Vibrant Reds from Northern Italy and California

A weekly roundup of wines worth sharing—from Montalcino, Chianti Rùfina, Carneros, Lodi, and Livermore Valley

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This week I continued my months-long tasting foray across Northern Italy, and the stand-outs were a young Brunello and an old-vine Chianti Rùfina from Frescobaldi, whose Rùfina Riserva also topped the charts last week. I’ve included notes on a second wonderful Brunello, from Piccini, which I tasted last May—simply because November is a perfect month for Brunello.

Zipping west to California, I found three zesty reds to add sparkle to autumn suppers, wines whose liveliness feels even more precious as the clocks fall back and darkness settles upon us a whole hour sooner.

 

2009 Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi Castelgiocondo Brunello di Montalcino DOCG
14.5% abv | $69 (sample)
Sangiovese as a varietal wine, especially when young, can feel stern and unyielding, its brooding tannins dominating the grape’s lovely cassis and bitter cherry personality. This wine, although young, has been aged in mix of traditional oak botte and barrique, imbuing the wine with both freshness and authority. It opens with a quiet perfume of anise, black currant, and cherry liqueur, and proceeds with shimmering acid and fine-grained tannins. Its supple, violet-velvet softness wraps like a robe around a strong, muscular frame. Powerful but yielding; a little cellar time will continue to smooth it.

2008 Piccini Villa al Cortile Brunello di Montalcino Riserva DOCG
14.0% abv | $80 (sample)
Garnet red with brilliant and beautifully integrated fruit topped by wood-toned notes of nutmeg, rosewood, cinnamon, and black cherry. Soft but also spiced on the palate; the tannins feel like polished cinnamon, the finish like black walnut. This wine is as close as you might come to drinking a paneled room.

2011 Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi Nipozzano Vecchie Viti Chianti Rùfina Riserva DOCG
14.5% | $29 (sample)
Yet aother varietal Sangiovese, this time grown on bony limestone at the Castello di Nipozzano vineyards in Chianti Rùfina. Bright, sustained notes of black currant, juniper berry, and crushed herbs give this wine a wholesome freshness. But it also has great clarity, and a crackly acid-mineral spine that makes it feel as if its juice had been struck from stone. Leathery tannins and sweet tea round out the delicious finish. 

2012 JC van Staden Zinfandel Lodi
15.5% abv | $21 (sample)
This is a Naked Wines project by Lodi winemaker JC van Staden, a native South African who also trained in France before landing in the Central Valley. I’m always on the lookout for Zinfandels made in a lighter, zestier style. Given this wine’s stated alcohol content, I expected a big, opulent Zin. I found instead a racy, nimble little wine shot with blackberries, cherries, and hints of allspice. Light-textured and not too-too in any dimension, it was a great dinner companion.

2012 Frank Family Vineyards Pinot Noir Carneros
14.5% abv | $35 (sample)
The limpid, rosy body is suffused with rhubarb, cranberry, and tart raspberry, which give it a clean bite and lively finish. A scent of woodland cypress and juniper wreath these ruby fruits, adding freshness and fine details. But no single element dominates, and on the whole the wine feels restrained and elegant. Todd Graff, winemaker at Frank Family Vineyards, is a sparkling wine specialist, which may account for this still wine’s clarity and precision. 

2011 Murrieta’s Well Red Blend “The Spur” Livermore Valley
13.5% abv | $25 (sample)
The Murrieta’s Well vineyards were established in 1883 with vine cuttings from Bordeaux’s Château d’Yquem and Château Margaux. The house now specializes in blends and small-lot varietal wines, largely bordelaise, and this surprisingly juicy red combines almost equal parts petite sirah, petit verdot, and cabernet sauvignon, plus a dash of malbec and cabernet franc. Such a lusty blend could easily bog down, yet the wine feels agile and succulent, with vibrant notes of teaberry, spice, and ruby grapefruit. A citrus peel finish adds snap. It’s a great wine for weeknights, charming and not too serious; drink it with pizza, pasta, cheeses, and friends. 

 

Follow my reviews on Vivino and Delectable.

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