Azienda Agricola Fratelli Agnes, Rovescala, Lombardia
Like our friends at Fattoria di Faltognano in Toscana, the family operating this winery has been doing so for so many generations (800 years in this case) that making delicious traditional wines with utmost respect for nature is encoded in their very DNA. They make such a small amount of wine and it is so famous in their zona that they really didn’t want to be bothered with all the paperwork involved in exporting any. Well, after three years of courting them and reminding them of the great success we’ve had with their next door neighbors at Martilde they relented and the wines have become huge WINE EXPO-ista favorites:
Fratelli Agnes Oltrepò Pavese Bonarda Frizzante
Cresta del Ghiffi 2005, Lombardia Sold Out, New Vintage Soon!
This is the most traditional and typical of the local tastes: Late harvest Bonarda from 50 year old vines, finished slightly sparkling. It is fabulous with antipasti like figs or melone wrapped in prosciutto then grilled or maybe bruschetta with Gorgonzola and Olives. The name refers to the comb of the serious looking rooster glaring at your from the label to make sure you finish every last drop and get another glass…right away!
Fratelli Agnes Oltrepò Pavese Bonarda Possessione del Console 2007, Lombardia
Wow! Intense, nearly purple color, rich but zesty mouthfeel, ridiculously concentrated notes of every red and black fruit from currants through plums and a distinct hint of mulberry on the palate, this is serious. Made from an old clone called Pignolo for its tiny, pine cone shaped clusters but no relation to the Friulian wine of the same name. The handsome art label depicting a hunter walking two beautiful retrievers is no extra charge….a great gift for dog lovers.
Fratelli Agnes Oltrepò Pavese Croatina Vignazzo 2002, Lombardia
Italian wine guides do not agree on much (the very DEFINITION of good wine differs radically between Veronelli and Maroni and many others are influenced by the electoral politics of producers) but they concur that the Agnes family are the best producers of Bonarda / Croatina in all of its manifestations from light and fizzy to intenso and immenso (with their experience dating back to the 12th century, this is hardly a surprise!). This is from the latter camp with big structure and a need for real food but does have a blast of fresh fruit right up front to invite you into the discussion.
Fratelli Agnes Oltrepò Pavese Rosso Poculum 2004, Lombardia
Made from a selection of not just Bonarda but also old Barbera and Pinot vines on the property, this is a good bit rounder and funkier than the other bottlings of this cantina and has also been mellowed by a brief sojourn in barriques. VERY limited, get yours before Ali drinks it all.
Fratelli Agnes Oltrepò Pavese Bonarda Millennium 2004, Lombardia
The deeper, more structured big brother of the Possessione, with coffee and licorice notes on top of even denser fruit. The label relates the story of how an ancestral Count Anselmo of Rovescalla paid a debt in 1192 (!) with 600 amphorae of his best wine. That was one lucky creditor!
Azienda Agricola Martilde, Rovescala, Oltrepò Pavese
Martilde is one of our favorite discoveries in the Brave NEW World of the Oltrepò Pavese: a full service vino-teria making ten or so bottlings ranging from dry and delicate whites to insanely concentrated reds, all grown with molto rispetto for nature by a couple who have become good friends of ours, Antonella Tacci and Raimondo Lombardi. AND they all have fabulous art labels (painted by Antonella) depicting the animals on the estate.
Martilde Oltrepò Pavese Bonarda, Lombardia Organic Sold Out, New Vintage Soon!
This was a ha-uuuuge hit at our tastings this summer, showing beautifully with both anti-pasti and pizza at Il Forno and the madly flavorful cuisine of Chef Uma Singh at at our Wines and Spicy foods tastings. Bonarda is a tad smokier and meatier than Barbera and will pair beautifully with anything grilled or smoked. Gorgeous watercolors of the family cats on the labels, no extra charge.
Martilde OP Bonarda Frizzante Gianna 2007, Lombardia Organic
Antonella and Raimondo’s entry into the local arms race over who can make the most convivial and fun fizzy red: Darker and lusher than either Agnes Cresta Ghiffi or the Picchioni Sangue di Giuda, this one is going to win even more fans to this fun category.
Martilde Oltrepò Pavese Pinot Nero Nina 2006, Lombardia Organic
Remember when Pinot Noir was elegant and ephemeral, sexy and elusive (and wasn’t 15% alcohol and didn’t taste like boysenberry pancake syrup)? So does Martilde: 100% Pinot Noir, 0% Oak, hand harvested from organically farmed vines, Nina is anxiously waiting to improve your day. She is perfect for grilled fish, lighter pork or chicken dishes or just some picnic snacks and a nice lazy afternoon.
Martilde Oltrepò Pavese Barbera Tina 2005, Lombardia Organic
Why we (and, more importantly, you) love Martilde so much: This is their BASIC Barbera, made from ORGANIC grapes then bottled without filtration, emerging with deeeep fruit & spice flavors and big structure, and it positively kicks butt on many Piemontese bottlings at $$$.
Martilde Oltrepò Pavese Rosso
Riserva Pindaro 1996, Lombardia Organic Sold Out, New Vintage Soon!
A blend of Barbera and Bonarda with some time in wood and several years in bottle, this will unfold for hours in your glass and has a label that appears to be one of their cats having a Cubist experience after ingesting too much catnip…
Martilde Bonarda Zaffo 2006, Oltrepò Pavese Organic
Zaffo brings the textures of fine Pinot to the table but with deeper, smokier flavors and has an absolutely gorgeous label depicting their prized horse of the same name.
Martilde Barbera La Strega, La Gazza e il Pioppo 2005, Oltrepò Pavese Organic
One of the deepest and most concentrated Barberas we have ever encountered but not overly oaked, this will be fabulous with lamb, duck, sausages or just a big comfy chair and a fire. The name means “the witch (a cat, actually), the magpie and the poplar tree”, all of which are beautifully depicted on the striking label. VERY Limited.
Martilde Bonarda Ghiro d’Inverno 2006, Oltrepò Pavese Organic
This insanely deeeeep and smoky organically grown monster may cause disorientation in tasters who think Cabernet is the top of the food chain. This wine can be habit forming. Do not buy just one bottle, withdrawal can cause deep depression and the need to visit your favorite wine emporium again immediately. VERY Limited.
Andrea Picchioni, Canneto Pavese, Lombardia
The Picchioni winery is a small plot of land, approximately seven hectares, located in the Solinga valley. The vineyards grow on a south-exposed steep sloping hillside, on sandy and pebbled soil. The endless summer days bless the grapes with all the energy they need for a full ripening: the vine struggles in the light and the heat for every single drop of water. Andrea tells the cantina’s story:
“Our adventure began in 1988 with the singling out of some old vineyards, which we thought were best fit for the production of high quality wines. The recovery of these vineyards has been difficult, but an exciting challenge for us. The cornerstones of our philosophy are the greatest respect for the grapes and the extreme care through all the phases of the winemaking process. But it is our unbounded passion which marks the handcraft of our wines, from the vineyards, which we grow using traditional, environment-friendly techniques, to the cellar. Our wines, obtained from small crops of selected grapes, are rich in body, natural colour components, glycerine and noble tannins, which become smoother and rounder with aging. All these characteristics are markedly different from those of the mainstream local production.
These results would have never been achieved without the help of Giuseppe Zatti, who began working with us in 1995, and whose expertise in winemaking and friendship are immensely precious for us. We really hope that you will feel in each one of our bottles the passion which constantly guides us through our work.”
Picchioni Sangue di Giuda Fior del Vento 2010, Lombardia
Deeply colored, just 6% alcohol, fizzy but not too, explosive dark berry flavors, enough zizz to deal with anything from salty prosciutto and olive tapenade anti-pasti to red sauce BBQ or tangerine spiced beef. We even had a customer excitedly call in once to tell us how “Everyone is going crazy for that stuff……even my mother-in-law who puts Equal in her Chardonnay!”. Uhhhhh….right. Even though your inner weasel is large and in charge most of the time, your inner child IS hiding in there and this wine is almost guaranteed to bring him / her out to play. 20 cases only, get it while it lasts!
Picchioni Buttafuoco 2001, Oltrepò Pavese, Lombardia
Buttafuoco is a small zona in the Oltrepò Pavese that makes very structured and deeply flavored wines from blends of Bonarda, Barbera, Ughetta and Uva Rara (“the rare grape”, actually Croatina) that would cost thrice as much if they were from Toscana. You must try these wines, these guys are among the future super stars of Italy (we DO have a strong track record of predicting this you know!).
Andrea Picchioni Rosso d’Asia 2006, Oltrepò Pavese
This has a RABID cult following here, especially amongst local Chefs who love its deeeeeeep rustic ooooomph with their after service repasts of sausages, mystery meats and other hearty fare. Andrea is getting famous in Italy and this wine is the reason.
Andrea Picchioni Buttafuoco Bricco Riva Bianca 2000, Oltrepò Pavese, Lombardia
A Certified WINE EXPO-ista Cult favorite in past vintages, this is huge, rich and velvety, with coffee, spice and red fruit on the nose and an endlessly evolving palate of darker fruit, earth, dried meat and more. A field blend of Barbera, Vespolina, Bonarda, Ughetta and Croatina from old vines with southwest exposure, this is the top wine Andrea makes and is both an outstanding value and and a prime cellar candidate.
Andrea Picchioni Oltrepò Pavese Pinot Nero Arfena 2009, Lombardia
One of the most entrancing Pinots we have come across in years. Medium color and body but just insane aromatics, you just wanna SMELL this one for a good while before actually tasting any. VERY limited, worth it.
Love Nebbiolo but need to pay your bills?
Time to discover the Valtellina…
“A valley surrounded by tall and terrible mountains, it makes really powerful wines.”
In that brief but fundamentally correct description in his Codice Atlantico, Leonardo Da Vinci summed up the Valtellina, a remote and beautiful zona that has always been at the center of our selections as its top wines bring the depth of flavor of Barolo yet with the elegance and sensuality of Burgundy.
Balgera Vini, Chiuro, Valtellina
Paolo Balgera is THE protector of the faith in the Valtellina, continuing a tradition started by his Great Great Grandfather Pietro in 1885 and he is still mad that the new DOCG regs allow his neighbors to release their Sforzato after just two years aging when HIS current vintage is 1997! Despite being the most traditional wines in the zona, Paolo’s bottlings have smoked all comers at several consorzio blind tastings proving elegance CAN win out over sheer extract. Come see for yourself how old dogs still have plenty of new tricks to show your palate and are so shockingly unique they left the Gambero Rosso speechless. Bravo!
Balgera Vini Valtellina Superiore Inferno 2005, Lombardia
Balgera Vini Valtellina Superiore Grumello 2002, Lombardia
Balgera Vini Valtellina Superiore Valgella 2001, Lombardia
Textbook examples the softer, more feminine side of Nebbiolo, perfect for grilled fish, roast birds or just some cheese, bread and Bresaola (the famous air dried beef of the zona). Hyper traditional: 100% Nebbiolo from ancient, mountain grown vines, a passing acquaintance with large old chestnut barrels, five years aging in bottle.
Balgera Terrazze del Sole 1999, Valtellina
Mostly Nebbiolo with a dash each of Pignolo and Syrah for aromatics, aged NINE years in giant botte before bottling (which means Paolo is aging eleven other vintages for you!). Meaty, vinous, soft and hauntingly aromatic…just two cases left.
Balgera Vini Valtellina Superiore
Il Fondatore 1995, Lombardia Sold Out, New Vintage Soon!
Yes, this is the one with the great picture of Grandpa Balgera on the label. It is amazingly perfumed and lush due to the addition of 30% air dried grapes to the fermentation and long aging in huge chestnut casks and yet it is still very affordable for what it is. VERY limited, here now.
Balgera Vini Sforzato Tradizionale Valtellina Superiore 1999, Lombardia
Balgera Vini Sforzato Barrique Valtellina Superiore 1999, Lombardia
Both of these show the intense Rosé petal, dried cherry and smoke aromas and flavors of Nebbiolo, vastly amplified by dehydrating the grapes up to 40% before pressing but, instead of the raisiny, plummy notes some Amarones show, these virtually sing with bright acidity designed to both compliment food and allow long cellaring. The Barrique wine is fermented in large Slovenian oak like the Tradizionale but then the lots with the most depth and acidity are finished in small French oak for one year yielding a richer, velvety texture and more smoke on the nose.