Priscilla Incisa Della Rocchetta co-owner of leading Italian wine estate Sassicaia Tenuta
If it is diversity that Asians seek, there are very few countries that can rival the number of different grape varieties and styles produced throughout the 20 wine regions of Italy. As a long, boot-shaped peninsula, Italy has wines that range from continental climate-influenced crisp whites to sultry, full-bodied reds found in the south.
Italian wineries as a group do not work in unison and the result is that the marketing message, even for well-known regions like Tuscany, is muddled and people have trouble distinguishing between a Brunello di Montalcino versus a Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, both of which are premium Tuscan wines.
Amidst this semi-organized chaos, there are hidden gems, unsung heroes and under-rated wines. Italian wineries are rarely large in size, most are closer to Burgundy or Northern Rhone properties in size, producing thousands of cases rather than tens of thousands.
At the end of 2016, Italian wines ranked fifth in both volume and value of bottled imported wine into China. The figures are a fraction of French wines and much less in volume than Australian wines. One of Italy’s biggest competitors, Spain, was far behind Italy in 2009 in both quantity and value. However by 2010, Spain overtook Italy in the number of bottles exported into China and by 2011, Spain was ahead of Italy in value.
For a country that is nearly always ranked number 1 or 2 in the world for wine production, this is not a good track record for exporting into the fastest growing and arguably, the most important wine market in the future. For consumers, this offers opportunity since Italian wines are lesser known and not as popular compared to their European neighbors. The current market, tired of the same old Bordeaux labels, shows great potential for Italian wines to showcase their diversity, distinctiveness and great value. Below are my top 5 rising stars of Italy that combine the best features of their distinctive Italian heritage and represent wonderful value for money:
1. Tenute Cisa Asinari Dei Marchesi di Gresy, Barbaresco, Piedmont
The vineyards are part of a historic property owned by the di Gresy family since 1797. Although the property and vineyards are ancient, the brand is relatively new. The charismatic Alberto di Gresy decided in 1973 to produce and bottle their own wines under the family label rather than selling the grapes to other producers. Espousing traditional vinification methods, di Gresy wines are always silky and gorgeously layered, especially their Barbarescos divided into three distinct cuvees – Camp Gros Martinenga, Gaiun Martinenga and Martinenga. I highly recommend their elegant, aromatic Barbarescos with supple tannins.
2. Isole e Olena, Chianti Classico, Tuscany
Currently run by Paolo De Marchi since 1976, this is a family estate that was established in the 1960s. The wonderful Sanviovese-based wines made here by De Marchi, are becoming better known around the world for their finesse, balance and purity of expression. The 45 hectares of vineyards, situated between 350-450 meters above sea level, produce hauntingly elegant Chiantis. In addition to their top wine, the Cepparello, a pure Sangiovese-based wine, I also recommend their high altitude Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.
3. Tenuta di Biserno, Upper Maremma, Bolgheri, Tuscany
The founder of this young winery, Lodovico Antinori, is a living legend as a pioneer in the Bolgheri region. This 90-hectare vineyard is a collaboration between himself and his brother Piero Antinori who is at the helm of the Antinori empire. Lodovico founded Ornellaia in the 1980s inspired by the success of Sassicaia, founded by his cousin Nicolo Incisa, and Solaia, founded by his brother Piero. Biserno, a modern Tuscan wine made with Bordeaux varieties is a nod to Cheval Blanc – it is incredibly intense and powerful and has a great potential for aging. I highly recommend their Il Pino di Biserno, a less expensive, more approachable version of Biserno.
4. Bisol, Valdobbiadene, Veneto
The Bisol family has been making wine for about 500 years and control 177 hectares of vineyards spread out in the steep hills of Valdobbiadene. In 2014, the Lunelli group acquired 50% stake in Bisol. In recent years, Prosecco has become the sparkling wine of choice in many markets around the world. I recommend the ‘Cru’ Proseccos by Bisol, which represents the different sites or the traditional, Champagne method Proseccos. The best Bisol sparkling wines have wonderful, refreshing flavours and subtle, layered depth.
5. Planeta, Sicily
This is one of the most successful, quality-focused wineries in Sicily. Founded by three cousins, Alessio, Francesca and Santi Planeta, they only started their winemaking venture in the mid-1980s. Now, their operations are spread out throughout Sicily including a site on Mount Etna, 870 meters above sea level, where the soil is rich in black lava sand and minerals. Their Nero d’Avola, Cabernet blend and Syrah as well as the minerally Carricante are worth seeking out. Their whites also represent wonderful value – try the Cometa, made from the Fiano variety or the vibrant Chardonnay.