Highlights from Vinitaly 2024: five excellent wines by up-and-coming producers

Vinitaly was an excellent opportunity to taste a few interesting wines made by under-the-radar producers. Here are some of the best ones we tried:

Cantina Cembra

Cuveè Zymbra Vigneti delle Dolomiti 2019

The quest for higher altitude is a key trend in modern Italian viticulture, and Cantina di Cembra leads the scene in this segment. Gathering dozens of small growers who farm dramatically steep vineyards in the namesake valley of the Trentino region, this cooperative specializes in white wines that embody the alpine terroir.

Zymbra is their latest release: you could define it as a wine “in three steps” as it consists of a blend of Chardonnay coming from vineyards lying between 450 and 550 meters, Riesling Renano lying between 500 and 600 meters, and Muller Thurgau from the highest parcels in the valley, peaking at 900 meters above sea level. The Burgundian variety spends a few months in oak and a bit of nuttiness and creaminess to the blend, while Riesling and Muller Thurgau aged in stainless steel add floral and herbal elegance to the nose. Razor-sharp yet elegant and seamless thanks to extended aging on the fine lees, it will definitely reward patience connoisseurs.

Importers and retailers: Enotria Wine Imports (United States) 

Fontefico

Cerasuolo d’ Abruzzo Superiore Fossimatto 2023

Abruzzo is one of the most exciting among the under-the-radar Italian regions, and this edition of Vinitaly was the was the right opportunity to present the new regional production organization, which includes the possibility of mentioning four subzones corresponding to the four provinces on the label to give a more specific identity to the wines.

Terre di Chieti corresponds to the southermost part of Abruzzo, and this lovely rendition of Cerasuolo d’ Abruzzo, the region’s signature rosè, exudes warmth and mediterranean generosity. Sourced from vineyards lying only a few kilometers away from Punta Aderci, arguably the region’s most famous beach and natural reserve, the dark rosè colors hints at its sneaky concentration and the nose screams maritime terroir. Salted capers, seaweed, oregano, a hint of tomato sauce outline mingle with earthy raspberries, anticipating a fleshy yet energetic mouthfeel – lusciously fruit-forward but also spicy, savory and slightly herbal, with soft tannins underlying the moreish finish. Unlike most rosè in the world, which are better enjoyed sooner rather than later, this knockout Cerasuolo usually benefits from a couple years of cellaring, taking on even deeper shades of spice and brine. 

Importers and retailers: Steep Hill Wine (New York, US) / RPS Wine Imports (United States) / Hellgarten Wines (UK)

Elvio Cogno

Barbera d’Alba Prephylloxera 2022

Elvio Cogno isn’t exactly a new kid on the block: this winery rose to global fame for rediscovering Nascetta, a native white grape of the Langhe, and shining a light on the Ravera vineyard, arguably one of Barolo’s finest Crus.

But this specific wine is elusive and relatively little-known, and production is so tiny that they struggle to cope with demand. The reason for that is it comes from one of the few ungrafted vineyards in Piedmont, lying on a sandy slope on the hills of Berri di La Morra and dating back to the late 19th century. Older vineyards are generally believed to be more in harmony with the soil and the surrounding environment, and the wine puts Langhe before Barbera, with a whispered yet complex nose of licorice, pressed flowers, balsam herbs, and plump cherry, hints of earth and spice appearing in the background. Dramatically low yields result in noteworthy concentration but the wine stays  fresh and elegant. The tannins are slightly racier than you would expect from Barbera and a fine line of blood orange-like acidity cuts through the rich cherry fruit, adding to its vibrancy and refinement.

Importers and retailers: Wilson Daniels  (United States) 

Le Miccine

Chianti Classico Riserva 2019

The 100th anniversary of Chianti Classico was also an opportunity to discuss the future of Italy’s oldest appellation with seminars devoted to young producers and women at the helm of up-and-coming wineries. Paula Papini Cook is one of them: the granddaughter of Tuscans who emigrated to Canada, she left Montreal, her hometown, to reverse migrate and take over an estate in a picture-postcard setting in Gaiole in Chianti.

Often those who come from other countries and fall in love with Chianti Classico have an even greater feeling for the genius loci of the locals, so it’s no surprise that Le Miccine’s 2019 Riserva impresses with its finesse and purity. Organically farmed vineyards on a sandstone and galestro-rich ridge contribute to shaping a wine that combines the complexity expected from a Riserva with great approachability and finesse. Lifted, red-fruited and balsamic, two-years’ aging in tonneaux adds a subdued touch of sweet spice to a juicy and crunchy mouthfeel laced with the essence of sweet red cherries, spontaneous herbs, and iron. 2019 is a classic vintage, and the wine still feels very youthful and vibrant. I wouldn’t rush drinking it!

Importers and retailers: Siena Imports (United States) / 30 50 Imports (Ontario, Canada) 

Cantina Produttori Carema

Carema Etichetta Bianca Riserva 2019

Carema is a tiny village on the border between the Aosta Valley and Piedmont that offers breathtaking scenery. Large pergolas on rock posts insist on the steep terraces crammed between the Dora Baltea river and the Ivrea mountains. Like many places where heroic viticulture is practiced, it suffered abandonment in the latter part of the 20th century, only to be rediscovered in recent years.

The survival of the winemaking tradition has been ensured over the years by the local cooperative, Cantina Produttori di Carema, which has always brought together vintners who owned extremely tiny parcels planted to  Nebbiolo- locally known as Picotendro. The wines of this cooperatives are radically different from better-known expressions of the variety as Barolo or Barbaresco – they emphasize finesse and cool-climate freshness rather than power. The “Riserva” mention might make you think of a rich and layered yet the 2019 Etichetta Bianca is all about lightness and transparency. A delicate ruby color anticipates quintessentially alpine aromas of wild strawberries, rose petals and botanical herbs. Similar flavors echo on a graceful, vibrant and ethereal progression, with pinpoint tannins caressing the palate, blood orange and anise lingering on the pure and refreshing finish. Usually less expensive than an entry-level Barolo, this wine usually gives the lion’s share of Nebbiolo-based wines from anywhere in Piedmont a run for their money.

Importers and retailers: Polaner Selections (United States)