fine italian Wines for the month of february 2011

Wine for the Month of february — under $25

Banfi, ”Centine” Toscana 2007 (about $12)

This prominent Tuscan winery is a family-owned vineyard estate and winery located near the picturesque hill-top town of Montalcino in the heart of the prestigious Brunello region in Tuscany. There is nothing especially unusual about that. However, there are several factors that distinguish Banfi – more properly known as Castello Banfi – from other Italian wineries.

In an area dominated by small to medium-size family-owned wineries, Banfi owns a big chunk of real estate - 7,100 acres of prime land in the in the heart of Tuscany, of which about 2,400 acres are dedicated vineyards. In addition, while most Tuscan estates focus their efforts on a small number of different wines, the Banfi estate produces a wide range, literally dozens, of red, white and dessert wines.

The winemaking operation is also relatively new, especially by Tuscan standards. It was started from scratch by John and Harry Mariani, two brothers from the New York City area. Flush from their successful wine importing business they purchased the Tuscan property in the late 1970’s, cleared the land and planted a range of indigenous and international grape vines.

They also hired one of Italy’s top wine consultants, Ezio Rivella, to assist them in the meticulous process of producing a range of quality wines on a large-scale basis that far exceeded anything experienced under the Tuscan sun.

A few years later, they also purchased an adjacent, 11th century castle and renamed the estate Castello Banfi. The castle has been completely restored and now serves as the estate’s defining symbol.  It is the center of a food-wine complex that includes an enoteca (wine bar) serving the estate’s wines, shops selling the estate’s honey, balsamic vinegars and olive oils, a taverna serving lunches and dinners as well as a boutique hotel with a small number of luxury rooms and suites.

While it is their Brunellos that has brought Castello Banfi the most critical attention, the estate offers an expansive lineup of wines made from different varietals ranging from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to Sangiovese and Syrah as well as blends of different varietals. Castello Banfi markets a variety of wines at all price points.

Banfi, Centine Toscana 2007The 2007 Centine Toscana is a blend of 60 percent Sangiovese, 20 percent Cabernet-Sauvignon and 20 percent Merlot. After fermentation the wines are aged separately for six months in small French oak barriques, blended and then matured for an additional 12 months in the bottle prior to release for sale.

It has a ruby-red color that turns slightly violet at the edges and seductive red cherry aromas. It is medium-bodied with a surprisingly good mouth-feel and intensely fruity red cherry and black fruit flavors. It is round and tasty, well structured with soft tannins and a lingering finish. There is a lot to this wine given its inexpensive price. It is a more approachable and easy-to-drink alternative to the more pricey super-Tuscans.

It is an ideal companion to simple pasta and vegetable dishes as well as more complex dishes like game and grilled or roasted red and white meats. For example, the ’07 Centine pairs well with Melanzane alla Parmigiana (eggplant parmesan).

Where can I buy this wine? – available at Total Wines and More, Rodman’s, Corridor Wines and Spirits (Laurel), Wells Discount Liquors (Baltimore), Chevy Chase Wine and Spirits, Circle Wine and Spirits and other area stores

Wine for the Month of february —$25 and Over

Antonelli, Sagrantino di Montefalco, 2004 (about $45)

The Sagrantino grape emanates from a relatively small area around the ancient hilltop town of Montefalco in the Umbria region of Italy. The Sagrantino grape is thought to be an indigenous variety but there are different competing theories about its Italian area origins. Some believe that it was brought to the Montefalco area by the first Franciscan monks while others think it originally came from Spain while still others believe it was brought to Italy by Saracens. It grows nowhere else in the world and efforts to transplant it to other regions and countries have not been successful.

Regardless of its origin, the Sagrantino grape has flourished in the hills around Montefalco. It is a strong, tannic red grape that produces big, intense and full-bodied red wines that are chock-full of tannins and acidity. This presents winemakers with a delicate balancing act of having to tame the wine’s inherent tannins and acidity without sacrificing Sagrantino’s inherent complexity and robustness. To accomplish this requires ageing the wine for long periods in wooden barrels or casks and bottles in order to soften the tannins and reduce the acidity.

Sagrantino di Montefalco is the premier red wine of Umbria and has received critical international acclaim.  It received DOCG status in 1993, one of only two DOCG designations for all of Umbria. The primary DOCG requirements for Sagrantino di Montefalco wines are:

  • Minimum alcohol level of 13 percent.
  • Made exclusively from Sagrantino grapes.
  • Aged at least 30 months of which no less than 12 months must be in wood barrels.

Sagrantino wines are long-lived wines and they can be tight as nails in their youth. They need time to soften their tannins and they can take years to reach optimum maturity.                                        

Most local winemakers also produce a blended Sagrantino wine that is more approachable, thereby bypassing the long ageing requirements for Sagrantino di Montefalco. Called Montefalco Rosso (DOC), it is a blend of 60-70 percent Sangiovese and 10-15 percent Sagrantino, with a maximum of 30 percent other red grape varieties, typically Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. The addition of the Sangiovese and other varietals offsets the natural tannins and acidity of the Sagrantino and results in more textured, rounder wines with more fruit-forward flavors. They are also considerably less expensive. Whereas Sagrantino di Montefalco wines are typically priced north of $50 a bottle, Montefalco Rosso wines usually retail in the $15 to $25 range.

Antonelli is probably my favorite producer in the Umbria region. The Antonelli estate is currently headed by Filippo Antonelli who, although not as well known as some other producers from Umbria with boldface names, has nonetheless developed a well-earned reputation for producing quality Sagrantino wines that are more approachable and less expensive than most others.

The Antonelli estate is centrally located in the heart of the Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG appellation. About 120 acres are devoted to vineyards with the principal red varieties grown on the estate being Sagrantino and Sangiovese and Grechetto and Trebbiano Spoletino the main white varieties.  The estate produces a variety of Sagrantino-based wines including a sweet Passito wine made exclusively from Sagrantino grapes that have been dried naturally for 2-1/2 to 3 months.

Antonelli, Sagrantino di Montefalco 2004The 2004 Sagrantino di Montefalco from Antonelli is an approachable, quality Sagrantino that sets the standard for a value oriented Sagrantino di Montefalco wine. It has strong, intense, dark fruit aromas that after a little swirling fairly leap out of the glass. It is big and full-bodied with juicy flavors of dried-berries intensity complimented by a hearty but not overpowering dose of tannin. Like many other Sagrantino wines it has a rough undertone or edge to it, but rather than detracting from the overall wine experience it only makes it more persuasive. It is earthy but elegant. A complex, balanced and flavorful wine that’s sure to generate a positive buzz from your dinner guests.

Sagrantino di Montefalco is ideal with grilled or roasted meats and strongly flavored, aged cheeses. You can serve it with pasta and wild boar meat sauce as they do in Umbria. Oh, you say you don’t know where to buy wild boar in your area? In that case, you can still have an Umbrian-style dinner by pairing the Sagrantino with any dish flavored with rosemary or black truffles such as a black truffle risotto or veal roast with truffles. The bottle should be opened for at least 1-1/2 to 2 hours and/or decanted prior to serving.

Where can I buy this wine? – available at MacArthur Beverages, Pearson’s, Cleveland Park Wines and Salute! Wine Market (‘01 vintage, Winchester, VA).

Note – prices indicated are averages of retail prices in the local market as of the date of this posting. Individual prices will vary from store to store and some wines may be on sale so prices may be lower than indicated above. 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.

Richard Marcis
February 12, 2011
Revised March 10, 2011


For other wine of the month selections see Italian Wine Reviews.



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