Drinkers experienced in searching out great red wines know that some of the best come from northern Italy, particularly around Verona and the small towns of the Piedmont region to the west. Although there are several grapes available in both areas for blending and for single varietals, nebbiolo is king of Piedmont, and corvina is the primary grape in Verona and the surrounding Veneto region.
Some of the best of the best of these wines are made by family wineries that have practiced the art for generations. Recently, I tasted wines from three such families, two with a longer history and one just getting its history started.
The Allegrinis from Verona are the best known, prized for their quality wines and their abilities to successfully blend modern and ancient winemaking techniques. The Vietti family of Piedmont has been making wine for a little more than a century and is known primarily for having single-vineyard wines, for having promoted the delectable white grape arneis, and for the colorful label art on their bottles. Boroli, also from Piedmont, is a newer name, having begun winemaking in the 1990s, but is a family whose wines are reasonably priced.
2007 Allegrini Amarone Classico ($74). The family’s roots go back for centuries in the Valpolicella area, where dried grapes with concentrated fruit and sugar are part of the heritage of winemaking. Yet they are responsible in part for the more-modern practice of drying the grapes without allowing botrytis infection. The result is shown here in ripe, rich, luscious fruit — dark cherries primarily — not as raisiny as in traditional amarones. It is a big wine, but a civilized one with integrated tannins.
2009 Allegrini "Palazzo della Torre" Veronese IGT ($18). This is a ripasso wine made with a combination of fresh grapes and dried ones — corvina with rondinella. As it result, it has both raisiny notes plus soft-drink, pastel-like, fresh-grape fruitiness. There is good acid to balance the fruitiness with moderate tannins and a long finish.
2009 Allegrini "Lapoja" monovitigno corvina Veronese IGT ($82). A single-vineyard, single-varietal wine, it is big and complex — lots of sweet cherries, but also raisin and balsamic notes and lots of tannins. A beautiful, concentrated wine that needs decanting to fully blossom. Although pricey, it deserves our "Pick of the Litter" award.
2009 Allegrini "La Grola" Veronese IGT ($28). I don’t pay much attention to wine color — if anything is happening, we’ll be able to smell it and taste it — but this one is a striking garnet. The single-vineyard corvina is excellent — complex with aromatic elderberry and cherry aromas and tastes, tangy and slightly tart with balsamic notes and a lean finish with lots of dusty tannins.
2009 Boroli "Madonna di Como" dolcetto d’Alba ($28). Along with barbera, dolcetto is one of the delightful second tier of Piedmont red wines. This one has light, rounded cherry and elderberry flavors, but it is basically a lean food wine with lots of minerals and tannins.
2011 Boroli "Quattro Fratelli" barbera d’Alba ($15). Smooth with a pleasant, raspy edge to it, this barbera has pastel cherry fruitiness with a little tartness, good acidity, and mild tannins.
2008 Boroli Barolo ($43). An old-style wine from this most-famous of nebbiolo towns, it has riper fruit with lots of savory and old oak flavors and a citric finish natural to the grape. Very good drinking.
2010 Vietti "Perbacco" Langhe nebbiolo ($25). A blend from several famous vineyards, this is classic nebbiolo — tart cranberry and cherry flavors that are very lean and very food-friendly. Ready to drink now.
2011 Vietti "Tre Vigne" barbera d’Asti ($18). Mild-mannered and murky fruit — the wine is unfiltered — sort of plummy with woody/savory flavors and dusty tannins.
2009 Vietti "Castiglione" Barolo ($48). Big and tannic with concentrated fruit, yet it has a liveliness to it of juicy, tangy nebbiolo fruit. A solid, big red with all the strength yet fluidity of a middle linebacker.
2012 Vietti Roero arneis ($23). OK, so it’s not a big red wine, but we can’t really leave Vietti without tasting their white arneis from the classic Roero region. It’s elegant and floral without being overly fragrant, with the taste of ripe apples and a good dose of minerals. Medium-light with nice balance.
2012 Re Midas corvina ($8). While exceptions are being made, here's one — a red — not from a family winery. We tasted it at the Soave cooperative, and found it a less serious but enjoyable corvina with black raspberry fruitiness, light body, and light tannins (and a light price).