Italy Across Canada
Profiles of seven Italian wineries available in Canada
While Italy has one of the longest winemaking traditions of any producing country, the last three decades have seen the quality and presence of Italian wine undergo an evolution of sorts. Gone is the image of a straw-covered fiasco; replaced instead by the stylish Gaja and fast-becoming-iconic La Spinetta labels. In Canada we are lucky to have access to some of the best wineries and wine that Italy has to offer the world stage.
A team of Wine Access writers gathered to present profiles on some of the major Italian players available in Canada, providing perspective, history and an indication of what to expect from each.
If wine consumers don't immediately recognize the name Fazi-Battaglia, they've likely seen the famous green amphora bottle that helped popularize verdicchio-based white wines on the international stage.
The Fazi-Battaglia winery was founded in the late 1940s in the Marche, the region due east of Tuscany along the Adriatic coast. It's ironic that this beautiful, yet neglected, region that lives in the shadow of its famous neighour is home to one of the most enduring product symbols of Italian wine.
In the early 1990s, Franco Bernabei signed on as the winemaker and put a great deal of effort into tapping the true potential of verdicchio. While the crisp, light and refreshing Fazi-Battaglia was doing its job as an ambassador for the grape and the region, the winery's single vineyard lower yield bottlings were showcasing the greater depth and complexity available from this same grape.
Fazi-Battaglia actually produces two tiers of verdicchio, Le Moie and San Sisto, which are above their standard entry. The common thread is the style: bright citrus fruit, racy acidity, hints of mineral as well as almond complexity that is typical of Italian white wine. This house also makes fine sangiovese and montepulciano reds under the Rosso Conero DOC and IGT designations. (Jeff Davis)
Best Wine: Fazi-Battaglia San Sisto Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, $18-20
Best Value: Fazi-Battaglia Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, $11-13
Feudi Di San Gregorio
San Gregorio, Campania
This winery is a relative newcomer to the Campania wine scene. Feudi di San Gregorio was established in 1986 as a joint venture between the Ercolino and Capaldo families. The winery's consulting enologist is the well-known and successful Riccardo Cotarella. Together with Cotarella, t he families continue an age old tradition, with a passion and dedication to the land while employing modern winemaking.
The Campania region was the original Italian "wineland," discovered by the Greeks almost 3,000 years ago. It is centred in the area of Naples and extends inland through the Apennines and south through Salerno to the Amalfi coast. The soils are mostly volcanic and after centuries of eruptions, erosion and depositions, they are complex and varied within the region.
San Gregorio is a small, hilly area close to the village of Sorbo Serpico where the winery is located. The main red variety of the region is aglianico (a grape that most likely has the longest history of cultivation in Italy). There is a possibility that aglianico may be a direct ancestor of syrah; the grapes both make wines with great structure and colour. The region also boasts several white varieties that are indigenous to Campania - fiano, greco and falanghina from which Feudi di San Gregorio produces several fine wines. (Stuart Tobe)
Best Wine: Serpico dei Feudi di San Gregorio Irpinia Aglianico, $80-100
Best Value: Fiano di Avellino dei Feudi di San Gregorio, $22-$30
The Gaja winery, founded in 1859 in the small Piemontesi village of Barbaresco, has always been at the top of the Italian wine scene with its famous nebbiolo-based wines. The family head today is Angelo Gaja, who expanded the enterprise by acquiring vineyards in nearby Barolo. This was followed by a purchase in Brunello di Montalcino and most recently a further expansion in Tuscany in the Bolgheri region, home to many of the so-called "super Tuscan" wines.
Gaja's primary 100 hectare estate is located in the Barbaresco and Barolo districts of Piedmont. The Montalcino estate is Pieve Santa Restituta with 16 hectares planted with sangiovese to produce two Brunello di Montalcino wines. Gaja's second Tuscan property, called Ca'Marcanda, in Bolgheri, specializes in international grape varieties, and the estate's 60 hectares are planted with cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc and syrah.
Angelo Gaja has been at the forefront of quality Italian wine ever since he joined the family winery in 1961. Though based in one of the country's most traditional wine villages, he has never been shy to make changes that will enhance the quality and hence the sale price of his wines, none of which can be regarded as inexpensive.
Gaja is a luxury brand, producing only small quantities of each label which encourages wealthy collectors and can seem daunting to others. Still, they are all of the highest quality, so provided you can afford it, you will be rarely disappointed with anything Gaja. (Steve Thurlow)
Best Wine: Gaja Barbaresco, $200-220
Best Value: Gaja Langhe Sito Moresco, 2005 $55-60
Established in 1887 by Francesco Mionetto, this winery has been making bubbly for about as long as most Champagne houses. Their combination of tradition and innovation is quickly apparent, starting with their packaging; while some of their fizz features a cork tied down with string (and which may require a corkscrew), the "IL" line is packaged under crown cap, meaning Mionetto's fresh, beautiful bubbles are as close as a bottle opener away.
While Mionetto is best known for its Valdobbiadene-region spumantes and frizzantes, the winery is venturing further into production of still wines, especially more reds.
In 2001, they purchased the Amistani Guarda Venegazzù property in the tiny DOC of Montello e Colli Asolani in Treviso. Both indigenous and more internationally-known red varietals are being made with increasing success. Mionetto has even produced a sparkling merlot, as well as a prosecco rosé using raboso, cabernet sauvignon and merlot.
With sparkling wine's continued popularity, Mionetto has managed to stay ahead of the curve and appeal to the key younger demographic with catchy marketing campaigns, attractive packaging and easy-to-open bottles. So while the winery's still red wines find their footing, both locally and globally, we can all pop a cork (or a crown cap) and toast their continued successes. (Ben Macphee-Sigurdson)
Best Wine: Mionetto "Sergio" Spumante Extra Dry, $28-30
Best Value: Mionetto "Il" Prosecco Frizzante DOC di Valdobbiadene, $13-15
Nino Franco Spumanti
Nino Franco has established a solid following worldwide for well-priced and consistently good prosecco sparkling wine. The winery was founded in 1919 by Antonio Franco at Valdobbiadene, nestled in the foothills of the Alps in northern Veneto.
Nino's grandson Primo took the company to the next level in 1982. He traveled endlessly to expose Asian, North America and other European markets to their wines. His efforts were coupled with a meticulous management of the winery's viticulture and vinification. The high standard in the bottle and the value offered started people thinking about this style of wine as a cheaper alternative to Champagne.
In addition to the well established Prosecco Brut, other Franco wines include sweeter spumante sparkling wines, single vineyard prosecco and a still wine also made from the prosecco grape. The style pioneered by Franco has gained favour for maintaining a high standard as an aperitif wine for very little money.
In recent years, Nino Franco's name has been associated with the raising of the standard of prosecco bubbly in Italy and further enhancing prosecco's role as an inexpensive celebration sparkling wine around the world. (JD)
Best Wine: Nino Franco Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Rustico, $22-25
Best Value: Nino Franco N/V Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Brut, $18-20
The Zonin family has been in the wine business for seven generations, operating out of their base in Gambellara. However, it has been during the tenure of the current head of the family, Gianni Zonin that this winery has truly blossomed.
Zonin continues to expand by buying existing wineries and/or vineyards throughout Italy, such that today they are one of the largest and widely dispersed wine operations in the country, with 10 estates and almost 1,800 hectares all on prime wine-producing land from the Veneto to Sicily.
This policy of planting themselves in the wine region rather than simply purchasing grapes for processing in the north, as practised by many of the giants of the Italian wine industry, has been welcomed by the local economies. For example, Feudo Principe di Butera on Sicily was the first major winery created with northern Italian money; others have now followed. The aim has always been to produce quality wine from the start; in the first vintage, Butera garnered a coveted Three Glasses Award from Gambero Rosso; it is no wonder everyone else took notice.
Zonin is a true family enterprise with homes for the family on each of the estates so that they can be fully part of each project. They aim for each estate to show its unique potential and believe that is a goal best achieved by a hands-on approach, acquiring the best sites and employing the best people to assist with attaining the family's goals. (STH)
Best Wine: Feudo Principe di Butera San Rocco Cabernet Sauvignon, $50-55
Best Value: Zonin Prosecco Special Cuvee Brut, $12-14