The magical wines from the Foradori estate in Trentino's Dolomite Mountains have been well-documented here before, and I find an added layer of refinement and precision with each release. If you're curious about Italy's extreme alpine setting, Foradori is where I recommend you turn first.
Teroldego is an esoteric variety that opens with dark plum and licorice, followed by softer floral and herbaceous qualities, and finishes with a finely pronounced minerality. From the first sip to the last, Elisabetta's wines are constantly changing and fascinating to no end. The entry-level teroldego ages in neutral barrels and cement tanks while the old-vine, riserva-level "Granato ages in old foudres.
Elisabetta's father unexpectedly passed away while she was still in enology school, and after graduating, in 1984, she was thrust into harvest and production thereafter. Though her winemaking garnered awards in the 90s, the wines came into their own when she adopted biodynamic principles, eliminated lab yeasts, lowered sulfur additions, and included riper stems in the ferments. Visits with Giusto Occhipinti of COS introduced her to the use of clay amphora for aging.
I am always searching for the rebels in traditional wine regions and, better yet, those doing it well. Arguably the most stick it to the Man producer in Piedmont, Fabio Gea’s approach is both thoughtful and unconventional, from pét-nats made from Barbaresco-designated fruit to vinifying specific wines submerged in water (like DNAss). The wines speak to Barbaresco from a completely different lens.
Gea farms just 1.8 hectares of Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Dolcetto in and around Barbaresco, from which he produces 18 different wines. DNAss is one in a three-part series (The others, Back Grin and Cul Otte, sold out earlier this year). Made from 100% Nebbiolo, DNAss ferments and ages in homemade porcelain amphora and stoneware vessels without any sulfur, then is bottled in old Travaglini Gattinara bottles. Barbaresco is known for its more approachable Nebbiolos, and Gea's are some of the wildest yet pure expressions to encounter.
Of course, the Barbaresco designates are the most traditional. We tasted the 2014 Notu Seguiva Le Gocce D'Acqua, which shows classic notes of ripe cherry fruit and rose aromatics, and the structure and tannins are just beginning to soften. It's fermented in concrete, aged in barrel for three years, and bottled with minimal sulfur. Barolo was hit hard by heavy rainfall and hail storms in 2014, so this is a particular vintage where Piedmont lovers should veer toward Barbaresco!
The drive from Mt. Etna to Vittoria reminded me just how varied the landscape and terroir of Sicily were. Temperatures rose, and the climate turns arid. It was hard to believe the place I was heading was beloved for the freshness and clarity of its wines. Still, there's no better introduction to Vittoria than the dream project brewed up by Giambattista Cilia, Giusto Occhipinti, and Cirino Strano (COS) in 1980.
There's a constant breeze going through the Hyblaean mountains, and the vines here are on red clay and sand over a deep bedrock of limestone. The wind helps moderate the inland temperatures, the red sand cooling immediately after sunset, and the limestone is responsible for low pH levels in the wine, giving high acidity and nervy minerality.
I met with Giusto Occhipinti just as they were starting to bottle a new vintage. The wines we tasted were fermented in cement and aged in large Slavonian oak casks, similar to one's used for traditional Barolo and Brunello. This technique ensures the wines accentuate crisp, refreshing notes that make the wines a joy to drink. COS has put the region's once obscure Frappato and Nero d'Avola on the world map!
Naples is famous for its Neapolitan-style pizza, but truth be told, its real magic is seafood. Situated just west of Mt. Vesuvius on the Mediterranean coast, the volcanic soils here and in Avellino are home to the white variety, Fiano, a perfect match for the ultra-fresh fare in Naples restaurants. Larger producers litter every wine list, but there's one particular small producer that's developed a cult following.
Ciro Picariello's wines come from parcels in Montefredane and Summonte (1,600 feet and 2,100 feet above sea level, respectively). His secret is fastidious vineyard work, of course, but he's also exact in the cellar, from pressing plots individually to undisturbed aging on the wines' fine lees. The wines ferment by native yeast, something commercial wineries in Campania view as risky.
Fiano has notes of apple, peach, almond paste, and a flinty mineral quality. With time, the grape variety ages similarly to Loire Chenin Blanc, revealing honey, beeswax, and lavender notes. It's one of the most age-worthy white wines in Italy, and I always stock up on Ciro's top Fiano bottling, 906, which comes from his highest elevation plantings and sees an extra year of aging on fine lees.
Fontodi is the poster child of everything positive achieved in Chianti Classico with modernization. In 1968, the Manetti family purchased this property and ushered the Panzano zone into the minds of collectors, showing a "Super Tuscan" could still be super without resigning to blending international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with native Sangiovese.
Atop the Conca d'Oro, Fontodi's vines bask in the sun in this northern property at 450 meters above sea level. The estate's oldest vines mainly grow on porous and fragile gaelstro soil and go into the flagship Flaccianello. Walking throughout this immaculate, pristine cuverie and cellar, I was reminded of Bordeaux's influence on the region. Aging for the flagship Falccianello takes place in 100% new French barrique. Normally, this would be a turn-off for me in Chianti, but the mastery of integrating this wood has earned Fontodi the respect of traditional-leaning collectors for decades.
It's not often that I find myself reaching for the more modern examples of Sangiovese, but without a doubt, Flaccianello is where to turn for Chianti at its most stately and refined. The track record of Flaccianello in the cellar is legendary. Today, bottles from the 1980s are still fresh and offer thrilling drinking experiences.