All posts by A Cassese


Boscarelli gets heaps of attention from the journalists and it’s no surprise as to why. Their wines are spectacular interpretations of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, a wine that dates as far back as 789. Boscarelli runs is also run completely organic and the De Ferrari passion’s infects not only the staff, but anyone who drinks them. Their wines are among the most attractive wines coming out of the area today.

W. Blake Gray agrees and recently wrote a glowing post for about his visit to the winery. Please click here to read.


Conterno Fantino is located high above the ancient fortified town of Monforte d’Alba, relishing in a privileged position in the legendary Barolo wine zone. Founded in 1982 by two friends with strong roots in the winemaking business, the winery’s philosophy has remained unchanged over the years. And that philosophy is to run the winery “with the utmost respect for the land and tradition.” This is because the owners and their team believe this is the best way to guarantee quality wines. To help ensure excellent health and quality, the grapes are cultivated organically with no use of synthetic pesticides or weedkillers. They normally use half new and have second-use French oak barrique for their aging but it depends on the vintage. But this is not a hard-and-fast rules and each vintage is treated according to its specific characteristics.

What’s in a Name?

mappa-del-barolo-1Conterno Fantino makes four Barolos, all similar in expression yet unique to their specific microzone. Each is located within the Barolo zone, which is broken up into eleven municipalities over 1700 hectares (4,200 acres): Cherasco, Verduno, Roddi, La Morra, Grinzane Cavour, Castiglione Falletto, Diano d’Alba, Barolo, Novello, Serralunga d’Alba and Monforte d’Alba. There are then 170 Additional Geographical Definitions that stretch across all eleven municipalities. There are eleven of these in Monforte d’Alba, including Ginestra, Mosconi and Castelletto, where the Conterno Fantino Barolo vineyards are located. Hence, these are not proprietary names, and other wineries in the districts can and do use them.  The second name is the name of Conterno Fantino’s specific vineyard (vigna in Italian) or plot – Vigna Sori Ginestra, Vigna del Gris, Vigna Ped, and Vigna Pressenda. The names do not have specific meanings, but are the historic names of the vineyards. Sori’ Ginestra may have come about because sori` means “south” in the Piedmont dialect and the vineyard is in fact in the southern portion of the Ginestra district. Since this is how they had always referred to the vineyard, the name stuck. Vigna del Gris takes its name from the gray-colored soil of the vineyard as gris means “gray” in Piedmontese.

So what are the differences in these four stellar wines?

ginestra-vigna-sori-ginestra-labelSori` Ginestra is Conterno Fantino’s flagship wine. The vineyard is located in the Ginestra district on one of the most important hills in Monforte, if not Barolo itself. It is the thoroughbred of Barolos, and fully reflects its terroir. Located 340 meters (1,115 feet) above sea level, it fully benefits from southern exposure, which affords the vines warm sunlight from morning to night. The soil is not sandy, and is a bit more compact. The wines from this vineyard are bigger, with much more body, structure and tannins.  The older part of this vineyard was planted in 1971, giving the wine its unique elegance and complexity.


Vigna del Gris is the “princess” of Conterno Fantino. It’s feminine and delicate, and the most accessible of the range, thanks also to its unparalleled intrigue, finesse and elegance.  Located just 300 meters (984 feet) above sea level in the Ginestra district, the vineyards are southeast-facing with a lighter sandy soil. The wines are opulent and refined.  The oldest vines in the vineyard were planted in 1978.

mosconi-vigna-ped-labelVigna Ped is located on the historic Mosconi hill (in the Mosconi district) and Conterno Fantino has a small plot in the southernmost area. The wine from this vineyard is all about power, structure, freshness and elegance. It stands up to long cellaring – as do the others.  The vineyard is up high on the hill coming in at 360 meters (1,181 feet) above sea level and the oldest vines were planted in 1960. Like Sori Ginestra, the soil is rich in clay and limestone and quite compact. Because of this, this Barolo is assertive, masculine and structured, and has noticeable acidity due to the elevation.

castelletto-vigna-pressenda-labelVigna Pressenda is found in the Castelletto district of Barolo. It is Conterno Fantino’s new challenge. The vineyard was already recognized for excellence through its past winemakers, but it’s time to see how Conterno Fantino puts its inimitable spin on it. The vineyard is 360 meters (1,181 feet) above sea level and is southeast-facing.  The wines are most similar to Vigna del Gris, and are somewhat lighter, perfumed and refined. The oldest vines were planted in 1969.

In a nutshell:

Vigna Sori Ginestra is a bold wine, a purebred Barolo, with big tannins, and body. Vigna Ped is decisive, muscular, and makes a statement, also with decisive tannins. Vigna del Gris is elegant, polished and delicate. And finally, Vigna Pressenda is pleasantly fragrant and refined with grace and elegance.  Each Barolo is balanced, complex, extracted and perfectly ageable.

Map Source:


pietradolce-012Wine Spectator recently featured one of Etna’s sweethearts – Pietradolce. In an article entitled Heirloom Etna, Robert Camuto quotes Michele Faro: “I buy monuments. These vineyards are monuments.” Indeed, Michele loves and adores old vines and what they give to his wines. In his own words: “I love pre-phylloxera vineyards because you get naturally more concentration with a small quantity of fruit.” We strongly suggest you take a look at this article. It’s a good read about an excellent vineyard on the rise.

Click here for the full article.


When a winery spans seven generations, it’s a given that tradition is going to be a big part of its formula for success. But what happens when tradition is paired with invention? Going back to basics – or rather, going certified organic – is oddly seen as being progressive in a world of winemaking dependent on synthetic materials for pest, fungus and rot control. But that is just what Speri spent the last ten years doing.


Indeed, part of Speri’s success is due to its unyielding respect for tradition. They only make five traditional Valpolicella wines and only grow grapes native to the area. Nevertheless, their trailblazing attitude has always led them to look for ways to better themselves, to remain current, to further their education, and to find ways to improve their wines and their future. Because of this, they are no strangers to experimentation. At any given time, there are six barrels of “experimental” wines in their cellar; they are personally responsible for creating the “pergoletta Speri,” a vine training system designed to allow light and air to pass freely, encouraging better grape maturation; and they were among the first to try to highlight single vineyards in the 1970s when it wasn’t quite popular in Italy yet. Not afraid of change, Speri started looking towards organic farming. You could say the groundwork was already laid as the family’s philosophy has always included a total respect for the environment and a desire to highlight their unique terroir. In fact, they began working the land organically at least ten years (even twenty years for some things, such as weed control) before beginning the bureaucratic procedures for certification. The “official” conversion took three harvests (as per EU regulations) and their first full “bio” wine was the 2015 vintage.

speri-vineyards-santurbano-estate-1024x576The Sant’Urbano vineyard.

Speri owns and cultivates 60 hectares (almost 150 acres) of the 100 hectares (almost 250 acres) of organically farmed land in the Valpolicella Classico area. This is a great privilege – Speri is fortunate enough to not have to buy any grapes to make their wines, hence giving them full control over the quality – but it also comes at a great cost. Organic farming is a financial commitment that demonstrates just how dedicated one is to creating a natural product and protecting the environment – and consumers. Why does it cost so much more? Mostly because it requires more manpower in the vineyards and more, albeit natural, treatments aimed at preventing disease and infestation. While pesticide treatments could be done three to four times a year, organic cultivation requires many more, perhaps as many as thirteen treatments in one growing year. Incidentally, these preventative measures paid off in 2014. Because of them, organic growers suffered the effects of the vintage’s changeable weather much less than conventional growers. Additionally, production tends to be somewhat lower. So even though Speri has purchased 9 more hectares (22 acres) in the last two years, they won’t be producing many more bottles than the average of 350,000 bottles they currently produce. Speri has looked to offset these costs by expanding their cantina and vinification areas. In doing so, they will save on air conditioning (something they have had to depend on in one of the current storage areas) because the cantina is eight meters (26 feet) underground and thus remains cool all year round. They’ve also installed solar panels to cover their electricity needs. This will not only balance out costs, but has made it so their impact on the environment is even more minimal.

What does organic mean in Italy? Organic viticulture is all about cultivating grapes and making wine using all-natural practices, ultimately aiming for the best quality possible. This includes the production of nutrients as well as weed management and parasite and disease prevention. It is considered a complete method whose final product must reflect the local terroir in every way: the environmental conditions, such as the hydrology, soil, and microclimate as well as traditional workings of the land. Every aspect of cultivation – from the fertility of the soil, to the management of parasites and disease – are managed to maximize the quality and health of the grapes. (Source: Organic agriculture is further regulated by the European Union and growers, once certified, enjoy the use of an EU organic logo.

speri-family-now-chiara-carlo-laura-giampaolo-giampietro-giuseppe-luca-alberto-speri-smallThe Speri family.

Chiara and Giuseppe Speri are cousins that represent the sixth and seventh generations. Here, they explain how and when Speri made the change. “We were on the fence about going organic because pesticides salesmen consistently told us true organic farming was impossible,” said Giuseppe, junior enologist, the son of Alberto Speri, the senior enologist at Speri. Undeterred, they decided to do a year trial. While it was a risk because they were travelling into the unknown, they were pleased with the results. “At the end of the year, we noticed the plants were actually healthier.” With the idea that healthy grapes make healthy wines, they never looked back. Speri dropped or replaced any and all pesticides, antifungal, and weed control products and began using all-natural products and organic farming practices. Now, Speri sprays copper and sulfur to combat rot and disease. (Note that EU regulations dictate that only six kilograms of copper per hectare may be used per growth cycle while there are no limits in the use of sulfur dustings.) As for pest control, Speri uses what is known as sexual confusion. Strips containing pheromones are placed throughout the vineyard. These pheromones emanate throughout the fields and stop the insects from breeding as males can’t find the females, and females think the males are females. (To make sure the treatment is working, traps can be placed in the vineyard to catch the insects. However, if they are empty, it means the treatment is working.) The pest population is effectively controlled without the use of any synthetic pesticides and the grapes remain unspoiled.

Careful soil management aimed at safeguarding the soil and its fertility as well as maintaining optimal balance of the vines are key factors in the cultivation of organic grapes. According to Chiara and Giuseppe, turfing, cover cropping, and their management, are vital at Speri. Grass naturally grows in the vineyards and can be adapted, according to what the microclimate requires at any given time. For example, perhaps you might let the grass grow if there is too much water so the vines don’t become water-logged, something that could affect the quality. More frequently though, the grass would be cut, and then used as mulch. This helps make sure the vines receive all the vital nutrients in the soil. Ever the innovators, Speri also created a special “Sant’Urbano grass mixture” that they use as their green manure. It is planted in winter only to be cut later and turned into the soil as a sort of natural fertilizer.  Finally, Speri also uses an aerator to freshen the soil. It is used after harvest when the soil is dry, making holes for oxygen and water as the machine passes over. This helps the roots grow deeper, producing stronger, more vigorous plants.

Speri also uses organic practices in the cantina. Every product used, such as yeast, must be organic and sulfites must be used sparingly, if at all. Speri has never used a lot of sulfites because the amount naturally produced during vinification has always been enough to preserve their wines. Giuseppe quipped, “We drink our wine. So we make the wine we want to drink.” Their objective has always been to highlight the grapes and the territory – which is part of why their philosophy meshes so well with organic growing – and this shows even in their aging preferences. They do not use barrique for their dry wines, preferring tonneaux and botti, looking to gently rather than aggressively enhance the wine’s aromatic and flavor profiles.

speri-ageing-cellar-smallSperi’s aging cellar: botti on the left, tonneaux on the right.

We asked Speri if the change was difficult and they said, “Only the bureaucracy!” That is especially the case when it comes to understanding and complying with the different rules of the different countries their wines are exported to. For example, for the wine to be labeled 100% organic in the U.S., no sulfites may be used. However, wines can be labeled “made with organic grapes,” which is what most organic Italian wineries do. The Speri family, which never backs down in the face of a challenge, remains committed to and enthusiastic about organic methods. We asked Chiara and Giuseppe if bio-dynamic winemaking was the next step. To which they laughed, “Whoa, slow down there, one step at a time.”

speri-winery-okSperi’s s renovated façade.


Tampelio-4here is a reason the press often looks to Ampelio Bucci for their questions and features on the Marche region of Italy and its famed Verdicchio wine. He is one of the top experts after all, a true trailblazer, having put Verdicchio on the map of Italy’s greatest white wines and using leading-edge techniques for aging. The latest to talk to Ampelio is Monty Waldin, who for Decanter Magazine, wrote a fabulously informed and informative article about the region, quoting our beloved Ampelio and featuring one of his wines.

Please pick up a copy of Decanter Italy 2017 (out with the February 2017 release) issue to read the full article, but here is an excerpt:

     White wine grapes aspiring to greatness need other attributes, such as an ability to age and develop beautifully in oak, in bottle, or in both. “Verdicchio ticks all of those boxes,”  says Ampelio Bucci, Verdicchio’s elder statesman and another of Italy’ s greatest white wine growers (as opposed to white wine makers).

     Bucci created what became Verdicchio’s oak-aged riserva category in the early 1980s when he installed vats made of Slavonian oak holding between 6,600 and 10,000 bottles. His observation that “commercially it was hard being the first in the market with this idea” is a delightful understatement given the tide of stainless steel and French oak barrels that were flushing out the historic oak vats from Italy’s wineries at that time.

     Bucci swam against this tide arguing: “Large oak vats allowed my Verdicchio to taste not of oak but of Verdicchio, or the Marche. And by allowing the wine to breathe, the oak sets the wine up for a strong healthy life once inside the bottle.” The producer’s top-end Villa Bucci Riserva Verdicchios easily retain their mouthwateringly waxy texture for a decade or two, as reviving as Maconnais Chardonnay but with a more diverse payload of savoury-smooth white and yellow fruits on the mid-palate.  – Monty Waldin



“This wine is truly mind-blowing, and a prime example that Brunello is not the only Tuscan DOCG producing outstanding Sangiovese. In fact, this wine has us wondering whether Montepulciano might be the best place in Tuscany for the grape’s cultivation. Made by a boutique family producer, this wine is a beautiful balance of fruit and earth, with bright cherries equalized by tobacco and leather. What we find truly amazing about this wine is that it is not only drinking beautifully now, but it’s also a bottle that could be saved for years and it will only get better.”

The writers and tasters over at Vinepair could not have said better what we have been saying all along. Boscarelli’s exquisite Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is the quintessential example of the excellence that is Sangiovese. A wonderful and passionate cantina, Boscarelli has found a way to highlight all its best qualities, through their hands-on approach to winemaking.  We are proud of them and proud to be on Vinepair’s list.

Vinepair’s reach is far and wide, with more single monthly users (1.2 million!) than even Wine Spectator. Their ultimate goal is to “become one of the world’s leading lifestyle publications and fundamentally influence our generation.” So far, they are doing a great job.

Thank you Vinepair for this wonderful mention!

To view the full article, please click here.


logo_pietradolcePietrdolce enjoys across-the-board fantastic reviews and the latest is from Walter Speller of who compares and contrasts the 2014 and 2015 vintages in a well-thought out article. To read his reviews of the wines, see below and to read the entire article, please visit their website.


Pietradolce Bianco 2015
Straw yellow. Stony, bread-crust nose with cut lime. Waxy lemon and peach palate. Very unusual and hugely compelling. Drink 2016-2020. 17

Pietradolce Archineri Bianco 2015
Intense, complex citrus-fruit nose. Intense and long and finely textured. Moreish. Drink 2016-2020. 17

Pietradolce Rosso 2015
(Tasted from cask). Pale ruby. Lifted, lively raspberry nose and succulent raspberry fruit on the palate with fine sandy tannins. Closes up quickly. Linear finish for the moment. Wonderful lightness of touch, but not ready yet. Drink 2017-2027. 17

Pietradolce Rosso Rampante 2014
A vineyard of less than 1 ha of 80-year-old vines bought from an elderly farmer. First vintage. Very tight nose, chock-full of minerals. The apotheosis of Archineri, with similar linear acidity, but the palate is more filled out with raspberry fruit and grainy tannins. Great length and balance, but far from ready.  Drink 2018-2030. 17+



As September comes to an end and most of the grapes have made their way into the cantinas for second picking and pressing, the wine industry starts to buzz, looking to answer the big and ever important question: Will this be a vintage to remember?


Photo courtesy of Einaudi

Assoenologi anticipates the question with a preview of what’s to come every September and we’ve checked in with some of our producers for a first-hand understanding of what we can expect for 2016.


 About the same as last year (around 5% less): approximately 49 million hectoliters of wine and must.


Optimal in all of Italy, with some areas of extreme excellence. All the factors required for an excellent vintage are in place. However, this can only be confirmed after the last grape has been picked. The weather has been good to winemakers throughout harvest season and one can only hope it stays that way.


Winter was mild all over Italy, with above-average temperatures and lower-than-average rainfall. Coming in at 289 mm (compared to the seasonal average of 436 mm), this lesser amount did not have a negative effect on the cycle, as the plants had plenty of water left over from fall. Heavier rains in February and March replenished the water reserves and April and May experienced less rain. In general, bud burst took place around mid-March, about 5-10 days earlier than normal. Hail was also recorded in many areas during that period (like in Umbria), which was accompanied by unexpected low temperatures and frost. This reduced potential production, although it did get the growth cycle back on track in terms of timing.  Flowering also had to endure several and often violent storms, causing the early fall of the flowers further reducing potential quantity. A rainy June coupled with low temperatures delayed the physiological cycle of the plant, and caused the outbreak of disease and fungal infections (peronospora and oidium). However, winemakers on the whole acted quickly, successfully fighting them off. The end of June finally brought the summer heat, even sweltering in some areas.  August was marked by excellent temperatures swings that will be crucial to the quality of this vintage. Overall, this year’s grapes are beautiful and healthy and initial news coming out of the cantinas leave winemakers hopeful for the vintage. Most harvests will be taking place somewhat later than usual, about 5-10 days late.


The weather was atypical this year with a particularly dry fall and winter, accompanied by mild temperatures. Even spring registered low temps, with late frost and lots of humidity. Dry temperatures returned in June, with some scattered storms, which sometimes brought hail compromising quantity and quality. August was hot with excellent temperature swings. Budbreak and flowering were normal and the productiveness of the vines was generally good. In fact the quantity is higher than 2015, but with smaller grapes because of the lack of water. Plant protection was difficult this year. Even though fungal infections didn’t spread at the beginning of the season, urgent measures were required in July. Perfectly healthy Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Brachetto, Moscato, Dolcetto, Freisa, Arneis and Cortese have been picked and winemakers are happy if not ecstatic about the quality. The last week of the month will be dedicated to Barbera and then Nebbiolo, depending on weather conditions.  Quality is expected to be excellent. Poderi Einaudi has confirmed this by saying, “The high summer temperatures were tempered by just the right amount of rain, which was never too much, and the grapes are all healthy and presenting excellent quality. Obviously we are just at the beginning of harvest (which has begun at the normal times for the various grapes varieties), but we are sure it will be a year worthy of recognition and great structure.” At the same time, the ever cautious Davide Mozzone of Bongiovanni said that, “The battle begins now. With Barbera and Nebbiolo harvest just a few weeks away, we are watching the grapes and the weather closely. For now, everything looks great and we are very satisfied with the Arneis and Dolcetto we’ve already brought into the cantina.”

bongiovanni-harvest-2016Photo courtesy of Bongiovanni


Lombardy’s weather changed from area to area in terms of quantity and health. Bud burst and flowering went off without much of a hitch, but heavy rains caused extensive loss of flowers, reducing production. Many storms and hail caused a further reduction in some areas as well as peronospora, especially for organic wineries. The more delicate varieties (Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay and Merlot) were affected by the fungus, but on the upside, went through excellent day/night temperature swings and maturation was constant albeit slow. Regina Valzelli reported that harvest went off without a hitch and “We consider the primary characteristics of typical fresh, ripe fruit, with great depth and excellent minerality to be excellent for 2016. Our vineyards’ excellent locations guaranteed a morning breeze that ensured exceptional health and acidity that will probably accompany the primary characteristics of our wines, “especially the Rosè.” Laura Gatti expounded on the situation at Ferghettina, which is anything but bleak: “Harvest began 18 August about 10 days later than 2015. The rain in early August slightly delayed ripening. However, from 15 August on, the weather conditions were perfect with sunny days and medium-to-high daytime temperatures and cool nights. Thanks to this climate, the grapes ripened impeccably and in excellent health with perfect sugar and acidity numbers for Franciacorta base wines. Harvest ended 10 September and the quality of the wines is excellent. Quantity will be slightly lower than 2015.” And in fact, the region is expecting a 10% decrease over last year, but the numbers are in line with the ten-year average.


Because the temperatures were lower than normal this year, harvest was 10-12 days late. The average weight of the grape bunches is lower than last year for white grapes and most should be harvested mid-September while the international red varieties will begin later. There were also some problems with peronospora. Alfredo Albertini for Bollini confirms, explaining that “Expectations for quality are very high, especially for white grapes. The potential alcohol content is interesting and the acidity levels are good with an excellent ratio of acidity and tannins.” He tells us that the next days will be crucial to the quality of the red varieties, but the forecast is good. Aldo Adige is also looking at excellent quality and healthy fruit with no anomalies. Harvest should take place the end of September and will continue through mid-October November.  The expected decrease in quantity is about 5%.


Davide Dal Cero of Corte Giacobbe reports that it was an unusual year. The first six months of the year were very rainy causing them to worry about quality. However, there was a happy improvement in summer, which was extremely hot. The summer heat perfectly dried out the extra water, leading to perfect balance. Grapes are ripening to perfection, especially up high on the hillside. Davide explained “when I went to take some samples up in the Runcata vineyard, I picked a few grapes and they were noticeably cool, even leaving my fingers cold! This means the acidity is high and the potential alcohol content will be around 13 to 13.5%. What I can say about this year is that there will be extraordinary balance and extremely intense aromas, even more than last year.” Davide has been monitoring the weather and they have started harvesting in the lower vineyards working their way up the hill about 30-40 meters a day to ensure a totally consistent harvest.  Elsewhere in the Veneto, Luca Speri elaborated on the situation at Speri vineyards, “This year got off to a slow start and wasn’t easy as from mid-May to mid-June. It was very rainy, and there was a great risk of disease and rot. But from mid-June on, the season changed, becoming beautiful and the vines were able to recuperate. Long periods of sunshine and average temperatures favored a healthy and quality growth cycle as well as excellent maturation. The last part of the season, just before harvest, was perfect with sun and dryness and important day/night temperature swings. Only two days of light rain before harvest led the way to dry weather for grape picking! Everything went perfectly. There was no rain or violent weather at any point during the season so all the conditions necessary for a year to remember are in position. At the moment, we are in our first week of harvest for Amarone, but everything looks great, even the weather in our area. Harvesting grapes for Amarone (so grapes that will go through a period of drying) in dry weather is fundamental to preserving the health of the grapes.” As for the region in general, the growth cycle began about 10-15 days late in the highest producing region in Italy. In some areas, low temperatures and precipitation caused weak flowering triggering millerandage in the more delicate varieties. Temperatures in June and early July were well above the norms, but leveled out to normal temperatures for the season thereafter. The region also had to fight off disease and it seems they were able to combat it. Nevertheless, quality has held on strong so far. Quantity will be a little lower than the year before, but higher than the ten-year average. higher than the ten-year average.

speri-harvest-2016Photo courtesy of Speri 


Challenging spring weather – which was altogether unusual for the region – with sudden weather jumps from mild weather to heavy rains negatively influenced flower set and its uniformity in addition to causing millerandage. It was also very difficult to keep peronospora and oidium at bay, especially for organic wineries. However, Jermann tells us, “The 2016 vintage will absolutely be remembered as an excellent one. Bud burst was normal as was growth. The weather started to become problematic during flowering, because it alternated between rainy and mild periods. The reduced fertilization of flowers caused by the rain and the resulting lower number of grapes per cluster nevertheless allowed for the formation of thinner clusters, making them less susceptible to rot further guaranteed by targeted bunch and leaf thinning. The arrival of summer brought beautiful weather with ideal day/night temperature swings, factors that aided in the adequate accumulation of sugars, acidity and interesting aromatic complexity. The cherry on top of the cake is that the health of the grapes is practically perfect the kind of the top vintages – allowing us to choose the best time to harvest. We started harvesting the grapes 31 August 2016 with Sauvignon Blanc (harvest at dawn to preserve their aromas). We moved on to Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco and slowly but surely, all the rest of the varieties; harvest ended 5 October with Pignolo di Ruttars, as tradition dictates.” Grape production is 5% higher than last year and much higher than the ten-year average.  White wines seem to have good sugar and acidity levels and an interesting aromatic profile.


Winter was rainy with higher temperatures than usual. Those rains continued through spring with downpours and hail. Temperature swings during spring caused staggered flowering and fruit set resulting in coulure and millerandage. Winemakers also had to fight off peronospora and oidium and even phylloxera in some areas of the region. From July until today, the almost total absence of rain and heat has created some stress for the vines, even though there were good water reserves. Veraison began about a week later than last year. The weather changed from area to area, sometimes from vineyard to vineyard, in Tuscany. But the quality is still expected to be good if not great. Harvest for early-ripening whites begun in late August. Vernaccia began in mid-September along with Tuscany’s coastal areas. Native and international reds are being harvested now and will continue through October, especially in the Chianti Classico area. Franco Bernabei confirms, “It will be a great year for Tuscan wines, the rains in early September gave the late-ripening varieties that last push they needed to reach perfect maturation, especially those used for our traditional wines. We are unquestionably satisfied even though we are not totally finished harvesting. Early September rainfall came on gradually, with no damaging storms, allowing for the penetration of water without ruining the grapes still on the vine. We are about 85% of the way through harvest, finishing up with our native varieties, which have gone perfectly through their cycle and will give us excellent wines.” And Pasquale Presutto of Terrabianca tells us that the “Cabernets and Sangioveses of Massa Marittima will be excellent having ripened perfectly.”  Terrabianca has not harvested in Chianti Classico yet, but ripening happened early this year. “Alcohol levels are good and the wonderfully beneficial day/night temperature swings will guarantee excellent quality.”  Quantity is down about 5% this season, but just about in line with the ten-year average.


April was cool with a lot of rain, but budbreak still began about a week early, while flowering was held back by several storms. Veraison of red grapes began slightly late. There were also some problems with disease that were quickly eradicated. Maturation is about 7-10 days late, but Ampelio Bucci of Villa Bucci said, “It has been a great growth cycle and harvest went well with beautiful weather and little rain. While it was helpful to cool and clean the grapes, it didn’t make picking difficult because the soil remained dry. Also because we have lots of grass, as per the organic-growing principles we’ve been practicing for 19 years in all our vineyards. The quality seems great in terms of alcohol, acidity and dry extract. There was no rot. The quantity is without a doubt 10-15% higher and we expect excellent white and red wines for this vintage.” The region on a whole is expecting several areas of excellence producing balanced wines. Quantity will be down 5% over last year.


Winter was particularly mild, but spring’s tempestuous weather and frost caused problems for budbreak and flowering. June rainfall was higher than normal while the temperatures were lower. This caused the growth cycle to slow down in some areas as well as some problems with disease. A hot summer finally arrived thereafter and there were excellent day/night temperature swings in August. Umbria production will be down about 5-15%. Peter Heilbron of Tenuta Bellafonte told us that at the end of growth cycle, beautiful sunshine paved the way for “great ripening and therefore big, plump grapes, which means wonderful aromas and perfumes.” See his lush and inviting grapes below.img_20160928_0812241Photo courtesy of Tenuta Bellafonte

Winter was particularly mild, but spring’s tempestuous weather and frost caused problems for budbreak and flowering. June rainfall was higher than normal while the temperatures were lower. This caused the growth cycle to slow down in some areas as well as some problems with disease. A hot summer finally arrived thereafter and there were excellent day/night temperature swings in August. Umbria production will be down about 5-15%. Peter Heilbron of Tenuta Bellafonte told us that at the end of growth cycle, beautiful sunshine paved the way for “great ripening and therefore big, plump grapes, which means wonderful aromas and perfumes.” See his lush and inviting grapes below.

Because of the weather – cool temperatures, storms, humidity and little sunlight – the region experienced a very slow start to the growth cycle and many obstacles. However, things got much better in June and July, bringing excellent bud burst. Though, it also created abundant foliage which led to problems with disease. Harvest begun in early September (with white grapes) and will continue through the end. In spite of the aforementioned weather, the grapes have pulled through and the vintage is shaping up to be one to remember.


Last winter was dry and mild with higher-than-average temperatures. Spring was warm, fueling early bud burst. This area also had its share of wacky weather with numerous storms and low temperatures.  Flowering took place at the end of May/beginning of June with fruit set taking considerably long, producing loosely-packed bunches.  The temperatures rose in late June and throughout August, there was good ventilation with great temperatures, a few storms and excellent day/night temperature swings. Harvest took place all throughout September and will continue throughout October. Quantity will be down about 20%, however, quality should be among the best.


The region experienced a lot of rain through winter and spring. June and July were hot, with just a few cool periods, which favored maturation. There were no problems with disease as thankfully, any hint was swiftly combatted. August was especially hot, with a few storms that may have reduced quantity in some areas. Harvest has already begun for early-ripening grapes but harvest in Puglia will continue through August.


Fall and winter were rainy and spring was moderately humid. May and June saw some problems with peronospora and oidium. However, they were quickly fought off.  Harvest in some areas has begun but will continue through October. Etna will begin its harvest presumably around the end of September, beginning with Carricante. In general, Sicilian grapes are reported to be in good condition with good quantities though there will be about 20% less than last year. Gianfranco Sabbatino says that he is looking forward to an “excellent vintage, with slighter lower quantities, at least in the Messinese area.”


Sardinia has not had it easy the past three years, with some drought conditions, making life difficult for agriculture and beyond. Fall and winter were dry, with mild temperatures while spring brought lots of rain. However, it wasn’t enough to fully replenish the water reserves. Budbreak was early and even.  May and June were cooler, and the growth cycle slowed down drastically. The unusual winds kept the vines dry, fending off certain types of disease while causing concern for others. Near the end of July, there were healthy amounts of rain, which coincided with veraison. Harvest began mid-August and continued throughout September. The health of the grapes is excellent.


So what can we make of all this?  Most grapes are safely in the cantinas starting the fermentation process, but late-ripening varieties are still on the vines hoping for wonderful weather that will bring their maturation period to the perfect end. 2016 had its moments, especially in the beginning of the season, but what is important, aside from the perfect summer period, is how it ends. And right now, it seems to be ending on a very, very high note.

For now, enjoy the early fall view…

      speri-fall-2016                                                                                                                                                         Photo courtesy of Speri


The Slow Wine movement was created to “support and promote small-scale Italian winemakers who are using traditional techniques, working with respect for the environment and terroir, and safeguarding the incredible biodiversity of grape varieties that are part of Italy’s heritage.”

Because of this, we are proud of the following wineries honored with special recognition in the Slow Wine guide:



Conterno Fantino



Great work, guys!


biwa-thumbnailSeptember is exciting for many reasons, the first being harvest, but also because it is when some of the big wine guides and experts begin to release their  picks for the wine industry’s best of the year.

The Wine Sider’s Best Italian Wine Awards, created by Luca Gardini and Andrea Grignaffini chooses the fifty best wines of Italy every year with the help of a carefully chosen panel of experts, journalists and critics that includes the likes of Tim Atkin (Master of Wine and Wine Writer), Luciano Ferraro (editor of the Corriere della Sera), Kenichi Ohashi (Master of Wine from Japan), Amaya Cervera (wine journalist), Marco Tonelli (food and wine expert), Christie Canterbury (Master of wine, educator and journalist), Daniele Cernilli (of Doctor wine), Antonio Paolini, critic for major guides and print) and Pier Bergonzi (of the Gazzetta dello Sport).

It gives us great pride to announce the Empson-represented wines that made the list: