An Italian Wine Master’s Guide to 12 Great Bottles—and When to Open Them

© Kelly Campbell
By Carson Demmond Posted December 04, 2015

Jeff Porter of Batali & Bastianich shares six Italian wines to put away and six to drink now.

Italy boasts thousands of different wine types—some of them brooding reds with formidable tannins that make us want to wait years to drink them, yet others are low-fuss, exuberant and great for everyday drinking. Knowing when a bottle is ready can often seem like a crapshoot. So we tapped Jeff Porter, wine director for the Batali & Bastianich Group (Del Posto, Babbo, Lupa, among others), who has spent more than a decade focusing on the country’s vinous bounty, for a guide to what to buy and when to open it.  

Porter admits that the task of filling just one case is tough. “There are so many Barolo, Brunello, Chianti, and Super Tuscans that I love,” he says. Many of the wine lists he oversees are impressive tomes, with each bottle selected for its own purpose and unique capacity to provide pleasure. But after serious reflection, he was able to distill his expertise down to twelve bottles – six to drink right off the shelf and six to save for later.

Drink It Now

1. NV Paltrinieri ‘Leclisse’ Lambrusco di Sorbara
“When I first tried this bottle a year and a half ago, I was smitten. Lambrusco di Sorbara is a thin-skinned variety that veers from the conventional idea of what a lambrusco is. Classic grasparossa lambrusco is superdark, whereas this one is pale rosé in the glass. It’s light on the palate, has bright acidity and is a great apéritif. It’s so crushable that I’ve since consumed many bottles of it.” 

2. 2014 Kellerei Terlan ‘Vorberg’ Pinot Bianco
“This winery is a hundred-year-old cooperative made up of a group of growers committed to raising the best grapes possible in this one little village called Terlan. I would actually grab two bottles of their ‘Vorberg,’ since Alto Adige pinot bianco is beautiful and vibrant from the moment you pull the cork, but you can also lay it down for 20 or 30 years, at which point you’ll have this wine that’s visceral and rich and unctuous and superunique, so I’d also stash one away in the 'cellerables' section. In its youth, the wine is like a snapshot of the place; it tastes so quintessentially alpine.” 

3. 2012 Pietracupa Fiano di Avellino 2012
“This is the perfect complement to the Terlan pinot bianco because of that north-south divide. In Alto Adige, they have a German way of making wine, whereas in Campania, in the south, it’s an innately Latin approach. Fiano might be my favorite white grape in Italy because I love the way it transmits the terroir—like a smoky reflection of volcanic soils. It’s warm but mountainous where it grows, so there’s richness plus great acidity. And the winemaker for Pietracupa—a guy named Sabino—is just maniacal in the vineyard (he’s always out in the vines) and low-intervention in the cellar.”

4. 2012 Produttori del Barbaresco Langhe Nebbiolo 
“From another cooperative, a bottle that shows why nebbiolo is so great in its unadorned, quaffable form. It has the beauty of the terroir of Barbaresco and the vivaciousness of the grape, but the fruit is a little more dialed up, the tannins a little softer than for true Barbaresco. It’s like the difference between your 15-year-old and 30-year-old self: The wine is exciting and energetic, but not as worldly or experienced, so it doesn’t express itself in the same way.” 

5. 2010 Castell’in Villa Chianti Classico 
“Chianti is an important region, and most people know it, but I don’t think a lot of people are drinking the right producers. My pick is a supertraditional, classic winery because I want the focus to be on sangiovese in its historic nature. Not to discount anything that’s been blended with merlot or cab or whatnot, but I feel that what’s being expressed at Castell’in Villa is the essence and heart of Chianti. It’s that earthy, high-toned, red-fruited, mineral-driven red wine that is so delicious, with those classic Italian flavors that we think of—rosemary, sage, grilled meats… Every time I open a bottle of Castell’in Villa, it’s like going back to Tuscany.”

6. 2009 Du Cropio ‘Serra Sanguigna’ Calabria Rosso
“As of about three or four years ago, [importer] Neal Rosenthal hadn’t added a new winery to his portfolio in a decade. Then all of a sudden he added like 15 new wineries, and they were all from Italy. Du Cropio was one of the first ones. It’s in the Cirò district, which is by the Gulf of Taranto—the inside of the boot, if you will. It shows off the warmth of southern Italy but, being right next to the ocean, there’s still a freshness with that plump juiciness. The wine is primarily gaglioppo with some malvasia nera grapes blended in. It’s so fun and easy to drink—like a mélange of your classic Italian flavors.”

Cellar and Wait

1. 2010 Emidio Pepe Trebbiano d’Abruzzo
“A lot of people don’t think of Italian whites as age-worthy, but I’ve had some older examples of the trebbianos of Emidio Pepe, and I find them beguiling and delicious. The history of this property is well known, and their montepulciano gets a lot more play than the white, but trebbiano is my favorite wine that they make. It’s not necessarily primary in its youth, because there’s an oxidative winemaking quality to it, but as it ages, that honeyed, nutty character really comes to the fore, which is very cool.”

2. 2014 Terlan ‘Vorberg’ Pinot Bianco
“Here, we’re revisiting the Terlan pinot bianco. OK, OK, I’d actually buy three bottles of it—one to drink now, one to hold for a midterm to see if you’d want to hold the third even longer. It’s De La Soul telling me three is the magic number. The wines from Alto Adige are so surprisingly long-lived. They share something in common with old wines from Alsace, showing that honeyed, baked pear and apple fruit with some bottle age. There’s also this beautiful pressed flower note—like if you put a fresh white flower in a book to press and then years later find it again, and it has a delicate but evolved aroma. That’s what the wine is like.”

3. 2010 Fuglini Brunello di Montalcino
“I could list 15 different Brunellos that I would want to age myself, but Fuligni is a good place to start because it’s a historical house—one of the first members of the Consorzio there—and they produce classic examples of Brunello. It smells and tastes like sangiovese from the get-go, and when you taste an aged bottle of theirs, it has all the structure that you can remember from the young wine, but the tannins have obviously resolved, the fruit is still pure—that beautiful cherry—and all of the parts have come into balance with each other. If you drink this 2010 any time between 2020 and 2040, you’ll have a pretty bangin’ wine.”

4. 2006 Roagna ‘Crichët Pajé’ Barbaresco
“‘Crichët Pajé’ (pronounced cricket pie-yay in Piedmontese) is the cuvée of oldest vines in Roagna’s vineyard. They do a submerged cap for 80 to 100 days, so it’s a super old-school-long maceration. It’s a subset of the Pajé cru and all-powerful Barbaresco. I recently had one from the ’70s, and it blew my mind. From the first whiff of the wine in the glass, you have to sit back, take a deep breath, and go ‘whoa…’”

5. 2010 G.B. Burlotto ‘Monvigliero’ Barolo
“Burlotto is a small producer in Verduno. They’re also one of the few producers that do whole cluster fermentation, which is rare for Barolo. The cool thing about its Monvigliero bottling is that it has a beautiful floral aromatic profile. It’s not your classic Barolo that is a monster from Serralunga. It doesn’t hit you over the head with tannins or power—it’s much more of a wafting, elegant, really pretty Barolo. And as it ages, the structure keeps it going while the aromas turn to dried rose petal, tar and leather, but with this high-toned red fruit that is very consistent throughout the aging process.”

6. 2008 Cantine Lonardo ‘Coste’ Taurasi
“Lonardo has really old vines that it used to sell to the cooperatives in the region, but in 2008 they started making these single vineyard examples of Taurasi, plotting out the different altitudes and soil makeups. The fact that they can even farm in these old vineyards is amazing. If you stick your hand in the soil and pull it out, it’s all black sand—all volcanic. Zero fertile soil. For the wine, that translates to a richness and intensity, and with age, there’s a juxtaposition of power for elegance. You’ll still find aglianico’s characteristic dark sour cherry, but it develops these leather and bacon savory aromas.” 


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