An eager crowd lined up at The Wine House’ recent Kermit Lynch Italian Tasting, and rightly so. Since founding his company in 1972, Lynch has won two James Beard awards for importing wines from French and Italian artisan producers. He is widely respected for ferreting out rare gems of consistently high quality and regional authenticity.
Long tables displayed more than thirty wines from eight regions: Alto Adige, Emilia-Romagna, Fruili, Liguria, Piemonte, Toscana, Sicilia and Veneto. There were some wonderful surprises among them, especially the uncommon grapes.
For example, when did you last taste a vitovska from Friuli? Probably never. Grown mainly in the Carso DOC, a sliver of land along the gulf of Trieste bordering Slovenia, little makes its way to the States. Thought to be a hybrid of malvasia bianca lunga and prosecco tondo, vitovska is one of the few age-worthy, Italian whites. Winemaker, Edi Kante, is among a handful who produce it.
A pioneer of the orange wine movement, Kante is known for being an eccentric with a passion for experimentation. He blasted through sheer rock with dynamite to build a three-story-deep cellar under his house. A big one was needed to hold the portfolio’s “selezione” wines, made only in prime vintages, and aged an unusually long seven to ten years before release.
The 2005 Kante Friuli-Venezia Giulia Vitovska Selezione is a well-structured, citrusy, dry white, with intriguing petrol on the nose. Zippy acid and a touch of minerality are rounded out by ripe peach and pear. Unfiltered and unfined, the wine ages twelve months in “old barrels”, six months in stainless steel, and in bottle for seven years. $48.99
Talk about a rare grape, the only mattaòssu available in California, seems to be the Lynch collection’s 2013 Punta Crena Colline Savonese Mattaòssu “Vigneto Reiné”. Punta Crena’s owners, the Ruffino family, claim they are its sole cultivators.
Their vineyards hug steeply-terraced hills behind Liguria’s tiny seaside village, Varigotti, in the Riviera Ligure di Ponente DOC. Aside from mattaòssu, the Ruffinos pride themselves on a 500-year family history of growing other indigenous varieties: curvin, lumassina, pigato, rossese and vermentino.
“Vigneto Reiné”‘ comes from eighty-one-year-old vines planted in silt soils. It spends ten months on the lees, undergoes malolactic fermentation and a secondary fermentation in bottle. A lovely, bone-dry sparkler, it has a range of delicate citrus, herbal and floral notes, bracing salinity and a rich mouthfeel. Perfect as an apéritif. $21.99
Another unusual grape, pignoletto from Emilia-Romagna, made a stunning appearance in Fattoria Moretto’s 2014 Pignletto dell’Emlia Frizzante Secco, IGT. Dubbed, “King of the Colli Bolognese”, it is an ancient white grape, first referenced in Pliny the Elder’s Naturalis Historia.
Genetically identical to Umbria’s grechetto di todi, in 2014 producers in Emilia-Romagna decided to rename their pignoletto to grechetto. This was done to distinguish wines made in the historic Colli Bolognesi Pignoletto DOCG, or Pignoletto DOC, from the region’s other grechetto-based wines.
Fattoria Moretto is owned by the husband-wife team, Domenico and Albertina Altavira. Hats off to them for creating their graceful, bubbly version of pignoletto. Layers of bread dough, white fruit and citrus unfold mid-palate, supported by ample acid. It comes from organically-farmed, thirty-year-old vines. Juice is fermented with natural yeasts in stainless steel. Secondary fermentation is by the Charmot method, taking place in large tanks before bottling. $15.99
Less arcane, but still not so ordinary, the 2014 Corte Gardoni Bardolino “Le Fantone” Veneto, DOC is made by Gianni Piccoli, whose family has owned vineyards in the Veneto since 1600. Piccoli is a man to be admired. While local cooperatives are pushing for laws that would force the planting of nothing but French grapes, Piccoli remains an undaunted champion of native Italian varieties. Long may he live.
A blend of 60% corvina, 30% rondinella and 10% “other local vine”, Le Fantane is aged in stainless steel. Ruby, with floral scents, bright acid and lush, fresh, red fruit, there’s an earthy quality that adds depth. A must-try, summer-weight red. $11.99
All wines are available at The Wine House