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Northwest Italy - Top Producers of Northwest Italy

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Racks of Franciacorta wine at Cavalleri

Photo: Racks of Franciacorta wine at Cavalleri © Provided by DKBooks Racks of Franciacorta wine at Cavalleri

Top Producers of Northwest Italy

Institut Agricole Régional - Valle d’Aosta

location: regione La Rochère, 1A, Aosta
telephone number: 0165 215811
winery open to public: by appt
wine styles: red, white
best vintages: most recent
recommended wines: Valle d’Aosta: Pinot Gris, Petite Arvine; Trésor du Caveau VdT

The regional winemaking college in Aosta has already made a name for itself by turning out some of the country’s leading winemakers, but it has now gone a step further and begun to sell the products of its stunning new experimental winery. Unfettered by commercial considerations, the focus here is on quality alone, and the results are extremely encouraging. Take the Pinot Gris (Pinot Grigio), for example. Weighing in at a hefty 14.5 percent alcohol, it could easily appear top-heavy; but the broad streak of Aostan acidity keeps it on its toes. Most impressive, however, is the Nebbiolo sourced from steep-sloped vineyards at 3,000 ft (900 m). This explosive mix of ripe black fruit and smoky oak would shame many a Barolo.

Bruna - Liguria/Riviera Ligure di Ponente

location: via Umberto I 81, Ranzo
telephone number: 0183 318082
winery open to public: by appt
wine styles: red, white
best vintages: most recent
recommended wines: Riviera Ligure di Ponente: Pigato U Baccan, Pigato Villa Torrachetta, Rossese Le Russeghine

The world needs more Ligurian Pigato specialists and more first-class winemakers like Riccardo Bruna, who, after 30 years in the cellar, is as excited today about the prospect of making great Pigato and Rossese as he has ever been. His wines are intense, artisan interpretations of these grapes from vineyards high in the Ligurian Alps. His top wine, Pigato U Baccan, is a lush expression of honeysuckle and almond supported by wonderful acidity that will keep it at its peak for a number of years. The Pigato Villa Torrachetta is slightly less complex but offers an abundance of addictive tropical fruit. Bruna also makes Rossese Le Russeghine: one of the best examples around of this light, elegant grape.

Walter de Batté - Liguria/Cinque Terre

location: via Trarcantu 25, Riomaggiore
telephone number: 0187 920127
winery open to public: by appt
wine styles: white, dessert
best vintages: most recent
recommended wines: Cinque Terre, Cinque Terre Sciacchetrà

The first person to attempt any form of agriculture on the slopes of the Cinque Terre must have acted in desperation; to continue this folly in the 21st century takes an individual of uncompromising character. “Uncompromising” only partly describes the tenacious character of Walter de Batté, who continues to tend his precious plots of local grapes Bosco and Albarola entirely by hand. His winery could double as an agricultural museum. The wines, however, silence all critics. The Cinque Terre develops slowly in the glass, eventually revealing freshness and layers of stone fruit that dance on the tongue. His Sciacchetrà is utterly captivating, with honeyed sweetness and crisp acidity playing one against the other.

Bellavista - Lombardia/Franciacorta

location: via Bellavista 5, Erbusco
telephone number: 0307 762000
winery open to public: by appt
wine styles: red, white, sparkling
best vintages: 2001, 1999, 1998, 1997
recommended wines: Franciacorta: Gran Cuvée Brut, Gran Cuvée Pas Operé

The jewel in the Moretti family’s crown, Bellavista is more like a way of life than a mere estate. Attached to its winery is one of Italy’s most celebrated restaurants as well as one of its most sumptuous hotels. The Moretti family made their fortune in construction but their passion, clearly, lies in wine. Given the amount of money invested here, it is not surprising that the quality is uniformly high. Although still wines are also made, the sparkling wines command all the attention. The vintage Gran Cuvée Brut offers levels of biscuity complexity that ought to send the people of Champagne running for cover.

Cà dei Frati - Lombardia/Lugana

location: via Frati 22, Sirmione
telephone number: 030 919468
wine styles: white, rosé, sparkling, dessert
best vintages: most recent
recommended wines: Lugana: Brolettino Grand’Annata, I Frati; Tre Filer IGT

Other estates in Lugana may be nipping at its heels, but Cà dei Frati remains the one to watch in the much-maligned DOC of Lugana. The Dal Cero brothers have invested heavily in the estate and produce a broad range of styles including still, sparkling, and dessert wines. Their trump card remains the Lugana Brolettino Grand’ Annata, a wine with the potential to resuscitate the entire DOC. A strict selection of only the best grapes is fermented in barriquesand then aged in both wood and bottle. This is Trebbiano at its finest, with a golden color, a nose redolent of dried fruits and herbal notes, and an aromatic finish. The straight Lugana offers textbook aromas of melon and apple, with plenty of stuffing on the palate. A sparkling Lugana and the luscious IGT dessert wine Tre Filer, a recioto style made from Trebbiano, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay, round off an exemplary portfolio.

Cà del Bosco - Lombardia/Franciacorta

location: via Case Sparse 20, Erbusco
telephone number: 0307 766111
winery open to public: by appt
wine styles: red, white, sparkling
best vintages: 2001, 2000, 1998
recommended wines: Franciacorta Brut: Annamaria Clementi, Brut Rosé; Maurizio Zanella IGT

Cà del Bosco remains one of Italy’s winemaking elite. The million-bottle annual production of both still and sparkling wines is of an extraordinarily high quality. It is the sparkling wines that receive most of the attention. These include the ethereal Annamaria Clementi, which is made only in the best vintages. The freshly baked bread character derived from more than three years on its lees mingles with elegant citrus fruit in a fitting tribute to the sophistication of Annamaria Clementi Zanella, the estate’s founder. Cà del Bosco’s Brut Rosé is easily the best in its class, with a fat, ripe, strawberry fruit character and opulent finish balanced with a touch of residual sugar. Unusual for a sparkling wine producer, the still wines are every bit as thoroughbred as their more famous stablemates. The Cabernet Sauvignon Maurizio Zanella, sourced from a small block of high-density vines, can rival the best examples from Tuscany or Piemonte, while the modern and overtly oaky Chardonnay is a regular visitor to the awards podium.

Cà del Bosco: Leading the way

In 1968, when Annamaria Clementi Zanella planted her first vines in the forested hills south of Lago d’Iseo, the property was nothing more than, literally, a house in the woods. The Franciacorta zone was one of the few parts of Italy where the vine had failed to gain a foothold, and the gently rolling hills were dotted with the summer homes of Milanese industrialists. Despite the absence of any established viticulture, Annamaria was certain that this area had huge potential for winemaking; unlocking its secret became her abiding passion. It took 10 years of resolve, hard work, and endless experimentation for Cà del Bosco, the “House in the Woods,” to establish—almost single-handedly—Franciacorta as the center of excellence for Italy’s fledgling sparkling wine industry. Today there are dozens of estates mounting credible challenges to Champagne’s supremacy, but Cà del Bosco continues to lead the field.

Cavalleri - Lombardia/Franciacorta

location: via Provinciale 96, Erbusco
telephone number: 0307 760217
winery open to public: by appt
wine styles: red, white, sparkling
best vintages: 2000, 1998, 1996
recommended wines: Franciacorta Brut Satèn

A visit to the Cavalleri estate, with its turreted gates and stately drive, is like stepping back in time. Cavalleri’s tradition of making excellent Franciacorta is both an object of great pride and a role that the family takes very seriously. The style is one of pleasing rusticity; the characters of both grape and winemaking are given equal billing. Long aging on lees (four years for the vintage wines) confers additional complexity, but the primary fruit character is always in evidence. Cavalleri’s vintage Satèn is the pick of the crop—the luxurious mousse and toasted brioche character make an idyllic summer sparkler.

Mazzolino - Lombardia/Oltrepò Pavese

location: via Mazzolino 26, Corvino San Quirico
telephone number: 0383 876122
winery open to public: by appt
wine styles: red, white, dessert
best vintages: most recent (w), 2000 (r)
recommended wines: Oltrepò Pavese: Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Nero

The Oltrepò Pavese DOC produces oceans of wine, and most of it is best forgotten. Tenuta Mazzolino is the lone beacon in this sea of mediocrity. International varieties are skillfully vinified by a team of French oenologists who have more than a passing familiarity with the likes of Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir) and Cabernet Sauvignon, and these sit alongside an impressive range of local specialties such as Bonarda. The Pinot Nero deserves special mention—it is one of Italy’s best, with Pinot’s telltale red berry fruit and elegant mid-palate much in evidence.

Nino Negri - Lombardia/Valtellina

location: via Ghibellini 3, Chiuro
telephone number: 0342 482521
wine styles: red, white
best vintages: 1999, 1998, 1997, 1995
recommended wines: Valtellina Superiore Vigna Fracia, Valtellina Sfursat Cinque Stelle

The Negri estate is the undisputed king of Valtellina. Not only does it produce a complete range from each of the subdistricts, it also makes a range of sforzati— the amarone-style wines for which Valtellina is famous. Annual volumes are approaching one million bottles a year, which makes the extremely high quality across the board even more impressive. Top of the ladder is the Sfursat Cinque Stelle, an immortal Nebbiolo combining palate-numbing tannin with an immense concentration of tobacco, chocolate, and dried fruit. These are traditional renderings of Nebbiolo—lengthy maceration times and a couple of years’ cask maturation result in the orangey rim and oxidized character associated with the Nebbiolo of yesteryear. This old-fashioned approach may have its critics, but older vintages show great balance and freshness.

Tenuta Roveglia - Lombardia/Lugana

location: loc Roveglia, 1, Pozzolengo
telephone number: 030 918663
wine styles: white, sparkling
best vintages: most recent
recommended wines: Lugana Superiore Vigne di Catullo

The manicured exterior of Tenuta Roveglia hides one of Lombardia’s most dynamic producers and one with a true passion for Trebbiano. The least expensive Lugana is a splendid introduction to this DOC’s affordable, nutty, and faintly aromatic pleasures. Up another notch from this in terms of quality is the Vigne di Catullo, from a plot of old-vine Trebbiano. Bitter almonds mingle with melon and a bracing citrus acidity provides focus; plus, the length is unbelievable given the wine’s humble origins and modest price.

Triacca - Lombardia/Valtellina

location: via Nazionale 121, Villa di Tirano
telephone number: 0342 701352
winery open to public: by appt
wine styles: red, white
best vintages: 2000, 1999
recommended wines: Valtellina Sforzato, Valtellina Superiore Prestigio

Nebbiolo is a difficult grape to nurture successfully at the best of times, but coaxing it to ripeness in the Alpine conditions of the Valtellina is a labor of love. It must be frustrating to toil on steep, terraced vineyards, patiently wait for grapes to dry, and age wines in wood for long periods, only for the wine-drinking fraternity to take precious little notice of your labor. Domenico Triacca, however, relishes a challenge and seems undaunted by the Valtellina’s limited following among wine lovers. That these wines deserve wider appreciation is beyond doubt. Triacca’s Valtellina sforzato, made from partially dried grapes, uses Nebbiolo’s structure as a foil for truly decadent amounts of black fruit and mineral intensity. The Valtellina Prestigio replicates much of the sforzato’s charms in a more accessible model best consumed with a bowl of hearty mountain stew.

Uberti - Lombardia/Franciacorta

location: via Enrico Fermi 2, Erbusco
telephone number: 0307 267476
winery open to public: by appt
wine styles: red, white, sparkling
best vintages: 2000, 1997, 1995
recommended wines: Franciacorta: Extra Brut Comarí del Salem, Satèn Magnificentia

A far cry from the glittering hobby estates typical of Franciacorta, Uberti remains a resolutely family concern, run with fastidious care by Agostino and Eleonora Uberti. Annual production is just 120,000 bottles a year, and these are sourced entirely from their own vineyards. The craftsmanship evident across the range catapults Uberti straight into the front ranks of Franciacorta’s winemaking fraternity. Top marks go to the Extra Brut Comarí del Salem, a wine whose lack of dryness is more than balanced by a wealth of apple and toasty complexity. The Satèn Magnificentia is a fusion of stone fruit and biscuity elegance with layers of flavor on the finish.

La Stoppa - Emilia/Colli Piacentini

location: fraz Ancarano, Rivergaro
telephone number: 0523 958159
winery open to public: by appt
wine styles: red, white, dessert
best vintages: 2000, 1996
recommended wines: Colli Piacentini: Cabernet Sauvignon Stoppa, Malvasia Passito Vigna del Volta

By Emilian standards, the La Stoppa winery is quite small—making just 200,000 bottles from the company’s own vineyards—but this gives owner Elena Pantaleoni control over every aspect of production. The Bordeaux-style blend Stoppa offers a well-judged mouthful of fruit and wood, but the Malvasia Passito Vigna del Volta is the real showstopper. Ten months in oak have added a lick of spicy vanilla to the herbal, honeyed, concentrated Malvasia. The Colli Piacentini could do with more wineries like this one.

La Tosa - Emilia/Colli Piacentini

location: loc La Tosa, Vigolzone
telephone number: 0523 870727
winery open to public: by appt
wine styles: red, white, sparkling
best vintages: red: 2000, 1999, 1997; white: most recent
recommended wines: Colli Piacentini: Malvasia Sorriso di Cielo, Cabernet Sauvignon Luna Selectiva, Sauvignon Blanc

The Colli Piacentini DOC is not an area renowned for quality wines. First-rate producers are few and far between, and this DOC is seldom included in the pantheon of great Italian wines. It is therefore all the more pleasing to taste the range of excellent, modestly-priced wines from La Tosa, owned by Stefano and Ferruccio Pizzamiglio. The aim of purity of fruit together with varietal character is largely achieved, and the Malvasia, Sauvignon Blanc, and Cabernet Sauvignon are all hugely drinkable examples of this region’s potential.

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