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All in the Family:

Five Producers of Good-Value Italian Wines

by Sharon Kapnick

In these challenging economic times, inexpensive wines have become trendy. (Theyve always been trendy in my house.) People are still drinking wine, of course. According to The Global Drinks Market 2008 report, in spite of the financial crisis, wine consumption in the US scored its 15th annual consecutive gain in 2008. But the growth rate is the slowest (just 1.5 percent) since 2001, when the US last experienced a recession. And people are trading down and buying less expensive wines.

A good place to look for these wines is in the Italian section of your wine shop. For one thing, Italy exports more wine to the US than any other country. It offers thousands of splendid possibilities, from low end to high. There are a number of outstanding Italian producers that make the high-quality inexpensive wines so desirable today as well as delicious, more expensive wines we can dream about now and will hopefully be able to afford again someday. This is the perfect time to become familiar with these producers, doubly so because the 2006 and 2007 vintages are excellent.

What perhaps distinguishes these wineries most of all is family management and ownership. In addition to family ties, other ingredients that go into these wines are passion, dedication, creativity, research, innovation, state-of-the-art technology, tradition and decades — even centuries! — of experience. Here, from A to Z, are some important names to know.

The Antinoris are the First Family of Italian wine. Theyre wine royalty. The family has been in the wine business in Tuscany for centuries, since some undocumented time before Giovanni di Piero Antinori joined the Florentine Guild of Vintners in 1385. Antinori is, in fact, one of the oldest businesses of any kind in the world. Today the firm is run by Marchese Piero Antinori of the 25th generation along with the 26th generation — his three daughters, Albiera, Allegra and Alessia.

While the business has survived for centuries, times havent always been rosy for Antinori. In 1966, when Pieros father handed the reins to him, the reputation and quality of Tuscanys Chianti and Chianti Classico, then Antinoris main focus, were at a low point. Piero was eager to make significant changes. He succeeded in a way that would make the 24 generations of Antinoris before him proud: He created a revolutionary wine that helped change, well, just about everything: he inspired and motivated other winemakers, started a movement that improved wine in the region and elevated the image of all Italian wines.

When it was first made in 1970, Antinoris Chianti Classico Riserva vigneto Tignanello contained 75% Sangiovese (the mainstay red Chianti grape) and the white Canaiolo, Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes. With the 1971 vintage, the wine was simply called Tignanello. Made without white berries, it could no longer be classified Chianti Classico. Tignanello was one of the first red wines in Chianti not to use white grapes, the first Sangiovese to be aged in barriques (small French oak barrels) and the first modern red Italian wine to be blended with non-traditional varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon. The world-class wine circumvented Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) regulations, which Piero felt were short-sighted, and became one of the first in what remains a super-sexy category today: Super Tuscans.

Piero Antinori has been credited with rescuing the Tuscan wine business. He spearheaded a revolution in the quality of Italian wines and has been a tireless ambassador promoting them abroad. In his book The Worlds Greatest Wine Estates, Robert M. Parker Jr. wrote, The name Antinori is about as close to a guarantee of quality as one is likely to find. Just about everything Antinori does, in all price ranges, is good.

Antinori Santa Cristina 2007, $12 * : 90% Sangiovese, 10% Merlot; fruity, fresh and medium bodied, with aromas and flavors of berries and cherries; a favorite year in and year out; first made in 1946

Villa Antinori Bianco 2007, $12: 70% Trebbiano and Malvasia, 30% Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco and Pinot Grigio, with aromas and flavors of pears, apples and flowers

Antinori Orvieto Santa Cristina Campogrande 2007, $12: 40% Procanico, 40% Grechetto, 15% Verdello, 5% Drupeggio and Malvasia, with fruity and floral aromas and flavors

While most of Antinori’s Italian estates remain in Tuscany, there are others in Umbria (Castello della Salla), Piedmont (Prunotto), Lombardy (Montenisa) and Puglia (Tormaresca). (Antinori has still more ventures in California, Washington, Chile, Hungary and Malta.) In 1998 Antinori branched out to Puglia because it thought the southern province had great potential to fashion high-quality wines with a strong sense of place. There it founded Tormaresca, which has become known for its consistently good, good-value wines.

Tormaresca Neprica 2007, $12: Named for the grapes NEgroamaro (40%), PRImitivo (30%) and CAbernet Sauvignon (30%); full-bodied, with aromas and flavors of dark fruit including black cherries, berries, plums, black currant and cassis

Tormaresca Chardonnay 2007, $12: 100% Chardonnay; fresh, with aromas and flavors of citrus, peach, pineapple, pear, apples and bananas

Page Two of Good-Value Italian Wines>>


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