4 Italian wines to add to your must-buy list

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      A few Vancouver wine-trade professionals and I have just returned from Piedmont, Italy, where we’d been invited to participate in Collisioni, an annual festival centred in Barolo celebrating the “collision” of art, literature, music, food, and wine.

      We were guests of Ian D’Agata, who is the creative director of food and wine for the festival. D’Agata is a veteran wine guy known to many around the world for being a contributing editor at Decanter magazine, for winning a 2015 Louis Roederer International Wine Writers Award (wine book of the year) for his Native Wine Grapes of Italy, and for a host of other credentials with which I could fill a month’s worth of columns.

      An important word, participate: we weren’t invited to simply attend; participation was a key part of our presence. Of course, that participation certainly wasn’t required for the music side of the festival—superstars like Elton John handily took care of that department—and commitments on the art and literature side of things were handled by the likes of Canadian film director Atom Egoyan, author Richard Ford, and plenty of Italian artists I don’t know but who dress a hell of a lot better than I do.

      Our contribution involved sitting on various seminar panels alongside winemakers, international sommeliers, and journalists while tackling many subjects of the Italian wine world, from the resurgence of the almost lost indigenous Nascetta grape variety to regional tastings and more. Seminars where we weren’t on panels saw us as audience, tasting away, jotting down notes, and trying to keep cool through the stretch of days when the outside temperature hovered in the high 30s.

      The sun shone and the surrounding vineyards ripened away—most of them growing Barolo’s globally coveted Nebbiolo variety—and when we weren’t at those seminars, we visited a handful of wineries and feasted at any given opportunity. The most common things we tucked into included regional favourites like cheese ravioli with brown butter and sage, and insalata di carne cruda (minced raw beef with lemon juice, olive oil, and garlic), very similar to steak tartare.

      So if you’re into things like travel, art, music, literature, food, and wine (and if you’re reading this, I’d be surprised if you’re not), you may just want to keep an eye toward next July’s Collisioni event; I know I’ll definitely be there. (More information on the festival is at the Collisioni website.)

      In the meantime, among my piles of notes are things I promised myself to follow up on right away upon my return, digging a little deeper into the various wines and regions with which I’ve had this brief summer fling. Here’s what’s at the top of my list, and should be on yours.

      The wines of Rivetto

      Enrico Rivetto is the charismatic owner-winemaker behind Piedmont’s Rivetto winery, and it was hard not to be smitten with his wines as this initial splash into Italy (my first time ever, by the way) began with him offering a tour of his vineyards as storm clouds gathered above.

      A blustery alfresco dinner had us enjoying his nods to the traditional Barolos, the area’s Dolcettos, along with more adventurous fare like a white sparkling Nebbiolo (the main red grape of Barolo, often offering aromatics of tar and roses) and wines he’s fermenting and aging in terra cotta amphorae.

      His stuff is hard to come by in Vancouver, but hop up to the bar at La Pentola in the Opus Hotel, where they’re pouring his cherry- and mineral-laden Rivetto Dolcetto d’Alba by the glass for $12 or by the bottle for $60.


      Franciacorta is traditional-method sparkling wine from the territory of the same name, and can only be made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, or Pinot Blanc grapes. In short, the rules are remarkably similar to those of Champagne, where Pinot Meunier would be in place of that Pinot Blanc.

      Think Champagne quality through an Italian lens. A good start is Ferghettina’s Franciacorta Brut ($45 to $50, private liquor stores), which is zippy with lemon zest and grapefruit pith, and expressive of the area’s gravelly, limestone-rich soil. Find it at Marquis Wine Cellars and Legacy Liquor Stores in Vancouver.


      Nascetta is one of the many indigenous Italian wine grapes out there, and it has been rescued from having dwindled down to a measly few Langhe vines late last century. It is aromatically lovely, with orange blossom and lemon character, often with peachy notes on the palate, bright acidity, and almost always a kiss of sage.

      For the record, I think we could totally kill it with this grape here in British Columbia. Terre del Barolo’s 2014 Nascetta is $25.55 at Cambie Village’s Firefly Fine Wines and Ales.

      The red wines of Etna, Sicily

      Because the vines are grown on the side of a goddamn volcano. Delicious and fascinating. I was already a big fan, but I simply can’t get enough. Pietradolce 2013 Etna Rosso is $26.49 at B.C. Liquor Stores. Get yourself a bottle, put a bit of a chill on it, and enjoy its bounty of red berries, purple flowers, baking spices, and earthy undercurrent.