Highlights from Vinitaly 2024: four icons of Italian wine

Vinitaly 2024 offered us the opportunity to revisit a few iconic fine wines with a very ambitious positioning. Here you’ll find four that left us in awe:

The Nals Margreid winery

Nals Margreid

Alto Adige Chardonnay Nama 2020

Let’s be frank: most Italian regions produce hoards of uninteresting Chardonnays, and Alto Adige is no exception to this rule. Whereas you are almost always sure of drinking a good wine if you get a bottle of Sylvaner, Pinot Bianco, Sauvignon or Muller Thurgau from this region, with Chardonnay you have to be more selective. 

Nals Margreid has always done a great job with Baron Salvadori, one of the two or three most iconic Chardonnays from the region and Nama, the cooperative’s now top-shelf wine, is an even more remarkable effort. Part of a new generation of ultra-ambitious fine wines aiming at changing the perception of the wines of Alto Adige, the roughly 2,000 bottles produced in the 2020 vintage – the first one not containing grapes other than Chardonnay – are sourced from 30 to 40-year-old plants in a single parcel on gravelly soils that was selected after meticulous mapping. The wine is fermented and aged for roughly two years in 320-liter barrels.

It took me only a few instants to realize I was confronting one of the best Chardonnay-based whites from this region I have ever tasted – so good it could put a few Burgundian examples in awe. It starts out discreet, almost reductive, then delivers a terrific array of smoked hazelnuts, demi-sel butter, lemon cream, alpine herbs, and saffron. Rich, oily but by no means a blockbuster, this flow across the palate with Montrachet-like elegance, the layers of candied orchard fruits and butter lifted by piercing acids, while almost chalky salinity lingers on the sumptuous finish. The slightly reductive character also makes me think it will eschew the premature oxidation problems Chardonnays often face in recent years and evolve gracefully over time.

The Ventaglio vineyard in Bolgheri

Argentiera

Ventaglio Toscana 2020

Cabernet Franc is slowly emerging as the most suitable variety for the production of single-varietal fine wines along the Tuscan coast. The number of producers making tiny volumes of extremely ambitious versions of this excellent – if hard-to-tame variety is growing year after year. Among them,Ventaglio is the likeliest to become an icon, competing with the historical Supertuscans on the secondary market. 

The first single-vineyard wine from a benchmark Bolgheri estate, this single-variety Cabernet Franc from a parcel nestled among the woods on the higher reaches of Bolgheri appellation reflects the ability of Cabernet Franc to retain herbal freshness even in torrid growing conditions. But herbal doesn’t mean green: what you get is an irresistible mix of bell pepper, bergamot, eucalyptus and laurel, with syrupy red fruits, violets, cola and animal musk in the background – unmistakably Mediterranean yet also polished and refined. Concentrated but deceptively light on its feet, herbal nuances frame the rich and creamy red fruits to the core, soft tannins and blood orange-like acidity make for a long and energetic progression. Less bombastic and more finessed than the Supertuscans of the past, it will win over the detractors of the category.

 

Il Marroneto

Brunello di Montalcino Madonna delle Grazie 2019

Alessandro Mori’s single-vineyard wine changed the fortunes of Montalcino when the 2010 vintage earned a perfect score from the Wine Advocate. In the previous decades, the most critically-acclaimed Brunellos had been the richer, riper ones made in the sun-kissed southern part of the appellation, which were often marked by a substantial use of new and small oak, and often tasted Supertuscan-ish. Il Marroneto, instead, has always been known for making traditional-style wines – stubbornly true to the imprinting given by Mario Cortevesio and Giulio Gambelli, two of the true masters of pure, racy and uncompromising Sangiovese. 

Madonna delle Grazie originates from a patch of land in the northern quadrant of the township, where lower average temperatures, stronger ventilation and higher elevations make for radically different expressions of Brunello – more understated yet exceptionally refined and age-worthy.

 2019 is a classic vintage, and its distinctive features are already evident at an early stage: the color is light and transparent and the aromas are so seamlessly melted together that I find it hard to describe them. There’s an alluring floral element that intertwines with wild fennel, licorice, oriental spice, all sorts of red and black fruits, and a subtle touch of undergrowth. Extremely youthful but already harmonious, it is laced with the essence of brambly red fruits, cola, and exotic florals. Ultra-polished caress the seamless progression and linger on the minutes-long finish. Definitely a Brunello for Chambertin drinkers!

Passopisciaro

Franchetti Terre Siciliane 2022

We all know by now that Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio and Carricante are word-class varieties, and their success on international markets is such that planting anything else on Etna – except maybe for a dollop of Pinot Noir to make sparkling wine – would seem foolish. But the truth is the pioneers who kick-started the renaissance of Etna between the late 1990s and 2000s have thoroughly experimented with non-native grapes.  Some tried planting Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc or Cabernet Sauvignon. Andrea Franchetti, instead, experimented Cesanese d’Affile and Petit Verdot at the Passopisciaro estate. The father of the “Contrade”, the system of subzones that sparked definitions of Etna as the “Burgundy of Sicily”, Franchetti understood the potential of native grapes early on yet he also wanted to produce something richer and smoother that could more easily appeal to fine wine estimators in times when “big and bold” were still fashionable – a wine that spoke about Etna with a slightly  “international” accent. 

The paradox is this elusive wine may well be the best wine produced with Cesanese d’Affile, a grape from Franchetti’s home region, Lazio, that still lacks proper valorization and recognition – although it has surged in popularity in recent years. Displaying a dark ruby color, the nose screams Etna: it is all about floral aromas wrapped in a veil and smoke and exotic spice, with darker-than-usual fruits and a hint of chocolate setting it apart from the Nerello Mascalese-based wines in Passopisciaro’s portfolio. You get the concentration of a “Supersicilian”yet the aromatic flamboyance and signature high-altitude acidity of Etna keep the rich structure in balance, supporting a long and suave finish with incense, sandalwood, dried herbs and blood orange adding to its exotic personality. One of the main strengths of the wines of Etna is they are never too austere in their youth but I am confident this will also age remarkably well.