The Best of Northern Italy

It is always a challenge to encapsulate the best of Italy’s northern regions in one article. Due to space limitations I will be brief in these introductory comments. This year the most exciting wines I tasted were those of Veneto. The 2004 Amarones have turned out splendidly. The wines show many of the same qualities that define the best wines from Piedmont and Tuscany in this vintage; namely well articulated aromas, clean, focused fruit and finessed tannins. Readers who prefer a more opulent style of Amarone will want to consider the 2003s, although quality is less consistent and many wines possesses noticeably less finesse, particularly in the tannins. I was also very pleased with the 2007 Soaves and found numerous sweet wines well worth purchasing. I can think of few better ways to begin a meal with a glass of Prosecco, and most of those wines are reviewed in Issus 178. Overall Veneto remains an under- appreciated region, especially in the US.

I also found a number of delicious wines from Alto Adige. As I mentioned in my August 2008 article, the region excels in varietal definition across a wide range of grapes and price ranges, particularly when it comes to the exciting mineral-driven whites for which the region is justly famous. Alto Adige is a region whose image in the marketplace is dominated by the larger cooperatives, but readers should also take a look at the many small, family-run domaines whose wines are reviewed in the pages, most of them for the first time. The 2007 whites are good to excellent, although the wines are occasionally heavy in character. I also tasted a number of superb Lagreins, an indigenous grape well worth discovering that at its best delivers intense, full-bodied wines laced with minerality. Pinot Noir remains a difficult variety, but here too I found some delicious wines.

The 2007 vintage was less kind to Friuli. The hot growing season robbed many of the whites of their aromatics, and I encountered quite a few disjointed wines that lack the balance of the finest vintages. A number of producers are releasing their 2006 whites, and as a group, these are much stronger wines. Friuli’s biggest challenge at the moment may be economic rather than qualitative. The wines are quite expensive in relative terms and importers have balked at bringing in some of the higher-end, small-production wines. Paradoxically, these are among the finest whites being made in Italy, yet few consumers will have a chance to taste them and to experience Friuli at its best. In the mid and lower ranges, Friuli suffers by comparison to Alto Adige, which offers comparably high quality but the cooperative structure of many of that region’s estates removes a layer of cost and allows the wines to arrive to final consumer at far more favorable prices.