A Family Affair: The Grandi Marchi Experience of Italy’s Iconic Wineries

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Last month I had the honour of attending ‘The Grandi Marchi Experience, Tour and Taste Italy’s Top Terroirs’, moderated by Gloria Maroti Frazee of Wine Spectator fame and held at the always exceptional Del Posto in NYC. The seminar and guided tasting showcased the signature wines of Italy’s most prestigious group of wineries. Founded 11 years ago, the Grandi Marchi is comprised of 19 members hailing exclusively from family estates throughout Italy. Their driving force is to defend terroir, with a philosophy of putting friends and people together in order to preserve the historic values of their families. The group focuses on the synergy of friendship between each of the winemaking members, along with the unique legacy and terroir of each of these estates. With such devotion and perseverance, it comes as no surprise that the members of Grandi Marchi are some of the most renowned estates in all of Italy.

It was an enlightening, educational experience to be privy to many family stories and background information on so many iconic estates and wines. I enjoyed all of the 15 wines presented, and yes returned to my seat with lunch and finished them all! Below are the wines that I felt to be most engaging, with an inviting story of where they’ve come from.

Ca’del Bosco
Since founding Ca’del Bosco Winery in Lombardy, Maurizio Zanella has been crafting Franciacorta wines for over 40 years, embracing a philosophy of “excellence in wine, the integrity of the territory and respect for tradition”. The iconic Cuvée Annamaria Clementi is dedicated to his mother, with only the best grapes from the best years being used.

Ca’del Bosco ‘Cuvée Annamaria Clementi’ Franciacorta Riserva DOCG 2006
The 40th vintage, complex, intense and elegant, and I imagine this is a reflection of his mother’s character. Pear, peach and citrus notes gleam atop hints of brioche, whilst super fine, consistent bubbles highlight steely minerals on the finish.
55% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Bianco, 20% Pinot Nero
12.5% Alcohol
$80 [average price]

Michele Chiarlo
I had the pleasure of meeting Alberto Chiarlo a few months back, please check out Molto Barolo! Exploring the Nuances of the King of Wines with Alberto Chiarlo for details on the Michele Chiarlo winery.

Michele Chiarlo ‘Cerequio’ Barolo DOCG 2011
Elegant though still young, with wild cherry, red berry and lively mint accented by earth and spice notes. The finish is stunning, with glorious fruit, honey and floral hints all balanced by dry tannins.
100% Nebbiolo
14.2% Alcohol
$75 [average price]

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Tasca D’Alimerita ‘Rosso del Conte’ Contea di Sclafani DOC 2011 and Pio Cesare Barolo DOCG 2011

Pio Cesare
Pio Boffa is the 4th generation of the family to head the estate his great grandfather, Pio Cesare founded in 1881. Located in Piedmont, the family estate has prestigious holdings in both the Barolo and Barbaresco regions. In addition to his dedication to preserving the individuality of each terroir, Pio is also a pioneer in bringing the Barbera grape to the forefront of Italian winemaking. His philosophy is to “depend on the skillfulness of mother nature not the skillfulness of the winemaker”.

Pio; gregarious and engaging, had the room in laughter as he explained his Barolo is known simply as ‘Barolo’ on the label. He emphatically stated that is enough and no other name is necessary, but don’t mistake the clarity for something that is “regular or basic”. It is a classic wine, a statement of its own that does not need any other embellishment.

Pio Cesare Barolo DOCG 2011
Focused and pure with an engaging play between a profound intensity and ethereal delicateness. Glimpses of herbaceous chamomile are seen between the plush cherry and black currant fruits, whilst dense tannins and a complex finish of earth, smoky spice and menthol linger philosophically between each sip.
100% Nebbiolo
14.5% Alcohol
$65 [average price]

Tasca D’Alimerita
Tasca D’Alimerita, located in Sicily, is headed by the 8th generation of the family now, Count Lucio Tasca, who oversees all of the nearly 600 hectares of vineyards along with his sons, Giuseppe and Alberto. The family has 5 estates throughout the island, all with a different appellation and terroir. Committed to eco-sustainability, their Regaleali estate [right in the heart of Sicily] is nearly completely self-sufficient; all of their food is grown on the estate and they are working toward a carbon neutral rating. They strive to relay a sense of elegance in their wines, to that end they take a minimal approach in the vineyard, and do not use any new oak in the winery. Although known for their work with indigenous grapes, Rosso del Conte [translating to “the red of the count”] has 2 international varieties in addition to the star of the blend, the native Nero d’Avola.

Tasca D’Alimerita ‘Rosso del Conte’ Contea di Sclafani DOC 2011
Incredibly interesting with layers of cherry, herbs and peppery spice, silky tannins and a clean finish. An engaging synergy of fruit/spice/savoury elements that keep you reaching for more.
62% Nero d’Avola, 30$ Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cabernet Franc
13.5% Alcohol
$35 [average price]

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Argiolas ‘Turriga’ Isola dei Nuraghi IGT 2011

Argiolas
Founded in the 1938 by Antonio Argiolas, the seminal Sardinian estate is headed by the 3rd generation of the family today, Antonio’s grandchildren. The family also focuses on the preservation and revitalization of native Sardinian grape varieties. The sustainable estate is comprised of 8 vineyards, all in different regions of Sardinia, which confer a variety of microclimates and soils, providing quite a diversity in terroir for the grapes.

Argiolas ‘Turriga’ Isola dei Nuraghi IGT 2011
Powerful, dense and well balanced [colour, fruit, acidity, structure, tannin, alcohol all are splendid], this lives up to its title as the “benchmark wine of Sardinia” A concentrated dark fruit backbone supports a captivating streak of garrique, whilst soft velvety tannins enhance the super lengthy finish of toast, coffee and earthy spices.
85% Cannonau, 5% Bovale, 5% Carignano, 5% Malvasia Nera
14.5% Alcohol
$45 [average price]

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Masi Agricola Riserva di Costasera Amarone Classico DOC 2009 and Rivera ‘Il Falcone’ Castel del Monte Riserva DO 2009

Rivera
Located in Puglia, the Rivera estate was founded in the late 1940’s by Sebastiano de Corato, today it is his grandsons Sebastiano and Marco that continue on with his vision to “eloquently express the intense yet elegant character of this land and its native grape varieties”. The estate focuses on sustainable practices in order to preserve the land and achieve the highest quality possible. Although they have very hot summers, they do get snow in the winter from the Balkan Sea. Vines are planted in a manner in which they receive less sun so the grapes do not become overripe. Il Falcone is their “defining wine”, and again, as with so many other of the prestigious wines in the tasting, an agile hand is seen with the use of oak; it is aged for 14 months, with 60% in 30hl French oak casks and 40% in French oak barriques.

Rivera ‘Il Falcone’ Castel del Monte Riserva DO 2009
A powerful wine that announces its presence with wonderfully contrasting aromas of delicate floral notes along with smoky crushed black peppercorn. Gamey, meaty elements connect with grippy tannins and good acidity over a core of cherry and earth, the aromas are echoed in the plush finish. Elegant and powerful, this is a wine that lives up to its association with Homer’s Troy.
70% Nero di Troia, 30% Montepulciano
13.5% Alcohol
$20 [average price]

Masi
For over 200 years, the Boscainis family has been crafting wines in Veneto. With an impressive range of wines, and an estate that includes the historic lands of the legendary 14th century poet Dante; the Masi name is instantly recognizable. Today the estate is headed by the 7th generation and has expanded their holdings, along with Count Serego Alighieri into Tuscany.

Masi Agricola Riserva di Costasera Amarone Classico DOC 2009
A consistent award winner, this is a spectacular example of combining indigenous grapes with a harmonizing blend of both traditional and modern techniques. Concentrated fig, baked cherry and plum join tobacco and dark chocolate elements, rich honeyed fruit and baking spices comprise the seemingly never ending finish. A perfect companion to gamey cheese, rich dishes and desserts.
70% Corvina, 15% Rondinella, 10% Oseleta, 5% Molinara
15.5% Alcohol
$50 [average price]

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Ricci Curbastro Sparkling Wines: Innovation Becomes Tradition

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Dr. Riccardo Ricci Curbastro leading the Quality Italian Wines and Franciacorta Seminar at Simply Italian Great Wines US Tour 2014 New York. Image courtesy of Ricci Curbastro Azienda Agricola.

I had the pleasure of attending an enlightening seminar given by the incredibly interesting and multifarious Dr. Riccardo Ricci Curbastro, who is the owner, Managing Director and head of marketing of Ricci Curbastro Farm Estate Winery located in Lombardy, northern Italy. In addition to explaining the numerous safeguarding components of Federoc [National Confederation for Voluntary Consortia for the oversight of the Denominations of Origin], he passionately described his distinctive sparkling wines and progressive, unique estate.

The Franciacorta region [‘free courts’] takes its name from the 11th century winery French monks from Cluny had there and refers to the fact that the land and monks were free from Italian authority. Regarded as Italy’s best sparkling wines, Franciacorta received DOC status in 1967, followed by DOCG in 1995. Non-vintage wines are aged for 18 months, Rosé and Satèn wines for 24 months, vintage wines are 30 months, and Riserva wines are aged for an astounding 60 months.

The Curbastro family has been farming the estate since the 13th century. Close to the Alps, ancient glaciers left the valley soil rich in minerals. The estate consists of 32 hectares, 27.5 of which are vineyards. With such a remarkable history they consider the land as “a gift from our fathers”, and therefore do not use any chemicals or fertilizers. Their carbon neutral initiatives are incredibly progressive, so much so that their carbon footprint is under zero. In addition to producing all of their own electricity, all facets of every process has been proactively examined and transformed. Lubricants for tractors, renewal of barrels, office supplies, bottles, labels, pallets, even the flight from Italy to NY is included in the evaluation and rating.

Dr. Riccardo Ricci Curbastro is renowned for his pioneering work regarding the role of yeast and amino acids in wine production. Through cutting edge experimentation he has been able to replace sulphur with amino acids from extract yeast. The amino acids act as an antioxidant and protective component, entirely eliminating the need for sulphur. For detailed information on his work and the role of amino acids, please see click here.

He so eloquently summarized his family’s history along with the pioneering technological advances as “innovation becomes tradition”. As to be expected, his wines are a reflection of this synthesis, displaying complexity and refinement.

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Top left: Brut NV, top right: Satèn Brut 2010, bottom left: Rosé Brut NV

Ricci Curbastro Franciacorta Brut NV
Straw yellow in colour with aromas of white flowers, pear and peach. Well structured with light fruit notes harmonizing with nutmeg and honey notes, culminating in a lengthy dry finish. Dr. Curbastro recommends enjoying this as an apertivo, yet it can also carry thru the entire meal.
60% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Bianco, 10% Pinot Nero
12.5% Alcohol
$40 [average price]

Ricci Curbastro Franciacorta Satèn Brut 2010
My personal favourite, with intricate notes of lemon, peach, fresh bread and floral hints that harmonized with consistent, delicate bubbles. The incredibly light, crisp finish makes this fantastic with any dish.
100% Chardonnay
12.5% Alcohol
$45 [average price]

Ricci Curbastro Franciacorta Rosé Brut NV
Pale coral pink in colour with compelling aromas of honeycomb and rose. Delicate red berries, honey and herbaceous hints raced along a backdrop of silky bubbles, whilst lightly sweet notes evaporated in the dry, cleansing finish. Elegant, versatile and wonderfully easy drinking, Dr. Curbastro refers to this as “a summer tuxedo”.
80% Pinot Nero, 20% Chardonnay
12.5% Alcohol
$52 [average price]

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