Two Fine Italian Merlot Wines for May 2013

Wine for May - Under $25

Conte Brandolini d’Adda, “Vistorta” Merlot 2006 (about $25)

This fine Merlot comes from Brandolini’s 500 acre estate in the Friuli region in northeast Italy. The estate has been in the Brandolini family since the late 1700’s and its 80 acre Vistorta vineyard has been planted with Merlot for well over a century. However, it wasn’t until the late 1980’s when the current owner, Count Brandino Brandolini d’Adda, assumed control of operations that they began to take Merlot - as well as other varietals - seriously.

The Count set about implementing his goal of producing a top-flight Italian Merlot wine made in the Bordeaux style. The Count updated vineyard management and cellaring practices and upgraded the physical facilities by building state-of-the-art production and storage facilities. He introduced new French clones in addition to Italian varieties so the estate’s vineyards include an array of expressions of the Merlot varietal.

2006 Conte Brandolini d’Adda Vistorta MerlotThe production of the estate’s Vistorta Merlot is an intricate and involved process. After harvesting the grapes, batches of Merlot grapes from different vineyard plots are pressed and fermented separately. ­Some of the wines spend time in small oak barrels (barriques) where they undergo a secondary fermentation.

The Vistorta wine is made entirely of Merlot but is fashioned from different batches of the estate’s separately vinified Merlot wines. The various batches of Merlot are tasted and evaluated and the best portions selected for the final Vistorta blend. The selected portions are combined and the assembled wine then spends 12 months ageing in oak barriques. The wine is then bottled unfiltered and left to rest in the bottle for an additional 5 months prior to release for sale.

This is an elegant merlot in the “right bank” Bordeaux tradition. It is medium-bodied with good structure, concentrated black currant and berry flavors and a streak of silky tannins backing up the fruit core. There are no hard edges to this wine, just plenty of sweet fruit, a caressing mouthfeel and a long, rich finish.

The ’06 Vistorta goes well with mushroom risotto, roasted or grilled chicken and lamb, pork tenderloin and semi-hard cheeses.

Wine for May – $25 and over

Falesco, “Montiano” Rosso Lazio IGT 2001 (about $48)

The Falesco winery technically is located in the small town of Montecchio in southwestern Umbria. However, the estate’s vineyards straddle the regional border with Latium (Lazio in Italian), extending from Lake Bolsena in Lazio to the hills of Orvieto in Umbria.

Two of Italy’s most storied winemakers, the brothers Renzo and Riccardo Cotarella, founded the winery in 1979. Falesco’s rich portfolio of both value-priced and upscale cru wines found favor with the wine-consuming public and the winery has grown dramatically over the past decade. Compared with the small to medium-size wineries that dot the regional landscape, the Falesco estate is supersized with 925 acres under vine and annual production of 2.5 million bottles. Despite the scale of its operations the winery has managed to maintain tight quality controls and its wines continue to receive accolades from wine critics and consumers alike.

The Cotarella brothers are both highly regarded wine­makers. Riccardo, the older brother, is a consulting winemaker that counts dozens of major wineries throughout Italy as his clients. His brother Renzo has a well-established reputation for crafting Italian wines and has served as technical director for Piero Antinori’s domestic wine operations.

While the Falesco winery produces white as well as red wines, its reputation rests primarily on its red wines like its high-quality Montiano and Montefalco di Sagrantino wines as well as some excellent value-priced wines like its popular Vitiano and Tellus wines.

Falesco’s 2001 Montiano is made entirely of Merlot grown in the Montiano vineyard in the northeastern section of the Lazio region. The grapes are harvested in early September and after fermentation the wine is aged in small oak barrels (barriques) for12 months. The wine then spends 4 months resting in the bottle prior to release for sale.

This single-vineyard wine ­is a real charmer. Gentle swirlin2001 Falesco Montiano Rosso Lazio IGT g of the glass releases rich dark fruit aromas infused with earthy truffle scents. Its ripe plum and blackberry flavors are persistent and accompanied by mouth-watering acidity. While this wine may be Bordeaux-inspired, it has a distinct made-in-Italy feel to it with a rich, plush mouthfeel balanced with a good tannic structure. Even though the wine is currently 12 years old it is in top form and most likely will age well for 5 to 10 years more. The ’01 Montiana is the recipient of Gambero Rosso’s prestigious Tre Bicchieri award that benchmarks it as one of Italy’s premier wines.

This wine would make an excellent companion to an entrée of roasted lamb with mint sauce or an equally rich braised veal shank with herbs.


©Richard Marcis
May 8, 2013

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