Top Italian Red Wines of 2008
I have had the pleasure of tasting a lot of wines, particularly Italian wines, over the course of the year 2008. While a few have been at best, uninteresting, most have been pretty good and some have been absolutely outstanding and whose tastes have lingered long after the bottles have been tucked away.
In the spirit of the new year I want to share with you my top ten favorite Italian red wines for 2008. This obviously is no small task given the thousands of wines produced for sale each year in Italy. But you’ll notice I used the term “favorite” and not “best.” The term “best” is too subjective and besides, determining the best would require tasting a far larger number of wines than my humble wine budget can afford. (For those interested in all of Italy's top-rated wines for 2008, I recommend viewing the recipients of Gambero Rosso's 2009 Tre Bicchieri ("Three Glasses") awards.)
One of the things I have found is that, popular opinion to the contrary, price really is no guarantee of quality. There are a lot of really good Italian wines out there at very reasonable prices that won’t require you to dip into your children’s college fund. And this assessment doesn’t even begin to broach the larger issue of relative values, that is, even if some of the expensive wines are really good, are they worth the king’s ransoms indicated by their price tags. While they may be good, are they really that good? Specifically, do you get an additional $150 worth of enjoyment or value from a cult Barolo that retails for $200 a bottle than from, say, a well-made Langhe Rosso that sells for $50 a bottle? Needless to say, reasonable people can come up with different answers to this age-old price-quality issue.
What I look for are wines of character and distinction that also have high quality-to-price ratios. I realize this is very subjective but I’m looking for good wines that rank high using my quality-to-price metrics. This doesn’t mean they are inexpensive, just that they represent significant value at all pricing points. It should come as no surprise that some popular but pricy Super Tuscan or Barolo wines that have achieved cult status, for example, are not included in my list of favorite Italian red wines for 2008. It’s not that they aren't excellent wines – because they oftentimes are! – but my assessment of their relative quality is not justified by their stratospheric price tags.
With that background, listed below are my top ten favorite Italian red wines for 2008, two of which have been reviewed previously in more detail as Wine of the Month selections. I have divided my list of favorite wines into two categories – wines priced at $25 and under and my favorite wines priced in excess of $25 a bottle. Within each category, the wines are sorted by price.
Under $25 a bottle:
Sella & Mosca, Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva 2005 (about $14)
The Cannonau grape is little known other than in Sardegna (Sardinia) where it is theisland’s most popular red varietal and produces a warm, generous and intense wine that is probably not unlike most Sardinians. This Riserva version of its Cannonau is made with a humble sensibility. Aged in traditional oak casks for three years it produces a medium to full-bodied rustic wine with a complex bouquet and a round, fruit-forward taste that just begs to be paired with a lamb dish.
Where can I buy this wine? Available at Calvert-Woodley and Rodman’s (on Wisconsin Ave. NW).
Coppo, Barbera d’Asti “L’Avvocata” 2004 (about $19)
Produced entirely from Barbera grapes grown in selected vineyards around the town of Canelli in the Piedmont region in northwestern Italy, the L’Avvocata (pronounced lav voh ka’ tah) is fermented in stainless steel tanks after which it spends about 6-8 months in oak casks. Full-bodied with Barbera’s trademark acidity and intense aromas of ripened fruit, it has a distinct food-friendly personality and pairs well with a wide range of dishes. A tremendous bargain at this price.
Where can I buy this wine? Available at Chevy Chase Wine & Spirits.
Alois Lageder, Pinot Noir 2004 (about $20)
Located in the mountainous Alto Adige region in northeast Italy, the state-of-the-art Alois Lageder winery is committed to producing wines with sustainable, biodynamic and organic processes. This Pinot Noir has a vivid cardinal-red color, is medium-bodied and lively as a Pinot Noir should be with fruit that just seems to dance in your mouth. If you didn’t know better, you would swear that this was a premier-cru Burgundy.
Where can I buy this wine? Available at Rodman’s (on Wisconsin Avenue, NW).
La Valentina, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo “Spelt” 2003 (About $22)
The name “Spelt” refers to the name of the vineyard from which the grapes for this wine are sourced in the hills near Pescara in the Abruzzo region on Italy’s Adriatic coast. Grown entirely from Montepulciano d’Abruzzo grapes, the wine is full-bodied, concentrated and complex with hints of aromatic herbs and spices. This is a wine to enjoy with big roasts and hard cheeses and although ready to drink now, it can be cellared for another 8 to 10 years. This wine should breath for at least two hours and be decanted before serving. It’s hard to miss with this well made, competitively priced, single-vineyard wine.
Where can I buy this wine? Available at MacArthur Beverages and The Wine Specialist (’01 vintage).
Einaudi, Dolcetto di Dogliani “Vigna Tecc” 2006 (about $25)
This wine is a cut above most other Dolcetto wines and shows just how good Dolcetto can be in the hands of talented and dedicated producer. It is made from a select blend of Dolcetto grapes from Einaudi’s oldest and best vineyards in Dogliani, arguably the premier appellation for Dolcetto. It has a dark, ruby red color with a dry, moderately acidic taste and ripe, dense, rich berry fruit flavors. It’s an unusually big wine for a Dolcetto with a chewy texture but it has the characteristic hint of almond on the finish. This wine will make you a fan of Dolcetto.
Where can I buy this wine? Available at Calvert-Woodley, MacArthur Beverages and Schneider’s of Capitol Hill (’04 vintage).
Wines over $25 a bottle:
Masciarelli, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo “Marina Cvetic” 2004 (about $31)
Gianni Masciarelli’s wife Marina is the guiding spirit behind this wine. The Marina Cvetic (pronounced svet eech) is 100 percent Montepulciano grapes from different prime vineyards selected by Marina and blended to create this robust but complex and age-worthy wine. It has a rich, lush fruitiness complemented by soft tannins. This wine should breathe for at least an hour and be decanted before serving. A frequent recipient of Gambero Rosso’s coveted Tre Bicchieri (“Three Glasses”) award, the Marina Cvetic Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is an incredible value at this price.
Where can I buy this wine? Available at MacArthur Beverages.
Moccagatta, Barbaresco “Bric Balin” 1998 (about $43)
The ‘98 Bric Balin is garnet red in color with brick-red highlights and heady varietal aromas. The austere but elegant flavors are tinged with Piedmont gravitas. Aged for 18 months in partially new oak barriques, the wine is full bodied with ample tannins and a complex finish that makes every sip immensely pleasing. This wine is ready to drink now but can also be tucked away in your cellar for at least another decade.
Where can I buy this wine? Available at MacArthur Beverages and Total Wine & More (’01 vintage).
Poliziano, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano “Asinone” 2004 (about $55)
Poliziano’s Asinone is made entirely from a clone of Nebbiolo grapes sourced from a single prime vineyard located just a little south of the ancient, walled Tuscan town of Montepulciano. Pronounced aromas of berries, spice and oak are followed by silky, dark fruit flavors and a long, persistent finish. Supple and well balanced with a good tannic structure and pleasant acidity, this wine has an elegance that envelopes and caresses your taste buds and makes for a decadent drinking experience. Assuming you can resist the temptation, this wine will age gracefully for another decade.
Where can I buy this wine? Available from MacArthur Beverages, Calvert-Woodley, The Wine Specialist (’00 vintage) and Schneiders of Capitol Hill (’03 vintage).
Cavallotto, Barolo “Bricco Boschis” 2004 (about $60)
There are so many good Barolo wines and 2004 was such an outstanding year for Piedmont wines that this selection is really a close call. But the ’04 Barolo Bricco Boschis from Cavallatto is such a stunning wine and so reasonably priced that I have to list it as one of my top picks for 2008. With extended maceration and long aging in large, old oak barrels, this is a traditionally-crafted, rich, full-bodied Barolo with complex aromas and flavors. It is also a long-lived wine that that will only improve with time. My recommendation is to buy one to drink now and several more for the wine cellar.
Where can I buy this wine? Available at Calvert-Woodley
Feudi di San Gregorio, “Serpico” 2003 (about $74)
Feudi di san Gregorio’s Serpico is one of southern Italy's best red wines. Named after the winery’s hometown (Sorbo Serpico) in the Irpinia region of Campania, it is made entirely from Aglianico grapes. While there are a number of well-crafted Aglianico wines on the market, this one stands out from the crowd like a Versace super-model at a church social. After long maceration on the skins, the wine is aged for 18 months in new, small French oak barrels prior to bottling. The wine is deep and concentrated yet smooth with soft tannins that will have you coming back for more.
Where can I buy this wine? Available at Calvert-Woodley, MacArthur Beverages, Schneider‘s of Capitol Hill, The Wine Specialist and Pearson’s (’01 vintage).
Note – prices indicated are generally the lowest available and will vary from store to store. While in stock at time of writing, stores may sell out of the selections so availability is not guaranteed. Call to check on price and availability before making the trip.
January 3, 2009