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Quintessentially Italian

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Italy's Quintessential Wines
By Edward Beltrami

As a longtime observer of Italian wine, I thought it timely and even provocative to sum up two decades of tasting experiences and assess Italy's quintessential wines from today's late-20th Century vantage point. I first need to explain, however, the criteria I have used to measure and define a wine as "quintessential."

There is a group of sleek Italian wines — largely cabernet sauvignon-, cabernet franc- and merlot-based wines, or blends of these grapes with lesser-known varieties — that have received the lion's share of critical acclaim. Understandably, these wines are more easily appreciated by critics drawn to classic French varietals crafted in imitation of Bordeaux and Napa Valley ones. I will touch upon these supremely seductive bottlings. They will not, however, play a leading role in this article because I believe they represent a narrow view of Italy's true vinous accomplishments. I prefer, instead, to concentrate on Italy's best wines made from its long-established indigenous grape types found nowhere else.

Mind you, I have nothing against the esteemed red Bordeaux varietals. I drink and collect them from just about every winemaking country in the world — Italy included — which is precisely the point. Cabernet and Merlot are becoming as globally ubiquitous as Chardonnay.

My own choices for what is uniquely and classically Italian is a distillation of many years of tasting wine in damp cellars with Italy's winemakers, assimilating their candid comments, culling from the judgments of many seasoned tasters who have shared their experiences with me, participating in a number of vertical tastings and blind judgings in Italy, consulting the current oracle of Italian wine, Vini d'Italia, which appraises thousands of wines yearly and, lastly, by casting a wary eye on the comments of the American wine press.

Had I compiled this overview a decade ago, I would have first needed to convince the reader of the inherent worthiness of Italian wine. Today, however, my task has been made easier, largely because of the dedication of a coterie of talented enologists who have guided Italian winemakers away from complacency. Additionally, the acumen of importers who have boldly taken the risk of selling unknown wines to the American public, and the quiet but resolute efforts of wine brokers such as Neil Empson and Marc de Grazia who have encouraged promising winemakers in their efforts to excel.

What follows is a personal and anecdotal inventory — with perhaps a few surprises — of Italy's preeminent red wines, along with a few diversionary comments on a handful of the most celebrated white wines mixed in for good measure.

Each of the wines discussed belong to the upper echelon of quintessential Italian winemaking. Take special note, however, of the following twelve bottlings: Duca Enrico from Duca di Salaparuta ($40), Montepulciano d' Abruzzo of Valentini ($55), Riserva Ducale Gold of Ruffino ($40), Tignanello of Antinori ($45), Monte Vertine Riserva ($30), Vigneto Rancia of Felsina ($35), Vigneto Mazzano Amarone of Masi ($50), Granato of Foradori ($35), Barolo Gran Bussia of Aldo Conterno ($100), Barbaresco Santo Stefano Riserva of Bruno Giacosa ($75), Barolo Bric del Fiasc of Paolo Scavino ($50) and Barbaresco Sori San Lorenzo of Angelo Gaja ($160). For me, this elite group represents the absolute pantheon of Italy's noble family of wines.

A Unique Patrimony

Grapevines have been cultivated in Italy's hospitable soil since the Etruscans first tended their vineyards in antiquity. A rich, genetic patrimony of grapes has thus evolved relatively undisturbed, region by region, over thousands of years. The influx of peoples who sporadically settled the land were generally content to till the vines already established.

Only in the last several decades, with the explosion of interest in wine as an exportable commodity, has the internationalization — and, some might argue, the con- tamination of Italian wine culture — begun to take hold.

In spite of this movement, the legacy of more than 2,000 years persists. Even now, there remains a core of wines that, though in tune with technological improvements available to winemakers everywhere, maintain a legacy of clonal material and of microflora that is not found elsewhere. A large number of indigenous varieties have adapted to an extraordinary diversity of terrain and climate — from the sun-baked south to the alpine north. These microclimatic variations are revealed, in the best wines at least, by a panoply of distinctive aromas. One might question whether Italian wines truly have distinctive aromas. I believe it is a real phenomenon, although, admittedly, a wine's bouquet is more pronounced in some parts of Italy than in others.

Beguiling Foreigners

Though cabernet was cultivated in a few pockets of Italy as long as two centuries ago, it was not generally recognized as being a noble grape. Indeed, today's most impressive and beguiling cabernet-based wines are the result of relatively recent plantings and, therefore, represent, together with merlot, a foreign influence.

Bred in the coastal area of Tuscany surrounding the towns of Bolgheri and Suvereto, the vaunted Sassicaia of Tenuta San Guido has helped to catapult Italy into the international limelight. Today, a handful of other contenders from this region, such as Guado al Tasso of Belvedere, Ornellaia from an estate of the same name and Guisto di Notri from Tua Rita, make rich, racy wines that have developed a near-cult status among a clientele that prizes the sensuous appeal of Bordeaux-styled wines. With the likes of celebrated Winemaker Angelo Gaja joining the entourage, this area of Tuscany is a region destined to become Italy's wine showcase over the next decade.

I believe that the next most important region in Italy for Bordeaux-style wine production is, perhaps to the surprise of some readers, the Alto-Adige — the southern Tyrolean area situated just south of the Austrian border. Here, cabernet-based wines are less about power and more about finesse. There is now a bevy of producers, many of them not yet seen in this country, that make perfumed wines of such breed that distinguished wine critic Gerald Asher was moved to describe many of them as "violets and silk." If there is a problem in the Alto-Adige, it is the tendency to overcrop — a holdover from the days when most of the wines in this scenic, sub-alpine region were sold in bulk. However, conscientious producers like Alois Lageder are making great strides in overcoming this stubborn tradition.

The potential for great cabernet-based wines hailing from the Alto-Adige was revealed some decades ago by the enigmatic and elusive Giorgio Grai, whose legendary wines had Italian aficionados enthralled. I had the good fortune to accompany him some years back as he visited a couple of wine cooperatives in the towns surrounding his home in Bolzano. Grai was engaged in ferreting out select barrels, which he then purchased and later blended into memorable, age-worthy wines. Indeed, a number of the best Cabernet producers in the Alto-Adige are small cooperatives, known as Cantine Sociali. They include such names as S. Michele Appiano, Colterenzio, Cortaccia and Caldaro.

From the Trentino district, immediately south of the Alto-Adige, comes the sleek and aromatic San Leonardo of Marchese Gonzaga, which is perhaps the most persuasive Bordeaux-styled wine that I have tasted since those fashioned by Grai. Were I to break my rules and allow just two cabernet-based heretics to sneak into the pantheon of Italy's greatest, San Leonardo would be one of them. The other would be the earthy, sensuous and very Tuscan Solaia of Marchesi Piero Antinori.

There are other thoroughbreds to be found here and there, including the Maurizio Zanella Cabernet from Ca del Bosco. Then, there is an assortment of charismatic, though sometimes idiosyncratic wines such as the Cabernet Franc Alzero of Quintarelli and the Merlot Vigna L'Apparita from the Castello di Ama, whose enthusiastic admirers scramble to snatch up the few bottles that become available.

Kissed by Cabernet

Of great interest to me are the wines that blend cabernet sauvignon with some of Italy's native grape varieties. A fine example is the suave and concentrated Gravello of Librandi, a blend of cabernet and the indigenous gaglioppo grape from the region of Calabria in southern Italy.

Another standout is the Sammarco of Castello dei Rampolla, a velvety, rich marriage between cabernet and sangiovese. I had the pleasure of drinking a bottle of the superb 1985 on a lazy afternoon in the Rampolla garden with Alcido de Napoli, the then-owner of the estate.

Then there is Antinori's remarkable Tignanello, a sophisticated, predominantly sangiovese blend. I tasted the first vintage, 1971, with Piero Antinori in Italy some years ago and then again at a rare, vertical tasting he conducted in New York City in 1995. (The tasting spawned an in-depth article titled "The Legacy of Tignanello," which appeared in the April/May 1995 issue.)

Native Nectar — Region by Region

Though more than a few readers may raise an eyebrow at this, I nonetheless believe that some of Italy's most persuasive native red wines will come from the southern portion of the country over the next several decades. From Sicily, there is an absolutely stunning wine crafted from nero d'avola, an indigenous grape, that has been released as Duca Enrico by the Duca di Salaparuta estate. It is harmonious, uncommonly deep and redolent with ripe, exotic fruit. A recently tasted 1985 was still dark and thrilling to taste. A classic from the Campania region around Naples is Taurasi of Mastroberardino, made from the ancient aglianico grape. I recall a wonderful bottle from 1968, and there have been several fine vintages since then in which the lovely scents of Mediterranean flora are encased in a firm, yet smooth structure.

Further north, in the Abruzzi, one should not overlook the extraordinary Montepulciano di Abruzzo of Edoardo Valentini, whose grapes are evidently clones of some long-established, but not well-identified variety. This exciting wine possesses an opaque color, dense texture and reveals layers of smoky, saturated, unusual flavors.

In Sardinia, a handful of producers are making excellent wines from the entrenched carignan grape and from the bush-trained granacha grape — known locally as cannonau — brought over from Spain a couple of centuries ago . Especially good is Terre Brune, the sultry and intense wine from the Santadi estate which is a blend of carignan and the local bovale grape.

Moving north, we pause in Umbria to note the Rubesco Riserva from the Monticchio vineyard of Lungarotti, a wonderful wine made from sangiovese and cannaiolo. A few years ago, I participated in a vertical tasting conducted by Giorgio Lungarotti in Torgiano, where the vines are located, and noted the soft tannins that frame earthy and spicy aromas. This elegant wine may not boast quite the same level of intensity that some other sangiovese-based wines possess, but it is a classic nonetheless.

In considering the wines of Tuscany, I must confess to having a problem with Brunello di Montalcino, a wine that some observers consider to be the supreme achievement in Italian winemaking.

I respectfully disagree.

I believe the essence of the best wines made from the sangiovese grape, the backbone of all great Tuscans reds, Brunello included, should mirror the very soul of the region. A signature trait of Tuscan life is the balance between grace and rusticity, which expresses itself through a sense of reserve, a slight austerity perhaps, mitigated by harmony and finesse. At their absolute best, native Tuscan wines are subtly aromatic and earthy without being coarse, sturdy or harsh. While some Brunellos may eventually age into something quite spectacular, many are flawed by an aggressiveness and lack of grace that persists for many years. Others, though more supple and inviting, lack the requisite grip and concentration.

The exceptional Brunellos that manage to steer the middle course, combining great depth of flavor with elegance, are memorable, indeed. Altesino from the Montosoli Vineyard, Ciacci Piccolomini's Vigna Pianrosso and the Brunello of Andrea Costanti are just three. La Cerbaiola of Salvioni (a wine that I have only tasted in Italy) and La Chiesa di Santa Restituta, under the new ownership of Angelo Gaja, are in the same class. The hallmarks of these and a handful of similarly styled wines are deep plum and cassis, a whiff of chestnut purée and the spicy flavors that echo the local panforte.

Another region I find perplexing is Montepulciano, which persists in being a perennial underachiever in the world of Tuscan wine. Three of the few exceptions to this are the estates of Avignonesi, Poderi Boscarelli and Poliziano, whose riservas of Vino Nobile occasionally attain the depth and balance of truly great wines.

In the Chianti region, a remarkable wine with an exemplary pedigree is Ruffino's Riserva Ducale Gold. Some may remember my enthusiastic account (February/March 1996), entitled "Ruffino — Gold in the Cellars,"of a vertical tasting of the Ducale Gold that went back to the mid-1950s. This aristocratic wine, a blend of grapes from several parts of the Chianti Classico region, is a joy to drink.

Another favorite from Chianti is the Riserva of Monte Vertine in Radda. When I first tasted the 1975 vintage, it appeared to me to be a revelation — a wine that transcended the then-norm of largely humdrum Chianti. Sergio Manetti, the proprietor, guided me through the labyrinth of Tuscan wine and Tuscan life in those early days over many a lovely lunch at his estate. Manetti's single-vineyard Pergole Torte is justifiably acclaimed, but I marginally prefer the less intense Riserva, a wine of great elegance.

Regardless of the exceptional quality of these and a number of other wines, I believe that the most profound examples of Chianti Classico come from the zone that straddles the lower part of the commune of Gaiole and that of Castelnuovo Berardenga, a conclusion reached after experiencing these wines over a span of many years. Several estates situated here are either making, or are poised to make, wines of exceptional character.

Leading the pack is Felsina. Its Chianti Riserva and Vigneto Rancia (which possess Graves-like, smoky, mineral scents), as well as its Fontalloro, are exemplary expressions of all the best in Tuscany — wines that are imbued with more personality and character than many others from Montalcino. Giuseppe Mazzocolin, Felsina's proprietor, led me through a number of revelatory tastings that proved just how satisfying these wines can be.

In the same Chianti Classico zone are the estates of Castell'in Villa and San Guisto a Rentennano. Both produce powerful and richly aromatic riservas (although they sometimes lack the suavity that I know is possible). Incidentally, the vineyards for Badia a Coltibuono's Sangioveto, certainly its best wine, are also located here, as are those of Castello di Brolio, the historical seat of the legendary Baron Ricasoli.

The youngest heir to the Ricasoli estate, Francesco, has begun to restore this splendid property to the prestige it once enjoyed. I confidently predict that the wines of Brolio will again be seen as pacesetters in the region and likely superstars of the next decade.

Within view of the Brolio castle is Castello di Cacchiano, owned by another branch of the Ricasoli family. Its wines, too, are steadily improving, especially those made from a portion of the vineyard that are labeled under the name of Rocca di Montegrossi.

Finally, and still in Gaiole, is Castello di Ama whose Chianti Bellavista, with some malvasia nera blended in, and Chianti La Casuccia, containing a dollop of merlot, are wines of great breed distinguished by fabulous aromas. Castello di Ama, too, is a cherished property.

My summary of Tuscany would not be complete without mentioning the small district of Carmignano, just west of Florence. Here, nominal amounts of cabernet sauvignon, cannaiolo and occhio di pernice, the aromatic local grape, have always been part of the predominantly sangiovese blend. The wines may not have the enormous concentration of those from Gaiole and Berardenga, but the best compensate for this limitation by offering a greater delicacy of aromas. The captivating wines from Tenuta di Capezzana, Il Poggiolo, Fattoria Ambra and Fattoria di Artimino have long been among my favorites. Nor am I the first American to nurture an abiding fondness for these bottlings. Thomas Jefferson had the wines of Fattoria di Artimino imported for White House dinner parties nearly two centuries ago.

In the Valpolicella region of the Veneto, one of the supreme efforts in Italian winemaking is revealed by Amarone, a wine that is uniquely Italian. Although a number of producers make Amarone, none achieve the aromatic intensity and monumental proportions of those of Masi, which uses indigenous grapes, primarily corvina and molinara from the Mazzano Vineyard, in its blends.

Even if they do not achieve the same heights as those of Masi, Amarones produced by the firm of Bertani have a long and consistent record of excellence. Occasionally, a gem also appears from the portfolio of Quintarelli, an erratic producer whose wines generally seem overblown.

An off-dry and slightly sweeter rendering, the Recioto di Amarone, is also an extraordinary dessert wine. Superb versions are being made by Dal Forno Romano, Masi (Mezzanella Vineyard) and Allegrini.

North of the Valpolicella region, one enters the Trentino where a most impressive wine is made by the firm of Foradori from the local teroldego grape. Its Granato is extraordinarily rich and seductive; close in quality is its sibling, Vigneto Sgarzon. Although it is not a headlining grape, I cannot resist mentioning marzemino, a variety that makes, in the hands of some producers at least, a most charming wine. (Opera lovers will recognize the name marzemino from the last meal in the second act of Mozart's "Don Giovanni.")

Proceeding further north, one enters the Alto-Adige, discussed earlier in regard to its cabernet-based wines. The great promise here is a wine made from the indigenous lagrein scuro grape that, after years of relative obscurity, is beginning to achieve new levels of richness and complexity. Those produced by Hofstatter and by Cantina di Gries exhibit intense spice and berry fruit, vaguely reminiscent of syrah. In addition, a variant of the local sciava grape makes an enchantingly aromatic Santa Maddalena, once considered one of Italy's stars, and the uncommon moscato rosa gives rise to a strikingly perfumed, sweet wine. A top producer of these and a range of other signature wines of the South Tyrol is the previously mentioned Alois Lageder from Bolzano.

Finally, in my quest for Italy's greatest reds, we arrive in the Langhe to consider Barolo and Barbaresco, both of which are sired by the indigenous nebbiolo grape. I have had a tough time choosing just a few Barolos to qualify for the top honors here, but those of Aldo Conterno, especially his Gran Bussia and his crus Colonnello and Cicala, seem to me to strike the perfect balance between the traditional — and occasionally flawed — winemaking styles of this region, and the more contemporary and sometimes too facile style of other winemakers. Tasting through older vintages with Aldo himself, side-by-side comparisons of different vineyards have helped to shape my own ideas of what greatness in these wines should mean. I have come to expect dense fruit masking ample but supple tannins, and an enchanting gamut of sensory notes ranging from licorice and spicy mint to rose petal and musk.

The wines of Aldo's brother Giovanni (whose firm is Giacomo Conterno), from the Serralunga vineyard of Cascina Francia, are also superb. Giovanni 's most celebrated wine is Monfortino, but I appreciate the greater consistency of his regular Barolo.

Among the younger generation of winemakers, my favorite is Enrico Scavino of the firm of Paolo Scavino whose Bric del Fiasc is always a wine of great class that straddles the fence as the product resulting from a combination of traditional and more contemporary winemaking approaches brought to prominence by Angelo Gaja. Gaja's Sperss bottling, made from a Serralunga vineyard, is another marvelous example, as is the Cannubi Boschis of Luciano Sandrone, although this wine's overall performance is more erratic.

I am partial to the memory of great Barolo producers from the past, such as Luigi Pira, Violante Sobrero and Bartolo Mascarello (one died, another retired and the third is rapidly slipping into retirement). Their wines from the 1960s and '70s were the benchmarks for that era.

This tradition is continued today by Giuseppe Rinaldi, whose long-maturing wines from Brunate express the very best of this top vineyard site. In this exalted category belongs Bruno Giacosa, whose wines were also legendary at one time. I shiver recalling his monumental 1982 Vigna Rionda, and the Barbaresco Santo Stefano Riserva has long been another pinnacle of Piedmontese winemaking. I hope that recent grumblings that Giacosa has lost his edge prove false.

There are two historical properties, both large by the standards of this region, that deserve comment. One, the Marchesi di Barolo, after a long crisis of leadership, is now making better wine than ever from its Cannubi vineyards and is likely to improve further over the next decade. The other is Fontanafredda, whose splendid vineyards in Serralunga produce old-styled wines that are often pegged a notch below the best but, when all goes well, as a vertical tasting at this property revealed to me some time ago, they are, indeed, wines of stature.

Barbera is another grape that, until a decade ago, was under-exploited except in the hands of a few producers. Today, it is more widely recognized that barbera can yield wines that sometimes challenge Barolo in richness of texture. Among the more traditionally made, I know of none better than those of Giovanni Conterno (grapes from Cascina Francia) and Cantine Vietti from the Pian Romulado and Scarrone vineyards. Giacomo Bologna, now deceased, introduced barrique aging of barbera nearly two decades ago and his Bricco del Uccellone (the firm of Braida) can be a marvelous wine. The 1982 vintage, tasted last year in Italy, is quite wonderful and at its peak today.

In Barbaresco, the single-vineyard wines of Angelo Gaja, Sori San Lorenzo especially, remain enduring classics of Italian winemaking. My first encounter with Gaja's wines was with the electrifying 1978 vintage, but subsequent tastings of older vintages from Gaja's father, some from the '50s, confirmed that this was always one of the top estates. Bricco Asili, made by the Ceretto brothers, is also one of the best crafted wines of Barbaresco, though it exudes a distinctly different personality. This renowned winery is another pace-setter of longstanding.

A Baker's Dozen

Concluding my ode to Italy's quintessential reds, I feel compelled to append a baker's dozen of runners-up to my earlier, somewhat more Draconian listing of the top twelve. So, upon further reflection, the Castello di Ama Bellavista, the Barolo Sperss of Gaja, the Brunello Montosoli of Altesino, the Brunello Pianrosso of Ciacchi, the Brunello of Costanti, the Barolo Brunate Riserva of Giuseppe Rinaldi, the Barolo Cannubi Boschis of Sandrone, the Barolo Cascina Francia of Giacomo Conterno, the Barbaresco Bricco Asili of Ceretto, the Gravello of Librandi, the Taurasi of Mastroberardino, the Terre Brune of Santadi and the Rubesco Riserva Vigna Monticchio of Lungarotti are close to the pinnacle of perfection. (These wines range in price from $20 to $100.)

Italy's Best Whites

With regard to white wines, I have less to say because, cerebis paribus, they are, compared to the reds, longer in charm than in complexity. This does not mean that they are slight. The best whites of Italy exude enticing aromas of cool fruits and wildflowers with little oak to mask their freshness. I am purposefully excluding the ubiquitous varietals of chardonnay and sauvignon blanc — even though some striking examples of are being produced — for the same reason that cabernet and merlot were brushed over earlier.

In the south of Italy, my favorite white wine is the Fiano di Avellino, which is engaging for its profusion of unusual and persistent aromas.

In central Italy, Edoardo Valentini makes Trebbiano d'Abruzzo from what appears to be a distant clone of a somewhat undistinguished grape. It is perhaps the country's most impressive white wine. Valentini's Trebbiano is richer and smoother than most in Italy and is an anomaly in its ability to improve with age. Moving north to the Friuli, long the pacesetter for white wine (but now being seriously challenged by the Trentino/Alto-Adige), the most original variety is the indigenous tocai friulano, a grape which produces a wine of considerable personality, especially when crafted by the likes of Mario Schiopetto and Villa Russiz, among a handful of others.

In Soave, the eponymous wine made from garganega and a blend of other grapes has long been underrated, yet stylish Soave are being made by several producers such as Leonildo Pieropan. In Piedmont, the native arneis grape has begun a resurgence that is beginning to encroach on the reputation of the better known Gavi (made from the local cortese variety).

As for other white varieties, there is considerable potential for vermentino, grown in Sardinia and along the Ligurian and Tuscan coasts; along the Adriatic coast in the Marches, the verdicchio grape has been elevated to new levels of refinement by several makers.

The sweet white wines of Italy are too little appreciated. I am very fond of the hauntingly sweet and exotic Moscato di Pantelleria (known locally as Zibibbo) from an island off the southern coast of Sicily, and by the equally luscious Malvasia di Lipari, grown on one of the Aeolian islands.

In Tuscany, Vin Santo, bottled by virtually every Chianti producer, is made from malvasia, trebbiano and a dash of other local grapes. Most are off-dry, sherry-like and very agreeable, but only occasionally do they attain levels of captivating richness found in the versions produced by Avigonesi and by San Giusto a Rentennano. Nearly in the same league are those of Antinori, Tenuta di Capezzana and Castello di Brolio.

In the Veneto, Fausto Macullan produces several intense, Sauternes-like wines of which Acininobili is arguably the best. Yet the wine which has most endeared itself to me is Roberto Anselmi's satiny Recioto di Soave "I Capitelli," which is redolent of tropical fruit and marzipan. In Friuli, I have yet to be convinced by the alleged magic of the celebrated picolit grape, but the lesser-known ramandolo offers unusual floral and citrus aromas.

Finally, there is Moscato d'Asti, a signature wine of Italy if there ever was one. This unique, compelling expression of muscat is reaching new heights in a generation of talented producers of which the best seem to be Rivetti, Saracco and Perrone.

The Future

The southern portions of Italy, from Rome south, as well as Sardinia, are destined to provide, as I stated earlier, a number of exciting wines from some of the most unusual and exotic grapes to be found in the peninsula. To a limited extent, this is happening already.

In Umbria, the sagrentino di Montefalco, a grape of obscure origins, seems likely to make a big splash in the hands of a new generation of producers.

The Alto-Adige and Trentino regions will be increasingly recognized for uncommon Cabernet wines though, in my view, it is the native teroldego and lagrein scuro grapes, as well as marzemino — all relatively unknown today to the public at large — that will produce some of Italy's most engaging wines.

In the Veneto, expect more polished and compelling Vapolicellas than one generally finds today. Even the once humble Bardolino is likely to make a comeback.

Tuscany, at large, is focusing more and more on making great Sangiovese wines from the proper clones. A decade or more of hard work by a group of dedicated producers has begun to pay off in terms of undoing the damage done several decades ago in the rush to build up a bustling wine industry. Distinctive wines made wholly from sangiovese will become more commonplace.

In the Monferrato area, adjacent to Asti in Piedmont, wines likely to become a leading wine export are made from the once difficult barbera grape as it is harnessed by an increasing number of dynamic producers like Michele Chiarlo and La Barbatella (the last-named I've only seen in Italy) who understand that wines of great class and ageworthiness can be made here. The same may be true of the more delicate grignolino grape, which is now regaining popularity after years of relative obscurity.

Elsewhere in Italy, one should not expect major changes, just a shift in positions of leadership as new stars emerge. The marketing potential for regions like Barolo and Barbaresco has already been met, and there is now little room for expansion. As government regulations come into line with winemaking reality, designations such as "Vino da Tavola" will fall into disuse and the misleading epithet "Super-Tuscan" may mercifully vanish as well.

Two things are certain: In the increasingly competitive world of fine wines, Italy has largely overcome the diffidence and even disdain once common among wine critics and connoisseurs. This gloriously diverse and historically significant Mediterranean country will continue to surprise and delight us with the rediscovery of indigenous grape types that preserve some vestige of a truly unique viticultural patrimony.

Contributing Editor Edward Beltrami writes regularly for The Wine News on Italian wine and sometimes ventures into the vineyards of France and Long Island.

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