Challenge of the Red Titans Seminar at VanWineFest 2024

This seminar, Challenge of the Red Titans, was fun.  It was held Friday afternoon and we had spent the week preceding with serious discussions of Italian wines.  We deserved a dash of fun, but the seminar still provided us with valuable information about Italian red wines.  We learned a bit about how the big Italian blockbuster wineries are reshaping themselves towards a more lyrical and uplifted style.  Our moderators were Filippo Bartolotta and Neal McLennan.  Our esteemed winery principals were Matteo Allegrini, Federica Boffa Pio, Thomas Cuni, Federico De Cerchio, Livia Le Divelec, Giovanni Mazzei, Francesco Ricasoli, Pierangelo Tommasi, and Adam Verona

I will cover the introduction to the seminar by Filippo and Neal, followed by the discussion of each of the wines by their winery principals and my tasting notes for each wine.  I have not checked to see which of these wines are carried by BC Liquor stores or private stores in BC.  I recognize some of the wines, so there should be some in our market.  Other wines, may have been brought in specially for the VanWineFest, so if there are any of these specialty wines around, they would most likely be at the BC Liquor store in Vancouver on Cambie at 39th Street.  

Our speakers with Filippo Bartolotta standing in the back
Our speakers with Filippo Bartolotta standing in the back

Featured Wines

Allegrini Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOCG 2019
Famiglia De Cerchio Torre Zambra Villamagna 2019
Frescobaldi Castel Giocondo Brunello di Montalcino 2018
Marchesi Mazzei Doppiozeta Noto Rosso DOC 2019
Michele Chiarlo Nizza Riserva “La Court” DOCG 2020
Pio Cesare Barolo 2018
Ricasoli Colledilà Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Gaiole DOCG 2020
Tommasi Family Estates La Massa Rosso Toscana IGT 2020
Tua Rita Toscana Giusto di Notri 2019

Our Seminar Discussion

Neal began our session by mentioning that these wines we are tasting now, may in 15-20 years be wines we can only dream of tasting.  These wines are approachable now for purchase, but soon may be out of reach.  With that said Neal noted that this tasting was meant to be fun and a celebration of these red wines, rather than a “challenge”.  

Filippo and Neal grouped the wines into different vintages, with the wines in each vintage challenging each other for the favourite of that vintage.  We had a 2018 challenge, a 2019 challenge, and a 2020 challenge.  This tasting was a journey across Italy, with wines from the North to the South. Filippo mentioned again the brief history of Italy’s wine development over 3000-6000 years.  My article, Italy Reimagined Seminar at VanWineFest 2024, covers the history if you would like to read it.

Italy is moving towards wines with more elegance, according to Filippo.  We can have big red titan wines, but they now have elegance and lightness. 

My Wine Tasting Notes

Allegrini Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOCG 2019 – Allegrini has been making wine in the Valpolicella region for seven generations.  To make this style of wine, Amarone, the grapes must first be dried between 100 – 120 days before fermentation.  This reduces the grape volume by 35 – 40% and concentrates the juice, sweetness, and flavours.  The grapes take a long time to ripen in this northern region of Italy, so the grapes for Amarone wine are left to the last to be harvested followed by drying the grapes, aka appassimento.  A lot of labour is needed to produce Amarone wine.  Some Amarone now and in the past have been heavy, full-bodied wines, but now some winemakers like Allegini are making a lighter, fresher, lower RS version of Amarone.

This wine has a medium translucent garnet colour.  Medium-intensity aromas of red fruit and capsicum.  Dry, medium body, with a soft, round mouthfeel.  Coffee, chocolate, black pepper, capsicum and sweet dark fruit flavours.  Medium acidity and light tannins.  Medium length with sweet black fruit on the finish.  Nice acidity through to the finish. 4.5 stars

Famiglia De Cerchio Torre Zambra Villamagna 2019 – made from the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo grape. It is similar to Cabernet Sauvignon as it imparts more colour to the wine.  The wine is grown in a very small appellation, Villamagna, of 85 ha. The winery is 10 km from the coast and 10 km from a mountain peak in the appellation. This location makes the Montepulciano grown there very elegant. This wine is aged for 5 months in concrete tanks followed by 10 months aging in oak barrels (50% new). 

This wine has an opaque ruby colour from the core to the rim.  Light aromas of dark fruit and dark berries.  Buller body, smooth with dusty tannins.  Juicy blackberries and coffee flavours.  Medium length with sweet black fruit and touches of nutmeg and pepperiness on the finish. 4 stars

Frescobaldi Castel Giocondo Brunello di Montalcino 2018 – Brunello di Montalcino is made with 100% Sangiovese grapes in this wine with 5 years minimum aging in the cellar by law. Frescobaldi has been in business for over 700 years! Montalcino is a place that has its own unique soil (galestro), climate, altitude, and distance to the sea.  Their vineyard faces south with forest behind them and the sea, 30km away, facing them. Sea breezes are important in September mediating the climate. Livia mentioned that this wine is both elegant and powerful, their style for this wine. They want people to feel the terroir in their wines. 2018 was a cool vintage for the winery.  

This wine has a medium-minus intensity translucent garnet colour.  Lighter aromas of red fruit and oak.  Dry, lighter body with a smooth mouthfeel and bright acidity.  Bright red cherry flavour and some pepperiness on the palate.  Medium length with light oak flavour and drying tannins. 4.5 stars

Allegrini Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOCG 2019, Famiglia De Cerchio Torre Zambra Villamagna 2019, and Frescobaldi Castel Giocondo Brunello di Montalcino 2018 wines
Allegrini Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOCG 2019, Famiglia De Cerchio Torre Zambra Villamagna 2019, and Frescobaldi Castel Giocondo Brunello di Montalcino 2018 wines

Marchesi Mazzei Doppiozeta Noto Rosso DOC 2019 – This winery is located in Sicily although the family originated in Tuscany. Noto is a small town in Sicily and the Nero d’Avola grape grown there.  The family decided to try to take their Tuscan winemaking philosophy and apply it to Nero d’Avola.  It took a few years to understand the soil; pure sandy, limestone soil.  They determined that a lighter oak treatment was needed for the wine.  The resulting wine is from a single vineyard. Giovanni noted that this wine has a viscous character, textural tannins, bright red fruit, energy and elegance. 

This wine has a medium translucent garnet colour in the glass.  Medium-intensity aromas of Old World oak, black cherries and dark fruit.  Medium body with a light mouthfeel.  Lightly round.  Dark and red fruit plus blackberry flavours.  Mineral.  Medium-plus drying tannins.  Medium acidity.  Medium length with a touch of pepperiness and sweet black fruit on the finish. 4 stars4.5 stars

Michele Chiarlo Nizza Riserva “La Court” DOCG 2020 – The winery started in 1956 and Barbera, the grape for this wine, was not very well-known outside and inside Italy. This grape has high acidity and in the past Barbera wine was sent down to Puglia to blend with the lower-acidity wines made in that region. Michele travelled to Burgundy after his wine training and was impressed with the finesse and elegance of Burgundy’s red wines.  He tried to see what he could learn from Burgundy and apply to his wines. One thing he did was to allow his Barbera wines to undergo malolactic fermentation (which converts tarter malic acid into softer lactic acid). By the 1960’s his wines now had a certain elegance.  La Court is a subzone of Barbera di Asti as of mid 1990s.  Nizza is a DOCG located in the centre of Barbera di Asti and has the best quality growing areas.  La Court falls within both.  Nizza has more stringent requirements for their wines, including lower yields, longer aging, and that the vines must grow on south-facing slopes.  These requirements increase the quality and elegance of Nizza wines.  La Court is only 3 ha in size, with 30-60 year vines.  La Court is an example of a long-lived Barbera, from 10-20 years.  

This wine has a deep garnet colour. Light aromas of floral, red fruit, red cherries and oak.  Dry, medium-plus body, smooth with a lightly round mouthfeel.  Dark fruits, nutmeg, pepperiness and oak flavours on the palate.  Medium acidity and tannins.  Some coffee-like bitterness on the finish. Medium-plus length. 4.5 stars

Pio Cesare Barolo 2018 – This is a very small, family-owned, winery, founded in 1881, located in the center of the city of Alba that has a history of over 100 years.  They are the only winery allowed to show the crest of the city of Alba on their wine label. Federica is the fifth generation to run the winery. She is keeping to the family’s artisanal methods of producing their wines to let them speak.  The wine we are trying today is their flagship wine, their classic Barolo made since 1881. Climate change is making winemaking more difficult.  The summer is long, hot and dry, so have to struggle with the heat, the lack of rain, and they are not allowed to irrigate. Federica noted that it is difficult to balance alcohol, sugar, the power of the wine, and the elegance of the wine. Their wine is a blend of 8 vineyards.  They could make 8 different single-vineyard wines and charge more (according to Filippo).  They keep to blending the wine from the different vineyards so that they can get the full complexity, power, structure, and elegance of Barolo. 

This wine has a medium-minus translucent garnet colour.  Light aromas of red cherries and liquorice.  Dry, medium body with a soft mouthfeel.  Medium acidity.  Light tannins to start and then firmer on the finish.  Light mouthfeel.  Red fruit flavours and some pepperiness.  Transparent flavours.  Medium-plus length. 4 stars4.5 stars

Marchesi Mazzei Doppiozeta Noto Rosso DOC 2019, Michele Chiarlo Nizza Riserva La Court DOCG 2020, and Pio Cesare Barolo 2018 wines
Marchesi Mazzei Doppiozeta Noto Rosso DOC 2019, Michele Chiarlo Nizza Riserva La Court DOCG 2020, and Pio Cesare Barolo 2018 wines

Ricasoli Colledilà Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Gaiole DOCG 2020 – Francesco mentioned that people as well as nature and climate affect the grapes and subsequently the wine.  They own 240 ha of vineyards which is a large property in Tuscany.  They decided to take a scientific approach to study the differences in the soils of their vineyards. Colledilà is their first single vineyard wine made with 100% Sangiovese grapes on limestone soil. They made the wine from a specific parcel in the vineyard on the north side of a hill which he asserts makes the wine more elegant and full of cherry fruit flavour. 

It has a darker translucent garnet colour.  Medium-intensity aromas of cherries, red fruits and oak.  This wine is dry, medium-bodied with a lean mouthfeel.  Medium acidity and tannins. Sweet cherry fruit flavour plus medium intensity oak.  Medium length with pepperiness at the very end.  A balanced wine. 4.5 stars

Tommasi Family Estates La Massa Rosso Toscana IGT 2020 – This wine is known as a Super-Tuscan which is a wine made with indigenous and international varieties in the Chianti Classico region.  Sassicaia was the first Super-Tuscan wine, which kicked off the wave of Super-Tuscan wines to follow. Tommasi is a family-owned winery. Pierangelo’s father is the winemaker. His father spent many years learning winemaking in Bordeaux before returning to the Chianti Classico region. In 1993 he purchased some land in the northern Chianti Classico region and planted the vineyard area with Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Alicante Bouschet. His aim was to make a balanced, elegant wine, with personality that is enjoyable when young, but can also age.  2020 is the latest release for this wine. 

This wine is a blend of 50% Sangiovese, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 20% mix of Merlot/Petit Verdot/Alicante Bouschet.  it has a deep, dull garnet colour.  Medium-intensity aromas of black fruit and a touch of nutmeg.  Medium body, dry with a light mouthfeel.  Medium-minus acidity.  Black fruit flavours along with touches of oak, dark chocolate and black pepper.  Medium-plus length. 4 stars4.5 stars

Tua Rita Tocana Giusto di Notri 2019 IGT – Giusto di Notri is the name of the chapel near the winery.  This wine is a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, and although in Tuscany, has no Sangiovese in it.  The winery, Tua Rita, undertakes both biodynamic and sustainable methods in the vineyards and the winery. This tiny winery has become a cult wine in its short history. The winery was started in 1984 after the owners, Rita and Virgilio, retired from their past careers.  Virgilio went to Bordeaux to study and learn about winemaking.  When he returned, Virgilio planted Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon in his vineyard. He wanted to make a Bordeaux blend with Italian elegance. Only 100 cases of this wine reach BC. 

This wine has a deep dull garnet colour.  Light ripe dark fruit aromas plus a touch of capsicum.  Medium-plus body with a smooth mouthfeel.  Dark fruit flavour with touches of capsicum, dark chocolate and pepperiness.  Medium acidity.  Medium tannins get a bit firmer on the finish.  Medium-plus length with a drying tannic finish. 4.5 stars5 stars

Ricasoli Colledilà Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Gaiole DOCG 2020, Tommasi Family Estates La Massa Rosso Toscana IGT 2020, and Tua Rita Tocana Giusto di Notri 2019 wines
Ricasoli Colledilà Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Gaiole DOCG 2020, Tommasi Family Estates La Massa Rosso Toscana IGT 2020, and Tua Rita Tocana Giusto di Notri 2019 wines

Thank you to VanWineFest 2024 for providing me a seat at this seminar, thanks to the winery principals for their insights and wines to taste, and lastly thanks to our moderators, Filippo Bartolotta and Neal McLennan.

Author: mywinepal
Drink Good Wine. That is my motto and I really want to help you drink good wine. What is good wine? That can be a different thing for each people. Food also loves wine so I also cover food and wine pairings, restaurant reviews, and world travel. Enjoy life with me. MyWinePal was started by Karl Kliparchuk, WSET. I spent many years with the South World Wine Society as the President and then cellar master. I love to travel around the world, visiting wine regions and sharing my passion for food & wine with you. Come live vicariously through me, and enjoy all my recommended wines.

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