Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Amazing Lady Winemakers of Italy

Women are making their mark in all walks of life, including the wine industry. While America has its Helen Turley, nowhere are women making a greater impact on winemaking than in Italy, where three women are rapidly joining the ranks of the truly elite.

Elisabetta Foradori has become one of Italy's "superstar" winemakers and without a doubt is Italy's finest producer of wines made from Teraldego, one of Italy's oldest and finest endogenous grapes. All of her vineyards are in the Campo Rotaliano region of Trentino, where this grape (genetically related to Syrah) reaches its zenith. From these biodynamically farmed vineyards she is quietly making some of Italy's most complex, deep and compelling wines.

The style of Foradori's Teraldego is stunning and unique. The bouquet is of sweet black fruit, orange, chocolate, herbs and soil. On the palate the wines are graceful, focused and beautifully balanced, somehow refining a robust somewhat Syrah-like flavor profile of black fruit, cherry and plum, with a hint of chocolate. The tannins and acidity are perfectly integrated. She has single-handedly renewed interest in a previously little known varietal and her wines are in restaurants all over Italy.

Foradori's entry level wine is called simply Foradori (about $25) and is wonderful. Her flagship wine is called Granato, comes from her finest selection of grapes and is aged 12-15 months in used oak. It is spectacular, worth the $60 price tag. She also makes two single vineyard wines which are now just arriving in the U.S. I can't wait.

Nicoletta Bocca founded her winery in 1992. Since then she has raised the stakes for production of Dolcetto and there's simply no stopping her. She has amassed 16 acres of old vines (40-60 years old) nestled in the hills of Dogliani, an area gifted for long-lived wines with strong tannins that have a higher aptitude for aging and the ability to maintain freshness despite the evolution of flavors and complexity. She stresses the characteristics that come naturally from extraction during fermentation and aging in wood instead of the fruitiness and easy drinkability that this grapes has been known for....until now.

Her wines, beginning with her stunning entry level Valdiba ($16) and ending with her fabulous Dogliani ($27) are hugely intense with beautiful fruit (black cherry, plum blackberry) and floral notes. There is a very noticeable background of stone and mineral that marks her wines with a unique identity. I recently tasted a vertical of the Dogliani beginning with the 2003 and they were by far the best Dolcettos I've ever drunk.

While only in her twenties, the immensely talented and precocious Sicilian winemaker Arianna Occhipinti has charmed the world with her organically grown local varietals, namely Grillo, Frappato, and Nero D'Avola. She has taken the natural wine movement to dizzying new heights and there is as much fanfare about her unwavering dedication to producing terroir driven wines as there is the enjoyment of the resulting wines' grace and beauty. She has rapidly become Sicily's "rockstar" winemaker.

Occhipinti's entry level wines are called TAMI ($12-18), a joint project between her and some friends including her boyfriend, owner of Tami Wine Bar in nearby Siracusa. The TAMI IGT Grillo is one of the most aromatic wines imaginable with tangerine, jasmine tea, chalky minerals and figs leaping from the glass. On the palate there is ample fruit balanced by perfect acidity and brilliant minerality. Smelling the TAMI IGT Frappato is like walking in a ripe strawberry field. Beaujolais-like in body, there is sweet black cherry, blackberry and chocolate on the palate with a lively fresh acidity. It is a beautiful summertime red. The TAMI IGT Nero D'Avola is a soft, elegant expression of a varietal that can be bold and fruit forward. The nose is very aromatic with delicate notes of violets, sage and strawberries. The palate is extraordinarily elegant with layers of boysenberry, espresso and and licorice. There is amazing complexity for a medium-bodied wine. Finally, there is her Occhipinti SP68 IGT Rosso ($26), a blend of Frappato and Nero D'Avola. It is named for the road that goes by her estate. The wine combines the spiciness of Zinfandel with the earthiness of a Chianti, and possesses a zippy acidity that gives it an eccentric twist. This is an amazing wine, not to be missed if you can find it.

If you can find any of these wines, buy them while you can. They are going to get harder to find and more expensive as the reputations of these ladies continue to grow.

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