I've become a fan of native Italian grapes, and I'm somewhat of a purist when I choose my wines, mostly drinking single varietal native grape Italian wines. I just recently attended a wonderful Hotel della Ville rooftop dinner to celebrate the 60th birthday of a good friend and following the Franciacorta, we were served two Italian blends, both of which were wonderful.
One of these was Curtefranca Corte del Lupo 2020 - Cà del Bosco, a blend of chardonnay 80%, pinot bianco 20%.
So, although my first instinct was to discount the wines, I was pleasantly surprised and intrigued by the deliciousness of a good Italian blend. And then the following week my go-to wine gal Cynthia Chaplin from Vinitaly International posted about an Italian wine blend she's in love with on her Kiss My Glass Instagram profile, Ca del Magro. Thus intrigued once again by Italian blends I realized Cynthia and I needed a good long chat about Italy's best Italian blends:
Why blend Italian wines?
The reasons are various but in the case of the best Italian blends, the goal is to achieve a more balanced wine by blending. If you think about the most classic blend of two international grapes, the first excellent wine blend that comes to mind is a Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blend.
By blending you take a wine that's perhaps too acidic and blend it with another that may be too sweet to achieve a perfectly balanced and delicious wine.
In Italy, there's another reason for blending. Many wine growers have tiny vineyards, so they produce what is known as a field blend. A field blend is a blend of three or four or five different varietals so that a smaller producer has enough grapes to produce wine.
When you buy vino sfuso – non-bottled wine that you purchase in your own jug - it's frequently a field blend.
Italy's best Italian wine blends
Probably the most famous Italian wine blends known internationally are the Super Tuscans. Although these wines are indeed super, that's not what the name comes from.
Wine Folly says Super Tuscan "is a term used to describe red wines from Tuscany that may include non-indigenous grapes, particularly Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah. The creation of Super Tuscan wines resulted from the frustration winemakers had towards a slow bureaucracy in changing Italy’s wine law during the 1970s. Winemakers began mixing ‘unsanctioned’ wine varieties (like Merlot) into their blends to make high-quality wines. The legal system eventually yielded in 1992 with the creation of IGT, a new designation that gave winemakers the ability to be more creative."
Here's an interview with one of the Tuscan winemakers, and her new novel about her two wine estates, told through fictional characters:
Casalvento: House of the Wind is a brand new book published just two months ago by Gudrun Cuillo that tells the tale of the two Tuscan wineries owned by Gudrun in the Chianti Classico wine-making area. It's Gudrun's life story, but told through the guise of fictional characters, and it covers everything from what goes into winemaking, her passion for this renowned winemaking region, recipes and more. It's a fun way to dig into Tuscan wine blends through this Tuscan-based novel. It's easy reading with the underlying true stories of the Casalvento and Livernano estates, and Gudrun's gorgeous Borgo Livernano holiday property and organic restaurant, well worth adding to your Tuscan travel bucket list. Take a look at Borgo Livernano on Instagram and Facebook.
Here's the Borgo Livernano, and a few of its wines:
Super Tuscans were developed in the 60s and 70s by Piero Antinori and others including Giacomo Tachis. These are Bordeaux-style wines and many sell for as much as €300 to €400 a bottle in the year of release and then the price can reach €6000 or €7000 a bottle when aged over time. This kind of a blend at this high price is known as an investment wine - a wine for collectors or wine buyers interested in impressing friends or colleagues. One such Super Tuscan is Tignanello. Tignanello made it into Wine Spectator's top 10 wines list. Tignanello is a blend of 80% Sangiovese 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc.
When you're looking for a Super Tuscan, look for what is known as the aia wines, in other words those wines whose names end in "aia": sassicaia, solaia, ornolaia.
Oddly enough, Super Tuscans for the most part are categorized as vino da tavola, or table wine simply because they don't fall into any of the DOC categories and restrictions. There are a few exceptions, most notably, Bolgheri in Maremma Tuscany which is DOC rated.
Wine Searcher says: "Bolgheri is a relatively young yet prestigious Italian appellation located in the Maremma on the Tuscan coast just to the south of Livorno, and named after a town in the north of the region. It is known mainly for deeply colored, supple yet age-worthy red wines, usually based on the Bordeaux grape varieties."
The beauty of the Super Tuscans is that they have given birth to a lot of creativity in winemaking. Kudos to all the wine makers who have had the vision and creativity to blend wines together, and create some of these outstanding Super Tuscans, and other fabulous Italian wine blends.
A few words about Giacomo Tachis
Giacomo Tachis (4 November 1933 – 6 February 2016) was perhaps the most famous Italian winemaker. He is the recognized father of the so-called "Super Tuscan" wines and he has rightly been credited with having given impetus to the renaissance of Italian enology. He was born in Poirino in Piedmont in 1954. After graduating from the Oenology School of Alba, in 1961 he was chosen as assistant winemaker at the Antinori cellars in San Casciano in Val di Pesa in Tuscany. He soon took on the role of technical director, and thus continued his collaboration with Antinori, destined to last 32 years. During his long career he collaborated in creating a new genre of red wine, represented by the well-known Sassicaia, Solaia and Tignanello (the "SuperTuscans"). Tachis made absolutely innovative choices for his time, such as leaving the specifications of the Chianti Classico disciplinary, making use of malolactic fermentation and barriques for refinement, making the barrique itself and the neologism "barricated wine" the new symbols of rebirth of Italian wine. In addition to the famous wines of his creation, Tachis promoted and collaborated in the production of many other wines, such as Vermentino and Carignano in Sardinia, Nero d'Avola, Inzolia, Catarratto and Grillo in Sicily, Barbera and Nebbiolo in Piedmont, Lambrusco in Emilia and Sangiovese in Tuscany.
Tachis officially retired to private life in 2010 but he continued to operate as a consultant. In that same year he published his autobiography, "Sapore di Vino". In 2011 Decanter magazine named him their "Man of the Year".
Umbrian Italian wine blends
Castello della Sala in Umbria produces a great Italian wine blend, Cervaro. Not only is this wine delicious but it's also very affordable at about €46 a bottle. It's a blend of Grecchetto and Chardonnay, created once again by Piero Antinori, Giacomo Tachis, and Renzo Cotarella.
Another delicious Umbrian blend is Risvegli il Nome del Futuro, made by Castel Noha in Umbria. It's a blend of pecorino, passerina, and Sauvignon blanc.
During vinification the grapes undergo fermentation separately at a controlled temperature for over 15 days to favor the multiplication of yeasts and add softness, volume and sweetness to the wine according to the innovative technique developed by Valentino Cirulli. Naturally clarified, it is decanted into new barriques placed in the barrique cellar where it ferments very slowly and rests for at least 10 months.
This wine is fresh, very complex with citrus hints that develop with herbaceous and a structure on the palate that surprises for its complexity and at the same time for its drinkability.
A Lazio region Italian wine blend
The Cantina Fiorano produces a delicious white wine blend at a very affordable price of around €36. It's a blend of grecchetto and the international (originally French) grape Voignier that's also grown in Lazio.
Fiorano says this white is a blend of Grechetto and Voignier, it ages ‘sur lies’ in 10-hectoliter oak and chestnut barrels. The color is a clear, golden-yellow, the aromas are surprisingly complex, mineral, intense yet elegant, with a pleasing fruit component that is not too ripe. There is white peach, medlar and perhaps some fresh almond, along with flint and gentian flower. The flavor is balanced, soft, piquant and perfectly upheld by a brackish, Mediterranean acidity.
Donna Augusta has been included in the 2022 list of the 10 best wines of the year, compiled by Bibenda. The Bibenda Guide is one of the most authoritative publications of food and wine criticism, with a history of over twenty years, that every year rewards the excellence of the Italian wine heritage. Donna Augusto is an elegant blend of Fiano, Verdeca and Chardonnay.
It should be noted that of Bibenda's top 10 wines six are whites and four are blends.
A Veneto region Italian wine blend
The Italian wine blend Cynthia Chaplin mentions on her Instagram profile is a Custoza Superiore, called Ca del Magro. It's a blend of native grapes: garganica and Trebbiano Toscano. It's fruity and mineral and delightful.
Cynthia says: Monte del Fra has crafted Ca del Magro, blending Garganega, Trebbiano Toscano, Cortese, Incrocio Manzoni into a delicious, gently aromatic, deliciously complex white wine filled with notes of ginger, sage, dried chamomile flowers, white peach, unripe mango, crunchy yellow apple and pear, with a great acidic hit of lemon zest thrown in. Cold maceration and some time on lees give a lovely deep lemon color and a seductive lemon yogurt tang to this wine.
Wine Enthusiast explains that "Lees aging, also known as sur lie, which is French for “on lees,” is the process of letting white and sparkling wines mature and age on top of spent yeast and other particulate matter. A sedimentary byproduct of fermentation, lees have a milky appearance and smooth consistency."
Campania region Amalfi Coast Italian wine blends
Quite frequently the rosé wines we love and enjoy are blends.
Alto Adige Italian wine blends
Cantina Terlano produces an award winning Terlaner I Grande Cuvée. It's a blend of Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc.
Founded in 1893, the Cantina Terlano winery is now one of the leading wine growers’ cooperatives in South Tyrol, with a current membership of 143 growers working a total area of 190 hectares.
Purchasing Italian wind blends
Many of the Super Tuscan wines are well known internationally so easy to find. Cantina Terlano wines are also readily available internationally.
If you have a trusted wine shop or wine purveyor, that's always a good place to start. Otherwise, both Cynthia and I swear by Tannico. It's a great e-commerce wine shop with an excellent selection of wines and also lots of valuable information about different wines.
Have any Italian wine blend questions? I've got you covered! Just send me an email!
More Italian wine information
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