Continuing our viaggio di vino, we wind our way up and down the peninsula and hop over to the islands.
Molise – In the remote interior, on land under vine since the 17th century, Campi Valerio was established in 2004. There are few commercial wineries thereabouts, not as many local grapes as its neighbors, and Montepulciano and Sangiovese are the leaders by far. The estate was the first to make wine in Pentro di Isernia, one of the oldest and smallest Italian DOCs, and is in the forefront of developing Tintilia as Molise’s signature red grape. Piedmont – Fabrizio Iuli is the only winemaker in his hometown of Montaldo di Cerina in this isolated pocket of Monferrato. He has developed a very personal style that shines in his well-regarded Barbera wines and grapes like Slarina and Baratuciat he brough back to life using old-school methods.
Puglia – Natalino del Prete became a “naturalist” by choice, not because it was the popular thing to do. His independent one-man operation is an anomaly in a region dominated by co-ops. Working 80-year-old vines in Lecce province, his exceptional Primitivo, Negro Amaro, Aleatico and Malvasia Nera sell out every year, yet he never raises their prices.
Sardinia – Authentically Sardinian to the core, Tenuta Dettori “ … produces wines that are what they are,” not made to satisfy the whims of the market. What they are is as good as it gets on the island, using only ancient varietals grown in the fertile area of Romangia, from vineyards that were organic centuries before that became a big deal. The wines follow no regulations, none of them see a barrel, there is no standard of how or when they are grown or harvested, and all work is done manually. In Allesandro Dettori’s hands, Cannonau shows its earthy, rustic roots.
Sicily – Giovanni Scarfone is living the good life at his Bonavita winery, growing grapes and turning out 600 cases a year with his wife and father of Mascalese, Cappuccio and Nocera. Scarfone shies away from making what he calls “perfected” wines, using 3,000-liter barrels to cap off what he feels will best express his five acres of vineyards, the soil of northeast Sicily’s Faro DOC, and each particular vintage.
Trentino – Literally taking the high road, the family that runs Cantina Furlani has never artificially adulterated their small parcels above the city of Trentino, and have employed even more environmentally friendly techniques in recent years. Their wines are cellared in cement tanks, or demijohns placed in snow that blankets the land in winter. The high- altitude vineyards contain local curiosities Nosiola, Verdealbara, Negrara, Turco and the even more rare Joannita. These are wines of place, not of style.
Tuscany – Of the winemakers I’ve been fortunate to spend time with, Elisabetta Fagiuoli stands out, not only for taking Vernaccia, Colorino and other Tuscan grapes to another level, but also her spiritual connection to the earth and humanistic philosophy of the world and our place in it. Still going strong in her mid-eighties, she has been described as a force of nature and the soul of Tuscany. She is currently working her fifty-second vintage at Montenidoli, the hilltop overlooking San Gimignano, and calls the vineyards her “big garden,” one
of which is filled with rocks that are 200 million years old. The wines are an extension of this vibrant, caring woman’s deep love and respect for nature and Tuscan history, exemplified by her Chianti based on the original recipe of the 19th century.
Umbria – Just across the valley from Assisi, Roberto DiFilippo’s Plani Arche winery makes small amounts of Sagrantino and Trebbiano Spoletino near Montefalco. His most interesting offerings are Grechetto aged underground in clay vessels and an “orange” wine that ferments six months on the skins.
Val d’Aosta – When your house is surrounded by two acres of vines planted over a century ago, grapes growing in limited amounts that reflect local winemaking traditions, and your home is where you produce only a few thousand bottles of just three wines, you are the definition of a micro-winery. Proving that you can’t keep a good thing hidden for long, Cuneaz Nadir has impressed writers and reviewers with his creations. One taste of “Badabec” shows why. The red blend featuring Petit Rouge is named for a spooky creature that roams the vineyards after sunset but is a friendly ghost in the glass.
Veneto – Inherit vines, make wine. Obvious but not easy. Marinella Caminari had to work through a series of difficult decisions to improve the quality of Corte Sant’ Alda’s grapes while converting the vineyards and winery to operate solely on biodynamic principles. She turned to the past to get answers for the future, relying on the shared knowledge of generations of Val di Mezzone winemakers. It wasn’t long before she was crafting Valpolicella and Amarone that were about elegance and refinement rather than massive body and power.