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Charles Scicolone

Professional Wine Expert

Best Red Wine & Italian Red Wine

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  • NYTimes
How does one choose the best Italian red wines? To begin, I thought about wines I have tasted over the years that are consistently enjoyable. At the recent Gambero Rosso tasting in New York, I was able to taste many of these wines again and judge them side by side with others, both familiar and unfamiliar. Gambero Rosso is Italy’s most influential wine and food magazine and every year they hold their Three Glasses tasting, awarding the coveted “Three Glasses” (Tre Bicchieri), their highest wine award, to the wines they deem the best in Italy. It was an amazing array of Italian wines, and I was glad to be able to taste and compare them.

Some of my choices are wines that I have been drinking for many years while others have been in the market only a short time and have quickly established a reputation for quality. Many have been favorites since my first trip to Italy in 1970. These are my top five choices:

Buy the best red wine with our wine experts' recommendations. We select Italian red wine and other wines that have had a good reputation for years and red wines new to the market.

Best Italian Red Wine by Charles Scicolone

The Best You Can Get

  • Barolo Monfortino Riserva 2000 DOCG, Cantina Giacomo Conterno (Piedmont)

    Charles says: This Barolo is made from 100% Nebbiolo grapes. The first known vintage of the Monfortino was in 1920. The grapes come from the Cascina Francia vineyard and only the best go into the Monfortino. It is a traditional Barolo of uncompromising quality and it is not made every year.

    Barolo Monfortino stays in the same 4,000 to 5000 liter cask for seven years. The only difference between the Monfortino of Roberto Conterno, the current winemaker, and that of his grandfather Giacomo, is that the latter aged the wine for ten years. The 2000 Monfortino has flavors of berries, cinnamon, mint, and hints of tobacco.

    This wine will last for many years. Over the last few months, I have had the privilege of enjoying with dinner the 1958 Monfortino on more then one occasion. It was everything I hoped it would be!

    • A traditional Barolo of uncompromising quality
    • Made from 100% Nebbiolo grapes
    • The grapes come from the Cascina Francia vineyard and only the best are used for this wine
    • It is aged in the same 4000 to 5000 liter cask for seven years
    • It is a very long-lived wine - the 1958 is still a great wine
  • Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2001 DOCG, Tenuta il Greppo, Biondi Santi (Tuscany)

    Charles says: Brunello is synonymous with the name Biondi Santi, the first producer. Ferruccio, the grandfather of Franco Biondi Santi, was the first one in Montalcino to make a wine from a clone of Sangiovese called Sangiovese Grosso. The wine became known as Brunello. Tancredi followed in his footsteps and now Franco makes his Brunello like his father and grandfather before him.

    This wine is produced from vines that are over 25 years old. It is made only in exceptional years. It is a very elegant and complex wine with cherry flavors and hints of tobacco and spice. This Brunello is a very traditional style wine and is aged in large Slovenian oak casks. It can last for many years. There are still bottles of the 1888 and 1891 at the winery. Franco Biondi Santi recommends that if you want to drink the 2001 now you should decant it at least four days in advance.

    • Made from 100% Sangiovese Grosso
    • Ferruccio Biondi Santi was the first to produce Brunello
    • Franco, his grandson, makes the wine in the same style
    • The life of the wine is over 50 years
  • Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2000 DOC, Cavaliere G. B. Bertani (Veneto)

    Charles says: The Bertani winery was founded in 1887. The current wine maker is Christian Ridolfi. This Amarone is made from a blend of 70% Corvina Veronese, 25% Rondinella and 5% Molinara grapes. Bertani grows all of its own grapes and their style is very traditional.

    Many producers of Amarone dry their grapes in temperature controlled warehouses but Bertani dries their grapes in the traditional method on cane mats. These mats stored on raised platforms in airy lofts sheltered by a roof but otherwise exposed to drying breezes on all sides for four months. The grapes are affected by botrytis, a type of mold known as “noble rot”. As they dry, the grapes lose 60% of their water content and their flavor becomes concentrated. The wine is aged in large Slavonian oak casks between five and eight years and one year in bottle before release. This gives the wine great body and structure and the ability to age for many years. It is a full dry complex wine.

    • Made from Corvina Veronese, Rondinella, and Molinara grapes
    • It is still made in the traditional way
    • The grapes are dried on cane mats for almost four months
    • It is aged between five and eight years in wood and one in bottle before it is released
  • Barbaresco, 2004 DOCG, Angelo Gaja (Piedmont)

    Charles says: Angelo Gaja is a fourth generation Piedmontese winemaker. He is a pioneer in the production of single vineyard wines (crus) and in bringing French and American winemaking techniques to Piedmont. He is acknowledged as not only one of Italy’s great winemakers but one of the world’s. He first made his reputation with Barbaresco.

    This wine is made from 100% Nebbiolo grown in the Langhe area of Piedmont. The name Barbaresco comes from the village of its origin. Gaja’s Barbaresco has the flavors of Piedmont, with undertones of licorice, coffee, tobacco, and hints of fruit with a plummy flavor, mineral quality, and good acidity. The finish is long and complex.

    • Made from 100% Nebbiolo
    • Angelo Gaja is one of the pioneers of modern winemaking in Italy
    • His Barbaresco has gained international fame
    • Gambero Rosso named Gaja the winery of the year in 2008
  • Tignanello, 2004 IGT, Marchesi Antinori (Tuscany)

    Charles says: Since 1982, Tignanello has been made from 85% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Cabernet Franc. The grapes come from the Tignanello vineyard. The wine is aged twelve months in small French oak barrels known as barriques and twelve months in the bottle before it is released. It was the first wine of its type to be aged in barriques and the first wine in Tuscany to be made with non-traditional (foreign) grapes. The wine is only produced in good years.

    It has aromas of red fruits and a slight smokiness. It is a complex and elegant wine.

    • Made from Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc
    • One of the first Super Tuscans
    • Piero Antinori is a great innovator
    • The wine maker is Renzo Cotarella

You will be happy with any of these

  • Taurasi Radici Riserva 2001 DOCG, Mastroberardino (Campania)

    Charles says: Radici (roots) is 100% Aglianico, a grape variety that was brought to southern Italy by the Greeks more then 3000 years ago. The wine has aromas of tobacco, with hints of berries and violets. On the palate, it is full with plum and cherry, with notes of black pepper.

    The Mastroberardino family history goes back to 1720. It was one of the first wineries from this region to export their wines to the U.S. Antonio Mastroberadino has been credited with preserving grape varieties from extinction, many of which can be traced back to the ancient Greeks. He has now turned the winemaking over to his son Piero who has continued their proud tradition.

    Last year, I attended a tasting of Mastroberardino Taurasi going back from the legendary 1968 through 2001. The fruit and the depth of flavor in these wines was something to savor.

    • Made from 100% Aglianico grapes
    • Aglianico was brought to Southern Italy by the Ancient Greeks
    • The wine can age for a very long time
    • 2001 was a great recent vintage in Campania
    • The 1968 is a legendary wine
  • Torgiano Rosso Vigna Monticchio Riserva, 2003 DOCG, Lungarotti (Umbria)

    Charles says: Lungarotti calls this wine “Rubesco”, a proprietary name. Rubesco comes from the Latin rubescere which means to blush. The winery was founded over sixty years ago by Giorgio Lungarotti. The winery is located in the medieval town of Torgiano on Roman ruins. Today the winery is run by Chiara Lungarotti and her sister, Teresa Severini (the winemaker), the first women in Italy to control a major winery.

    The first vintage was 1968. The wine is 70% Sangiovese and 30% Canaiolo. It is aged in a combination of barriques and large oak casks for twelve months. It is bottle refined for a minimum of 36 months before release.

    Rubesco has flavors of small red berries, with hints of spices, pepper, and tobacco and violets. It is full and well balanced, with good acidity and a slightly mineral finish. It is a wine that will last a long time.

    • Made from Sangiovese and Canaiolo grapes
    • Leading producer of Torgiano Rosso
    • Aged in wood for 12 months and in bottle for 36 before it is released
    • First major winery in Italy to be controlled by women
    • The wine will last for 20 years or more
  • Faro, 2005 DOC, Palari (Sicily)

    Charles says: Made from a blend of local Sicilian varieties including Nerello Mascalaese, Nerello Cappuccio, Nocera, Acitana and others. Faro is aged in new French oak barrels for 12 to 18 months, depending on the vintage, plus 18 months in bottle. It is produced on the Sulle Hills overlooking the Straits of Messina where wine has been produced since ancient times.

    The Arab invasion, phylloxera, and the difficult terrain almost put an end to winemaking, here but the Italian government granted a DOC to Faro even though no one was making the wine. The late Luigi Veronelli, a famous author of Italian wine and food guides, persuaded the architect Salvatore Geraci to produce the wine with the assistance of the oenologist Donato Lanati. It is a complex and elegant wine with an intense strawberry aroma and flavor. The first vintage was 1994 and the rest is history.

    • The best red wine produced in Sicily
    • Gambero Rosso’s red wine of the year in 2008
    • Made from Nerello Mascalaese and Nerello Cappucio and other local grapes
  • Merlot, 2005 IGT, Castello delle Regine (Umbria)

    Charles says: This is a very elegant wine with wild berry aromas and hints of black cherry. It has concentrated fruit on the palate, good acidity, and a long finish. The winery is owned by the Milanese lawyer Paolo Nodari who is dedicated to making fine wine. The 400 hectare estate around the fortification know as Castelluccio Amerino dominates the valley, know as Le Regine (the queens), in southern Umbria between the towns of Narni and Amelia, not far from the border with Lazio. The oenologist is Franco Bernabei. I have been a big fan of this wine since the first vintage in 2000.

    Merlot is now grown all over Italy. It is the third most grown red grape. Riccardo Cotarella, one of the world’s leading oenologists, has said that the best place to grow Merlot in Italy is Umbria.

    • The winemaker is Franco Bernabei
    • Umbria is the best place in Italy to grow Merlot
    • Very elegant wine
  • Montepulciano d’ Abbruzzo, DOC 2002 Edoardo Valentini (Abruzzo)

    Charles says: Edoardo Valentini was a unique man and wine maker who made only three types of wine. He had very firm ideas about how wine should be made and how grapes should be grown. When I visited him several years ago, he lectured me on at length on both subjects. He grew his own grapes and sold off 90% of them, keeping the best 10% for his wines. The methods he used have been mostly abandoned by modern day winemakers.

    This wine is a tribute to tradition and terroir, with complex aromas. It is big, well balanced, and dense with mineral undertones and flavors of wild cherries and smoke. It has a great aftertaste and a long finish.

    Edoardo’s son Francesco Paolo is the winemaker now and I am happy to say he is making the same great wines that his father did.

    • Makes only 3 types of wine from two grape varieties
    • Only uses 10% of his grapes, sells the rest
    • Uses time tested traditional methods
    • It is a wine that will age

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