The Best of Northern Italy

by Antonio Galloni

It’s always a challenge to encapsulate the best wines of all of northern Italy into one article given the huge number of noteworthy bottles that are made across the numerous regions that make up the north. These are some of the highlights from my recent tastings:

Veneto – The 2006 Amarone vintage is superb. Readers should do whatever they can to taste the wines of this great year. These are big, powerful Amaroni that will reward cellaring. I tasted a number of exceptional 2006s in all styles. One of the best 2006 Amaroni was made by Allegrini. The wine is notable for its quality and also a large production that makes it one of the easier wines to find across many markets. Roccolo Grassi, Bussola and Marion are among the most exciting small producers, all capable of riveting, emotional wines. Romano dal Forno and Giuseppe Quintarelli release their wines later than virtually all of their colleagues but remain stalwarts. Their bottles are now sadly priced in the stratosphere, but the best examples are stunning. I also tasted a handful of exceptional 2006 Valpolicellas that will provide similar pleasure at far more accessible prices. The vintage is equally strong for the many internationally styled wines that emerge from Veneto.

Alto Adige – Alto Adige is one of the most pristine, beautiful regions in the world. I visit at least once a year, but admittedly not always for vinous pursuits, as my son has taken an extreme liking to skiing in the Dolomites. Alto Adige is well-known for its cooperatives, the best of which offer a wide range of wines at affordable prices. Most cooperatives release three levels of quality; an entry-level range, a mid-level range and the prestige wines. The sweet spot for quality and value is to be found in the mid-tier wines of the best houses. These wines deliver incredible quality in the precise, varietally true style that makes Alto Adige such a compelling region. The best cooperatives across the board are Terlano and Colterenzio. Of course, Alto Adige is also home to a number of artisan growers. I have profiled a number of the finest smaller producers in these pages. Among the growers, I am especially fond of Kuenhof, Manni Nössing, Köferehof and Josephus Mayr (whose wines I was not able to taste for this article).The current vintage for most whites is 2009. I spent a few days in Alto Adige in August 2009, during a massive heat wave that provided no respite even high in the mountains or at night. Not surprisingly the wines are richer and fatter than normal, and quality is uneven. The best wines, though, are undeniably racy and exciting.

Friuli Venezia Giulia – Friuli is home to a wide range of terroirs and microclimates. The main problem for Friulian wines, at least in the US, is high prices that make the wines difficult to sell. Still, the best Friulian whites are heartstoppers. The region’s benchmark producers are Miani, Borgo del Tiglio, Edi Kante and Josko Gravner, all of whom go beyond making great wines to making emotional wines. It’s a pity many people never get a chance to taste the best of these producers’ bottles. Like Alto Adige, Friuli’s current vintage for the whites is 2009. Here, too, the heat wave was brutal. Sauvignon, arguably Friuli’s most famous wine in international markets, seems to be the most affected. Readers who choose carefully will be able to find the best wines and avoid the clunkers. I continue to be impressed with the improvement in Friuli’s reds, much of which can be attributed to generally warmer vintages. Each year I taste more and more captivating wines. Another growing trend is Pinot Grigio macerated on the skins. The movement in making whites with skin contact has been alive and well in Friuli for some time, but now a larger group of producers is experimenting with these techniques in Pinot Grigio, a grape with red skin that seems ideally suited to this approach. The wines show a rose-colored tint and structure that hovers in between white and red wines. The most exciting wine in this style is Josko Gravner’s still unreleased 2006. Vie di Romans, Bastianich and Sant’Elena are also making wines well worth discovering.