Delicious dolces are made in every corner of Italy in many styles and from myriad grape varieties, often in excruciatingly small quantities as they are often made by air drying the grapes which results in tiny yields. Here is a survey going from south to north….
Azienda Agricola Fausta Mansio
Moscato di Siracusa 2003 500ml ORGANIC
Known to the Romans as Pollio, Moscato di Syracusa was carried to Sicilia by the earliest Greek colonizers and was all the rage for centuries before falling out of the limelight in recent times. This estate has fifteen hectares (mostly dedicated to olives and citrus) cultivated under a rigorous organic regime with four hectares set aside in 1999 to revive this ancient and almost forgotten wine. The fully ripened grapes are dried till they are nearly raisins then pressed to obtain an extremely thick and exotically aromatic must which takes months to ferment into this luscious apricot scented nectar.
Viticoltore Salvatore Murana, Pantelleria Sicilia
Zibibbo is among the most aromatic and complex grapes on the planet, exuding aromas of everything from honeysuckle flowers to dried blood orange peels, with flavors ranging from apricot to key lime to tasted walnuts. Imagine what happens when Sr. Murana dries those grapes in the blistering sun of Pantelleria: Mueggen 2002 intensifies the citrus / white stone fruit end of the fruit spectrum while still retaining enough acidity to be invigorating on a warm day, Khamma 1999 leans into the dark honey, toffee and burnt orange peel zone while Martingana 1999 reveals the dark roast coffee, dried fig, star anise and just plain off the charts exoticism of some sort of Liqueur made from Frankincense and Myrrh.
Dettori Moscato Passito Moscadedu 2007, Sardegna ORGANIC
Our notes from VinItaly 2012: “Insane, tied with Laimburg Moscato Rosa for best sweet wine at the fair. It just keeps changing and surprising you…”
Vintripodi Cantine, Archi, Calabria
Wines Marco Polo might Recognize: Ancient Vines & Varieties from “Magna Grecia” (Greater Greece = Calabria, Sicily, Puglia and Campania, colonized by the Greeks a thousand years before there WERE any Romans). In our never ending quest for Da Funk at VinItaly ‘99 we happened across Cantina Vintripodi, run by two brothers from the very toenail of the boot (married to two sisters from Ireland!) who have thoroughly modernized their winery, dragging it kicking and screaming into at least the late Fourth Century BC. They are dedicated to making wines the way the Greeks did, employing old varieties growing on very, very old vines, non interventionist winemaking and just plain pastoral patience to produce two reds and a couple of dessert wines that are not only ultra traditional but absolutely delicious. They were a big hit here a few years back and now have returned:
Vintripodi Greco di Bianco 2003, Calabria 500ml
Vintripodi Mantonico di Bianco 2003, Calabria 500ml
Somewhere between Vin Santo and Old India Sherry, these were famous when Euclid was a Geometry student. Both are the result of meticulously selected grapes being laid out in the sun to dry for ten days then fermented in small Chestnut casks. The Greco remains in the wood for fourteen months, emerging with a rich golden color and a nuttier flavor set while the Mantonico is matured in steel tanks and then bottles for a fresher finish. Traditional serving suggestions include almond cookies, sheep’s cheese drizzled with honey or dried figs rolled in paprika.
Azienda Vinicola Palamà, Cutrofiano, Puglia
Palamà Salento Rosso Passito Metiusco Oro, Puglia New Vintage Soon!
This is a really sophisticated wine that grows on you with every sip: so soft it is almost fluffy, scented with black fruits and Rosé petals, not too sweet or alcoholic, serve it with anything from gnarly cheeses through panna cotta with fresh berries to your most sinfully intense chocolate.
Cantina Sociale di Puianello,
Quattro Castella, Emilia-Romagna
The company motto here is, “É buono, è un Puianello” (it’s good, it’s a Puianello)! Here’s the story: In 1938 five grape growers in the hills of the tiny hamlet of Puianello near Reggio founded a co-op so they could make wine instead of selling grapes and thereby see a little more of the profit on the fruit of their labor (and they located the cantina at an address on Via Carlo Marx, quite fitting for a Cantina Sociale, don’t you think?). Over the years more growers joined bringing more land so that today there are 330 members producing a large range of wines in many styles with a focus on the traditional frizzante and spumante styles of the zona, red, white and rosato, ranging from bone dry through “amabile” (amiable or friendly) to dessert wines. We tasted over twenty of them and brought in these selections to fill some holes in our ever expanding omniverse of fine fizz.
Puianello Malvasia Dolce Le Gemme, Emilia-Romagna
Diplomacy: the search for the 3rd option. If, like us, you have been desperately searching for a wine that is just a tad sweeter and more aromatic than Prosecco but not quite as hedonistically explosive as Moscato d’Asti, then here it is. And just in the nick of time as the Summer Goofing Off Season is coming up fast.
Puianello Ancellotta dell’Emilia Dolce BonDaMat
100% Ancellotta with a dark red color, intense rose petal and violet notes on the nose followed by lots of ripe berry fruit and medium sweetness on the palate. In their brochure the enologist says it is “similar to the more trumpeted Brachetto Piemontese but at lower cost” and that just about nails it. Already a sensation with local Italiani, get yours before they buy it all….
Podere dal Nespoli, Forli, Emilia-Romagna
Fabio and Celita Ravaioli absolutely delighted us with a tour of their cantina this past April: aside from showing us their beautiful vineyards and new cellar, introducing us to cellarmaster Valerio (father of Celita, cousin of Fabio and the official wild boar hunter of the estate) and plying us with barrel samples, they took us to a very traditional Romagnian trattoria where local ceramics workers, truck drivers and other wine producers chow down on fantastic pasta, homemade cheese and sausages and cotoletta di castrati. It was there that Celita remarked that a heavenly dish of lightly scrambled farmhouse eggs covered with perhaps $100 worth of white truffles (at LA pricing) was, in fact, the typical meal of the local POOR people because “everyone had chickens and a dog to find truffles with”….!
Nespoli Albana di Romagna Passito Bradamante 2005, Emilia-Romagna 500ml
The sort of wine used to greet guests, the visiting priest or just a beautiful evening with: rich and aromatic, not too sweet, with a slight bitterness on the finish. Whether you dip some biscotti in your glass, rub some on a teething baby’s gums or marinate someone you love in it, this is a jewel.
Podere dal Nespoli Forli Sangiovese Teluccio 2003, Emilia-Romagna 500ml
This is completely over the top, made in an Amarone headed towards Port style by air drying the best Sangiovese grapes. Serve it with big cheeses, game stew, tandoori platters or maybe just a good book, a comfy chair and a roaring fireplace….
Tenuta Uccellina, Bertinoro Emilia-Romagna
Alberto Rusticali does things the old fashioned way: by hand. His unique wines have been cult favorites from the instant we brought them to you ten years ago. The Reggio burnt such an impression in one customer’s mind that he called us every two weeks for TWO YEARS wanting to know when it was returning. The wines are here now but are VERY limited. Aside from the lovely juice, the watercolor labels on some of them are exquisite…
Uccellina Rosso Passito Sangiovese Regio 2003, Emilia-Romagna 500ml
Oh…My…Gaaawd…this is not like anything you’ve ever put in your mouth: It looks like cherry juice with Turkish coffee floating in it, it smells like dried apricots, dark chocolate and nutmeg and it tastes like all of those things and more. 60 BOTTLES only for the Western Hemisphere.
Uccellina Albana di Romagna Passito Riserva Dorotea ’04, Emilia-Romagna 375ml
These are made from overripe white grapes that are dried in the sun then pressed into juice then fermented and aged in small oak barrels resulting in a rich, nutty, comforting wine best savored with cheeses or maybe some biscotti. The Riserva has TWICE the dry extract of the “normale”, making it much darker and mellower, combining Sauternes like notes with the depth of great PX Sherries (rich, thick and honeyed with strong roasted nut notes) but with enough acidity to balance all of this and leave you wanting more (and perhaps softly singing the Stylistics classic “Betcha by golly, wow…You’re the one that I’ve been waiting for…”).
Rocca di Fabbri, Montefalco, Umbria
Over a decade ago, this beautiful estate (which you really should visit if you are ever near there, they have excellent accommodations) was one of the most popular cantine in the store. Then owners Roberta and Simona Vitale had a brief fling with both international styling and a large national importer and we parted ways for a while. Well, neither of those worked out as well as they had hoped and now they are back to making fairly traditional wines and working with smaller, specialized agents who will give their wonderful wines the love and attention they deserve. During the time we were out of these wines we had a customer who, every time he came in the store, would wear a t-shirt he got at the cantina with the Sagrantino label on it and demand, “I’m buying these wines right now but when will you have some Rocca di Fabbri again?”. Well…NOW!….Benvenuto Belle!
Rocca di Fabbri Sagrantino Passito di Montefalco 2003 500ml
Sagrantino Passito? This lush, round, strong, slightly sweet red is made by drying selected clusters of spicy and aromatic Sagrantino to half their normal volume then slowly fermenting until the alcohol puts a hit on the yeast. This is fantastic: it smells like raspberries in liqueur with maybe some cinnamon and it is soft and lush in the mouth but not too sweet. Roberta says it pairs well with hearty game dishes or with dessert. We can imagine it with Flourless Chocolate Cake, Dried Figs, Big Veined Cheeses, Miles Davis’ “Sketches of Spain”, an afternoon menage á trois…uh, sorry, it tends to make the mind wander!
Azienda Agricola Tabarrini Giampaolo, Montefalco, Umbria
Tabarrini Montefalco Sagrantino Passito Colle Grimaldesco 2003, Umbria 375ml
Take all of the intense flavors of the dry version of the Colle Grimaldesco, concentrate them by a factor of three and add enough sweetness to balance out the tannins and make it a dandy Porto substitute and you have this elixir of the gods. VERY limited, worth it!
Cantina Dionigi, Bevagna, Umbria
One of our big discoveries at VinItaly 2008, Cantina Dionigi has been making wines since 1896 but the current proprietor is, in fact, a young wild eyed dreamer who reminds us both in appearance and spirit of Franco Pellegrini, the Mad Genius of the Oltrepò. Fantastice wines at affordable prices for what they are….for now!
Dionigi Montefalco Sagrantino Passito 2004, Umbria 375ml
Off the Hook! Incredibly dark and rich, lively on the tongue, nice acidity to balance the sweetness. Our favorite dessert wine at VinItaly 2008, serve it with hearty cheeses, nuts and dried fruit.
It must be Jelly ‘cause Jam don’t shake like that!
(or if Edward Teller, father of the H-Bomb, had been a winemaker…)
Truly insanely concentrated answers to the magical question “Just how many bottles worth of grapes CAN you squeeze into a half bottle if you take most of the water out?”. Some sort of fusion at the molecular level must be going on here as the wines approach vinous singularity: the flavors are not just more concentrated, there are MORE flavors and aromas then seem possible. They are the final expression of the chain that leads from Valpolicella through Ripasso to Amarone and beyond: Take enough old vine Corvina grapes to make a case of normal Valpolicella, air dry them till the juice is so thick that the valiant little yeasties give their lives for your pleasure at 15+% alcohol leaving just enough sweetness to make this the most comforting thing you’ve put in your mouth since Grandma’s homemade hot cocoa with a dash of rum. Serve in place of Porto and enjoy it with (or drink from the navel of) someone you love paired with dried fruit, veined cheeses, roasted or smoked nuts or just light a fire, pick up a good book and meditate…Worth every penny.
Baltieri Recioto della Valpolicella Classico Pensiero 2001, Veneto 500ml
Baltieri Recioto della Valpolicella Classico Dolce di Regina 1996, Veneto 375ml
Azienda Agricola Tiberini, Montepulciano, Toscana
Luca and Fabio Tiberini’s family have lived at il Podere le Caggione in Montepulciano (a wine zona famous in Etruscan times!) for six generations with each successive generation being taught about wine from the ground up starting in the vineyards. Their estate covers 22 hectares on hillsides at over 300 meters above sea level with sixteen under vine, two dedicated to olives and the rest in forests and gardens. All of the work in the vineyards is done manually by the family with the goal to deliver perfectly ripe, low yield fruit to the cantina. As personal aside, after the devastating loss of several of our dearest and oldest friends in Italy last year, meeting the unbelievably charming, intelligent and funny Luca Tiberini was a real blessing. He then hosted several parties of visiting WINE EXPO-isti this past summer as if they were long lost family and we had not even actually bought any wine from him yet! Bravo bello….
Tiberini Vin Santo Occhio di Pernice 1996, Toscana
The best Italian dessert wines we have ever tasted, period. Aged ten years sealed in tiny chestnut casks then lovingly hand bottled. EXCRUCIATINGLY limited (it took us two years to talk Luca out of 24 bottles of this!).
Castel Sallegg, Bolzano, Alto Adige
In 1851 the Castel Sallegg with its surrounding vineyard was bought by Archduke Rainer of Austria, Viceroy of Lombardy-Veneto. It was then inherited by the Counts von Kuenburg through Prince Henry of Campofranco. You might expect a guy with a name like Count Georg von Kuenburg who lives in a castle worthy of a fairy tale to be a stuffed shirt straight out of a Peter Sellers movie set in the Alps but, in fact, he is wonderfully down to Earth and friendly and makes delicious wines that have been big hits here since we first took them in eight years ago.
Castel Sallegg Moscato Rosa 2000, Alto Adige 375ml
Red Nectar??? This is intensely flavored RED dessert wine but not fortified with alcohol like Porto. Moscato Rosa seems to be a method of freebasing wild strawberries and rose petals and has insane intensity through sheer reduction of the raw materials by air drying. It has to be experienced to be believed and is actually worth the tariff. Did someone say “Chocolate”? Yes, it is wight years old already but Georg opened one with over thirty years on it for us at Ali’s house one day and it was fantastic….
Istituto Sperimentale Laimburg, Vadena, Alto Adige
The Gambero Rosso once noted that if Istituto Sperimentale Laimburg did not exist it would need to be invented as this full service agricultural research and development station is essential to the local apple, stone fruit, forestry and wine cultures. As a result it produces a broad range of wines (and also fruit and forestry products!) but miniscule amounts of any given one. A unique and surprising factoid: despite its northern location, this cantina has palm trees and even agave plants planted in front of its facilities to point out that, due to warm winds off the lakes to their south, it is actually considerably warmer there than in Trentino or most of the Veneto. We are still waiting for them to take a run at making some Tecchila out of some of that agave though…
Laimburg Sauvignon Passito Saphir 1999, Alto Adige 500ml
This is a wine made in such small quantities (less than one standard barrel) that we were only able to sweet talk them out of 30 bottles. What it is is the Sud Tyrollean reposte to great Sauternes: insanely concentrated, ultra late harvest, Botrytis affected Sauvignon Blanc. But that is like saying a Ferrari Enzo is a fast red car, you really have to EXPERIENCE it to grok the whole of its beauty.
If you are here looking for Moscato d’Asti, Brachetto and Asti Spumante we have to first tell you that the Italians do NOT consider these “dessert wine” as they instead use them as aperitivos or just a nice afternoon pick me up and serve them with SALTY things like corn nuts, prosciutto e melone, hard cheeses and sausages, dried shrimp with wasabi (well, that one is our suggestion but you get the idea!) and NOT with heavy desserts. Having said that, here they are….
Cà ed Balos Moscato d’Asti 2011, Piemonte
Our best value Moscato still brings the utter joy of life this DOCG is famous for, fun label too!
Terre da Vino, Barolo, Piemonte
These guys were our find of the year at VinItaly 2009: a modern cooperative cantina in the heart of the Barolo zona with 2800 small growers tending 5096 hectares to chose from but dedicated to quality AND value for money!
Terre da Vino Moscato d’Asti Monticelli 2009, Piemonte
The most refreshing of our gamut of Moscato d’Asti: more lemony than burnt orange in flavors and just 5% ABV so, yes, you can have a third glass!
Terre da Vino Malvasia di Castelnuovo Don Bosco Dolce, Piemonte
Our notes from VinItaly: “Sex on wheels! So fragrant and fun you could drink a whole bottle. Ali will go crazy with this in Hawaii and we need an endless supply here in Santa Monica too.” This is RED Malvasia with a wondrous nose of ripe red berries and rose petals, just a touch of sweetness, full pressure fizz but just 6.5% ABV.
Terra da Vino Asti Spumante Solia 2009, Piemonte
Full on froth meets the insane aromatics of perfectly cultivated Moscato with just a touch of sweetness, all backed up by bracing acidity. If this does not put a smile on your face perhaps you just need to be put out of your misery….“Hold it just a friggin’ minute here! First you guys were touting Lambrusco and now you want me to drink Asti Spumante? You have GOT to be kidding me….right?” Uh…No, we are deadly serious. Just as (despite the tanker ships of the dreaded E. Bolla produced every nanosecond) some of the best and smallest production white wines on the planet are Soave, Asti Spumante is actually a high quality DOCG wine worthy of your attention no matter WHAT Martini & Rossi put in their bottles. Try one, you might get lucky…
Azienda Agricola Cascina Fonda
di Marco e Massimo Barbero, Mango, Piemonte
Living in a town named after the most sensual of fruits (Mango, near Asti) the Barbero brothers, Marco and Massimo, just HAVE to make exotically perfumed nectars of seduction, right? Well…..YES they do, and, despite the pronouncements of a recent “authoritative” book about regional wines of Italy that you would have to go to Piemonte to find any, we’ve had them (and a lot of the others mentioned) here for years.
Cascina Fonda Vendemmia Tardiva 2010, Piemonte
We call even normal Moscato d’Asti “The Zombie Detector” because if you don’t like it you might be already dead but this is a whole ‘nother thing. It is not labeled as DOCG due to its unique production methods and flavor profile: it is made from Moscato grapes left to hang an additional three weeks on the vine which give it notes of walnuts and toffee on top of the burnt orange peel, dried fruit and hibiscus flower base. OUTRAGEOUS, unique, undeniable, this has already earned cult status. Uh…Ladies Man…this is goooooooood…wink, wink.
Casina Fonda Brachetto 2010, Piemonte
Brachetto is: 1) The most delicious thing you’ll swallow this week and almost too easy to drink. 2) Wonderful with prosciutto e melone, fruit & cheese, re-runs of Reno 911 on Comedy Central or just good company on a summer afternoon. 3) Red, sparkling wine that has an intesnse bouquet of fresh strawberries (and, as Miriam Makeba once noted in song, so does love!). 4) All of the above!!!
Tenuta Il Falchetto, S. Stefano Belbo, Piemonte
The wines of I Fratelli Fabulosi Forno (The Fabulous Forno Brothers!) have been big hits here since we opened the doors in ‘93 and we have just unloaded a new batch of their fabulously food (and wallet!) friendly wines for your enjoyment:
Il Falchetto Moscato d’Asti Tenuta del Fant 2011, Piemonte
The fresh orange blossom and citrus zest aromas and refreshing sweet / tart finish of this wine burned its sheer excitement into the brain cells of so many of you that you never let us forget about it no matter how many other wonderful Moscati we threw at you when we were out of stock. Recently we were quoted in the City Beat Summer Guide as saying that we call Moscato d’Asti “the Zombie Detector” because if you don’t like it you are probably dead. What the editor cut out (and what made the reporter do a spit take and nearly fall off his chair when we said it) was that we also noted that “neurologists will tell you that there are receptors for crack cocaine and marijuana right in your brain…well, the one for Moscato d’Asti is right between them”. Fun, fizzy, low alcohol, bursting with bright citrus aromas and LOVE, serve this with salty snacks (Corn Nuts, Prosciutto e Melone, Honey Roasted Cashews and Dried Fruit, ect) in the afternoon and all will be well with the world.
Il Falchetto Brachetto d’Aqui 2011, Piemonte
Brachetto is: 1) Perhaps the most delicious thing you’ll swallow this week. 2) Red (well dark pink actually), slightly sparkling wine with a bouquet of fresh strawberries that’s almost too easy to drink (so you had better get two to prepare). 3) A pretty darn good reason for living, come to think of it. 4) Wonderful with prosciutto e melone, fruit & cheese or just good company on a sunny afternoon. 5) One of the best seduction tools ever devised. Psych! Trick question, it’sall of the above!!!
Azienda Agricola Podere Saulino, Novi Ligure, Piemonte
This cantina has 12 hectares of vines in the heart of the Gavi DOCG zona, mostly dedicated to the Cortese variety for Gavi but also makes a lovely Brachetto that will be perfect for your next picnic or breakfast in bed
Il Saulino Piemonte Brachetto Dolce e Spumante 2011, Piemonte
This version of our most popular fizzy red has full on pressure like Champagne, a light strawberry color that follows through on the nose and palate and is just sweet enough to set off the flavors of a nice cheese plate, some salty snacks or a groovy picnic / brunch spread. It is so good you will want to drink the whole bottle and, since it is only 7% ABV, we say “Why Not?”.