Bodegas Vega Sicilia
The Alvarez family of Spain preside over an impressive portfolio of wines while maintaining a strict commitment to quality. Their flagship Ribera del Duero bottling Unico, a blend of tinto fino (tempranillo) and cabernet sauvignon in the current vintage, practically defies the laws of gravity with its ability to age in cask for a minimum of 10 years. It's a staggering reality in today’s world where maturation as a means of crafting a full-bodied red wine is being rapidly supplanted by smashable, early-drinking reds with a shelf life of mere months. Pause and consider these classics amid the frenzy of drinkability.
The 2005 Bodegas Vega Sicilia Único (A$750) is atypical for the winery in that it delivers immense power and freshness that belies its age. It is an almost impossible-to-grasp juxtaposition of complexity and purity. Blueberry, cassis, coal smoke, roasted coconut, chocolate, plum paste, graphite, leather and pencil shavings bubble away in the glass. The palate is bold, fleshy and deeply concentrated with deep red and dark cherry fruits, grilled hazelnut and blood plum building into the long saturated finish. The quality of tannin here is unbelievable – smooth, long and majestic. 94% tinto fino (tempranillo) and 6% cabernet sauvignon. Drink through the next two decades or more.
Also from the Bodegas Vega Sicilia estate, the 2012 Bodegas Vega Sicilia Valbuena 5º (A$285) is 100% tinto fino as the merlot didn’t make the cut in this vintage. It has a dark and brooding personality with an earthy edge, cassis and blackcurrant – both intense and fresh. There are violets and cola, but the oak subdues into the fruit quickly. There’s a powerful brash and focused feel to the palate, the tannins are crafted in a modern shape they are angled straight and long, really handsomely chiseled, fresh and intense. Drink for the next two decades.
From the family’s estate in Ribera, the 2013 Bodegas Alión (A$150) is very much a classically styled wine that shows the resilient nature of quality tinto fino fruit married with a more conventional 18-ish month spell in new French oak casks. The nose is all ripe red fruits, almost essence-like in its concentration of aromas, married with cedary vanillin-laced oak and hints of fresh leather. The palate has a distinct elegance and centrally focused red fruit and fine tannin core. Length, measure and balance are all impeccable. Drink now to 2030 and beyond.
I love the 2012 Pintia Toro (A$102), the most brash, modern and assertive of the Vega Sicilia wines. This has a lustrous textual gloss to it with cassis, blood plum and spiced wet earthy aromas leading to a palate that is saturated with these dark fruit flavours. Tannins are neatly sculpted and polished, this is packed with youthful spunk. Drink now and through to 2035.
The wines of Paolo Scavino cover a vast array of different crus and the quality is excellent from top to bottom. The approachability of the Vino Rosso, the depth of the dolcetto and barbera, and the clearly distinguished styles across the range of Barolo wines is compelling. Rarely do you see a producer nail their entire repertoire in a manner as convincing as this.
Starting at the 2016 Vino da Tavola Rosso ($A26) is a wine that’s high on the drinkability scale. It has a gently peppery edge to the nose with bright young strawberry and rose petal notes. This offers a stylish combination of approachable fleshy texture and bright, drink-now fruit with a clever thread of savoury.
The deeply flavoursome 2016 Dolcetto d’Alba (A$33) smells of beautiful crushed violets and fresh blueberries – an instantly enticing nose. The palate’s exuberant supple flesh is utterly delicious and approachable.
The 2016 Barbera d’Alba (A$33) delivers dark and juicy appeal with a handy mix of deep, glossy dark berry fruit in a smooth velvety texture. Mouth-watering dark berry core wrapped in deliciously silky tannins.
Archetypal liquorice and roses make the 2015 Langhe Nebbiolo (A$50) sing in the glass. It has a beautifully ripe and rich red cherry core with abundant flesh and deep, open-knit tannin leading to a lip-smacking, sweet-fruited finish. Drink this during the next five years.
Seven different crus are blended to deliver Scavino’s 2013 Barolo (A$95). It has dried roses with orange peel, lightly toasted fennel seeds and biscuit spices with bright, light cherry and berry fruits on the nose. The palate has a juicy, even-paced feel, tannins layer out evenly and clasp an open-knit, gently grainy finish. This is approachable and will drink well over the next decade or more.
There’s an array of three crus in the 2013 Barolo Carobric® (A$155), mainly Rocche di Castiglione with smaller portions of Fiasco (also Castiglione Faletto) and Cannubi (the Barolo commune). It's very exotic, packed with rose-like florals as well as a sappy and gentle coal/smoke-edge on the nose. It offers a very approachable, plush, open-knit and drinkable palate with dark cherry and plum liqueur flavours pervading fleshy, easygoing tannins.
Into the single cru bottling and the 2013 Barolo Bricco Ambrogio (A$128) hails from the commune of Roddi. It’s spicy with musky perfume, earth, tobacco and cedar as well as a darker cherry and red plum thread. Smells rich. The palate’s smooth, open-knit and rich in flavour, really mellow, plush and completely saturated. It flows long and even and will drink well during the next 15 years.
The 2013 Barolo Monvigliero (A$155) from Verduno is bright and elegant, full of red fruit aromas and flavours with fresh sappy leaves and herbs. The tannins are chalky; they set like plaster – solid, yet fragile. Drink now to 2025.
The 2013 Barolo Cannubi (A$192) is a powerful rendition of this revered vineyard. The nose is all orange zest, bitters and star anise with a distinctive crushed pink rose perfume then candied red cherries. The palate is flawless with fine dense tannins cast in suspension through bright, tangy, red cherry fruit flavours. Long and commanding, the sustained finish builds to a muscular crescendo. Great Barolo, drink now through to 2030.
From a plot in Castiglione famous for its very diverse soil types, the 2013 Barolo Bric dël Fiasc® (A$192) makes a grand impression with assertive spicy oak influence that is drenched in rose and red cherry/berry fruits as well as a deeper earthy thread. The palate has attractive richness. Ample ripe dark cherry and chocolate flavours surround long, smooth and open-knit tannins. Cocoa dust to close. Drink from 2020 to 2030.
New to Australian shores, Tornatore is a larger producer by Sicilian standards and one that delivers plenty of personality with an authentic, clear-cut style evident in this pair of entry-level wines. Sourced from the north-eastern slopes of Mount Etna in Castiglione di Sicilia, these convey the freshness and lightness of the varieties and the region.
The 2016 Tornatore Etna Bianco (A$40) is fresh, punchy and herbal with a core of citrus in the lemon and grapefruit zone delivering a mid-weight palate that is fresh and gently textural. A great all-round white for immediate drinking that will suit the Australian palate.
The red equivalent is the 2015 Tornatore Etna Rosso (A$42). Like the white, it is a quality wine with casual appeal and handy structure. Red cherry and berry aromas abound, there’s a bright and gently piquant quality to the palate, too. A blend of nerello mascalese and nerello capuccio fermented in concrete tanks before a six-month spell in larger format oak, drink it young and fresh.
Isole e Olena
The latest arrivals from a favourite Tuscan estate are impressive. The 2015 Chianti Classico (A$29/375ml) delivers attractive spiced raspberries and red cherries on the nose with a gentle herbal kick. The medium-weight palate has assertive acidity amid fine-cut tannins and tangy, fresh cherry fruits. Drink this young.
The 2013 Cepparello® (A$125) smells of cedar-framed dark stony minerals with subtle oak spice, a deep herbal thread and a core of cassis, blueberry and chocolate. Very fresh and crisp, there’s lithe and juicy fruit delivered in mid-weight form with a dark cherry pip finish. It has a decade or more of good drinking.