Your Guide to Organic, Biodynamic and Natural Wine



Paterna Winery – Tuscany

Paterna

Tuscany’s Paterna winery is proud of its certified organic status, but they’re even more proud of their commitment to working with people with special needs. They call the practice Agricoltura Sociale where those with disabilities are given a place in a rural setting. This philosophy also applies to their visitors, having made their Bed & Breakfast (or agriturismo) wheelchair accessible – a milestone in Italy where being physically disabled can be a true issue in terms of movement within the countryside.

The Paterna Team

The Paterna Team

Paterna, located near the city of Arezzo, has a very low-key vibe – no television sets for visitors. Rather they encourage visitors to take vegetables from the garden, cook outside with friends and share the outdoor spaces. They are also friendly and open to campers. They grow a host of indigenous grapes such as Sangiovese, Canaiolo, Colorino, Trebbiano and Malvasia. The winery has been organic for over 20 years.

The idea for this winery began in the 1970s, according to Marco Noferi, one of the founders. The terroir is a mixture of sand and fine clay, where Sangiovese flourishes. The area is located near the Pratomagno mountain which serves as a barrier from the winds from the Northeast. Marco told me they have considerable temperature shifts between day and night at the winery.

Arezzo

Arezzo

We spent a considerable amount of time talking about how much the countryside around Arezzo had changed. In the past, they had the culture of the Mezzadria where families would work the land for a “boss.” Sometimes, up to 200 families lived on the farms, working for the landowner. This system mostly ended by the 1960s, and there was an exodus from the countryside to the city. Some two-thirds of the population left and took with them the many skills needed to run country properties. During the 1980s, however, there was a return of interest in the area with people from Milano and from Switzerland looking to buy properties and using well-known consultants. Paterna was also founded in this period of time, but with a different philosophy. They are interested in recouping indigenous varieties, such as Pugnitello, and are one of the few wineries that grow this ancient grape.


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Organic wines would be much more widespread in Italy if legislation and organizing entities were more unified, producers say. In my talks with wine producer over the years, certain themes keep popping up: the expense of certification and the length of the time needed to be certified, but the confusing number of certifying entities is perhaps the most prominent reason winemakers choose to forgo the process. Each one has different standards, and it is not always clear where those practices fit in with EU and US regulations.

At this year’s Vinitaly wine fair in Verona, there were two different areas for wines that are organically certified, sustainably farmed or biodynamic – a good sign of the confusion within the Italian wine community. One of them, FederBio, is an organizing entity while the other, Vivit, hosted a plethora of wineries using diverse certifications. Vivit has been part of the Vinitaly fair for three years and was by far the more crowded pavilion this year.

FederBio itself is made up of a large number of certifiers – Bios, Ccpb EcoGruppo, Icea, Qcertificazini, Sidel, and Suolo and Salute, among others. The group claims land used for organic vineyards, and those in the process of converting, increased 15.8% in 2013. The number of wineries participating also increased 16.5%. Clearly there is a desire to produce more organic wines. Italy is already the third largest producer of organically grown grapes in Europe after Spain and France.

There was also a third area at the fair dedicated to more “natural practices,” called Free Wine, made up of wineries that were reducing the amount of sulfites added to their wines.

For many years there have also been two well-known wine fairs that coincide with Vinitaly – Vin Natur and Vini Veri. It was only three years ago that Vinitaly decide to host an area dedicated to more natural wine practices. Vin Natur showcases Italian and foreign natural wines. Vini Veri defines itself not as either organic or biodynamic, but have strict rules about chemical use, mandate using indigenous grape varietals and insist on hand harvesting.

Italian wineries would benefit from more clear guidelines on how to become organic – the demand is already there. Italy is already the second largest exporter of organic wines into the Unites States, and as Americans continue to look for organically produced wines, Italy’s organic winemaking has incentive to thrive and grow.


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Trentino’s Ferrari Winery has just purchased a 50% stake of Bisol, the prosecco superiore producer from the Veneto. According to Ferrari’s Alessandro Lunelli, “What we are trying to do is showcase the variety in Italian sparkling wine. Some people may have seen us as competitors but we see Prosecco DOCG and Trento DOC classico as completely different wines. One is made using the traditional method while the other uses the Charmat method. Not much will change at Bisol, we are just giving them access to our distribution system and our high levels of technology,” he added.

Gianluca and Desiderio Bisol will continue their work with the company in their current positions, continuing the family tradition that is now in its twenty-first generation.

“’This investment in Bisol is consistent with our plan to create a group made up of Italian drinking excellence,“ says Matteo Lunelli, CEO of the Lunelli Group. ”We’ve deliberated whether to enter the world of prosecco for a long time and we’ve found the ideal company in Bisol: a historic and prestigious brand with huge potential for growth, managed by a family we greatly esteem. Back in 1952 our grandfather, Bruno Lunelli, started to work alongside Giulio Ferrari and would continue to do so for years. And, as advocates of continuity, today we’ll do the same and work enthusiastically alongside the Bisol family.”

In addition to this new family venture, Alessandro has a strategy for sustainability. “We have been in the process of converting to organic winemaking for the past year. We are currently hand harvesting, using low yields, mechanically pruning and using green manure on 120 hectares of our property.” They are involved in a project with 500 families that farm the land that is called “sustainable mountain agriculture.”

The Lunelli group is composed of Ferrari sparkling white wine, but also includes the Lunelli wines, a true expression of the Trentino region, Segnana Grappa, a historical brand of Italian distillates, the Umbrian wines of Tenuta Castelbuono, the Tuscan wines of Tenuta Podernovo and Surgiva water – one of the lightest waters in the world.

The grapes at Castelbuono in Umbria are certified organic and starting in 2014, the wines will be as well. The wines made at Tenuta Podernovo are also certified organic and are part of the Colli Pisani denomination.

Ferrari was founded in 1902 by Giulio Ferrari and their name is synonymous with sparkling wine in Italy. Made in the Metodo Classico style from chardonnay, Ferrari was among the first wineries to bring sparking wine into every Italian household. Giulio had studied at the School of Viticulture in Montpellier and dreamt of making an Italian equivalent to Champagne. They produce some 4.5 million bottles a year.

Giulio Ferrari didn’t have any children and chose a friend and local merchant Bruno Lunelli as successor for his winery, who took over in 1952. The company was run by Bruno’s three sons, Gino, Mauro and Franco, starting from 1969 until 2005, and then Bruno’s grandchildren, Marcello, Matteo and Camilla took the reins of the firm. They have a team of eight winemakers, led by Marcello Lunelli, and four agronomists.

Ferrari is also active in arenas related to the Italian lifestyle. This year they have instituted their own Ferrari Award – given to a newspaper or magazine, published outside of Italy, which calls attention to the ‘Italian Art of Living’ in an original fashion. The prize consists of 1,000 bottles of Ferrari Brut for each of the three awards they hand out.


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Cantina De Luca-500px

Calabria brings to mind many things but organic winemaking has never been one of them. But a winery that I met at Vinitaly has been thinking about those issues for over 20 years. In fact, this winery, Azienda Vinicola di De Luca Vincenzo is one of only two or three organic wineries in that region.

Cantina De Luca began producing wines in 1994. They are located in the province of Crotone in the town of Melissa. They work in the Ciro and Ciro Classico areas of Calabria. Wines from Ciro and Ciro Classico are typically made with Gaglioppo, a grape thought to be of Greek origins.

The core of the Ciro production is located in the towns of Cirò and Cirò Marina. These two ancient towns are located near the Ionic coast and benefit from wonderful sun and cooling breezes. They are not completely flat areas, but instead have gentle rolling hills. The soil is a mix of clay, sand and calcareous deposits.

The winery was founded by Abramo De Luca and is located at 300 meters above sea level. The vineyards have a wonderful microclimate with noticeable thermal excursion that allows the grapes to mature to full phenolic maturity, not an easy feat in the hot climate of Calabria. The winemaker is Giuseppe Liotti.

I tried a number of their wines, including a white, a rose and two reds. The white was called Donna Cristina and was made from Greco Bianco, a grape brought to Calabria during the period of the Magna Grecia. It works well in times of drought – perfect for this region. The wine was floral with citrus and stone aromas and flavors. It was rich and full-bodied.

We also tried to a rose, Donna Antonietta, made from Gaglioppo, the signature variety from Calabria. It had aromas and flavors of cherry and strawberry and an earthy, marine quality to it otherwise known as sapidity. Gaglioppo, they told me, is hard to work in an organic fashion because the grape bunches are so close together.

I also tried their Donna Caterina Ciro DOC made with Gaglioppo. This was a beautiful expression of the gaglioppo grape with a cherry, strawberry, pepper, tobacco nose and similar palate. The wine macerates on its skins for 10 days and then spends two years in wood, followed by 4-6 months in the bottle before being released into the market.

The final wine I tasted was called Melissa Ciro Superiore DOC and was also made from the Gaglioppo grape. This wine had more of a toasty, oaky aroma and flavor to it with the classic spice and vanilla notes and flavors associated with barrique aging.


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The Campolucci Vineyards of Mannucci Droandi.

Mannucci Droandi is a winery in the Valdarno area of Tuscany near the town of Montevarchi. The Valdarno is an ancient wine making region and is part of the province of Arezzo. Wine has been part of Arezzo’s history for centuries. The people living in this part of the peninsula were the mysterious Etruscans. An official registry from the 15th Century indicates that wines from the Valdarno di Sopra (on the hills) were considered to be of superior quality while the wines from around the piano di Arezzo (in the valley) sold for a lesser price. In fact, in 1716 Cosimo III de ’Medici announced ‘ a “Bando” designating four areas dedicated to the production of quality wine, – Chianti, Pomino, Carmigmano and Vald’Arno di Sopra.

The Mannucci Droandi family has been farming their land for many years, but used to sell their grapes until the 1990s, when they began making their own wines. The owner Roberto Giulio Droandi and his wife Maria Grazia Mammuccini run the estate They have two properties: the first is the Campolucci that has 6.5 hectares and is located on the eastern slopes of the Chianti Mountains at about 250 meters above sea level. The family has owned this property since 1929 and its alluvial, sandy and silt soils are organically certified.
 
The second property is called Ceppeto, and is surrounded by dense woodland. This property is on the western side of the Chianti Mountains at 450 meters above sea level. The soils are a mix of clay and stones and are also organically certified.

Mannucci Droandi has been practicing organic viticulture since 2000. They use what is known as “sovescio,” or composting between their rows and have an integrated pest management regime. They believe in a balanced ecosystem on their farm. Hunting is not allowed on their property and they told me they have numerous hare, wild boar and other animals that move throughout their land. Roberto told me that his winery is a “happy island unto itself.”


The Ceppeto Vineyards of Mannucci Droandi.

I visited with Roberto and his wife on a very rainy night in November. They were lovely and fascinating to speak with and the wines were exquisite. Roberto reminded me of both a gentleman farmer as well as an explorer.

The winery has been a hub for a project with the Consiglio per la Ricerca e la Sperimentazione in Agricoltura; they are working to bring back extinct and nearly extinct Tuscan varieties. Because of legislation and market forces, Tuscany, and the rest of Italy, now have many fewer varietals. Roberto said he used to have field blends throughout his lands and, at one point, grubbed them up. He is now quite sorry he did that. He also found numerous grapes growing on his land that are unique.

The study with the university is to see how some of these older varieties can grow today. According to the University, the change in viticulture is a negative consequence of specialization, and is harmful for the genetic patrimony of the vine. Some of the grape varieties that were growing did well on the property while others did not. L’Orpicchio was one that did not do well while others such as barsaglina, pugnitello and foglia tonda did.

The winery makes interesting Chianti such as Chianti Colli Aretini, a blend of Sangiovese 90%, Canaiolo 5% and ancient Tuscan red grapes 5%, as well as a Chianti Classico, thanks to their privileged location between Arezzo and the Chianti Classico area.

They also make mono-varietal wines from the rare varietals. The Barsaglina comes from three hectares of alluvial, medium-textured soil located 250 meters above sea level. They work the land by short-spurred cordon training, summer trimming, bunch thinning and leaf removal and harvesting in stages. The wine is made from 100% Barsaglina – a Tuscan grape variety originally from the province of Massa Carrara.

They also made a 100% Foglia Tonda, a Tuscan grape variety originally from the province of Siena. They use the same viticulture techniques with this variety as the Barsaglina. In the cellar, the grapes are de-stemmed and gently crushed and then fermented in small vats (10–15 hectoliters), with prolonged maceration (20 days) and pumping-over alternated with delestage; a two-step “rack-and-return” process in which fermenting red wine juice is separated from the grape solids by racking and then returned to the fermenting vat to re-soak the solids. This step is then repeated daily. The wine is aged for eight months in French oak barrels used for the 2nd and 3rd time and then in the bottle for three months.

They also made a 100% Pugnitello, a Tuscan red grape variety also originally from the province of Siena. The selected grapes macerate for 25 days in 10-hectoliter barrels used for the 2nd and 3rd time and then age in the bottle for 6 months.


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Many Italian producers are moving towards sustainable, organic and biodynamic viticulture practices, but the panorama of who is doing what is still very fragmented and dispersed. That is one reason that I found the group I Dolomitici so refreshing.

At Vinitaly in 2012, I met the owner of Azienda Agricola Vilar di Spagnolli Luigi. He was fascinating to talk to and the only person I have ever encountered at the event who looked like he had just come in from the farm, with dirt still under his fingernails. He was from the Trentino region in Northern Italy.

We spoke for a long time about his winemaking philosophy and the group that he is part of, I Dolomitici. They are 11 producers united by friendship, solidarity, and a common vision of agriculture in the Trentino. Their desire is to promote the region’s diversity and originality with respect for nature and ethical concerns. I Liberi Viticoltori Trentini is composed of the following wineries: Castel Noarna, Cesconi, Dalzocchio, Elisabetta Foradori, Eugenio Rosi, Fanti, Francesco Poli, Gino Pedrotti, Maso Furli, Molino dei Lessi and Vilar.

They are all either organically certified or moving in that direction. Additionally, most of them are also looking to become biodynamic in the near future. They mostly harvest by hand and make sure that their soils are as healthy as possible by companion planting other crops in their vineyards. They believe in an integrated system of agriculture and do not believe in the use of pesticides, artificial fertilizers and other chemical products. They feel the old fashioned ways that grapes were traditionally grown in their region keep the vineyards in their own natural balance.

In the group, Dalzocchio was certified organic since 2001 while Foradori has been biodynamic since 2002. Castel Noarna, Gino Pedrottti, Vilar, Francesco Poli and Cesconi are organic and are all moving toward biodynamic viticulture. Maso Furli and Molino dei Lessi are also organic and awaiting certification, while Fanti is moving in the same direction. Eugenio Rosi also believes in these practices and only uses ambient yeast in his wines.

These 11 producers also produced a wine together called Ciso, made from an indigenous grape variety that only grows in a small plot of land that the group collectively farms – just 727 plants that grow on their own rootstocks in a 100-year-old vineyard. In between the rows of vines are corn, tobacco, wheat, squash and beans.

The grape variety is called Lambrusco a Foglia Fastagliata. The first bottle of this wine was released in 2010. The name Ciso comes from the name of the farmer who gave them the vines to cultivate together. In 2010, they only made 3000 bottles and 150 magnums of this wine. While getting a bottle of the wine may be complicated, the philosophy of the group is quite easy to understand.

They look to make wines that are authentic and express the Trentino terroir where the grapes grow; they harvest mature grapes that are able to transmit a sense of what the particular vintage was like; they look to vinify the wine in such a way that the wine expresses specifics of the vintage; and they want to produce a healthy wine that is both an expression of the terroir in Trentino, the grape variety, the vintage and the winemakers’ philosophy.

The group tries to use as few sulfites as possible as they want the wines to be as healthy as it can be. Of course, the amount they use will depend on the vintage and the grape variety.

A number of the producers make a wine using the Nosiola grape that is indigenous to Trentino. This is a white grape that can be used to make still or sweet wine or a passito. Vino Santo made from Nosiola is a big tradition in this region.

Spagnolli told me that Nosiola is an aromatic and acidic grape filled with fruit and floral aromas and flavors. This grape ripens in mid to late October. Nosiola is susceptible to humidity. While this can be a disaster for a still white wine, it is perfect for drying the grapes used in a passito-style dessert wine, also made in the area. The name Nosiola is said to come from the Italian word for hazelnut, Nocciola.

A number of producers in the group make wines using Nosiola including:

  • Vilàr, Vigneti delle Dolomiti IGT Nosiola, 2012
  • Cesconi, Vigneti delle Dolomiti IGT Nosiola, 2011
  • Gino Pedrotti, Vigneti delle Dolomiti IGT Nosiola 2012
  • Castel Noarna, Vigneti delle Dolomiti IGT Nosiola 2011
  • Foradori, Fontanasanta – Nosiola Vigneti delle Dolomiti IGT 2011
  • Giuseppe Fanti, Nosiola Vigneti delle Dolomiti IGT 2011
  • Francesco Poli, Trentino DOC Vino Santo, 2001

Definitely a wine to try, Nosiola pairs well with a variety of foods and can also be used as an aperitif.


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Organic and biodynamic wines now come from all parts of Italy, as these practices are beginning to seriously take hold in the country. One of the Sicilian wineries that has adhered to these practices for the past 20 years is Manfredi Guccione from Palermo. The winery is located at 500 meters above sea level in the hills of Contrada Cerasa, near the city of Monreale; an area in Sicily where people from Albania migrated generations ago, and where a local language is still spoken that is akin to Albanese. The area’s grapes were usually sold for blending wines, because of their high sugar content.

In 2005, Guccione decided to change the way he grew his grapes and cut yields drastically. He used both ancient Sicilian winery and natural winemaking techniques to produce his wines. They use field blends for their wines, rather than planting clones or genetically modified plants.

Harvests are done by hand and fermentation takes place using ambient yeasts. They add nothing to the wines, nor do they filter them, preferring to leave them in the most natural state possible. Additionally, they have lowered the amount of sulfur they use. This natural approach continues through bottling and packaging, putting on the labels by hand and using beeswax to seal the bottles.

Their motto in Sicilian is “Stu Vinu fa respirare l’anima,“ loosely translated to ”this wine helps the soul to breathe."

The winery was certified organic in 1996, relatively early in the history of natural winemaking in Italy. They are moving towards becoming a biodynamic winery as well.

The winery only produces mono-varietal wines, focusing on indigenous varieties such as Trebbiano, Catarratto, Perricone, Nerello Mascalese and Nero d’Avola. They choose to make only mono-varietals because they feel they reflect the perfect terroir of the area and the precise microclimate that they are blessed with.

I was introduced to the winery during Vinitaly 2013. They participated in the event as part of the Vivit group of organic, biodynamic wines – a separate section in the fair. The 2014 edition of Vinitaly will have a much larger number of “natural wines” from all over the world.

The winery has clay soils, and a particular microclimate with large thermal excursions of temperature. They produce 21.000 bottles annually, divided among eight wines. The wines are sold in a number of European countries such as France, Spain, Germany, England, Norway and Sweden, as well as in Japan, the US and Australia.

The family was truly lovely and I enjoyed the wines immensely, a good reason to go back to Palermo and Monreale to visit the winery and the amazing Monreale Cathedral.

Tasting Notes

Lolik 2011

100% Trebbiano that spends four months in 3 hl tonneaux, and then in stainless steel tanks for five months before being released. This was a beautiful white wine with floral notes and minerality. Perfect for light summer fare.They also make another version of Trebbiano called Veruzza that is only aged in stainless steel.

Gibril 2011

This is made from 100% Nerello Mascalese. It matures in 4 hl tonneaux. It was a gorgeous red wine with fresh red fruit aromas and flavors, as well as rich, chewy tannins. This grape variety grows well at higher altitudes. Many will recognize it from the wines of Mt. Etna, where it is often blended with Nerello Cappuccio. Some say that it is genetically related to the Sangiovese grape from Tuscany.

Arturo di Lanzeria 2011

This wine is made from 100% Perricone. This wine is refined in 4 hl tonneaux as well. The wine was deep ruby red in color with lovely red fruits, some oak and lots of spice. It also had chewy tannins and a hint of minerality. It also has considerable minerality for a red wine grape. Perricone is another Sicilian grape that is often used in blends. It too is supposedly related to Sangiovese. 



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NOBILE RISERVA BACK NEW

Il Conventino, one of a handful of wineries in Montepulciano that produce organically farmed grapes, was recently awarded the coveted Tre Bicchieri status from the Italian guide, Gambero Rosso. The winery is in a privileged location between the Val di Chiana and the Val d’Orcia, and its 5 hectares of vineyards are located at between 250 – 580 meters above sea level.

The Brini brothers – Pino, Duccio and Alessandro – bought the winery in 2003, and immediately made the decision to become organic. Today the winery is mostly run by Pino’s son Alberto and a cousin, Enzo, will soon join him. They also use a very famous enologist as a consultant, winemaker Attilio Pagli.

They were among the first in the area to farm organically, using strict pruning techniques, leaving only a few buds on the cane, exposing the vines to air and light in order to create a perfect microclimate within the canopy and choosing the right moment to harvest the grapes. They also plant grasses between the vines to stimulate competition with the grasses for nutrients and to keep the soil alive and active.

Alberto noted they use ambient yeast as well, and try to keep everything in balance on the farm. He said they used the grasses as a way to contrast humidity and to keep microorganisms, such as bacteria and insects, at bay. He said they believed in the technique of multi-crops to keep the land healthy.

The winery makes a series of wines including a Rosato, a Rosso di Montepulciano, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva, as well as a white wine, Grappa, Vino Santo, and also an olive oil.

The history of wine in Montepulciano extends all the way back to the Etruscans. Montepulciano is a hilly town with its vineyards located at 250 to 600 meters above sea level. Some 1,300 hectares of vineyards are registered in the books and are allowed to produce Vino Nobile di Montepulciano D.O.C.G. while another 389 hectares can produce Rosso di Montepulciano. There are about 7.6 million bottles of Vino Nobile produced annually and about 2.6 million bottles of Rosso di Montepulciano. An interesting fact is the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano was the first red wine to receive the Denominazione d’Origine Controllata e Garantita (D.O.C.G.) designation on July 1, 1980.

The Consorzio represents 251 producers or about 90% of the vineyards in the area. There are also 74 bottlers who are part of the Consortium. About 32% of Vino Nobile is sold in Italy while the other 68% is sold internationally. Germany is a very large market for this wine as are the Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland. About 17% of the production goes to the United States. I’m not at all surprised by these numbers, because every time I have visited the town there have been huge numbers of German tourists coming through. What I do find surprising though is that more of this wonderful wine made from a grape Americans love, Sangiovese, isn’t sold to the United States.

One of the reasons that I think Nobile isn’t as appreciated as it should be in the United States is that it tends to be tannic and astringent on the palate when it is young. Nobile is a wine that takes a long time to show its best face, something that those who like immediate gratification have a hard time with. Additionally, most Americans don’t have wine cellars where they can keep a wine for a number of years as it matures. Those that do won’t be disappointed; Vino Nobile shows its exceptional aromas and flavors with time.

Tasting Notes:

Rosato del Conventino I.G.T.

This wine is made from the first pressing of the grapes and has lovely fruit and floral aromas and flavors.

Rosso di Montepulciano D.O.C.

Made from 80% Sangiovese (Prugnolo Gentile), 15% Colorino, Canaiolo, and Mammolo. The grapes are hand harvested. The wine spends 15/20 days on the skins macerating at controlled temperature and then three months in large Slavonian oak barrels and some time in the bottle before being released. This Rosso was quite full-bodied with cherry notes and a nice finish.

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano D.O.C.G. 2009

This wine is made in much the same way as the Rosso, but macerates at a slightly warmer temperature and spends 24 months in Slavonian oak barrels and then some months in the bottle. This wine is 80% Sangiovese (Prugnolo Gentile) and 15% Colorino and Canaiolo. On the nose is a classic Vino Nobile with cherry, spice, tobacco and oak tones, with an earthy layer throughout and softer tannins than I expect from a Nobile. This is because the vintage was quite warm.

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano D.O.C.G. 2010

The 2010 version spent less time on the skins macerating, only 10 days, and had slightly rougher tannins when I tasted it, although the wine was very elegant and refined. 2010 was said to be a more classic vintage.

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano D.O.C.G. Riserva 2008

The Riserva is made in the same fashion as the Rosso and the Vino Nobile, but spends 30 months aging in Slavonian oak and six months in the bottle before it is released into the market. The Riserva was beautiful, with great structure and depth, harmonious and balanced at the same time. It also presented classic cherry, earth, spice and earthy aromas and flavors and some wood undertones.


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