Italian Estates

  • The Valentine's Day Massacre

    St. Valentine in TerniSt.Valentine Basilica in Terni, Italy

    Our War of the Roses quartet would be incomplete without an Italian contender, so we are bringing this one out of the gate first. And of course (and with all apologies) as this is a battle of the rosés as we roll towards Valentines Day, and this one is Italian, a reference to the St.Valentine's Day Massacre of Al Capone was inevitable. But these things all come so neatly wrapped up together: Saint Valentine was Italian and is the saint for which Valentines day is named- he was buried on February 14th. While little is actually known about Valentinus, as you can see in this beautiful stained glass window which resides in the Saint Valentine Basilica in Terni, Italy, it is generally accepted that he was martyred for marrying "unsanctioned" couples, and here he is shown blessing these young lovers. Who happen to be passing a rose between them. The artist almost certainly meant for it to symbolize the rosé wine we are focusing on right now.

    The wine. This Rosato comes from Rosa del Golfo, a winery with ancient roots in the agricultural traditions of that distant part of the Puglia region known as the Salento Peninsula. The Salento is hailed as the best rosé producing area of Italy, a theory supported and widespread by Italians themselves. Indeed, Rosa Del Golfo takes its name from the rosé wine that made them famous and still to this day is considered the benchmark of Italian rose wines.

    Rosa del Golfo RosatoRosato

    The winery possesses two centuries of history, having always been managed by the Calo' family.The hillside vineyards have clay-limestone soils, with characteristic areas of red earth rich in iron, as well as a mild climate which makes the area ideal for growing grapes and olives. It is exactly this "Terra Rossa" (red soils) that are the secret to the structure and complexity of the wines.

    "The best rosé of Italy" is the way we have heard it described more than a few times. Fighting words? Perhaps. But this is our War of the Rosés and Italy has thrown down the gauntlet. And just as we prefer a rosé to a rose for Valentines Day, in the spirit of the pen being mightier than the sword, we also prefer it to a hail of bullets.

    Which brings us to the Valentine's Day Massacre of 1929. Perhaps more is known about the life of Al Capone than that of Saint Valentine, but it should be pointed out that Alphonse was not Italian: he born in Brooklyn. Had his parents stayed in Italy, he would not have been faced with the dark, dry days of prohibition which is surely what drove him over the edge.


  • Introducing Tornesi le Benducce from Montalcino



    The Tornesi family has owned their estate, known as Le Benducce, since 1750: long before Brunello di Montalcino became known as a wine and even before Italy became a unified nation.

    The winery is still family operated, with Maurizio Tornesi at the helm of both viticulture and winemaking. He is a true Tuscan farmer-  as authentic as they come. Maurizio knows the land of Montalcino and the Sangiovese Grosso grape like the back of his hand.

    The estate has 7 hectares under vines, more than half of which is Sangiovese Grosso- the Brunello clone- used for Brunello di Montalcino as well as Rosso di Montalcino. Also in production are some 600 olive trees. Vineyards are worked fully by hand, and yield-reduction is a primary tenet of vineyard practice, as well as high density planting.

    His winemaking is traditional, with no use of small oak or new oak in his Brunello and focusing on both native yeasts and minimal intervention.

    The first time we sat down with Maurizio we of course tasted through many (spectacular) vintages of his Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino, but we also spied a jaunty looking bottle sitting on the shelf behind him next to his lunch. When asked, he shrugged and said it was "just" his Rossa da Tavola (table red.) He pulled it out, we passed it around, and while it was simple to be sure we were knocked out by the quality of such a humble bottling! It's an absolute steal at $15.50. All of his wines are a steal, frankly, and we couldn't be prouder to have this great estate as one of the latest additions to our growing Italian portfolio.


  • Cantine Garrone: Welcome to the Val D'ossola and Prunent

    We are very excited to present the wines of Cantine Garrone. Our in-house Italian specialist, Diego Meraviglia, shares with you the history of this new Winemonger direct import:

    "The Val D'Ossola is the absolute Northern-most area of Piemonte, right in the Alps and right on the border with Switzerland in a closed valley, and it is absolutely gorgeous.


    Historically, Pliny the Elder (the Roman historian, not the beer) wrote about the Celtic tribes of Northern Piemonte having a grape that they were cultivating which he referred to as 'Prunus Spinosa', or, the "wild prune". This is common knowledge and also Jancis Robinson talks about it in the 'wine varietals' book.
    Prunus Spinosa has always been thought to be the original Nebbiolo, or should I say simply Nebbiolo. Spanna, which is the name of Nebbiolo in the more recently popular and exploding appellations of Northern Piemonte (Ghemme, Gattinara, Boca, etc.) was always thought to be the oldest biotype of Nebbiolo in existence.
    However, in this mountain valley where I come from, not so long ago, Celtic remains were discovered related to wine. This has always been an area of archeological sites of Celtic heritage, but for the first time a special wine container was found, demonstrating that the "barbarians", as the Romans called them, were actually making wine. Commonly, the wines here were traditionally made with either Barbera and Bonarda, or Nebbiolo, but there were a few patchwork vineyards up in the high slopes of the mountains that were somewhat abandoned but possessed 100+ year old vines. The local mountain farmers typically and commonly called these vines "Prunent".

    Cantina Garrone (the ONLY winery in Val D'Ossola) pioneered an association of mountain organic growers that made massive efforts to restore and clone these vines and restart production on a more modern and professional manner.


    This took place a handful of years ago and DNA analysis was done on the varietal. Aside from the curious etymology of "Prunent" related to Prunus Spinosa that the ancient Romans talked about, it has now been proven that Prunent is indeed a very particular, very peculiar, very basic and "wild" biotype of Nebbiolo, and it has been stated with almost certainty that this is indeed the Celtic grape that the local tribes were cultivating and from which all Nebbiolo types subsequently spawned from and spread throughout Piemonte, Lombardia and Vale D'Aosta.

    So...this is the forefather of Nebbiolo...the ancient one...

    The younger, more quaffable and simple wines here are made from blends of regular Nebbiolo, not Prunent type, and Bonarda + Barbera...this is the Munaloss. Munaloss is a play on the word Ossolanum, the ancient Roman name of the valley. The Celts called it Osolan (high ground) before Roman conquest and incorporation into Roman civilization. If you go here, the Munaloss is the tavern wine that all restaurants, osteria, and taverns have...the "house wine".  The other is that rare, true Prunent.

    Prunent is a piece of history."

  • What We Are Drinking Now: Stroblhof Strahler Pinot Bianco from the Alto Adige

    Stroblhof Strahler 2011

    With Summer already warming up some parts of the country, and lingering right around the corner in others, we are all about transporting ourselves to Italy with this lovely white wine from the Alto Adige region.

    The Strahler is beautifully fresh, with finely-tuned acids supporting its ripe and generous fruit tones. Fermented and matured partially in large oak casks and partially in super-stainless steel tanks, this light yet still complex white was blended from 90% Pinot Bianco and a 10% splash-of-a-blend of Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay.

    Go ahead: Get yourself some Strobhof wines



    In the mid-19th century, Stoblhof began producing wine that was served to visiting guests in a simple setting, paired with local specialties produced on their farm. Today, Stroblhof continues this tradition but with more sophisticated offerings from its kitchen and well-crafted wines from its vineyards.

    Thirty years ago, Josef Hanny inherited Stroblhof from his father. He managed the restaurant and farm, and in addition to the vinification of Schiava and "Strahler", he reintroduced Pinot Nero and Gewurztraminer.

    In the fall of 1991, Josef Hanny fell terminally ill, and he passed away in 1993 at age 59—quite young, but his life had been one of intense and focused work. At that time, his daughter Rosmarie was twenty-two, but she already possessed a fine understandig of wine. Along with her sister Christine, she took over the estate and moved forward with her father'a work. The enologist Hans Terzer, a family friend, vinified the wines from the 3.5 hectares of vineyards.

    Since 1995, Andreas Nicolussi-Leck, the husband of Rosmarie Hanny and a wine professional with more then twenty-five years' experience, has been in charge of viticuture and winemaking at Stroblhof.

    stroblhof_andreasAndreas Nicolussi-Leck

    Between 1995 and 2006, the vineyards were replanted, grafted, and retrained entirely to Guyot with greater vine-density per hectare, hence increasing the quality of the harvest. The cellar, too, has been completely rebuilt to allow better handling of the must and fermentation, along with better aging of the wines.

    The limited yields and low production lead to high quality bottlings. In fact, from 3.5 hectares of vines, annual production never exceeds 30,000 bottles, half of which are white and the rest red. The vineyard altitude of 500 meteres above sea level also benefits the production of wines of distinct character with fine acidity and the ability to age well.

  • Bio Vio - Producing Organic Wines in Liguria

    BioVio is the kind of winery that you get to know about only if you hang out with the Ligurian locals- nearly all of the tiny production is poured into their glasses to be enjoyed with the local cuisine (the famous Cappon Magro- a seven layered pyramid of local herbs, vegetables, lobsters, prawns, oysters and sea bream, drenched in a sauce of anchovies and olive oil, all to be followed by a sweet Sacripantina.) It is the rare drop that is spared for export.

    When I was heading to my appointment with Mr. Giobatta Vio, I became completely lost in the hills of Albenga: partly because I was totally taken by the beauty of the landscape and partly because his winery and home are so remote that not even the GPS had a clue how to find him!

    Vineyards of Liguria

    When I finally did arrive, I found the air rich with the scent of flowers and basil (this is also the land of pesto); the same bouquet that you then find in his wines. The cellar consists of just 4 small steel tanks in 3 square meters of space-  but it can be tiny because his secret is not the winemaking but the vineyards. Gio (“Chiamami Gio!”) has some of the best plots in the entire Albenga area, with vines of up to 40 years of age. This is why his wines are so intense, so mineralic, so unique. They are a summer day in Liguria, the salt breeze in your face-  they are the very definition of terroir caught in a bottle. They are also all certified organic (called Biologic in Italy, thus the Bio)

    The BioVio Marene' Pigato shows intense notes of basil, thyme and honeysuckle with that strong influence of the warm sea in the forefront while it keeps rolling with an almost velvety long finish.
    The Aimone Vermentino is more delicate and feminine, it has a more subtle minerality and an elegance that simply lingers….
    Meanwhile, the U Bastio Rossese di Albenga is pure fun: fruity, fresh and young with hints of wild strawberry.

    The wines can be found in restaurants and shops all over California, including: Animal, Camino, Domaine LA, Gjelina, Go Fish, K&L Wines, Marco's, Poesia Oesteria Italiana, Slanted Door, Terroni, Traverso's, and The Wine House... (to name a handful)

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