piccini, Toscana IGT (Tuscany, Italy) “Sasso al Poggio” 2004 ($30, AV Brands): This wine, Piccini’s Super Tuscan, is definitely more ‘modern’ than their 2006 Chianti Classico (reviewed this week), but avoids overly aggressive and obvious sweet oak-infused flavors.  With this plush blend–Sangiovese (60%) with the remainder split evenly between Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot–they’ve found a nice balance between an overtly ‘international style’ and a traditional Tuscan one.   An unusual, but engaging, hint of orange blossom and cocoa comes through, which adds even more complexity than expected at this price.  Not a before-dinner sipping wine, the firm–but not aggressive–tannins cry out for a rich beef or lamb dish. 90 Michael Apstein Mar 24, 2009

San Fabiano, Toscana IGT (Tuscany, Italy) Piocaia di San Fabiano 2003 ($27, Vias Imports): A ‘Super Tuscan’ blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot at a ‘mini-Tuscan’ price, San Fabiano’s Piocaia is an attractive choice for drinking now.  This balanced wine has forward, plump, ripe–almost roasted–fruit flavors characteristic of the hot 2003 growing season.  Although aged in French oak barrels for 12 months, the oak character doesn’t dominate because the fermentation was done in stainless steel vats.  The supple tannins and lengthy finish add finesse. 90 Michael Apstein May 22, 2007

Tenuta Ornellaia, Toscana IGT (Tuscany, Italy) “Le Volte” 2006 ($28, Folio Wine Company): In addition to their Super Tuscan wine, ‘Ornellaia,’ Tenuta Ornellaia makes two other wines, ‘Le Serre Nuove’ (a Bordeaux blend) and this one.  Unlike Le Serre Nuove, Le Volte contains roughly 50% Sangiovese with the remaining half divided between Cabernet and Merlot, depending on the vintage.  Aged in older barriques, originally used for Ornellaia, it retains a clear regional identity with the Tuscan signature of earthiness and uplifting acidity.  It’s a mid-weight wine that is not overworked and as a result delivers far more complexity than many Tuscan multi-varietal blends.  Supple and smooth, it’s a wine for now, not for the cellar. 90 Michael Apstein Mar 24, 2009

Frescobaldi, Toscana IGT (Tuscany, Italy) “Remole” 2008 ($10, Folio Wine Company):  There is no better guarantee of quality than the Frescobaldi name on a bottle.  One of Tuscany’s grand winemaking families, Frescobaldi produces a stunningly consistent array of wines.  Even this “low end” blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese, is balanced and delivers a engaging combination of ripe fruit and savory elements.  The tannins are supple and fine, which means it’s easy to recommend for current consumption with a pasta and meat sauce. 88 Michael Apstein Mar 15, 2011

Tenuta San Guido, Toscana IGT (Tuscany, Italy) “Le Difese” 2007 ($25, Kobrand):  This charming blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (65%) and Sangiovese, brought to us by the team that makes Sassicaia and Guidalberto, came about when they eliminated Sangiovese from Guidalberto starting with the 2001 vintage.  The consumer wins because this talented producer now offers three distinctive wines–at three price levels–to enjoy.   To their credit, the Cabernet does not dominate in the blend and allows the bright cherry-like flavors of Sangiovese and pleasant earthy notes to tickle the palate.  With enough structure and plenty of acidity, it holds up well with a simple pasta and meat sauce. 88 Michael Apstein Jan 26, 2010

Banfi, Toscana IGT (Tuscany, Italy) “Col di Sasso” 2008 ($10, Banfi Vintners):  This is another example of how a producer of stunning up-scale wines can also turn out satisfying every day wallet-friendly ones.  A fleshy blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese, Col di Sasso delivers lots of vibrant black fruit notes supported by mouth-watering acidity, undoubtedly from the Sangiovese. The Cabernet adds a little power, but does not dominate.  A fine “pizza wine,” it’s substantial enough to pour with a hearty pasta dish. 87 Michael Apstein Mar 1, 2011

Coltibuono, Toscana IGT (Tuscany, Italy) “Cancelli Rosso” 2006 ($11, Dalla Terra): This wine, sold under a second label of Badia a Coltibuono, one of Tuscany’s star producers, is a blend of two-thirds Sangiovese and one-third Syrah.  There’s plenty of recent interest in growing Syrah in Tuscany and using it either as a component in a blend or as a solo performer.  As a component, the winemaker runs the risk of having it overpower the other constituents.   It’s a testimony to Badia a Coltibuono’s talents that they have fashioned a lovely, inexpensive blend that highlights the muscle of Syrah without obliterating the bright cherry-like fruit and acidity of the Sangiovese.  Here’s a perfect everyday “pizza” wine. 87 Michael Apstein Sep 8, 2009

Frescobaldi, Toscana IGT (Italy) “Rèmole” 2011 ($10): Frescobaldi is, deservedly, one of the great names in Italian wine.  For me one of the reasons they are great is because of the quality of their low-end wines.  Sure, their Super Tuscans, Mormoreto and Ornellaia, are consistently outstanding.  And it’s hard to beat their Chianti Rufinà, Castello di Nipozzano for its price quality ratio.  But the enjoyment that Rèmole delivers at $10 a bottle (often less, if you search) is astounding.  A blend of mostly (85%) Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon, it has cherry-like notes with a pleasantly firm structure.  Not a weighty wine, it is suitable as an everyday choice for everything from a take-out roast chicken or pizza to moderately spiced pasta dishes.  Think of it as a “pizza wine” with class. 87 Michael Apstein Apr 9, 2013

Villa Antinori, Toscana Rosso IGT (Tuscany, Italy) 2008 ($24, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates):  Villa Antinori was the label Antinori used previously (since 1928) for a serious, upscale Chianti meant to develop with bottle age.  In 2001 he changed the label to an IGT Toscana because it gave him more flexibility.  Who better than Antinori to come up with an intriguing and balanced blend.  He’s been experimenting with non-traditional blends for decades.  It was he who pioneered the then outrageous idea of blending Cabernet Sauvignon with Sangiovese in Tuscany and eliminating the white grapes from the Chianti blend.  With a blend of Sangiovese (55%), Cabernet Sauvignon (25%), Merlot (15%) and Syrah, the Villa Antinori Rosso is like Chianti on steroids–in a good way.  No one variety sticks out.  They come together to give this robust wine power (and only 13.5% stated alcohol) and polish, which means it’s lovely to drink now, without further bottle aging.  It would go well with a hearty pasta dish or short ribs. 92 Michael Apstein Nov 8, 2011

Castello Banfi, Toscana Rosso IGT (Tuscany, Italy) “Centine” 2010 ($12, Banfi Imports):  It’s no surprise that Castello Banfi, who’s on everyone’s short list of great Brunello producers, makes great Brunello di Montalcino.  What is a surprise is the consistent quality of their Centine, a $12 a bottle everyday red wine.  A simple but stylish blend of Sangiovese (60%), Cabernet Sauvignon (20%) and Merlot, it has an ideal balance of bright cherry-like fruit, plushness and signature Tuscan acidity.  It’s a go-to choice whether you’re hosting a large crowd or just having pizza at home.  How they pack so much enjoyment into a wine at this price continues to amaze me. 88 Michael Apstein Feb 14, 2012

Poggiotondo, Toscana Rosso IGT (Tuscany, Italy) 2010 ($11, Old Bridge Cellars):  Don’t miss this wine, because it delivers far more than the price suggests.  I was unfamiliar with the Poggiotondo estate until recently when I tasted a small range of their wines.  Based on my first experience, I’m a fan.  A New World blend of Sangiovese (40%), Merlot (30%) and Syrah, it retains Old World sensibility with its not-just-fruit character and a modest 12.5% stated alcohol. The subtle meaty undertone–presumably from Syrah–adds complexity to the juicy fruitiness.  It’s easy to enjoy now, but there’s adequate structure and acidity to keep it lively and interesting throughout the meal. It’s a great choice for the grilling season.  Stock up. 88 Michael Apstein Jun 12, 2012

Brancaia, Toscano Rosso (Italy) “Tre” 2010 ($23, Brancaia USA): This wines’ name, Tre, refers to the blend of three grapes, Sangiovese (80%), and equal parts Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, that come from the producer’s three estate vineyards throughout Tuscany. A marvelous blend, with no one grape dominating, it is long and polished, but not too much so. Herbal notes still peek through the dark fruit notes. Lively acidity keeps it fresh. 90 Michael Apstein Jan 1, 2013

DaVinci, Tusacy (Italy) “Santo Ippolito” 2003 ($42, DaVinci USA): A Super Tuscan blend of Merlot and Syrah shows an engaging earthy, slightly funky aspect–presumably from Merlot–buttressed by plumpness and a dollop of bacon fat, which I attribute to Syrah.  Soft and fleshy, it has New World lushness to it without being overdone. 88 Michael Apstein Mar 13, 2007

Castello del Terriccio, Tuscany (Italy) “Tassinaia” 2001 ($44, Kobrand): This wine is defined by balance. Made from equal parts Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot, it is a big, chewy wine with great length. The Cabernet does not dominate, allowing the mouth watering cherry-like flavors of Sangiovese to shine. It has an international patina-the oak doesn’t dominate-but has not lost its Italian core. 92 Michael Apstein Aug 9, 2005

Cecchi, Tuscany (Italy) “Spargolo” 2001 ($38, Banfi Imports): Cecchi is an excellent, but lower profile Chianti-based Tuscan producer.  Made entirely from Sangiovese, the mainstay grape of Chianti, Spargolo is Cecchi’s ‘Super Tuscan.’  With Spargolo, Cecchi, a traditional producer, shows that great Tuscan wines need not rely on Cabernet Sauvignon or aging in small, new oak barrels.  Lovely earthy notes complement the dense red-fruit profile of Sangiovese from the superb 2001 vintage.  As with other great wines, its flavors change and evolve as it sits in the glass.  The tannins are apparent, but ripe, and suggest that you will be rewarded amply by cellaring it for a few years. If you opt to open now, do so an hour before the meal and select beef for your main course. 92 Michael Apstein Jan 15, 2008

Querciabella, Tuscany (Italy) “Camartina” 2004 ($110, Maisons, Marques and Domaines): A modern-international–blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon with requisite patina of aging in small French oak barrels, this Super Tuscan delivers primarily sweet, black currant fruit and alluring creaminess from oak.  At first blush, it comes across as just another flashy Super Tuscan–lush but not particularly distinctive.  But then tasting the 1999 Camartina–which has evolved gloriously and is still available in some retail markets for about $65–makes you realize the great potential if you have patience.  The 1999 has complexity–herbal notes, alluring earthiness–and balance (the oak and Cabernet no longer dominate) that suggests the 2004, another great vintage in Tuscany, will evolve along the same lines.  This is one to buy and hold. 92 Michael Apstein Jun 24, 2008

Castello Banfi, Tuscany (Italy) Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 ($41, Banfi Vintners): The 2003 vintage produced both wonderful and abysmal red wines in Europe depending on how the vines tolerated the heat and dryness.  Banfi, although best known for their stylish Brunello, makes excellent Cabernet as well.  Their 2003 shows the depth and power that vintage was capable of delivering.  The moderate tannins suggest either a few years in the cellar or a few hours in a decanter would be appropriate.  It has lovely balance and is not marred by the over-extracted bitterness common in some reds from 2003. 90 Michael Apstein Dec 5, 2006

Querciabella, Tuscany (Italy) “Palafreno” 2004 ($66): In addition to their lovely Chiantis, Querciabella makes a stunning array of other wines from Chardonnay to this Super Tuscan, made entirely from Merlot.  Although the effect of aging in French barrique is clear from the alluring toasty aromas and flavors, there are sufficient ripe black and red fruit notes to keep this balanced.  A big wine, with firm but polished tannins that lend a glossy sense on the palate, it should develop nicely over the next several years. 90 Michael Apstein Jul 29, 2008

Castello di Fonterutoli, Tuscany (Italy) Poggio alla Badiola 2006 ($16, Palm Bay International): Fonterutoli is undisputedly one of the best producers in the Chianti Classico region.  This wine, a blend of mostly Sangiovese (about 70%) and Merlot, doesn’t meet the requirements for Chianti Classico–which requires at least 80% of the blend be from Sangiovese–but still delivers  a charming mixture of bright cherry-like flavors and smoky earthy nuances.  Quite plush and lovely to drink now, it delivers more complexity and class than many similarly priced Tuscan blends. 89 Michael Apstein Apr 14, 2009

Banfi, Tuscany (Italy) “Colle Pino” 2005 ($9, Banfi Imports): Banfi is one of those rare producers that makes stellar $100-a-bottle Brunello as well as terrific and easy-on-the-wallet ‘pizza wine.’  This Sangiovese Merlot blend has the Tuscan footprint of cherry-like fruit and attractive earth flavors.  With far more complexity than you’d expect at the price, it’s a fabulous buy.  And it’s not just for pizza. 88 Michael Apstein Jan 8, 2008

Ruffino, Tuscany (Italy) “Fonte al Sole” 2003 ($10, Ruffino Import Company): The extra heat in 2003 helped many of these “lesser” Tuscan red wines achieve slightly better ripeness.  The natural acidity of Sangiovese keeps them fresh despite the scorching growing season.  This delightful straightforward blend of Sangiovese and Merlot has charm and real character.   The sour cherry fruit character of Sangiovese marries well with the lusciousness of Merlot.  It’s a great buy. 88 Michael Apstein Feb 6, 2007

Villa Rosa, Tuscany (Italy) “Poggio ai Rovi” 2005 ($12, Adonna Imports): This is an example of what Tuscany does so well: produce reasonably priced, straightforward (but not simple) everyday wine for pizza or a hearty pasta dish.  It conveys the expected cherry-like fruitiness of Sangiovese with a slight smokiness.  Its firmness means it’s better at the table with food than as an aperitif. 88 Michael Apstein Jan 30, 2007

Brancaia, Tuscany (Italy) “Tre” 2005 ($20): “Tre” refers to the three grapes of the blend, Sangiovese (80%) and equal parts Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon that come from their three estates, two in the Chianti region and one in Maremma.  Aged in larger barrels, 900-liter tonneaux, not 225-liter barriques, only half of which are new, means that oak does not dominate the bright ripe fruit flavors.  It’s a cheery blend in which the Merlot adds juiciness and the Cabernet structure to the cherry-like flavors and acidity of Sangiovese. 87 Michael Apstein Aug 26, 2008

Caparzo, Tuscany (Italy) Sangiovese 2007 ($16, Vineyard Brands): Caparzo, a leading Brunello producer, has captured a surprising amount of intrigue and complexity in this well-priced Sangiovese.  A hint of earthiness in the finish complements the bright cherry-tinged flavors.  Supple mild tannins allow immediate enjoyment.  A good choice for simple pasta with a tomato-based sauce or pizza; it would also enliven a roast chicken. 87 Michael Apstein Sep 1, 2009

Castello Banfi, Tuscany (Italy) “Collepino” 2005 ($10, Banfi Vintners): Castello Banfi, the American-owned winery located in Montalcino and rightly famous for its Brunello, has done it again with yet another inexpensive everyday type of wine.  This time it’s a cheery blend of Sangiovese, the primary grape of the Chianti region, and Merlot that delivers a simple, juicy, but thoroughly enjoyable ‘pizza wine.’ 87 Michael Apstein Nov 28, 2006

Conti Contini, Tuscany (Italy) Sangiovese 2005 ($11, Moet Hennessy USA): This is an everyday casual wine from the esteemed Tuscan producer, Capezzana.  Bottled under screw cap for the first time, the 2005 version is ideal for pizza or light past fare.  Bright cherry flavors identify it as Sangiovese and the smooth edges speak to talented winemaking. 87 Michael Apstein Feb 6, 2007

Ruffino, Vino Nobile de Montepulciano (Tuscany, Italy) Tenuta Lodola Nuova 2003 ($22, Ruffino Import Company): Unusually intense for a Vino Nobile de Montepulciano, its tannins–like its flavors–have been concentrated by the growing season.  There’s plenty of flesh on the tannic structure, but I would recommend drinking it with a hearty pasta dish, not as an aperitif. 88 Michael Apstein Oct 30, 2007

Boscarelli, Vino Nobile di Montalcino (Tuscany, Italy) 2003 ($35, Empson USA): Good acid and uplifting freshness balance the rich ripe black cherry flavors imparted by the hot weather during 2003. A real success for 2003. 90 Michael Apstein Jun 6, 2006

Boscarelli, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (Tuscany, Italy) Nocio dei Boscarelli 2001 ($58, Empson USA): Boscarelli had obtained grapes from this vineyard, vigneto del Nocio, for years and finally was able to purchase it in 1988. The wine is elegant and long, with a real minerality to it, which likely comes from old vines. The bright cherry-like flavors are intermingled with captivating non-fruit nuances. 94 Michael Apstein Jun 6, 2006

Lodola Nuova, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (Tuscany, Italy) Riserva 2001 ($32, Icon Estates): Ruffino’s investment — a new winery and vineyards — in Montepulciano shows in this Riserva. Their winemaking team, led by Carmelo Simoncelli, has crafted a richly layered wine, which retains what I call “not just fruit” character that is the captivating essence of Tuscan wines in general. Its complexity and suaveness keeps you coming back for more. 94 Michael Apstein Jun 6, 2006

Lodola Nuova, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (Tuscany, Italy) 2003 ($23, Icon Estates): Ruffino has crafted a wonderfully balanced multi-layered wine that retains an alluring earthiness and freshness to offset its succulent fruitiness. Its real character comes through when paired with hearty pasta or grilled meat. 92 Michael Apstein Jun 6, 2006

Poliziano, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (Tuscany, Italy) “Asinone” 2001 ($40, William Grant & Sons): Poliziano’s flagship wine, Asinone, is a great success in 2001. Powerful, yet floral and elegant, the fruit, earth and oak flavors harmonize nicely with the tannic structure. 92 Michael Apstein Jun 6, 2006

Fattoria del Cerro, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (Tuscany, Italy) “Vigneto Antica Chiusina” 2003 ($20, Vias Imports): From a single vineyard, this darkly colored, very ripe Vino Nobile reflects the heat of the vintage, which explains the nuances of chocolate in the wine. 87 Michael Apstein Jun 6, 2006

Poliziano, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (Tuscany, Italy) 2003 ($28, William Grant & Sons): Intense and ripe, cabernet, merlot and new oak buttress the sangiovese in this Vino Nobile making for a powerful wine. 87 Michael Apstein Jun 6, 2006

Banfi, IGP Toscana (Italy) “Centine” Bianco 2011 ($10, Banfi Imports): I’ve always been — and remain — a great fan of Banfi’s Centine red, their value-packed blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, but have been less enthusiastic about their Centine white, until now. The 2011 Centine white, a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay, has real depth and a refreshing zesty finish. It delivers far more than you’d ever expect at this price. Let me know when you find a more enjoyable $10 white wine. 88 Michael Apstein May 28, 2013

Querciabella, IGT Toscana (Italy) “Batàr” 2010 ($90, Maisons Marques & Domaines): Is it purely by chance that the name of this wine sounds like Bâtard, as in Bâtard-Montrachet?  This fifty-fifty blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc makes you realize that Burgundy does not have a monopoly on intense yet graceful blockbusters.  Ripe and powerful, yet vibrant and lively, this Batàr dazzles with its complexity and length.  I think it’s named appropriately.
94 Michael Apstein Jul 16, 2013

Antinori, IGT Toscana (Tuscany, Italy) “Villa Antinori” Bianco 2010 ($12, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates): The blend of Trebbiano, Malvasia, Pinot Bianco and Pinot Grigio works to produce a wine with enough body–even a hint of creaminess–and perky acidity that keeps it fresh and interesting throughout a meal.  It’s a versatile bargain-price wine. 89 Michael Apstein Jan 3, 2012

Cecchi, Maremma IGT (Tuscany, Italy) Vermentino “Litorale” 2009 ($19, Banfi Imports):  Vermentino, an indigenous Italian grape grown mostly in coastal areas from Liguria to Sardinia, makes a lively white wine perfect for seafood.  Cecchi, one of Tuscany’s most under-rated producers, has always done an admirable job with the varietal and his 2009 is no exception.  It has good body and weight, but its chief attribute is its crispness and vivacity.  With a bright lemon-tinged finish, it is a great counterpoint for simply grilled fish dribbled with olive oil. 88 Michael Apstein Nov 2, 2010

Poggiotondo, Toscana IGT (Tuscany, Italy) Vermentino 2011 ($20, Old Bridge Cellars):  It turns out this estate is as talented at making white wines as they are at making reds.  This lovely expression of Vermentino combines a firm edginess with the even so subtle peach-like lushness.  Its texture and length makes it quite remarkable. 90 Michael Apstein Jun 12, 2012

Banfi, Toscana IGT (Tuscany, Italy) Pinot Grigio “Le Rime” 2009 ($10, Banfi Vintners):  Banfi, long known for their superb Brunello, also makes value-packed lower end wines, such as this simple Pinot Grigio.  Friendly enough to be enjoyed before dinner, it would pair nicely with a plate of antipasti. 86 Michael Apstein Feb 22, 2011

Campo Al Mare, Vermentino di Toscana (Tuscany, Italy) 2004 ($18, Kobrand): In 2000, the Folonari family company that owned Ruffino and other brands split, leaving the father and son team of Ambrogio and Giovanni Folonari with five established estates, including Nozzole and Cabreo in Chianti. Campo Al Mare is their newer property in Maremma, near Bolgheri. This Vermentino, there first release, is fresh and lively-almost a little spritzy-but with excellent length. They must have had steamed clams in mind. 90 Michael Apstein Aug 9, 2005

Palagetto, Vernaccia di San Gimignano (Tuscany, Italy) 2012 ($13, Angelini Selection): This is an especially fine example of one of Italy’s iconic white wines.  With subtle nutty flavors and a pleasantly bitter finish, this bright, fresh Vernaccia is a perfect choice for summer seafood or even just sipping as an aperitif.  The long and graceful finish of this light on its feet wine is astounding, especially at this price.
90 Michael Apstein Jun 4, 2013

Castello di Corbara, Lago di Corbara (Umbria, italy) Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 ($20, Vineyard Brands): This DOC was created after a dam built on the Tiber created a lake upstream, warmed the surrounding area and welcomed international varieties to this formerly traditional area of Umbria.  Made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and aged in barriques, it has powerful black currant fruit and wood tannins that are distracting at this stage.  Rather monotonic now, it needs a few years to settle down and see if nuances emerge. 84 Michael Apstein Oct 7, 2008

Lungarotti, Sagrantino di Montefalco (Umbria, Italy) 2005 ($55, Bedord International):  “All Sagrantino taste young when released,” according to Chiara Lungarotti, the winery’s CEO.  And this one fits that mold.  But its youthful vigor is balanced by ripe black fruit–almost a tarry element–and plush tannins.  Despite its power, it’s not over-the-top, but perfectly proportioned, well structured and should develop gorgeously.  It’s a good candidate for the cellar, but if you opt to open it now, do so a few hours before you drink it and serve it with roasted lamb or other full-flavored fare. 93 Michael Apstein Jul 6, 2010

Tenuta Alzatura, Sagrantino di Montefalco (Umbria, Italy) 2005 ($42, Banfi Imports): The hallmark of wine made from the Sagrantino grape is muscular flavors coupled with formidable tannins.  The Cecchi family, the noteworthy Chianti producer and owner of Tenuta Alzatura, has tamed the latter while preserving the former.  Big and dense, but by no means ‘over the top,’ this wine is filled with black fruit intertwined with dark cocoa flavors and smoky earthy elements.  Typical of a young, classy Sagrantino di Montefalco, the tannins are apparent, but finely honed.  Nonetheless, it’s more appropriate for a few years in the cellar rather than a place on tonight’s dinner table.  The overall balance and striking complexity at this young age predicts your patience will be amply rewarded. 93 Michael Apstein Mar 24, 2009

Lungarotti, Umbria (Italy) Rubesco Riserva 2005 ($60, Bedford International):  Lungarotti’s Rubesco Riserva is, quite simply, the star of Umbria.  Always made from a blend of Sangiovese (about 2/3rds) and Canaiolo grown in their vineyard Monticchio, the 2005 at this stage is still young and vigorous.  Slightly tarry and floral elements are reminiscent of Barolo despite the difference in varietal composition and location.  Firm, yet not intrusive, tannins balance its succulence.  The interplay of elegance and power is remarkable.  Lungarotti’s Rubesco Riservas need time–a 1990 I tasted recently was sensational–so plan on putting this in the cellar for at least another five years.  If you plan on serving it soon, decant it an hour or so in advance. 95 Michael Apstein Jul 13, 2010

Falesco, Umbria (Umbria, italy) “Vitiano” 2006 ($12, Winebow): Falesco is the estate of the Cotarella brothers on the Umbria Lazio border.  Riccardo Cotarella, one of Italy’s most famous consulting winemakers, has been called Mr. Merlot or the Michel Rolland of Italy.  His brother, Renzo, is Antinori’s winemaker–some family.  Falesco, an equal part blend of Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, is one of the best wine values available today.  It delivers far more enjoyment that you’d expect for the price.  The Sangiovese provides cherry-like fruitiness and acidity, the Merlot depth and the Cabernet just enough structure without overwhelming the other components.  Uncork a bottle the next time you have pizza, pasta with a tomato-based sauce or even hamburgers. 87 Michael Apstein Mar 18, 2008

Opinioni, Umbria Rosso (Umbria, Italy) “Verdetto” 2005 ($26, Royal Wine Corp.): The selection of Kosher wines for Passover just keeps getting better year after year.  But I don’t recommend it solely as a kosher wine.  It’s an excellent wine, made by Riccardo Cotarella, one of Italy’s most talented winemakers, that happens to be Kosher.  A marvelously balanced blend of equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sangiovese, this jewel from Umbria delivers enough spice, intensity and structure to be an ideal accompaniment to spring lamb. 90 Michael Apstein Mar 27, 2007

Castello di Corbara, Umbria Rosso (Umbria, Italy) “Podere Il Caio” 2006 ($13, Vineyard Brands): Although Castello di Corbara is the producer, the most prominent lettering on the label is Podere Il Caio, which might lead to some difficulty when ordering this wine.  But persist–because it’s a fabulous buy.  You can sense immediately the effect of Merlot–an earthiness–and Cabernet Sauvignon–a perfect amount of structure–supporting the cherry fruit of the Sangiovese in this weighty wine.  This is a serious wine for the price with more complexity and balance than I anticipated. 87 Michael Apstein Oct 21, 2008

Ruffino, Orvieto Classico (Umbria, Italy) 2005 ($10, Icon Estates): The delicate, almost lacey first impression evolves into nutty nuances and lively acidity in the finish.  Not a big, alcoholic wine, it would go well with light Italian seafood appetizers. 87 Michael Apstein Nov 27, 2007

Vignarco, Orvieto Classico (Umbria, Italy) 2008 ($12, Ideal Wine & Spirits):  Prices have yet to catch up to the quality of Italian white wines because they lack prestige.  Which means that consumers would be smart to pick up this simple–but satisfying—clean, bright white from the heart of the Orvieto zone to accompany grilled fish or other simple seafood.  Zesty acidity and an engaging nuttiness, especially in the finish, add to its appeal. 87 Michael Apstein Dec 1, 2009

Salviano, Orvieto Classico (Umbria, Italy) Superiore 2006 ($13, Kobrand):

Orvieto seems to have been left behind in Italy’s white wine revolution, geographically caught between those in Friuli in the northeast and the bevy of fascinating wines coming out of Campania, near Naples.   It may be because one of the two primary grapes used in the region, Trebbiano, has a reputation for making innocuous wine.  Salviano tries to circumvent the problem by reducing the amount of Trebbiano (30%) and using Chardonnay (20%) and Sauvignon Blanc (20%) in the blend in addition to Grechetto (30%).  The result is a fresh white wine with good body that’s fuller than most without sacrificing vibrancy.

86 Michael Apstein Sep 2, 2008

Lungarotti, Torgiano (Umbria, Italy) Bianco di Torgiano 2009 ($13, Bedord International):  Lungarotti has been the locomotive that has pulled Umbrian wines onto the world scene.  They continue the tradition of making terrific reds and whites.  This one, a blend of Trebbiano and Grechetto, the classic white grape of Umbria, is full and slightly nutty, yet crisp and lively with a pleasing bite in the finish.  No oak aging allows the aromas of fresh fruit and flowers to pour forth.  It has been left on the lees until bottling, which helps explain its delightful freshness and punch.  A great buy–stock up for this summer. 90 Michael Apstein Jul 6, 2010

Contadi Castaldi, Franciacorta Rosé (Lombardy, Italy) Brut NV ($22, TMT USA): Here’s a real find–a classy rosé sparkling wine for well under $25.  Lighter than Champagne, but more serious than Prosecco, the delicate strawberry-like flavors dance across the palate.  It’s incredibly fresh, yet not harsh and works perfectly well as a stand-alone aperitif or a fine choice for a first course of prosciutto and melon.
92 Michael Apstein Jun 11, 2013

Tenuta Sant’Antonio, Amarone de Valpolicella (Veneto, Italy) “Selezione Antonio Castagnedi” 2004 ($50, Dalla Terra): Although Tenuta Sant’Antonio is relatively new–especially by Italian standards–having been started by the four Castagnedi brothers in 1989, the family has a long history of selling their grapes to the local cooperative.  They named this wine, their ‘entry level’ Amarone, after their father.  It’s a meaty powerhouse with smoky elements and nuances of dried cherries.  Hints of licorice, chocolate and pepper peek through the dense fruit flavors.  It’s remarkably drinkable now as long as you plan on having with leg shanks or other wintry stews. 90 Michael Apstein Feb 10, 2009

Masi, Amarone della Valpolicella (Veneto, Italy) Campolongo di Torbe 2001 ($140, Rémy Cointreau): Compplongo di Torbe was the first single vineyard Amarone produced.  The 2001 bottling is a monumental wine.  The tar-like minerality and exceptional floral component is reminiscent of a Barolo, but the glossy texture–undoubtedly due to the appassimento technique–makes it unique.  Atop the earthy minerality, flavors of dried cherries and other dried fruits explode on the palate and carry into an exceptional finish.  Not overdone, it remains fresh and plush, with each sip revealing new flavors. 96 Michael Apstein Apr 29, 2008

Masi, Amarone della Valpolicella (Veneto, Italy) “Costasera” 2004 ($60, Rémy Cointreau): Masi, one of the masters of Amarone, makes several from single vineyards in addition to this one, which comes from over a dozen sites.  He uses the appassimento method for all his Amarone.  With that technique, a portion of the grapes are dried on straw mats for three months–concentrating all of the elements–before adding them to the fermenting vats.  The result is a big, yet balanced, wine, a ‘gentle giant.’  Big and bold, but not brusque, the Costasera has an illusion of sweetness from extra glycerin–a result of a small amount of botrytis that infects the grapes while drying.  Fleshy and supple, this remarkably smooth warming wine delivers an engaging earthiness intermingled with the dried cherry-like notes. 92 Michael Apstein Apr 30, 2008

Sartori, Amarone della Valpolicella (Italy) 2006 ($35, Banfi Vintners):  This is a surprisingly approachable wine considering that Amarone frequently take a decade of bottle age before softening.  By approachable, I don’t mean light.  It’s a big, rich–15% stated alcohol–wine with distinct notes of dried fruit that complement its ripe character.  For all its weight and power, it’s wonderfully fresh and lively.  Its lush finish just adds to its allure.  Its polished texture means you can enjoy it this winter, especially with a robust pasta dish. 92 Michael Apstein Dec 14, 2010

Provenza, Garda Classico (Veneto, Italy) Rosso “Colli Storici” 2009 ($13):  Although Lake Garda is best known for its Lugana DOC for white wines, it does have its eponymous DOC for reds.  A blend of Sangiovese (90%) and Cabernet Sauvignon, it’s a light bright wine full of delectable cherry-like flavors.  The Cabernet adds oomph and body without dominating.  It would be a good bargain-priced choice for pizza or light pasta dishes. 88 Michael Apstein Jan 24, 2012

Allegrini, IGT Veronese (Veneto, Italy) “La Grola” 2006 ($30, Winebow):  Consumers can’t miss when buying a wine from Allegrini, one of the leading producers in the Veneto.  Their simple Valpolicella reminds us why Valpolicella has been so popular.  This one, from the La Grola vineyard in the Valpolicella area, is a blend of traditional Veronese grapes–Corvina, Veronese and Rondinella–with a touch of non-traditional ones, namely, Syrah and Sangiovese.   But traditionalists should not be put off by the inclusion of Syrah.  It does not dominate, but adds just a little power.  In keeping with the Allegrini style, the 2006 La Grola is classy and suave with a fabulous combination of fresh and dried red fruit flavors and a balancing dose of spice.  Open it the next time you’re having a hearty pasta dish. 92 Michael Apstein Jan 4, 2011

Bisol Desiderio, Prosecco DOC di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene (Veneto, Italy) Superiore di Cartizze NV ($35, Vias Imports): A delicious wine. The imprint of ripe white peaches is buttressed by a citric tang. 90 Michael Apstein Jul 4, 2006

Allegrini, Valpolicella (Veneto, Italy) 2008 ($13, Winebow):  Without question, Allegrini is one of the Veneto’s top producers.  They make three wines from the Valpolicella region, this one, a blend from a variety of vineyards, La Grola, from a single vineyard, and La Poja, from the top part of the La Grola vineyard.  As a group, they show that Valpolicella, which can produce innocuous wine, can also be the source of exceptional wine.  Allegrini’s  “basic” Valpolicella has marvelous dense, black cherry-like fruit flavors supported by supple satiny tannins.  Vibrancy in the finish makes it a perfect match for hearty pasta dishes.  A fabulous buy! 90 Michael Apstein Mar 9, 2010

Allegrini, Valpolicella (Veneto, Italy) 2007 ($13, Winebow): Valpolicella, a region near Verona in Northern Italy, has an image problem because of the gallons of vapid wine sold under its name.  And that’s a shame because it might deter consumers from buying this one, which is a great value and shows why Valpolicella had name recognition in the first place.  A blend of indigenous grapes, Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara, the wine shows bright flavors of cherries and other red fruits unencumbered by oak.  It has freshness, richness and balance.  You can’t beat it at this price. 88 Michael Apstein Mar 31, 2009

Bertani, Valpolicella (Veneto, Italy) 2010 ($12, Palm Bay International):  Valpolicella, like its neighboring area, Soave, suffers from an image problem based on the many vapid wines that came from the area two decades ago.  But like its neighbor, it’s regaining respect.  It’s hard to imagine who won’t like this mid-weight red wine.  It combines attractive red fruit notes with engaging dried herbal nuances, mild tannins and a perky freshness.  With a stated alcohol of 12.5%, it still has plenty of concentration without being heavy.  It’s easy to recommend with anything from burgers to pasta. 88 Michael Apstein Oct 18, 2011

Cesari, Valpolicella Classico (Veneto, Italy) 2011 ($16, Opici Wines): The reputation of the wines from Valpolicella has been checkered.  Initially very popular 40 years ago as Americans were exploring Italian wines, Valpolicella fell out of favor partially because the quality of the wines we saw in the US slipped and partially because Americans’ tastes changed to embrace bigger and bolder wines.  Fortunately, both these trends have changed.  The wines from Valpolicella imported to the US currently have never been better and consumers are looking for mid-weight, lip smacking reds to enjoy with hearty pasta dishes.  And that’s a very good reason to try Cesari’s 2011 Valpolicella Classico.  The Classico designation means it comes from the heart, or best part, of the region.  Bright red fruit with a touch of savory earthiness makes it a good choice for pasta and a meat sauce.
88 Michael Apstein Sep 24, 2013

Sartori di Verona, Valpolicella Classico Superiore (Veneto, Italy) Vigneti di Montegradella 2004 ($14, Banfi Vintners):

This is not your father’s Valpolicella, a wine whose image has suffered from overproduction by industrial sized producers.  But real Valpolicella, made by smaller producers such as Allegrini, Masi, Quintarelli, or in this case, Sartori, to name just a few, has real richness and texture.  Sartori, from a single vineyard, is smooth and polished with an alluring herbal element to it, not just a ‘fruit-in-your-face’ kind of wine.  Supple tannins and bright acidity lend support without harshness.  An excellent buy.

90 Michael Apstein Apr 1, 2008

Sartori di Verona, Valpolicella Classico Superiore (Veneto, Italy) Vigneti di Montegradella 2004 ($13, Banfi Vintners): Wines from Valpolicella, a small area in northern Italy near Verona, have an image problem because of the many lightweight, innocuous examples sold under that name.  The keywords in this wine’s label–aside from the producer–are Classico and Superiore.  Classico means the grapes were grown in the heart, or best, part of the area, and Superiore means the grapes had to be riper to result in wine with a higher minimum alcohol content.  Wines like this one will restore Valpolicella’s image because the cherry-like flavors have depth and substance that balance the bright vivacity. 88 Michael Apstein Jan 2, 2007

Bolla, Valpolicella Classico Superiore Ripasso (Veneto, Italy) “Le Poiane” 2010 ($15, Banfi Imports): Both Bolla, the famed Soave producer, and Valpolicella, the area in the Veneto near Verona, have had checkered reputations over the years.  I’m happy to report that both are back in top form.  This Valpolicella, from the best part — Classico — of the DOCG and by regulation is riper — Superiore.  To add extra oomph Bolla uses the Ripasso method, which involving fermenting the wine with partially dried and concentrated grapes used for power-packed Amarone.  So this is not the light Beaujolais-like wine many people associate with Valpolicella.  Instead there’s a glossy richness without heaviness, supple tannins and lively acidity.  It’s a fantastic formula for current consumption with hearty pasta dishes or burgers on the grill.
90 Michael Apstein Jun 4, 2013

Tenuta Sant’Antonio, Valpolicella Superiore (Veneto, Italy) Ripasso “Monti Garbi” 2005 ($20, Dalla Terra): The ripasso method, initially ‘invented’ by Masi in 1964 involves fermentation of Valpolicella on the skins of Amarone to give it a boost, has been adopted by scores of producers.  As expected, Sant’Antonio’s Valpolicella produced by this method has power and the classic aromas and taste of dried cherries.  A Valpolicella on steroids, it’s an intense wine, but with polished tannins it goes nicely now with hearty pastas and grilled meats. 88 Michael Apstein Feb 17, 2009

Secco-Bertani, Valpolicella Valpantena (Veneto, Italy) Ripasso 2005 ($20, Palm Bay International): This somewhat complicated label is worth unraveling because the wine is so good.  The producer, the venerable Bertani firm, one of the Veneto’s best, labels it Secco-Bertani to honor their original revolutionary concept.  This Valpolicella was the first wine Bertani marketed–150 years ago–at a time when Valpolicella was always sweet.  To emphasize theirs was a dry Valpolicella, they inserted ‘Secco’ before their name.  Valpantena, a valley within the greater Valpolicella area, is the only subzone recognized within the Valpolicella DOC.  Ripasso refers to the technique of boosting the wine’s body and intensity by refermenting it on the lees of Amarone. The wine has moderate power and a haunting combination of dried and fresh fruit–lots of cherries–flavors with a polish that makes it easy to enjoy now. It’s a lovely twenty-dollar wine. 90 Michael Apstein Apr 14, 2009

Bertani, Valpolicella-Valpantena (Veneto, Italy) ‘Secco-Bertani’ Ripasso 2009 ($22, Palm Bay International): Bertani, one of the very best names in the Veneto, has been making Valpolicella for 150 years.  In the 19th century, the convention held that Valpolicella was a sweet wine.  To distinguish their dry Valpolicella they labeled it Secco-Bertani.   Although the convention now is that Valpolicella is dry, the name remains.  With many vapid Valpolicella on the market diluting the reputation of this appellation, it’s a delight to find this marvelous example.  It has good depth and the hallmark notes of dried cherries.  Smooth and polished tannins make it perfect for current consumption.
90 Michael Apstein Sep 25, 2012

Inama, Veneto (Italy) Carmenère “Piu” 2006 ($17, Dalla Terra): Carmenère, widely planted in Bordeaux in the 19th century, also has been planted in the Veneto since that time.  Although Carmenère has not been embraced in Italy as it has been in Chile, a few producers in the Veneto, such as Inama, have made exciting wines from it.  This full-bodied wine, a blend of Carmenère (75%), Merlot (20%) and another indigenous grape, Raboso Veronese, has attractive leafy and gamey elements that are a perfect foil for ripe red and black fruit flavors.  Big–almost flamboyant–and juicy, it has plenty of power, but is not ‘over the top.’  This robust wine is nicely balanced with fine tannins, making it an excellent choice for winter fare or for grilled meats for those of you lucky enough not to have a foot of snow on the grill cover. 89 Michael Apstein Mar 3, 2009

Allegrini, Verona (Veneto, Italy) La Grola 2005 ($23, Winebow): Allegrini is one of those producers who always delivers more than you expect for the price.  By using high density planting and other vineyard techniques, Allegrini get power and concentration in this single vineyard wine.  It’s a blend of Corvina, Rondinella, two grapes indigenous to the area, with Sangiovese and Syrah.  It’s a blend that works to produce a bold well balanced wine.  In addition to rich dark fruit flavors, exotic spice and even a hint of licorice pour forth.  It’s amazingly silky considering its size and power.  All too often wines of this intensity wow you with power and forget the finesse.  Allegrini has captured both–and at a very good price. 92 Michael Apstein Mar 31, 2009

Allegrini, Verona (Veneto, Italy) Palazzo della Torre 2005 ($20): Allegrini, one of the leading producers in the Veneto, is intent on reinvigorating Valpolicella.  This wine, one of several Valpolicella-like wines in their portfolio, shows that they have succeeded admirably.  A blend of Corvina, Rondinella–both native to Valpolicella–and Sangiovese, a grape associated with Tuscany more than the Veneto, the Palazzo della Torre delivers plenty of power and richness–and nuances of raisins–due in part to Allegrini’s unique method of vinification.  Two thirds of the grapes are vinified immediately after harvest, while one third are dried for a couple of months, combined with the previously fermented wine and re-fermented.  The result is Valpolicella on steroids, but with an uncommon elegance and finesse.  It’s a great twenty-dollar bottle of wine. 90 Michael Apstein Apr 7, 2009

Attems, Venezia Giulia IGT (Veneto, Italy) Pinot Grigio “Cupra Ramato” 2009 ($19, Folio Fine Wine Partners):  Cynics might think that Attems has fabricated a wine to capitalize on two buzz words in today’s wine market, rosé and Pinot Grigio, with this copper-colored wine.  But they’d be wrong.  Far from a fabrication, this wine is closer to traditional Pinot Grigio than many masquerading under that name.  The skin of the Pinot Grigio grape has a slight pink hue so when the grapes are pressed and the juice is allowed to ferment in contact with the skins, the resulting wine has an attractive light copper color and good body.  Almost paradoxically, it has both delicacy and persistence. 89 Michael Apstein Aug 30, 2011

Maschio dei Cavalieri, (Prosecco di Valdobbiadene) NV ($19, Banfi Vintners):  There’s nothing like Prosecco in the summer.  Not as “serious” as Champagne, the sparkle of Prosecco seems to fit the more relaxed mode of summer.  And this is a good one to grab.  A fine mousse and lightness on the palate—a hint of green apple—is refreshing.  Equally at home before a meal, it transforms simply grilled fish into a celebration. 89 Michael Apstein Aug 10, 2010

Zardetto, Prosecco DOC di Conegliano (Veneto, Italy) “Zeta” 2004 ($20, Winebow): Most Prosecco, like most Champagne, is a blend of wine from different vintages.  But the grapes for this one, the top-of-the-line bottling from Zardetto (one of the most reliable Prosecco producers), come from a single year and is vintage dated.  Unusually rich and long for Prosecco, it still retains the signature airiness and for which that bubbly is known.  Drink it as an aperitif and then bring it to the table for a light first course. 88 Michael Apstein Jan 9, 2007

Adami, Prosecco DOC di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene (Veneto, Italy) “Vigneto Giardino” 2005 ($24, Uve Enterprises, Inc): Round, but not sweet, this Prosecco from a single vineyard, acknowledged since the 1930s to be well situated, is classy and layered. 91 Michael Apstein Jul 4, 2006

Canella, Prosecco DOC di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene (Veneto, Italy) Extra Dry NV ($19, Empson USA): Nicolletta Canella recommends drinking Prosecco from a big glass rather than a flute because ‘the glass holds more.’ And you want as much of her wine as possible. Certainly one of the top wines of the region, Canella’s Prosecco is lovely and suave with an extra dose of complexity. Its sweetness is balanced perfectly by the lively acidity. 91 Michael Apstein Dec 26, 2006

Bellenda, Prosecco DOC di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene (Veneto, Italy) Miraval Extra Dry NV ($16, John Given Wines Inc): This friendly and frothy Prosecco is filled with nuances of ripe peaches supported by racy acidity. 89 Michael Apstein Jul 4, 2006

Carpenè Malvolti, Prosecco DOC di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene (Veneto, Italy) Extra Dry NV ($15, Angelici Wine Ltd.): With a Riesling-like balance of sweetness and zesty acidity, this Prosecco is hard to resist. 88 Michael Apstein Jul 4, 2006

Mionetto, Prosecco DOC di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene (Veneto, Italy) Extra Dry NV ($19, Mionetto USA, Inc.): Clean and refreshing, this features a touch of sweetness complemented by tangy acidity that makes this Prosecco perfect as an aperitif or with spicy food. 88 Michael Apstein Jul 4, 2006

Santa Margherita, Prosecco DOC di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene (Veneto, Italy) Brut NV ($18, Paterno Imports): Santa Margherita has fashioned a Prosecco than is drier than most without losing the quintessential aromatic fruity character of the wine. 88 Michael Apstein Jul 4, 2006

Maschio, Prosecco DOC di Valdobbiadene (Veneto, Italy) Brut “Maschio dei Cavalieri” NV ($19, Banfi Vintners): Slightly drier than an Extra Dry, this outstanding Brut retains an engaging floral character mixed with an edginess that is very ‘welcoming.’ 90 Michael Apstein Jul 4, 2006

Bertani, Soave (Veneto, Italy) Sereole 2011 ($20, Palm Bay International): Although Bertani has been making Soave for more than a century this is the first vintage they’ve exported to the US.  I hope it’s not its last.  The grapes, 100% Garganega, come from a single vineyard, Sereole, which is one of the 50-plus cru (best sites) in the Soave region.  Floral and fresh, the 2011 Sereole is a pretty wine with a subtle nutty finish.  For those who remember Soave as a vapid characterless wine, it will be a welcome surprise.
89 Michael Apstein Sep 25, 2012

Cantina di Soave, Soave (Veneto, Italy) “Re Midas” 2012 ($9, MW Imports): Clean and crisp, this light bodied wine is very well priced and easy to recommend for summer sipping.  It would be an especially good choice for a large garden party or other informal occasion.
85 Michael Apstein Jul 23, 2013

Gini, Soave Classico (Veneto, Italy) 2010 ($15, Michael Skurnik Wines):  After Chianti, Soave is probably the second most recognized Italian wine name.  Its reputation has had its ups and downs.  Fortunately, there’s currently a renaissance in Soave with producers, such as Gini, focusing on low yields and high quality.  It’s become an area where a large number of producers are bottling complex wines and selling them at easy on the wallet prices.  Gini’s Soave Classico, made exclusively from Garganega grown in the historic hillside center–or Classico–sub-area of the DOC, is just such a wine.  Gini’s 2010 marries subtle ripe apple-like flavors and floral notes.  Mouth-tingling vibrancy amplifies the flavors.  It has far more complexity than you’d expect from a $15 wine.  Its lovely edginess makes it a perfect choice to accompany pasta with a cheese-based sauce or grilled fish. 92 Michael Apstein May 29, 2012

Suavia, Soave Classico (Veneto, Italy) Monte Carbonare 2009 ($30, Vias Imports):  This is the real thing, the kind of wine that gave Soave its reputation, which it’s finally reclaiming.  Suavia, one of the top producers in Soave, has several parcels on Monte Carbonare, a prime site in the Soave Classico zone.  These 65 to 70 year old vines produce a marvelously complex wine that speaks without the influence of oak.  Unusually concentrated for Soave, it delivers subtle peachy aromas followed by minerality, almond nuances and invigorating lemony acidity.  An attractive hint of bitterness in the finish adds to the complexity and intrigue.  Linguine and clams sauce — watch out. 92 Michael Apstein Jan 3, 2012

Cantina del Castello, Soave Classico (Veneto, Italy) 2010 ($16, Petit Pois):  Soave is back on track.  After years of large producers bottling innocuous and dilute wine under the Soave label, more and more producers, such as Cantina del Castello, are making captivating wines.  This 2010, a blend of Garganega (90%) and Trebbiano di Soave, has a marvelous combination of subtle nuttiness and just a hint of apricot-like flavors.  Bright acidity keeps it crisp and refreshing.  It’s a great choice for summertime fare. 90 Michael Apstein Jun 5, 2012

Inama, Soave Classico (Veneto, Italy) Vigneti di Foscarino 2007 ($22, Dalla Terra):  Wines like this one will continue to hammer away at the perception that Soave is an innocuous wine white.  Vigneti di Foscarino is one of the region’s top sites and Inama is one of Soave’s top producers.  The wine delivers minerality and slight nuttiness invigorated by bracing acidity.  Consumers who have forgotten about Soave will be surprised by its intensity and complexity. 90 Michael Apstein Oct 19, 2010

Prà, Soave Classico (Veneto, Italy) 2009 ($15, Vinifera Imports):  Prà is one of the top producers of Soave.  Vinification and ageing solely in stainless steel allows the grape’s inherent charms to shine.  Slightly nutty, this elegant and light-bodied wine finishes with a refreshingly sparkling, clean finish.  It screams for summertime seafood. 90 Michael Apstein Jun 26, 2012

Bolla, Soave Classico (Veneto, Italy) 2010 ($11, Banfi Imports):  Bolla and Soave have had their ups and downs.  Bolla introduced Americans to Soave, the light yet distinctive white wine from the Veneto, in the 1960s and virtually captured the market.  Many consumers thought the region was not Soave, but rather BollaSoave.  As often is the case, popularity increases demand and quality can suffer.  Both Bolla and Soave took a nosedive.  Happily, a new generation of consumers is rediscovering the unique qualities of Soave, especially those from the historic Classico subregion.  Under new leadership, Bolla is reestablishing itself once again as a fine producer of Soave.  Fresh and bright, with an attractive hint of almond-like nuttiness, the 2010 Bolla Soave Classico would be a good choice for linguine with a clam sauce.
88 Michael Apstein May 1, 2012

Ca’ Rugate, Soave Classico (Veneto, Italy) “San Michele” 2008 ($13, Ideal Wines): Ca’ Rugate has been one of the producers in the Classico zone–the best subzone of the region–leading the Soave renaissance over the last decade.  As with many Soave producers, they have several bottlings.  This one, a blend from a variety of their vineyards, is bright and clean with slightly nutty nuances.  The absence of oak allows the earthy minerality from the lava soil to come through.  An excellent buy.  88 Michael Apstein Nov 24, 2009

Cantina di Soave, Soave Classico (Veneto, Italy) “Rocca Sveva” 2012 ($12, MW Imports): The Cantina de Soave is an excellent co-op in Soave, an area where co-ops account for three-quarters of the production.  Though 2,000 growers belong to the Cantina de Soave, only about 100 deliver sufficiently high quality grapes to be included in this wine.  And it shows.  Broader and longer than their Soave, this Soave Classico just has more to it.  Its bright freshness highlights a delicate and alluring nutty aspect.  This crisp light bodied white is an excellent choice for summertime fare and a bargain to boot, delivering more than the price suggests.
87 Michael Apstein Jul 23, 2013

Villa Erbice, Soave Superiore (Veneto, Italy) 2006 ($17, Masciarelli): Although Soave is one of Italy’s most recognizable wine areas, the wines have often lacked substance.  Realizing that certain zones in this area are capable of producing higher quality wine, Italian officials carved out a separate DOC for Soave Superiore and then bestowed DOCG status (Italy’s highest wine classification) on it recently.  This wine shows why.   Made entirely from Garganega, this light-bodied wine has a depth, texture and length that make it a serious Soave.  A subtle nuttiness and a citric edge add intrigue to its apple-like flavors. 90 Michael Apstein Feb 24, 2009

Masi, Veneto (Italy) “Masianco” 2006 ($13, Rémy Cointreau): Masi, of course, is world-renowned for their incredible range of Amarone.  But clearly their talents extend to white wine.  This refreshing white is zippy blend of 75% Pinot Grigio and 25% Verduzzo, a grape indigenous to northeast Italy.  Masi experimented with various blends before arriving at these proportions.  The Verduzzo imparts a rich texture and fills out the Pinot Grigio without obliterating its delicate floral component.  This is Pinot Grigio with flesh.  It’s a great buy! 89 Michael Apstein Mar 4, 2008

Sartori, Verona IGT (Veneto, Italy) “Ferdi” 2009 ($15, Banfi Imports):  Although Ferdi comes from the Soave region and is made entirely from Garganega, the primary grape of Soave, the resemblance ends there.   It’s made using an Amarone-like technique that imparts an extraordinary richness without heaviness.  The grapes are dried for about six weeks to concentrate the flavors before being pressed.  Franco Bernabei, Sartori’s consulting winemaker, says that the most critical element is to inspect the drying grapes daily or twice a day and discard any that show even a hint of rot.  The 2009 has both a glorious richness and vibrant freshness with a lush texture.  Yet it is neither heavy nor alcoholic.   Think of it as a super-charged Soave.  It holds its own against garlic infused roast chicken or even pasta with pesto.
92 Michael Apstein May 1, 2012

Sartori, Veronese IGT (Veneto, Italy) “Ferdi Bianco” 2009 ($14, Banfi Vintners):  This aromatic white, made entirely from Garganega, the grape of Soave, delivers lively notes of peach, apricot and even honeysuckle.  Sartori, a great Amarone producer, dries the Garganega grapes, a technique used to make Amarone, for six weeks to concentrate their flavor.  A pleasant roundness makes it idea for summertime sipping or to accompany spicy fare. 87 Michael Apstein Jul 19, 2011

Attems, Collio (Venezia Guilia, Italy) Sauvignon 2007 ($19, Folio Wine Company): Attems continues on a roll with their 2007 whites with this zippy Sauvignon Blanc.  A hint of tangerine or lemon skin flavor gives it more substance and body than many other Sauvignons from Northern Italy.  Its fresh and delightfully piercing character keeps you coming back for more. 88 Michael Apstein Nov 25, 2008

Attems, Venezia Giulia (Veneto, Italy) Pinot Grigio 2007 ($20, Folio Wine Company): It’s reassuring to see distinctive Pinot Grigio on the market amid the ocean of insipid bottlings because that grape can produce unique wines–and this is one of them.  Less floral with more concentration than most Pinot Grigios, this is a serious wine with haunting minerality and bracing acidity.  It may not appeal to the ‘I’ll have a glass of Pinot Grigio before dinner’ consumer, but it will reward those who put it on the table with grilled swordfish or other moderately intense seafood dishes. 89 Michael Apstein Nov 25, 2008

Planeta, Cerasuolo di Vittoria (Sicily, Italy) 2010 ($22, Palm Bay International):  I don’t think I’m swayed by the name when I say this summery red reminds me of fresh cherries.  This charming wine has more than just fruit flavors–cherries or otherwise.  There’s gentle hint of rusticity that adds to its charm.  Mild tannins mean you can enjoy it chilled. 90 Michael Apstein Sep 18, 2012

Donnafugata, Contessa Entellina (Sicily, Italy) “Mille e Una Notte” 2007 ($80, Folio Fine Wine Partners):  Why pay $80 for a wine from Sicily, a region still overcoming its reputation, undeserved now, for producing high volume low quality wine?  Because it’s a stunningly good wine that’s worth its price.  Donnafugata is one of the locomotives that has changed the reputation of Sicilian wines.  This, their flagship, is a blend mostly (90%) of Nero d’Avola.  The remaining grapes could be any variety but all always are the best other grapes from the estate, according to Jose’ Rallo, a member of the family that owns Donnafugata.  Mille e Una Notte shows the grandeur and complexity that Nero d’Avola can achieve in the right hands.  It’s both earthy and fruity, with smoky and leathery undertones.  At only 13.4% stated alcohol, it’s not overdone, yet still concentrated and intense.  Tannins are appropriately firm and polished, not hard or intrusive.  It’s a rich warm wine that maintains extraordinary freshness, especially considering that Sicily is hot—it is closer to Africa than to Rome.  Lovely now with a hearty dish, like roasted lamb, its balance suggests it has a long life ahead. 96 Michael Apstein Nov 6, 2012

Cusumano, IGT Sicilia (Italy) Nero d’Avola 2012 ($15, Terlato Fine Wines): Nero d’Avola, the black (grape) from the tiny town of Avola, makes fascinating wines that deliver more than just fruit.  This one, for example, has a hint of earth that adds allure to it dark fruit profile.  Enlivening acidity keeps it fresh.  Despite the deceptively mild tannins, this wine has appealing structure, making it perfect for hearty pasta dishes.
87 Michael Apstein Sep 24, 2013

D’Alessandro, Nero d’Avola IGT (Sicily, Italy) 2008 ($16, Vinifera Imports):  Nero d’Avola, Sicily’s most important red grape, has a promising future because it delivers both fruity and sometimes slightly funky or earthy notes simultaneously.  This one does just that along with mild tannins and a lively, fresh finish.  A slight tarry element balances the black cherry-like fruitiness.  Try it with a robust pasta dish, such as spaghetti putanesca. 88 Michael Apstein Aug 9, 2011

Donnafugata, Sicilia IGP (Italy) Nero d’Avola Sedàra 2010 ($13, Folio Fine Wine Partners): Donnafugata, one of the star producers in Sicily, has fashioned a satisfying everyday type of red wine from Nero d’Avola, one of that island’s indigenous grapes. Although it emphasizes the fruity (as opposed to the earthy) aspect of that grape, it maintains balance with an ever so subtle hint of bitterness in the finish and surprising freshness. Its charming rusticity makes it an excellent choice to accompany hearty pasta. 88 Michael Apstein Dec 11, 2012

Planeta, Sicilia IGT (Sicily, Italy) Nero d’Avola “Santa Cecilia” 2005 ($37, Palm Bay Imports): Nero d’Avola, a grape indigenous to Sicily, is poised to take off in popularity as consumers are exposed to its charms.  It makes a wine that delivers both fruit and, more importantly, intriguing non-fruit flavors even when young.  Planeta, one of Sicily’s best producers, makes this gorgeous Nero d’Avola that has an abundance of fresh and dried cherry-like flavors, a smoky earthiness, and supple tannins.  Most Nero d’Avola on the market don’t sell for $30+ a bottle, but then again, most don’t convey this kind of complexity and length. 92 Michael Apstein Apr 7, 2009

Planeta, Sicilia IGT (Sicily, Italy) Syrah 2006 ($37, Palm Bay International):  Planeta is the Sicilian winery that has shown the world the potential of wines from that Mediterranean island.  And they’ve done it with an extensive range of wines made from indigenous varietals, other Italian varieties–their Fiano is amazing–and varieties, such as this Syrah, not normally associated with Italy.  This is a lovely expression of Syrah, emphasizing the meaty, beefy aspect of the grape rather than the ripe plum flavors.  It has supple tannins and lovely ripeness without being overdone.  The complexity, especially in the finish, reinforces its stature. 91 Michael Apstein Jul 20, 2010

Regaleali, Sicilia IGT (Sicily, Italy) “Lamúri d’Almerita” 2009 ($16, Winebow):  Despite the absence of Nero d’Avola on the label as in previous vintages, Regaleali’s Lamúri d’Almerita is still made exclusively from that grape.  The 2009 still conveys the wonderful combination of fresh fruit flavors and earthy nuances for which Nero d’Avola is known.  The decision to avoid new oak barrels for aging allows the brightness that epitomizes Nero d’Avola to shine in the long fresh finish.  It’s an excellent choice for pasta with a robust mushroom sauce.
90 Michael Apstein Feb 28, 2012

Enzo di Settee Rue, Sicilia IGT (Sicily, Italy) Nero d’Avola 2006 ($15, Terra Verus Trading Company): Nero d’Avola, a grape native to Sicily, has potential for widespread popularity because it delivers captivating complexity even when young.  This one fits that mold with smoky notes that complement black fruit flavors.  The result is a delight mixture of ripe and savory elements.  This nicely balanced mid-weight wine has pleasantly supple tannins, which makes it a good choice for current consumption. 89 Michael Apstein Mar 10, 2009

Feudo Principe di Butera, Sicilia IGT (Sicily, Italy) Nero d’Avola 2007 ($17, Zonin USA): Nero d’Avola, a grape indigenous to Sicily, is well adapted to the climatic conditions there and does not grow well off that island.  It’s main virtue, as exemplified by this wine, is an alluring combination of savory elements and black fruit flavors.  This one also conveys a touch of smokiness to complement the black cherry notes.  Mild tannins lend support without intruding.  It’s a good match for simple hearty food. 88 Michael Apstein Sep 22, 2009

Planeta, Sicilia IGT (Italy) La Segreta Rosso 2008 ($14, Palm Bay Imports):  Planeta, one of Sicily’s forward-thinking wineries, has fashioned a lovely blend of Nero d’Avola (50%), Merlot (25%), Syrah (20%), and Cabernet Franc. Planeta preserves the fruitiness by using only stainless steel (no oak) while allowing the Nero d’Avola to contribute engaging savory notes.  Nicely balanced, they have avoided the all too common pitfall of trying to make it “more important” than it is.  It’s an immediately pleasing go-to wine for everything from burgers to grilled leg of lamb. 88 Michael Apstein Aug 10, 2010

Vino dei Fratelli, Sicilia IGT (Sicily, Italy) Nero d’Avola 2009 ($11, Quintessential):  Nero d’Avola is Sicily signature red grape that has tremendous potential for widespread popularity because it often transmits appealing smoky nuances along with its ripe black fruit notes.  This one, made by a cooperative especially for Quintessential, its US Importer, is a great bargain.  A moderate weight red, the subtle combination of smokiness and ripe fruit is very engaging.  A good choice for pizza night or when pasta and hearty meat sauce beckons. 88 Michael Apstein Apr 5, 2011

Feudo Sartanna, Sicilia IGT (Sicily, Italy) Nero d’Avola / Syrah 2008 ($16, Banfi Vintners):  There aren’t a lot of blends made from Syrah and Nero d’Avola, an indigenous Sicilian variety that often imparts an alluring smoky or earthy element to the wine.  Even though I don’t sense that character in this wine, there’s plenty to like.  It’s a moderately big, but not boisterous, plush wine.  Despite its power, the tannins are supple, which means it lovely now, especially with hearty dishes. 87 Michael Apstein Dec 7, 2010

Fondo Antico, Sicilia IGT (Sicily, Italy) Nero d’Avola 2008 ($17, Ideal Wines):  Nero d’Avola, Sicily’s best known indigenous red grape, makes a spectrum of wines from simple and fruity to one with smoky earthy components.  This one focuses on the fruit side but has sufficient savory elements to keep it interesting throughout a meal.   It would be a good choice for pasta with a robust tomato-based sauce. 87 Michael Apstein Jan 12, 2010

Cusumano, Sicilia IGT (Sicily, Italy) “Benuara” 2009 ($15, Vin Divino): Cusumano is one of Sicily’s leading producers, showing that this island, long known for quantity over quality, can produce exciting wines. Benuara is their blend of Nero d’Avola (70%), Sicily’s signature and most widely planted red grape, and Syrah. Cusumano’s best Nero d’Avola grapes go into their stunning wine, Sagana, so I suspect the Syrah in Benuara helps to bolster this wine a bit. It’s a blend that works because the Syrah adds depth without dominating the earthy and energetic aspect of Nero d’Avola. It’s a great choice for meat or spiced rubbed chicken coming off the grill in addition to the obvious robust pasta dish. Michael Apstein Aug 2, 2011

Feudo Maccari, Sicily (Italy) “Saia” 2005 ($33, Kobrand): The Moretti family, owner of Tenuta Sette Ponti who produces the Super Tuscans Crognolo and Oreno, expanded to Sicily, one of Italy’s ‘hottest’ areas (and I don’t mean temperature) for wine with the purchase in 2000 of Feudo Maccari estate.  Made from 100% Nero d’Avola, Sicily’s indigenous red grape, Saia has the alluring combination of black fruit and earthiness that is the hallmark of the varietal.  Smoky undercurrents and supple tannins add to its allure.  Feudo Maccari is redefining what this grape can achieve. 91 Michael Apstein Sep 2, 2008

Rapitala, Sicily (Italy) Syrah “Nadir” 2004 ($14, Frederick Wildman): The ripe plum flavors characteristic of Syrah grown in warmer climes are complemented by smoky elements and nuances of bacon fat.  Its supple tannins make it an engaging, easy-to-drink wine. 88 Michael Apstein Nov 28, 2006

Rapitalà, Sicily (Italy) Syrah “Nadir” 2003 ($15, Frederick Wildman): Wines made from Syrah, a grape more accustomed to the heat than many other varieties, such as Pinot Noir, fared much better during Europe’s scorching summer of 2003.  To reduce stress on the vines, Rapitalà, one of Sicily’s best and most innovative producers, irrigated their Syrah vines during the height of the drought, which undoubtedly contributed to the class of this wine.  Plumy flavors predominate as you would expect from Syrah grown in a warm climate, but this big, bold wine also has complexity with hints of bacon fat and smoky elements.  Its suppleness makes it a good choice with dinner this winter as the temperature drops. 88 Michael Apstein Jan 30, 2007

Feudo Arancio, Sicily (Italy) Nero d’Avola 2005 ($8, Prestige Wine Imports): At first glance, it seems like an odd combination.  MezzaCorona, a 1,300-plus-member cooperative located in northern Italy’s Trentino region, has invested $130 million in new vineyards and a modern winery in Sicily called Feudo Arancio.  Judging from this wine, the venture has a bright future and consumers will be the beneficiaries of good, inexpensive everyday wine.  Nero d’Avola, an indigenous Sicilian variety, likewise shows strong promise because it can combine ripe fruitiness with an exotic smoky element.  Feudo Arancio’s rendition, lighter and brighter than many, captures both the bright cherry-like flavors and a hint of smokiness.  A great value for everyday drinking. 86 Michael Apstein Feb 13, 2007

Planeta, Sicily IGT (Italy) Nero d’Avola Santa Cecilia 2007 ($43, Palm Bay International): Nero d’Avola (black grape from Avola in the Noto region of Sicily) has the Janus-like ability to make two wines.  One is a pleasantly fruity slightly rustic everyday type of wine and the other is one with more complexity, incorporating savory, non-fruit flavors even when young.  Planeta is a benchmark producer of the latter style.  Their 2007 Santa Cecilia, while more fruit forward than their spectacular 2006, still has the quintessential engaging smoky earthy character that offsets the black fruit-like flavors.  Plush and refined, it’s almost silky in texture.  Despite coming from a hot southern climate, it retains terrific brightness and freshness, which complements its opulence beautifully.
92 Michael Apstein Sep 25, 2012

Tasca d’Almerita, Contea di Sclafani (Sicily, Italy) Brut 2008 ($56, Winebow):  This impressive sparkling wine makes you shake your head in wonderment.   Here is a locale (the DOC of Contea di Sclafani is halfway between Palermo and Caltanissetta) where the climate is closer to that of Africa than Champagne.   By all rights, the wine should be heavy and maybe even sweet.  But it is neither.  It’s stunning.  Made entirely from Chardonnay, it’s creamy and suave without sharp edges.  Two years on the lees (dead yeast) undoubtedly contributed to its complexity, but its graceful profile is what captivates.  It’s a fabulous match for the “little fried things” so prevalent in Sicilian cooking.  But it also works extremely well with ravioli and a butter and sage sauce because its acidity cuts the richness while its creaminess amplifies it. 93 Michael Apstein Feb 28, 2012

Cusumano, IGT Sicilia (Italy) Insolia 2012 ($15, Terlato Fine Wines): Cusumano, one of Sicily’s innovative producers, consistently produces easy to recommend wines from the island’s indigenous grapes, such as Inzolia.  This bright, clean, mid-weight wine dispels the notion that Sicily is too hot to make crisp refreshing whites.  Its energy is a good match for hearty seafood dishes.
87 Michael Apstein Sep 24, 2013

Regaleali, Sicilia IGT (Sicily, Italy) “Leone d’Almerita” 2010 ($18, Winebow):  It’s amazing that a place known for its hot sunny climate can produce such a delicate and fresh white wine.  It helps that Regaleali’s vineyards are in the center of this mountainous island at more than 2,500 feet above sea level.  The location plus the deft hand of the winemaking team explains the character of this wine made primarily from Catarratto, one of the island’s indigenous grapes.  Captivating floral notes combine with subtle hints of melons to create a unique and refreshing wine perfect for grilled fish. 91 Michael Apstein Feb 28, 2012

Planeta, Sicilia IGT (Sicily, Italy) “Cometa” 2008 ($35, Palm Bay International):  If not the first, Planeta was certainly among the first to show that the Fiano grape, native to Campania where it makes stunning wines, can do well outside of its traditional home.  Planeta’s 2008 has a floral character with nuances of honeysuckle.  On the palate it has good intensity–without being overdone–with hints of honey and a subtle nuttiness.  Uplifting acidity holds it all together. It’s a fine choice for light summertime fare. 90 Michael Apstein Aug 3, 2010

Feudo Sartanna, Sicilia IGT (Sicily, Italy) 2008 ($14, Banfi Imports):  Sicily is the California of Italy as far as experimentation with wine is concerned.  Winemakers there are not paralyzed by tradition and hence come up with wines like this one, a blend of Chardonnay with Grillo, an indigenous variety.  Bright and clean, the Grillo adds a bit of intrigue and complexity while Chardonnay adds a little body and roundness.  It’s a lovely “everyday” kind of white wine. 87 Michael Apstein Oct 26, 2010

Regaleali, Sicilia IGT (Sicily, Italy) Bianco 2010 ($14, Winebow):  Though not at all their flagship wine, this simple white is what they’re most proud of, according to Giuseppe Tasca, owner of the Regaleali estate, because they’ve been making it since 1959, it’s made from a blend of indigenous Sicilian varieties, Inzolia, Grecanico and Catarratto, and it’s consistently good.  He calls it, appropriately, a “go-to seafood wine” because of its floral, slightly stony and flinty signature.  Tasca believes the elevation of their vineyards keeps the grapes cool at night, maintaining their acidity and imparting vibrancy to the wine.  They should be proud of this crisp lively white.  It’s easy-to-recommend and, with an annual production of 80,000 cases, it should be widely available. 87 Michael Apstein Feb 28, 2012

Planeta, Sicily IGT (Italy) Carricante 2011 ($36, Palm Bay International): Planeta, the producer that has brought the wines from Sicily to international attention, does not rest on its laurels.  It has expanded its already impressive array of wines to this Carricante, a white grape grown on the slopes of Mt. Etna.  Only their third vintage, Planeta’s 2011 Carricante shows the wisdom of the expansion.  The wine conveys a striking minerality—you can almost taste the volcanic soil—coupled with a touch of spice.  Vigorous acidity keeps it fresh and bright, no doubt due to Etna’s unique soil and the elevation of the vineyards.  Their Carricante is likely to become Planeta’s flagship white wine.
93 Michael Apstein Sep 25, 2012

Cantina del Taburno, Campania (Italy) Coda di Volpe “Amineo” 2007 ($16, Michael Skurnik Wines): This cooperative, whose winemaking is directed by Luigi Moio, a former winemaker at Feudi di San Gregorio, one of the leading wineries in Campania, clearly knows how to handle Coda di Volpe, a temperamental grape native to the region and subject to oxidation.  Fresh, without a trace of heaviness, this mid-weight white wine offers stone fruit-like flavors and nuances of spiced pears offset by a citric tang. 87 Michael Apstein Sep 23, 2008

Feudi di San Gregorio, Campania IGT (Italy) ‘Patrimo’ 2005 ($150, Palm Bay Imports):  Merlot from Campania?  I was skeptical because often when winemakers plant “international” varieties, such as Merlot, in traditional areas the wines are often over-extracted and overly oaky.  But Feudi di San Gregorio is an excellent producer so if anyone could do it, they could.  And they did.  It doesn’t qualify for one of Campania’s DOCs because Merlot is not recognized in the region.  But the grape has been around because this wine comes from 50-year old vineyards.  Not I’ll-have-a-glass-of-Merlot-before-dinner, this is serious stuff with good density without being overdone.  The oak is in the background allowing earthy flavors—and hints of graphite—to harmonize with the black fruit flavors.  Supple, but not soft, the glossy tannins allow immediate enjoyment, but the balance suggests it will develop nicely over the next several years.  I doubt many will wait. 92 Michael Apstein Aug 10, 2010

DonnaChiara, Campania IGT (Campania, Italy) Aglianico 2008 ($15, Michelangelo Selection):  Aglianico, with its tough tannins, is difficult to tame.  Yet DonnaChiara, a new producer–at least to the US–has done an admirable job with this one.   Ready to drink now, it still shows the power and intensity of the Aglianico grape.  With juicy black fruity notes predominating, it lacks the complexity of its more upscale stable mates (also reviewed this week), but still is an excellent choice to match with wintertime fare.  Did I forget to mention the bargain price?
87 Michael Apstein Jan 17, 2012

Mastroberardino, Fiano di Avellino (Campania, Italy) “Radici” 2005 ($21, Wilson Daniels): Fiano is Campania’s best white grape and, not surprisingly, Fiano di Avellino is Campania’s best white wine.  There is no better producer in Campania than Mastroberardino.  Put them together and you have great white wine.  Refined, as is the Mastroberardino style, rather than overt or heavy, it has a slightly flowery bouquet with a very appealing subtle richness and an exceptionally bright and uplifting finish. 91 Michael Apstein Mar 13, 2007

DonnaChiara, Irpinia (Campania, Italy) 2008 ($20, Michelangelo Selection):  With this DOC Irpinia, DonnaChiara reminds us of the importance of place.  Irpinia and Aglianico is a good marriage because the locale imbues the wine with an intriguing tarry quality and earthiness that complements the black cherry notes.  Polished tannins add structure without a trace of harshness while lip-smacking acidity keeps it fresh.  A step up from their IGT Aglianico, this one unfolds over the course of a meal revealing spice and other non-fruity nuances. 92 Michael Apstein Jan 17, 2012

Feudi di San Gregorio, Irpinia (Campania, Italy) Aglianico “Rubrato” 2004 ($19, Palm Bay): Located to the northeast of Mt. Vesuvius, Irpinia is Campania’s most important wine growing area.  Aglianico, a grape whose roots can be traced to ancient Greece, is the major red variety in the area.  Feudi di San Gregorio–established in 1986–is a relatively new winery for this ancient area.  But they joined the top ranks very quickly, in part because their consulting winemaker, Riccardo Cotarella, is one of Italy’s most talented eonologists.  Their 2004 Rubrato, filled with an alluring earthy streak, is appealing now and a fine introduction to Aglianico, which can make broodingly backward wines.  Fresh, with good structure, it is remarkably suave and an excellent choice for tomato-based pasta sauces. 90 Michael Apstein Mar 27, 2007

Mastroberardino, Taurasi (Campania, Italy) “Radici” 2006 ($60, Winebow):  Taurasi is often called the Barolo of the south.  Stylistically that’s true.  However, you rarely find a Barolo, or any wine for that matter, of this quality for the price.  Mastroberardino is the producer who practically single handedly showed how great the wines from Campania could be.  And Taurasi is their flagship.  Made entirely from Aglianico, the 2006 is a monumental achievement. Gorgeous floral aromas with a hint of tar waft from the glass.  It conveys a seamless mixture of black cherry-like fruit, tar and flowers that mysteriously reappear in the extraordinarily long finish.  It’s muscular, but not overdone like a body-builder.  The tannins are present–it is Taurasi–but they are polished and glossy, not astringent.  This is a wine for the cellar to be opened in a decade or so.  I’m pleased there’s some in mine. 97 Michael Apstein Nov 6, 2012

Feudi di San Gregorio, Taurasi (Campania, Italy) “Piano di Montevergine” 2002 ($68, Palm Bay International):  Antonia Capaldo, Feudi di San Gregorio’s winemaker, notes that Taurasi, often described as the Barolo of the South, “needs time to express itself,” which explains why this 2002 is their current release.  This wine, their single vineyard Taurasi, spent two years in barrel followed by five years aging in bottle.   The 10-acre vineyard, from which they make only about 500 cases, sits at just over 2,100 feet above sea level.  The elevation moderates the temperatures and allows the grapes to retain acidity that translates into enlivening freshness, balancing the rich, almost tarry, elements in the wine.  There’s an explosion of flavors in the glass.  Yet the wine retains harmony and grace.  Many consumers avoid all Italian wines from the 2002 vintage because of the generally poor wines coming from Tuscany and Piedmont that year.  Don’t make that mistake with this one.  It’s a winner! 96 Michael Apstein Jul 20, 2010

DonnaChiara, Taurasi (Campania, Italy) 2007 ($28, Michelangelo Selection):  Taurasi, Campania’s only DOCG for red wine, gets my vote for Italy’s most under-rated area for making truly great wine.  The consumer benefits because the wines don’t yet command the prices of Barolo, Barbaresco or Brunello.  If Irpinia and Aglianico are a good marriage, Taurasi and Aglianico is a great one, representing a giant leap up and reinforcing the critical importance of where the grapes grow.  Often called the Barolo of the south, Taurasi in general, and DonnaChiara’s 2007 in particular, has the near magical combination of floral notes and deep tarry elements.  As with great young wines, it’s layered and tight at this stage and needs at least five or so years before pulling the cork.  But it’s so refined and full of intrigue now, I’m certain it will be worth the wait.  I know some is going into my cellar. 95 Michael Apstein Jan 17, 2012

Mastroberardino, Taurasi (Campania, Italy) “Radici” 2001 ($41, Wilson Daniels): The minute your nose hits the rim of the glass you know this wine has depth and complexity.  The first taste confirms it.  Taurasi, arguably southern Italy’s most famous wine area, is often referred to as the Barolo of the south because of   combination of earthiness and fragrant fruitiness in the wines.  Here the Aglianco grape, especially in Mastroberardino’s hands, is transformed into gloriously layered wine.  This big wine, filled with minerals, ripe cherry fruit and an earthy, almost tarry component, needs a few years to unfold and develop.  But I must admit, its balance and class makes in hard to resist now.  It reminds of what Louis Latour once told me, “Great wines taste good at every stage.” 95 Michael Apstein Mar 13, 2007

Mastroberardino, Taurasi Riserva (Campania, Italy) “Radici” 1999 ($62, Winebow):  I tasted this wine twice recently, once at a tasting and a couple of weeks later, with dinner.  I loved it at the tasting, but frankly a brief taste does not do justice to this gorgeous wine.  Its grandeur really emerges over an hour or two after sitting in a decanter.  (That’s the problem assessing wines at a tasting, but that’s a subject for a different time).  Mastroberardino is the king of Campania wines and Taurasi is his flagship, as well as the region’s most celebrated DOCG.  This is a positively brilliant example of Taurasi.  Fabulously aromatic, it’s both mineraly and floral, sensations that explore on the palate in waves.  It’s dense, dark and mineraly–you can practically feel the volcanic soil–yet not heavy or out of balance.  Despite its size and power, it’s fresh and encourages another glass.  The tannins are still present but proportioned.  I suspect it will continue to develop and improve for decades. 97 Michael Apstein Nov 20, 2012

Mastroberardino, Vesuvio Rosso (Campania, Italy) “Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio” 2005 ($22, Wilson Daniels): Mastroberardino, more than anyone, has saved from extinction ancient indigenous grape varieties originally brought to Campania by the Greeks, such as Piedirosso, the grape for this wine.  Unlike Mastroberardino’s Taurasi, which needs a few years to unfold, this red wine is more forward and approachable now.  Filled with flavors of bitter cherries and earthy, herbal nuances, the drying, but not astringent tannins, means it goes very well with food (think grilled meat or robust pasta) not as an aperitif. A long way from a New World ‘fruit bomb’ kind of wine, it delivers panoply of flavors at only 12.5% alcohol. 88 Michael Apstein Mar 13, 2007

Terredora Dipaolo, Campania (Italy) Greco di Tufo 2007 ($24):

With earthy nuances, you feel the effect of the volcanic soil near Vesuvius where these vines grow. The absence of oak allows the steely and mineral-laden character to shine.  A firm citric edge keeps it lively and fresh throughout a meal.  Although lovely now, it will evolve and develop nicely over the next couple of years, so there’s no rush.  And for that matter if you see Terredora Dipaolo’s 2006 Greco di Tufo on the shelves, don’t hesitate to pick it up either.

90 Michael Apstein Aug 12, 2008

Feudi di San Gregorio, Campania (Italy) Falanghina 2006 ($15, Palm Bay Imports): Falanghina, a white grape indigenous to Campania, deserves more recognition.  With this excellent example, a delicate perfume of white flowers is followed by subtle green apple-like flavors and crispness.  A hint of minerality reflects Campania’s volcanic soil. It is a marvelous choice for simple seafood. 88 Michael Apstein Apr 1, 2008

Cantina del Taburno, Campania (Italy) Falanghina 2007 ($17, Michael Skurnik Wines): Many people assume that cooperatives are incapable of making fine wine.  Cantina del Taburno, a leading co-op in Campania, dispels that notion with this Falanghina, a grape native to that region.  Not long ago, Falanghina was felt to be unsuitable for fine wine, but now it is soaring in popularity both in Italy and in the United States.  Taburno’s version, less floral than many, retains hints of melons and a complementary cutting acidity that keeps it refreshing throughout a meal.  It would also be a fine choice as an aperitif or with antipasto. 87 Michael Apstein Sep 23, 2008

Terredora Dipaolo, Campania (Italy) Falanghina 2007 ($17, Vias Imports): Aromas of white flowers deceive you into thinking this is a sweet wine.  It’s a lovely deception because the interplay of honeysuckle and a cutting citric finish keeps your attention with every sip.  This lively, pure wine without a trace of heaviness or oak is a great accompaniment for simply prepared seafood. 87 Michael Apstein Aug 12, 2008

Feudi di San Gregorio, Falanghina Sannio (Campania, Italy) 2008 ($18, Palm Bay International):  Here’s another easy-to-recommend white wine, from a less well-known grape–Falanghina, for this summer’s seafood.  Sannio is a small hilly district within Campania whose Falanghina is so highly regarded that the area was awarded DOC status.  Feudi di San Gregorio, one of the region’s best producers, uses only stainless steel tanks for fermentation–no oak–to capture the delicate fruitiness of this wine.  Hints of white flowers in the bouquet are followed by lively notes of citrus and green apple.  Its clean and fresh finish invites another sip. 90 Michael Apstein Aug 3, 2010

Clelia Romano, Fiano d’Avellino (Campania, Italy) “Colli di Lapio” 2007 ($25): The unique mountainous terrain of Avellino, the best area for Fiano, an indigenous grape brought to Italy by the Greeks, keeps the vineyards cool in this otherwise warm part of Italy and explains why the wine has achieved DOCG status.  The Clelia Romano estate, established in 1994, is one example of new, talented producers in the area and helps explain the surge in popularity of wines from the region.  Their Colli di Lapio (literally, hills of Fiano), bright and bursting with flavor, has incredible length and persistence. The waxy characteristic of Fiano adds a lovely texture and is right on target. 90 Michael Apstein Sep 23, 2008

Donnachiarra, Fiano di Avellino (Campania, Italy) 2010 ($18, Michelangelo Imports):  This gorgeous wine shows why Fiano di Avellino has DOCG ranking.  It combines a honey-like, but not sweet, richness with alluring spices.  Vibrant acidity means it stays fresh and lively and allows the flavors to explode in the finish.  Both lacey and concentrated, its finish seems endless. It’s simply marvelous—and worth twice the price. 93 Michael Apstein Nov 1, 2011

Mastroberardino, Fiano di Avellino (Campania, Italy) “Radici” 2006 ($22, Wilson Daniels): Radici is the proprietary name Mastroberardino uses for his top wines, his red from Taurasi and this white made from the Fiano grape.  He works magic with the Fiano grape, especially when it comes from Avellino, the most renowned area for it.  The grapes for this Fiano come from Mastroberardino’s Santo Stefano del Sole vineyard, which he planted in the mid-1990s.  Lacey with a distinct and haunting minerality, it’s full-flavored without being heavy.  Bright acidity keeps it lively and makes you want to go back for more. 92 Michael Apstein Jan 22, 2008

Mastroberardino, Fiano di Avellino (Campania, Italy) “Radici” 2010 ($25, Winebow): For those unfamiliar with Campania, Mastroberardino is one of, if not its best, producer.  Radici is the moniker they use for their best wines, both white and red.  Fiano di Avellino is Campania’s other white DOCG wine.  Mastroberardino’s 2010 conveys alluring floral notes, delicate pineapple-like nuances and an attractive firmness, almost bordering on bitterness, in the finish.  This concentrated solid wine is another steal at the price. 91 Michael Apstein Dec 6, 2011

Monte Faliesi, Fiano di Avellino (Campania, Italy) Fiano 2011 ($20, Opici Wines): Campania’s other great white wine is Fiano di Avellino.  Monte Faliesi’s 2011 has a bracing backbone, just what it needs to offset its floral and rich character.  As an unexpected dividend, a nuanced nuttiness appears in the finish.  Their Fiano and Greco are the antithesis of the prototypical “fruit bomb.”
91 Michael Apstein Sep 17, 2013

Donnachiarra, Greco di Tufo (Campania, Italy) 2010 ($18, Michelangelo Imports):  It’s fashionable to talk about the fruit in a wine. And that’s understandable since wine is made from grapes.  But I recommend this wine, not for its fruitiness, but for its edgy firm mineral-like character.  You can almost taste the lava rich soil where the grapes grew.  Not austere, its flavors and charm persist long after each sip.  Those looking for opulence will be disappointed.  Those who want something to enjoy throughout a meal will find it a great foil for grilled swordfish. 92 Michael Apstein Nov 8, 2011

Mastroberardino, Greco di Tufo (Campania, Italy) “Nova Serra” 2010 ($20, Winebow):  Despite family squabbling and the loss of many vineyards several years ago, Mastroberardino continues to make exceptional wines.  This Greco di Tufo, one of Campania’s DOCG wines, comes from a single vineyard at an elevation of about 1,700 feet in the hills of Campania.  Although the vineyard is filled with chalky soil, you can still feel the influence of Vesuvius in the firm underpinning of the wine.  A subtle honeyed richness lends an intriguing counterpoint to its distinct minerality.  Fortunately for consumers, wines from Campania are still terribly undervalued.  You’d be hard pressed to find this kind of quality for this price anywhere else in the world. 92 Michael Apstein Dec 6, 2011

Feudi di San Gregorio, Greco di Tufo (Campania, Italy) 2008 ($20, Palm Bay International):  Feudi di San Gregorio, one of Campania’s–and Italy’s–leading wineries, continues their streak of success with this Greco di Tufo.  Attractively earthy and mineraly, you can almost taste the volcanic soil where the grapes grow.  It has an appealing firmness, uplifting acidity and fabulous length that makes it ideal for fish from the grill this summer. 91 Michael Apstein Jul 20, 2010

Mastroberardino, Greco di Tufo (Campania, Italy) “Novaserra” 2005 ($25, Wilson Daniels):

The name of the grape–Greco–indicates that the Greeks brought it with them to Italy.  It grows best in the volcanic soil near Mt. Vesuvius, especially around the village of Tufo.  This focused wine captures you with its class and length, not its weight.  The freshness characteristic of Mastroberardino’s wines and a subtle pleasing earthiness that must come from the soil makes it a wonderful choice for grilled fish.

90 Michael Apstein Mar 20, 2007

Monte Faliesi, Greco di Tufo (Campania, Italy) 2011 ($20, Opici Wines): The price of this delicious wine reflects the reality that Greco di Tufo is one of Italy’s underappreciated grapes.  On the volcanic soil of Campania, it produces a distinguished wine, like this one.  Fresh and steely, Monte Faliesi’s has a subtle and attractive vaguely bitter finish.  You can almost taste the volcanic ash.  It’s a great choice for grilled swordfish or a more complicated fish stew.
90 Michael Apstein Sep 17, 2013

Eugenio Rossi, Vallagarina (Trentino, Italy) “Poiema” 2006 ($39, Adonna Imports):  One of reasons Italy has great and varied wines is because they have a plethora of native grapes, such as Marzemina, from which this wine is made.  Never heard of Marzemina?  Neither had I until I encountered this wine.  Will I look for others?  You bet.  This rich ripe red wine is reminiscent of Amarone with a hint of raisiny undertones of raisins and other dried fruits.  It’s a big wine, with few tannins, and an appealing–almost chewy–texture.  A good wintertime wine. 90 Michael Apstein Feb 9, 2010

Ferrari, Trentino (Italy) “Giulio Ferrari” Brut 1999 ($100, Palm Bay International): This formidable wine, Ferrari’s flagship, comes from a single family-owned 30 acre vineyard and is aged on the lees for nine years, which explains why it’s their current release.  Prolonged lees aging adds complexity as the yeast break down contributing subtle nuances.  Its paradoxical combination of mature–roasted–flavors and brilliant freshness coupled with a seductive creamy texture is an irresistible combination.  The flavors explode in the mouth and the finish lasts seemingly forever.  Marcello Lunelli, who along with his family owns Ferrari, appropriately calls it a “wine to eat, not to drink” because of its intense, almost chewy, character. People can debate whether to spend $100 for this or any sparkling wine, but what’s not debatable is that Italy–at least Ferrari–can make great ones. 95 Michael Apstein Jul 7, 2009

Ferrari, Trentino (Italy) “Perle” Brut 2002 ($38): Ferrari, arguably Italy’s leading producer of sparkling wine, labels their vintage dated sparkling wines, Perle.  Although the 2002 vintage has a poor reputation in northern Italy because heavy rains spoiled much of the crop, the Chardonnay–all of Ferrari’s wines imported into the US are made exclusively from Chardonnay–was picked before the deluge, which explains, in part, why this wine is so stunning.  It has gorgeous creamy elements and mature toasty–slightly nutty notes–supported by lively freshness.  Long and elegant, new flavors emerge with each sip.  It’s impeccably balanced and can be savored as an aperitif and then brought to the table for a first course.  Appropriately named, this is a lustrous pearl of a wine. 94 Michael Apstein Jun 23, 2009

Ferrari, Trentino (Italy) Brut Rosé NV ($36, Palm Bay International): Based on this wine and their NV Brut (also reviewed this week), Ferrari is a superb sparkling wine producer.  A blend of Pinot Noir (60%) and Chardonnay, this is a seriously intense Rosé.  The Pinot Noir component comes from three different batches that receive differing amounts of skin contact–a white wine made from Pinot Noir without any skin contact, a rosé of Pinot Noir (12 to 14 hours of skin contact), and a red Pinot Noir (3 to 4 days of skin contact). Each batch contributes something unique to the blend and explains its gorgeous color and complexity. It conveys clear red wine character without losing any of the creamy elegance imparted by Chardonnay.  Delightful to drink by itself, its power allows it to stand up to food, such as grilled salmon. 92 Michael Apstein Jun 9, 2009

Ferrari, Trentino (Italy) Brut NV ($25, Palm Bay International): Your quest for affordable bubbly is over.  One sip of this 100% Chardonnay-based wine from Northern Italy reminds you that great sparkling wine can be made outside of the Champagne region.  Creamy and classy, this balanced wine has a perfect level of complementary acidity that keeps it lively without making it austere.  It shows well even after tasting Ferrari’s more expensive bottlings.  It’s a superb value. 90 Michael Apstein Jun 9, 2009

Ferrari, Trento (Italy) La Perle Brut 2004 ($35, Palm Bay International): As good as Ferrari’s non-vintage Brut is, this one is better and worth the premium.  Yeasty and toasty, its lushness is immediately apparent. In contrast to many wines whose initial impact fades, La Perlé’s glory persists with a seductiveness that’s impossible to ignore.  It has just the right combination of freshness and maturity. Similar to its non-vintage counterpart, Ferrari’s La Perlé delivers far more than the price indicates.
93 Michael Apstein Sep 25, 2012

Ferrari, Trento (Italy) Brut Rose NV ($37): Ferrari makes an exceptional lineup of sparkling wines, as evidenced by this Rosé.  Using the traditional Champagne method, Ferrari has captured wild strawberry-like flavors, harmonized with a delicate yeastiness.  It has the wonderful balance of fruit, acidity (from the bubbles) and hints of earthy non-fruit nuances.
91 Michael Apstein Sep 25, 2012

Ferrari, Trento (Italy) Brut NV ($25, Palm Bay International): If there’s a more enjoyable sparkling wine for the price in the market, I’d like to know about it.  Consumers tend to forget that there is more to Italian bubbly than just Prosecco—as good as that wine can be.  Ferrari (no relation to the automobile company) uses Chardonnay exclusively for this refreshing and quite complex sparkling wine.  Made by the traditional Champagne method, it remains on the lees for just over two years, which ensures that a lovely toasty component complements the restrained creamy and apple-like fruitiness of Chardonnay.
90 Michael Apstein Sep 25, 2012

Bottega Vinaia, Trentino (Italy) Pinot Grigio 2010 ($15, Palm Bay International): The most interesting Pinot Grigio, like this one, come from northern Italy, Trentino, Alto Adige or Friuli.  I hesitate to call it light-bodied because many interpret that to mean vapid, which it’s not.  Light and lively, it delivers a refreshing punch of floral notes, hints of green apples and zestiness.  It works as a stand-alone aperitif or with simple seafood. 88 Michael Apstein Jan 3, 2012

Maso Canali, Trentino (Trentino, Italy) Pinot Grigio 2009 ($22, Maso Canali, Inc):  Pinot Grigio — PG to many in the trade — has become a commodity, as in “I’ll have a glass of Pinot Grigio,” without even a passing reference to producer or origin of the grapes.   With so many vapid ones on the market, it’s always a delight to run across the real thing.  A subtle floral character precedes good concentration and weight.  A delicate finish adds to its appeal.  Crisp acidity keeps makes it a perky wine. 88 Michael Apstein Oct 4, 2011

Abbazia di Novacella, Alto Adige (Italy) Pinot Nero Riserva “Praepositus” 2003 ($47, Vias Imports): Pinot Noir is a notoriously fickle grape variety that winemakers transform into ethereal red wine in only a few places in the world: Burgundy, parts of California and Oregon, and parts of New Zealand.  Imagine my surprise when I tasted this beautiful example from northern Italy.  It has what I consider the hallmark of wine made from Pinot Noir, richness without weight mixed with earthy, non-fruit flavors.  The 2003 vintage undoubtedly contributed to the ripeness, but it’s so beautifully balanced, you’d never guess it weighs in at 14% alcohol. 91 Michael Apstein Mar 6, 2007

Alois Lageder, Alto Adige (Italy) Pinot Grigio “Porer” 2011 ($25, Martin Scott Wines):  Want to know what real Pinot Grigio tastes like and why it has obtained its current popularity?  Try this one.  Lageder, an advocate of biodynamic winemaking, is one the top producers in the Alto Adige region.  This Pinot Grigio, from a single vineyard, Porer, has richness and a caressing creamy texture.  Hints of pears add to its appeal.  It works well both as an aperitif and with full-flavored fish dishes. 90 Michael Apstein Nov 6, 2012

Alois Lageder, Alto Adige (Italy) Pinot Grigio “Benefizium Porer” 2007 ($23, Dalla Terra): Except for the difficulty involved in pronouncing the name of this wine, this single vineyard Pinot Grigio from a great producer makes me wonder why anyone would buy a similarly priced mass-marketed one.  It has real depth and character, traits lacking in most Pinot Grigio.  A touch of barrel fermentation and oak aging adds complexity without dominating its pear-like flavor profile.  Bright acidity keeps it fresh and acts as a counterpoint to its fine texture.  A versatile wine, you could easily sip it as an aperitif and then take it to the table to accompany a meal.  It’s worth learning how to say the name. 90 Michael Apstein May 19, 2009

Peter Zemmer, Alto Adige (Italy) Pinot Bianco 2006 ($13, Vin DiVino): This Pinot Bianco is so fresh it’s almost spritzy, which balances the tropical melon component nicely.  After a few minutes in the glass, spice and creaminess emerge.  It’s worth searching for this great value. 89 Michael Apstein Mar 6, 2007

Bocca di Lupo, Castel del Monte (Puglia, Italy) Aglianico 2004 ($36, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates):  Bocca di Lupo is one of the two estates owned by Tormaresca, an Antinori-owned property in Puglia, the heel of Italy’s boot.  As in much of Southern Italy, the Aglianico grape thrives in the relatively unknown DOC of Castel del Monte.  A robust wine, but with elegance, this Aglianico has an attractive hint of bitterness in the finish that is a lovely counterpoint to its earthy minerality and black cherry-like acidity.  It would be a good choice for lamb shanks or other hearty fare. 92 Michael Apstein Dec 15, 2009

Rivera, Castel del Monte Riserva (Puglia, Italy) “Il Falcone” 2006 ($31, Cadet Importers):  This blend of Nero di Troia (70%) and Montepulciano, included to tame the Nero di Troia, is a powerful wine that retains elegance and complexity.  Not just fruit, of which there is plenty, it’s mineraly.  Its aromatics and lack of jamminess belie its “Southern” origin in Puglia, Italy’s heel.   At six years of age, the tannins have softened, but still provide structure.  It would be an excellent choice for a grilled steak or roasted red meat. 92 Michael Apstein Nov 6, 2012

Tormaresca, Salento IGT (Puglia, Italy) “Torcicoda” 2009 ($22, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates):  Tormaresca is the Antinori property founded in 1998 in Puglia, the region that comprises the heel of Italy’s boot.  The wine, Torcicoda, is made entirely from the Primitivo grape, thought to be the European equivalent of Zinfandel.  And, indeed, the 2009 Torcicoda has a fruit forward pepper and spice character of Zinfandel, but with far more class than most.  Mild tannins lend support and needed structure that nicely offsets the ripe fruitiness. 88 Michael Apstein Oct 18, 2011

Tormaresca, Puglia IGT (Puglia, Italy) Chardonnay 2010 ($11, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates):  The region of Puglia, the heel of Italy’s boot, like the rest of southern Italy, has become a source for good quality, well-priced everyday kind of wines.  When leading Italian producers, such as Antinori in this case, move in and invest in the region, everyone should take notice.  This delightful blend of Chardonnay (90%) and Fiano has an uplifting floral component, good weight without heaviness and refreshing acidity.  And, a bargain price. Time to stock up.
87 Michael Apstein Jan 31, 2012

Angelini, Pergola Rosso (Marche, Italy) 2011 ($17, Angelini Wine, Ltd): Pergola Rosso is a virtually unknown, tiny, 100-acre DOC, in the Marche where the similarly unknown Vernaccia Rossa (a.k.a. Aleatico) grape reigns supreme. Perhaps its purported relationship to the Muscat family that explains it’s alluring floral rose petal-like aromas. Bright cherry-like fruit flavors follow. A seductive hint of bitterness in the finish adds intrigue. This lovely mid-weight wine is equally enjoyable after a half hour in the refrigerator because of its lack of tannins. I would have saved this review for warmer weather and recommended the wine as a stunning alternative to a rosé, but it is terrific now when the meal calls for a light red wine.
89 Michael Apstein Jan 1, 2013

Umani Ronchi, Rosso Conero (Marche, Italy) “San Lorenzo” 2009 ($17, Bedford International):  Umani Ronchi describes the San Lorenzo as the little brother of their flagship wine, Cumaro.  And what a good little brother it is.  Made entirely from Montepulciano, it conveys black cherry-like notes and an ever so subtle attractive bitterness in the finish.  Ponderous, but not heavy or overwrought, it’s beautifully balanced.  The tannins are perfectly polished which allow enjoyment now with winter fare.   But don’t try it as a stand-alone aperitif. 91 Michael Apstein Nov 20, 2012

Argiolas, Argiolas, Isola dei Nuraghi IGT (Sardinia, Italy) “Korem” 2007 ($45, Winebow):  Argiolas insists on using only indigenous grapes, feeling they are the ones best suited for the island’s climate.  Roughly a blend of Bovale (50%) and equal parts Carignano and Cannonau, the 2007 Korem (a name from Greek mythology) is dense and spicy with hints of tar.  Despite its size, the wine is elegant, fresh and balanced, confirming Argiolas’s philosophy regarding which grapes do well on the island.   It would be a good choice when you’re grilling leg of lamb or other robust fare. 90 Michael Apstein Mar 6, 2012

Sella & Mosca, Cannonau de Sardegna (Sardinia, Italy) Riserva 2008 ($16, Palm Bay International):  Cannonau (a.k.a. Grenache) has been grown on Sardinia for millennia.  Indeed, the Sardinians insist their island, and not France or Spain, is the origin of that grape.  Whatever the origin, Sella & Mosca’s 2008 Reserva is a lovely example.  Pleasantly rustic, it combines red fruit notes with earthy and spicy elements.  Mild tannins lend support without being intrusive.  It’s a good value wine for robust fare from the grill during the waning days of summer or to match with a hearty pasta dish. 89 Michael Apstein Sep 18, 2012

Arg, Cannonau di Sardegna (Italy) ‘Costera’ 2009 ($16, Winebow):  Sardinians argue that archeological evidence supports their claim that the island is the birthplace of Grenache, which they call Cannonau.  However, there can be no argument that Argiolas’ Costera is an easy-to-recommend rustic red wine.  It delivers a wonderful combination of earthy, herbal and black fruit-flavors with pleasantly firm tannins for support.  It’s a brawny, but not overdone wine, perfect for winter stews or roasted lamb. 89 Michael Apstein Feb 22, 2012

Argiolas, Cannonau di Sardegna (Italy) ‘Costera’ 2009 ($16, Winebow):  Sardinians argue that archeological evidence supports their claim that the island is the birthplace of Grenache, which they call Cannonau.  However, there can be no argument that Argiolas’ Costera is an easy-to-recommend rustic–in a nice way–red wine.  It delivers a wonderful combination of earthy, herbal and black fruit-flavors with pleasantly firm tannins for support.  It’s a brawny, but not overdone wine, perfect for wintertime stews or roasted lamb. 89 Michael Apstein Feb 21, 2012

Argiolas, Isola dei Nuraghi IGT (Sardinia, Italy) “Turriga” 2004 ($80, Winebow):  Turriga, Argiolas’s polished flagship blend of Cannonau (80%), Bovale, Malvasia Nero, and Carignano, demonstrates just how far they’ve come in changing from a quantity-focused producer in the 1980s to the quality-focused one they are today.  Argiolas, the leading producer on Sardinia, is emphatic about using only indigenous grapes for its wines.  The 2004 Turriga has both power and elegance delivering a combination of exotics spices, dark cherries and even a whiff of chocolate.  A balanced wine, it carries its 14.5% alcohol effortlessly.  Enjoyable now with robust fare and decanting in advance, it will be even more harmonious with another few years of age.  Argiolas has made “an important wine” with international polish, but using traditional grapes. 92 Michael Apstein Mar 6, 2012

Argiolas, Monica di Sardegna (Sardinia, Italy) “Perdera” 2009 ($16, Winebow):  Monica, a grape grown widely on Sardinia, but few other places, typically produces soft and fruity wines.  Argiolas includes Bovale and Carignano in the blend, which adds alluring herbal notes to their fruit-forward version.  The soft tannins encourage immediate consumption or allow you to chill it and serve it with burgers in the summer. 87 Michael Apstein Mar 6, 2012

Argiolas, Vermentino di Sardegna (Italy) ‘Is Argiolas’ 2010 ($18, Winebow):  Is Argiolas is the label that Argiolas uses for its richer Vermentino, made from a selection of old vines.  Full-bodied, with an almost pear-like texture and spice, it retains terrific balancing acidity and verve.   Its weight and intensity is surprising since most Vermentino is lighter and more citrus.  Match it with heartier fish, such as bluefish or grouper, or even a roast chicken with a mushroom sauce. 88 Michael Apstein Feb 21, 2012

Argiolas, Vermentino di Sardegna (Italy) ‘Costamolino’ 2010 ($14, Winebow):  The Vermentino grape needs “to smell the sea” to make distinctive wine, which helps explain why this one is so enchanting.  Argiolas, the locomotive that is propelling the oft-forgotten island of Sardinia onto the world’s wine stage, makes two entirely different styles of Vermentino.  This one, labeled Costamolino, delivers attractive bright lemony notes and a hint of salinity that make it perfect for simply prepared seafood.  It’s a clean and refreshing wine.  Stock up for the summer. 88 Michael Apstein Feb 21, 2012

Sella & Mosca, Vermentino di Sardegna (Sardinia, Italy) “La Cala” 2008 ($13, Palm Bay International): For those unfamiliar with the Vermentino grape, this wine is a good place to start.  For those of you familiar with that grape, I suggest you also grab a bottle of this wine the next time you’re grilling fish.  My colleague here at WRO, Mary Ewing Mulligan, recently extolled the many virtues of this Italian grape, which many winemakers have told me, “needs to grow within sight of the sea.”  This light bodied refreshing one from Sardinia’s most widely known producers is fresh and bracing, with an intriguing, slightly salty lift in the finish.  It’s a terrific choice for simply prepared seafood, such as grilled sea bass with sprinkled with olive oil and lemon. 88 Michael Apstein Sep 8, 2009

Sella & Mosca, Vermentino di Sardegna (Sardinia, Italy) “La Cala” 2009 ($10, Palm Bay International):  Vermentino is an aromatic white grape common in Sardinia, Liguria and, more recently, the coast of Tuscany.  Sella & Mosca’s version leads with engaging flowery notes.  Overall, it’s slightly softer and rounder than say, Muscadet, but is still lively and invigorating with a grapefruit-like zestiness.  Linguine with clam sauce, anyone?
88 Michael Apstein Sep 6, 2011

Santadi, Vermentino di Sardegna (Sardinia, Italy) “Villa Solais” 2006 ($14, Empson): A blend of mostly (85%) Vermentino and the remainder Nuragus, another grape indigenous to Sardinia, Santadi’s Villa Solais has more body and substance than many wines labeled Vermentino.  Nuragus supplements Vermentino’s edginess and fills it out with attractive melon-like nuances. Think of it as a Vermentino on steroids. 87 Michael Apstein Apr 1, 2008

Barone Cornacchia, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (Abruzzo, Italy) 2006 ($18, Domenico Valentino Selection): A robust red, this Montepulciano delivers spice and earthy flavors that give it an attractive rustic character.  Clean, with none of the ‘horsey’ elements that Montepulciano sometimes offers, it is not a before dinner sipping wine, but goes well now with sauces replete with tomatoes, olives or eggplant. 88 Michael Apstein Feb 24, 2009

Talamonti, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (Abruzzo, Italy) “Moda” 2004 ($10): Talamonti has been able to tame the Montepulciano grape, which has a reputation for producing some coarse wines.  This thick and concentrated wine is remarkably polished with supple tannins.  It’s amazing how the Italians extract so much flavor but manage to keep the alcohol at reasonable–in this case 13%–levels. 88 Michael Apstein Feb 6, 2007

Citra, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (Abruzzo, Italy) 2007 ($6, Palm Bay Imports): You read the price correctly–a single digit small enough to allow a magnum (1.5 L) to still be priced under $10.  Most wines at this price are hard to recommend.  Not this one.  Abruzzo, the region recently devastated by earthquakes, is dominated by wine cooperatives making wines of highly variable quality, so you need to pick and choose wisely.  You can safely choose this one.  Simple, juicy fruit flavors, a touch of gamey elements are balanced by just the right amount of acidity.  With surprising intensity and mild tannins, it’s an excellent everyday wine. 86 Michael Apstein Apr 7, 2009

Valle Reale, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (Abruzzo, Italy) 2006 ($17, Winebow):  Montepulciano d’Abruzzo can be a mixed bag–some are dreadful, coarse and tannic, while others, like this one, shine.  Valle Reale is a newcomer as far as Italian producers go, having been founded about a decade ago in 2000.  They are located in the mountainous part of this central Italian region on the Adriatic.  Leonardo Pizzolo, Valle Reale’s young energetic owner, refers to the area as the “oven of Abruzzo” because of the daytime heat.  But the temperatures fall dramatically because of their elevation allowing the grapes to maintain their acidity and the wines their vibrancy.   Valle Reale’s 2006 has a great combination of dark fruit and earth flavors with an uncommon–at least for Montepulciano–elegance.  Its robust nature and freshness makes it a good choice for hearty pasta dishes. 89 Michael Apstein Jan 25, 2011

La Valentina, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (Abruzzo, Italy) “Spelt” 2003 ($23, Dalla Terra): This is a muscular Montepulciano that combines black–almost wild–fruit flavors with earthy ones.  Big, yet balanced, its moderate tannins lend structure without being intrusive because they are ripe and polished.  Not a before dinner sipping wine, it cries out for a hearty pasta dish. 88 Michael Apstein Feb 10, 2009

Masciarelli, Rosato delle Colline Teramane IGT (Abruzzo, Italy) 2010 ($10, Masciarelli Wine Company):  Though I’m generally not a fan of rosés, this one, with its charming rusticity, is impossible to ignore.  Made from Montepulciano d’Abruzzo grape, it delivers a subtle gusty or earthy quality that complements its bright strawberry-like fruitiness.  At ten bucks, it’s a steal. 88 Michael Apstein Jan 17, 2012

Cataldi Madonna, Abruzzo (Italy) Trebbiano d’Abruzzo 2007 ($15, Vias Imports): Abruzzo, a region on the Italy’s Adriatic coast across from Rome, is home to wines of highly variable quality.  Some are great, others abysmal.  The key is finding a high quality producer, such as Cataldi Madonna, one of the best in the region.  This bracing white wine delivers an alluring combination of stoniness and a lemony edge.  It’s a perfect choice for fish sautéed in garlic-infused olive oil. 88 Michael Apstein Aug 18, 2009

Paternoster, Aglianico del Vulture (Basilicata, Italy) “Synthesi” 2007 ($25, Quintessential):  Aglianico is a grape that can produce deep, brooding wines.  There’s a bit of that element here with gamy, slightly tarry–some might say, funky–undertones.  But the tannins, while present, are by no means aggressive, which makes it a good choice now for a late winter hearty stew or a grilled spring leg of lamb. 89 Michael Apstein Mar 15, 2011

Terra di Lavoro, IGT Roccamonfina (Campania, Italy) 2008 ($85, Winebow):  This producer turns out small amounts (2,500 cases/annually) of just one wine, Terra di Lavoro, from Aglianico and Piedrosso grown in estate vineyards in the mountains of northern Campania.  The 2008 is a monumental wine with great power combined with finesse and complexity.  Explosive flavors of dark minerality and black cherry nuances erupt from the glass.  An amazing purity and refinement is apparent in this still young wine.  Easy to appreciate now with its glossy tannins, it will undoubtedly evolve into a very special wine.  Some is going into my cellar. 96 Michael Apstein Sep 13, 2011