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4 top Italian reds – from Tuscany, Trentino and Lombardy

Tasting notes on another four impressive Italian recent releases, following on from my Caiarossa blog

The four wines – San Leonardo from Trentino, Conte Vistarino Pinot Nero Bertone (awaiting its proper label) from Lombardy and the two Tuscans, Poggio Valente from the Maremma and Le Serre dell'Ornellaia from Bolgheri

San Leonardo 2013, Vigneti delle Dolomiti, Trentino

San Leonardo is the flagship wine of the eponymous tenuta (estate) in Trentino and is one of Italy’s iconic reds, but not one I know well although it’s been around since the 1980s. It has been described as the Sassicaia of the north, but it’s a less powerful wine, more like fine Bordeaux in very good, classic, ripe but not super-ripe vintages. And that makes sense when you think of Trentino lying in the shadow of the Alps way to the north of Tuscany. 2013 was a very good vintage here. The blend is definitely Bordeaux-ish, but with more Carmenère. In descending order: Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenère and Merlot, each fermented separately with indigenous yeasts in cement tanks and aged separately, initially in cement and then for 18–24 months in new and used barriques.

Tasting note: Vibrant, medium-deep colour with lifted aromas of black fruit, especially blackcurrant, and spicy incense notes. Lively, fresh palate, full of energy, but also remarkably smooth. On the palate there’s a striking strawberry note, together with blackcurrant, some game and woodsmoke, black olive, clove and minerally iron. A wine of intensity, fragrance, great finesse and elegance and the most melting of tannins. San Leonardo suggest a lifespan of more than 25 years. I not going to argue. I drank it with venison steak and an impeccable Parmesan brought back from Rome. Lamb would have been my next choice. 13%


£47.50, Four Walls Wine Co; £51, Exel Wines

Conte Vistarino, Oltrepò Pavese

Pinot Noir has been grown at the large Conte Vistarini estate in Oltrepò Pavese since Count Augusti Giorgi di Vistarini imported cuttings from Burgundy in the 1850s and today the family has 140 hectares. Some is used for sparkling wines, but Ottavia Giorgi di Vistarino now vinifies and bottles three small, individual ‘crus’, Pernice, Tavernetto and Bertone. I tasted the 2015s, a hot vintage producing very ripe, healthy grapes. Even allowing for the vintage, on this showing the Pinot house-style is weighty, but Bertone is more elegant, less oaky and has finer, lighter tannins. Pernice is most marked by oak and tannins and Tavernetto, stylistically in the middle, has floral, red fruit, hedgerow berry perfume and a full, silky, oak-framed palate underpinned by savoury, fine-grained tannins. Here's my more detailed note on Bertone 2015, my clear favourite of the trio.

Conte Vistarino Bertone Pinot Nero 2015, Provincia di Pavia, Lombardy

Jewel-like ruby colour. Fragrant rose, cherry and Earl Grey tea on the nose. Fresh, elegant and silky palate with candied orange, delicate spice, sweet earth, a hint of mocha chocolate and a notably fine texture. Structured but elegant and showing lovely Pinot Noir fruit-purity and expression. Good with mushroom and truffle dishes, game birds, duck and most other meat. You could also pair this with fish such as salmon. 14%


Eurowines import Conte Vistarino Pinot Neros in the UK, but not Bertone yet

Fattoria Le Pupille Poggio Valente 2016, Toscana

Single-vineyard flagship Sangiovese from Le Pupille, the estate of mother and daughter Elisabetta and Clara Geppetti in the Morellino di Scansano area of the Maremma in coastal southwest Tuscany, and from an exceptional vintage in which summer heat was offset by cool nights. The 14-hectare, southwest-facing vineyard is rich in sand and lies high up at 280 metres. Plantings date from the early 1970s to the early 2000s and the wines are fermented in stainless steel and aged in large barrels – 500 and 600-litre tonneaux.

Tasting note: Spicy, warm but fresh perfume with red cherry, tobacco and evocative forest-floor aromas. Full and velvety with ripe cherry, tobacco, balsamic, spice and liquorice flavours, sleek tannins and a lovely, fresh cherry-twist finish. A perfect match for bacon-wrapped roast pheasant and wilted spinach followed by the same impeccable Parmesan (as with the San Leonardo), but it could accompany almost any meat or game, or mushrooms. 14%


£180 a case of 6, Millesima 92

Le Serre Nuove dell'Ornellaia 2016, Bolgheri Rosso

A bit like Penfolds' 'Baby Grange', Le Serre Nuove is 'Baby Ornellaia'. In this case, we're talking about an estate wine, one made mostly from the younger vines, but the principal of getting a flavour of the grand vin at an earlier stage and more cheaply holds good. I've mixed my wine cultures a bit there, but Ornellaia and Le Serre Nuove are Bordeaux blends – Le Serre led by Merlot, with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, and Ornellaia with Cabernet Sauvignon at its heart. As in the Maremma (and Chianti Classico and Brunello), Bolgheri produced exceptionally ripe, healthy grapes in 2016, from the early start (24 August) onwards. It shows in the ripeness and freshness of Le Serre Nuove's fruit (summer berries, both black and red), the balance of satin-smooth tannins against fine acidity and the layers of cedary spices and delicate mocha notes. Sheer pleasure already – with bistecca fiorentina, rosemary-spiked lamb, duck or pretty well any meat or hard cheese. 14.5%


£38–£44.99, Roberson, Hedonism, Laithwaites, Tannico, Davis Bell McCraith

A note on stockists

It's early days for these wines in retail in the UK. Keep up-to-date by checking and Googling. And use wine-searcher for stockists in other countries

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