fine italian Wines to jump start the new year

Wine for the Month of january — under $25

Monte Degli Angeli, Monferrato Pinot Noir 2009 (about $9)                                           

Lying in the hills east of Turino (Turin) in northwestern Italy, the Monferrato region is largely undiscovered by both tourists and wine enthusiasts alike. Because the wines from here are consumed locally and not particularly well known outside the area, much of the wines produced in this portion of the Piedmont are not readily available in the U. S., which is a shame because they can be intriguing and well made with good structure and complexity. They simply fly under most people’s radar and do not get the attention they deserve.

That’s why this Pinot Noir from Monte Degli Angeli (“Mount of Angels”) in the Monferrato region of the Piedmont – not an area particularly well known for Pinot Noir - is such a pleasant surprise. The wine is made of Pinot Noir with the addition of a little Nebbiolo. Nebbiolo’s serious demeanor contributes some complexity and structure to the suppleness and silky tannins of the Pinot Noir.

Monte degli Angeli, Monferrato Pinot Noir 2009The ’09 Monte Degli Angeli, Monferrato Pinot Noir is ruby red in color with black and red fruit flavors, modest tannins and a complex, lingering finish, altogether much more than you would expect for its price tag. The wine is aged for 6 months in barrels, which, along with the Nebbiolo, adds weight and structure to the wine. The Pinot Noir is both cosmopolitan in its fruit-forward flavors and Italian in its complexity and structure. Think of it as an international style Pinot Noir with a backbone of Italian assertiveness.

The brothers Antonio and Paolo Sperone own and manage this small family estate in the Piedmont. In addition to Pinot Noir, they also produce a good, very reasonably priced Barolo made in the modern style. It’s hard to believe that enjoyable wines of this quality are available at such exceptional prices.

The Monte Degli Angeli Pinot Noir goes well with simple pasta dishes, grilled salmon and tuna dishes, lamb and roasted chicken. Try it with roast tenderloin of pork stuffed with spinach, leeks and sage.

Where can I buy this wine? – available at Calvert Woodley, The Wine Specialist, Whole Foods, A. Litteri, Ace Beverages, Rodman’s, Cleveland Park Wine and Spirits, International Wine and Beverage (Arlington), Potomac Beer and Wine (Rockville), Ashburn Wine Shop, Old Farm Liquors (Gaithersburg) and other area stores.

Wine for the Month of january —$25 and Over

La Brancaia, “Il Blu” 2000 (about $70)

Podere La Brancaia in the Chianti Classico region is by Tuscan standards a new wine estate. It was formally established in 1981 when it was purchased by a vacationing Swiss couple, Brigitte and Bruno Widmer. Podere La Brancaia is located in the heart of Tuscany about 3 miles from the small, wine-centric town of Castellina-in-Chianti. With the help of friends and neighbors, they got the small family estate up and running as a going concern. This included, almost as an afterthought, production of some wines from the property’s vineyards that came with the property. Despite the fact that they were wine novices their Chianti Classico managed to wine a prestigious award in a local wine competition in 1983. From then on, they were hooked.

In the subsequent decade, they dedicated their efforts to turning La Brancaia into a quality, artisanal winery. They expanded and updated their winemaking facilities and increased their scale of operations through purchase of a small vineyard property, Poppi, in neighboring Radda-in-Chianti. This expanded their acreage under vine to approximately 60 acres.

In the early 1990’s they ratcheted their winemaking initiatives up a notch when they hired one of Italy’s most sought after winemakers - Carlo Ferrini - to assist them in their winemaking initiatives. With Ferrini’s assistance, the Widmers have catapulted La Brancaia into one of Tuscany’s top wine estates. The Widmer’s daughter Barbera, who is a professionally trained winemaker, and her husband Martin Kronenberg, assumed day-to-day management of the winery in the late 1990’s and with Carlo Ferrini’s continued support as consultant-winemaker have been producing award-winning wines every year.

The estate produces a limited number of wines. This includes an inexpensive entry-level super-Tuscan called “Tre” (see Best Wines of 2010 Under $25), a Sangiovese with some Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, an outstanding Chianti Classico and another super-Tuscan, “Ilatraia”, an intense and complex Cabernet Sauvignon blend. However, the super-Tuscan “Il Blu” is La Brancaia’s top-of-the-line wine and the one that has garnered the most critical acclaim for the estate.

Il Blu is a blend of 50 percent Sangiovese, 45 percent Merlot and a splash of Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine is aged in barriques for 20 months, of which two-thirds are new wood, and then spends 4 months in the bottle prior to release.

It’s hard to resist a wine like this. There’s no shortage of black currant, espresso and Brancaia, Il Blu 2000kitchen spice aromas. While ripe blackberry and cassis flavors caress the mouth and tongue it never loses its sense of style and subtlety. Smooth tannins and a long, elegant finish round out the wine’s seductive charms. This wine is definitely ready to drink now but will also age gracefully for many more years.

Expensive, yes, but worth every penny. Brancaia’s Il Blu is an outstanding wine and a consistent performer year after year. Il Blu has received Gambero Rosso’s highest rating, the Tre Bicchieri award, every year since 1994 (with the sole exception of the less-than-memorable 2002 vintage).

You can serve this wine by itself, without food, as a vino di meditazione (a meditation wine) or as an accompaniment to dishes with pronounced flavors like beef, lamb or game. Try it with a grilled filet mignon with a prosciutto and mushroom ragoût.

Where can I buy this wine? – Available at Circle Wine and Spirits and MacArthur Beverages (’07 vintage) or by special order at most local wine shops.


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
January 8, 2011

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



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