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The many faces of Italian wine
SPEAKING about Italian wine as a whole always risks oversimplification because of the diversity involved. Although few wine-producing countries are homogenous, Italy takes things to extremes, with 20 administrative regions and more than 400 appellations. Grape diversity confuses things further, with 350 grape varieties producing a bewildering array of styles, some of which aren't made outside Italy.
Couple all of this with ambiguous wine laws, and newcomers to Italian wine have their work cut out for them.
Take Chianti Classico as an example. The laws require the wine to compriseno less than 80 per cent Sangiovese grapes, but the remainder can come from any locally grown non-aromatic red grapes. This means that Chianti Classico can appear clear garnet as legitimately as opaque ruby. And the wines not only look different, but taste different too.
This makes it more practical to approach wine by grape rather than style or region. The three noble red grapes are a good place to start: Nebbiolo from the North, Sangiovese from Central Italy, and Aglianico to the South. All of them have complex flavours, age well, and produce varietal wines that express regional characteristics.
Aglianico-based wines such as Taurasi don't have a significant presence in South-east Asia. The same can't be said for Sangiovese and Nebbiolo. Seven wines made from those two grapes made it to the Top 50 in The Business Times Wine Challenge 2015 - CEOs' Choice, in partnership with UBS.
- The BT Wine Challenge 2015 - CEOs' Choice, in partnership with UBS, recently concluded its judging process. The Top 10 CEOs' Choice wines will be unveiled in an awards ceremony on Oct 9
Gianni Brunelli Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2008
Wines of Gianni Brunelli tell a tale of love for place, family and memories. The Brunelli were from old Montalcino stock, but Gianni found his fortune as a restaurateur in Siena. His Osteria Le Logge has been ranked the best restaurant in the city by many. In 1987, he amassed enough wealth to reacquire property his father sold. Gianni replanted the two hectare plot in 1989, but one can still find vines planted by his father in 1947. Gianni passed away in 2008 and his wife Laura continues his work.
Fontanafredda Coste Rubin Barbaresco 2008
Barbaresco, like Barolo, is a Nebbiolo wine from Piedmont. The profile of Barbaresco is more vibrant and youthful in comparison, but it still packs classic tannins and dense texture. Fontanafredda was a matrimonial gift from the love smitten King of Sardinia, Vittorio Emanuele II, to a commoner, Rosa Vercellana. After their fairy tale-like wedding, the 54 hectares of land remained untouched for two decades before their son, Emanuele Guerrieri, decided to devote his life to winemaking.
Elio Perrone Grivo Barbera d’Asti 2012
The Asti region is almost synonymous with fresh wines drinkable in their youth, and the same can be said of the Barbera grape. It produces wines with bright and fruity flavours, low tannins and fresh acidity, which allows them to be versatile meal companions. Stefano Perrone runs the show now at Elio Perrone. He is a specialist in Moscato d'Asti but also took an interest in some of the older vineyards in the Asti region. He bought two old vineyards planted with Barbera in the late 1990s, and one of those contributes grapes to the Grivo Barbera d'Asti.
Poggio San Polo Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2008
Poggio San Polo was acquired in 2007 by the Veneto-based Allegrini family together with US wine importer Winebow. The Brunello di Montalcino vineyard was only planted in 1990, and has received acclaim since its 1997 vintage. A mere eight hectares set aside for Brunello di Montalcino has been enough to secure the winery's reputation, thanks to the twin blessings of good fortune and excellent geography.
Pieropan Soave Classico La Rocca 2013
La Rocca was first bottled in 1978 and was the work of Leonildo Pieropan. The wine was rich and round with complexity, unlike the bland and lean Soave wines available on the market at the time. But Italians didn't take to La Rocca. It simply wasn't Soave enough. Soft-spoken Leonildo knew his wine was special and continued making La Rocca his way. At times mistaken for a Grand Cru Chablis, his efforts were finally recognised a decade later, which also allowed the spotlight to shine on Garganega grapes.
Mazzei Castello di Fonterutoli Chianti Classico 2010
(SUTL Wines and Spirits)
Mazzei Castello di Fonterutoli represents Chianti Classico in the Top 50. With its 92 per cent Sangiovese blended with traditional varieties Malvasia Nera and Colorino, the wine retains a signature Chianti character without venturing too far into Brunello territory. To best express the region, the grapes were hand-picked from 50 parcels, fermented and aged separately before blending.
Graziano Pra Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG 2009
(Italian Wine Club)
Since Amarone is entirely made from grapes grown in Veneto, it is responsible for maintaining demand for grapes from the region - traditionally Corvina, Molinara and Rondinella - and keeping alive Veneto's tradition of drying grapes. Amarone is notorious for high alcohol levels but Graziano Pra challenges himself to retain mineral, elegance and finesse from grapes grown in his high altitude organic vineyard.
Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2009
(Auric Pacific Marketing)
Brunello di Montalcino can legally only be made from Sangiovese grapes, which is why it is often seen as the noblest of Sangiovese-based wines. The Banfi company was started by the Mariani family as a wine merchant in the United States. In 1978, John and Harry Mariani founded the Castello Banfi winery. It has since been named Winery of The Year several times, and is credited by its peers for bringing international attention to Brunello di Montalcino.
Pecchenino Le Coste Barolo 2009
Although the Pecchenino estate is more closely associated with Nebbiolo, the Dolcetto grape remains an important variety in Piedmont. Most Monforte d'Alba Barolo comes across as deeply complex wine with firm structure, but Orlando Pecchenino manages to combine approachability with velvety lushness, thanks in part to grapes from the Le Coste (di Monforte) vineyard that his family owns.
Fratelli Alessandria Barolo ‘Monvigliero’ 2009
The commune of Verduno is probably not the first name many drinkers will attach to Barolo wines. However, the Monvigliero cru is one of the more promising spots within Verduno, located at the northern edge of the Barolo zone. Fratelli Alessandria's winery was founded there in the early 19th Century, and was recognised as early as 1843, by King Carlo Alberto, for its notable quality. The winery still considers itself traditional by today's standards, with a small proportion of wines aged in 500-litre French oak barrels before being blended in 3,000-litre Slavonian oak barrels.
This is the second in a series of five stories featuring the Top 50 wines of The Business Times Wine Challenge 2015 - CEOs' Choice, in partnership with UBS. The wine awards are in their third year, and are the only ones that reflect the palate of Singapore's business elite. Wines submitted by merchants were shortlisted by a panel of wine professionals, and were then narrowed down by CEO judges to 10 CEOs' Choice winners, which will be unveiled at an awards ceremony on Oct 9.