Stars of Italy
Decanter Masterclass
21st November 2004
Speaker: David Gleave MW

2000 Riserva di Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi DOC Classico, Villa Bucci

A family owned estate since the 1700s, they first produced this riserva version of Verdicchio in 1983. 
After a day tasting red wines, the colour of this wine, a pale to mid lemon gold, looked most attractive.  The nose was also most inviting: elegant, rich and buttery.  This is far from the light, zingy style of much basic Verdicchio dei CdJ (not that there’s much wrong with that style in the hands of good producers): this is rich and full on the palate and notably mouthfilling. Interesting fruit combined with a nuttiness and a minerality that I find rarely in Italian whites.  Good length.  7/10

2002 ‘La Rocca’ Soave Classico, Pieropan
Notwithstanding the numerous vintages of the century that seem to have been declared in recent years, 2002 is one of the best vintages of the last ten years or so in Soave.  Pieropan’s first vintage of the La Rocca Soave was in 1979.  Until the mid 1990s the wine was aged in large old oak foudres, but around 1995 they started to experiment with using new oak barrels, but bigger than the standard barrique as the garganica grape would find it difficult to stand up to new barrels with a high wood to wine exposure.  Now around half the wine goes into 500 litre barrels and the rest into stainless steel and large foudres.  Garganica responds best to low yields and the vines for these wines are around forty years old.  The grapes are also picked much later than is normal in the region – such that Pieropan had to put up a fence round the vineyard as locals were making off with the grapes to make their own homebrew, assuming that as the grapes were still on the vines so long after all the others had been picked that they weren’t wanted!  Apparently these wines age very well, and David Gleave was speaking in terms of up to 20 years.
The result of the low yields and late picking is a wine that is a deepish mid gold colour.  It has a really lovely, quite delicate floral nose with hints of tropical fruit, but with great depth and a honeyed richness behind it, with a hint of smoky oak.  On the palate, it is immediately attractive: rich and full with slightly tropical fruit flavours.  Excellent length.  8/10

2001 Nero d’Avola Santa Cecilia, Planeta
Originally in its first vintage (the 1997), Planeta’s Santa Cecilia had a touch of syrah in it, but now it is 100% Nero d’Avola, a grape that is native to Sicily, but also now starting to interest a number of Australian winemakers.  The grapes are sourced from two different areas of Sicily: Noto in the south east and Memfi in the northish west, and spends 12 months in french oak barriques.
A deep ruby with a youthful rim.  A fascinating, deep, character-full nose with bits of dried fruit and scarcely perceptible oak.  Very rich, excellent sweet fruit.  Very firm tannins on the finish.  Planeta are often accused of producing wines in a too international style: there is an element of that in this wine, but I still find it, like most of Planeta’s wines, has an individual character that I find links the wine directly to its land of origin.  8-/10

1998 Taurasi, Vesevo
Taurasi is the area inland from Naples in the area known to the Romans as Magna Graecia: the main grape is the Aglianico, which is also assumed to have Greek origins (Aglianico ≈ Hellenic).  The vineyards are on the hills, 400-500 metres above sea level, with a soil rich in volcanic ash (Vesevo is an old name for Vesuvio/Vesuvius) and this is usually one of the last areas of Italy to finish harvesting, often in late October/early November.  Vesevo have five hectares of vineyards in Taurasi: this wine is 100% Aglianico that has spent three weeks macerating on the skins and around sixteen months in barrique. 
Aglianico is a late ripening thick skinned (and so presumably heart-friendly!) variety with high acidity and tough tannins.  Combined with the three-week maceration, we had a pretty clear idea what to expect and weren’t let down …
A very dark black plum-skin colour and a deep, deep largely impenetrable nose that eventually reveals some deep, dark, bitter chocolate notes with very dark brambly fruit.  On the palate, this immediately reveals itself as a large-boned well structured wine that is extraordinarily full with tannins that are not so much grippy as more like a Staffordshire bull terrier that’s got you by the throat, locked its jaws and is shaking you, ignoring all pleas for mercy until it is surgically removed.  Some welcome acid cuts through on the finish.  Of course it needs food and of course it needs time (5-8 years?), but at the moment it’s just a violent bruiser of a tannin monster to which I can’t really give more than 5+/10.  There is potential there, and it’s a real shame that there wasn’t an older version, more ready to drink, available to taste – though note that this is already 6 years old!

2000 La Poja IGT, Allegrini
Allegrini bought the La Grola vineyard in 1979 and La Poja is right at the top of the La Grola hill.  The soil is very poor and very chalky: ideal thought Allegrini for the normally rather vigorous Corvina, with which La Poja is exclusively planted, and which is the sole grape in this wine (which is of course why it’s an IGT not a Valpolicella).  Being on top of the hill, the site is a breezy one, which helps to keep temperatures down and to avoid development of moulds.  The grapes for La Poja are picked in late October, with almost late harvest ripeness.  For what it’s worth, the first vintage was in 1983: David Gleave seems to have a special interest in when the first vintages were of the wines he was was presenting!
A very, very dark, weighty appearance.  Gorgeous cherry and tobacco notes on the nose with christmas cake overtones and some sweet oak.  A lively, impressive attack with lots of lovely lovely elegant fruit.  A fine tannic structure develops building into an impressively weighty serious wine with a very nice balance and enormous length.  Once again this is really rather tight and closed.  The fruit battles through, however, keeping its head above the tannins.  9/10

1999 Romitorio di Santedame, Ruffino
A IGT from Chianti-land: ablend of 60% Colorino (harvested with a yield of 4½ tons per hectare) and 40% Merlot (yielding 6 tons per hectare).  So the Colorino has 25% less yield and is apparently much harder work; and it ripens two weeks later than everything else.
An intense very very dark vibrant purple with clear signs of youth.  The nose is leathery with chocolate coated sour cherries and plummy notes.  A lightish attack with good acid.  Enormous character.  Nice balance.  Really good elegance.  Good solid tannins.  7+/10

1999 Brunello Vigneto Manachiara, Tenute Silvio Nardi
Aged 2½ years before bottling.  Very dark black plumskins appearance.  A slightly closed nose with warm red fruit and an interesting spiciness.  Good, elegant, rich fruit on the palate accompanied by big tannins.  Although still too young and rather closed, this is a very serious wine, especially on the finish and after, with excellent length.  7+/10

1997 Brunello di Montalcino DOCG Riserva, Tenuta Il Poggione
A single vineyard Brunello aged three years before bottling.  An even, plummy ruby colour showing some maturity (much more so than the Silvio Nardi).  A lovely elegant nose – really rather glorious: plums cut with cherry juice and chargrilled steak.  On the palate there is a nice balance of fruit and acid and a good tannic structure.  Very elegant and characterful.  Huge length.  Hefty tannins.  8-/10

1997 Brunello Poggio all’Oro Riserva, Castello Banfi
A single vineyard Brunello.  A very even mid ruby damsony colour; not quite as advanced looking as Poggione.  The nose has intense concentgrated chewy fruit with a very soft leather and very light spicing.  Lovely fruit on the attack – quite sweet.  An elegantly stuctured wine with nice richness and with quite a bit of grip from tannins.  A fresh modern style Brunello.  8/10

1999 Barolo ‘Bricco delle Viole’, G D Vajra
Vajra’s Barolo Bricco delle Viole is mostly aged in 25-30 hl casks, but in 1999 many of these new casks were brand new, resulting in a slightly more oaky feel than in more recent vintages.
A lovely light, more garnet colour: quite even and relatively mature.  An interesting nose: sour strawberries but also a touch of VA.  It needs a lot of agitation to release its elegant perfume, almost reminiscent of dried rose petals.  Really lovely soft attractive fruit.  Fragrant and very accessible with nice soft tannins.  7-/10

1999 Barolo Bricco Rocche Bricco Rocche, Ceretto
Yes, that’s not a typo and not simply a matter of being so good that they named it twice.  Ceretto’s estate is called Bricco Roche and this is a single vineyard Barolo from the Bricco Rocche vineyard.  Aged in 300-litre barriques.
A lovely even, fairly mature, ruby.  The nose has a violetty rose perfume, but much more earthy and even the merest hint of bretty farmyard.  Hugely elegant on the palate, with gorgeous fruit and a touch of licorice root.  Lively tannins provide a fine elegant structure.  Notable length.  A superb wine.  9-/10

1999 Barolo Vigneto La Corda della Briccolina, Batasiolo
Another single vineyard Barolo; this one has spent two years in barrique and one in bottle.  A deepish ruby, but notably younger looking than the other two Barolos.  An earthy ripe nose of great depth and concentration with an elegant licoricey perfume.  A gorgeous attack: lovely elegant weight and power combined with a fresh acidity.  Much lighter tannins, but still providing a really good structure and becoming the dominant character on the finish and after.  8++/10

This was an interesting tasting.  The two whites were very fine examples of their DOCs and put to rest any idea that Italian whites are all watery quaffers, which is not to say that some aren’t.  The reds similarly represented a break from more traditional styles as all were made in fairly modern styles: it is unclear, for example, how today’s Brunellos will age as they are, said David Gleave, made quite differently to previously.  What particularly struck me, however, was what hard work the reds were: they may have been fine wines (some were indeed excellent), but they were tough tannic monsters, very tight and very closed.  Some more than others, but none represented easy drinking.  Partly this was the setting: these are wines that need food.  Partly, it was a feature of the wines simply being too young.  It was a real shame that there were not more mature examples of some of the wines.  Perhaps Italian producers don’t lay down museum stocks in the same way as producers elsewhere?  Or maybe the bottles were sourced from currently available wines on the Liberty Wines list?