We are seduced by the Italian lifestyle – which is one of the main reasons we in the U.S. import the most Italian wine of any country in the world. And because of this, I got to hang out with a lot of Italian winemakers during VINO 2016 (aka “Italian Wine Week”) which is an eye-opening several days of seminars and tastings held in New York every February.

As part of this event, dozens of wine producers brought their wines to show to prospective importers. You would think that the best Italian wines already have importers. But that’s not always the case. Some wineries are from up-and-coming areas of Italy, some are small producers, and some are new. And many make wines that are trending in the world of wine: organic, biodynamic, rosé, and the new col fondo prosecco.

Vino_Press_Conference_2016Organic and Biodynamic

In the large tasting area I first went to see Stefania Pepe, who I had met at her father’s winery, Emidio Pepe during a big celebration honoring Emidio as an innovative winemaker in Abruzzo, Italy. Stefania broke away from the family to make the organic and biodynamic wines she believes in. I tasted a range of her Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wines and they range from pleasingly light to complex and spicy, some with fruit emphasis and some with more minerality.

Randomly continuing around the room, I stopped at a Sicilian winery, Deliella. Also organic, their youthful wines are made with indigenous grapes like perricone and frappato, full of big, soft fruit; a Grillo wine was nice and lively. It will be interesting to taste these wines when they’ve aged a few more months in the bottle.

Rosé from White Grapes

Another winery, a cooperative called Lunaria from Abruzzo, has 80% of its growers certified Demeter (biodynamic). The wines are full of flavors like herbs, flowers, honey, and lemon. A salmon-pink rosé wine was made only from the white grape pinot grigio. How is that possible? If you look carefully at bunches of pinot grigio, they actually look pinkish, and it’s these skins that delicately color the wine.

Vineyards in Abruzzo

Vineyards in Abruzzo

A New Style of Prosecco

From the north of Italy, I found Zago Prosecco which is making a new, super-dry Prosecco which is matured in a different way. This style of Prosecco is called col fondo, which means the wine is aged on its lees in the bottle, as is done in Champagne. But this is a completely different grape – glera – instead of the chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier used in Champagne. Traditionally, prosecco wine has benefitted from not being aged like this because it was so easy for the glera wine to lose its beautiful freshness. Recently, a few producers have begun to figure out how to make bottle-aged Prosecco with a little more depth of flavor, with more control over temperature and other variables during fermentation and maturation. Maybe it also has to do with climate change’s influence on grape ripening? In any case, this col fondo has lovely honeyed notes, and plenty of nice fruit.

These are the types of wines we’re starting to find in the U.S. – from new wineries you may never have heard of before. Don’t be afraid to try something new…

About The Author

Becky Sue Epstein
International Editor

Becky Sue Epstein is Palate Press’s International Editor. An experienced writer, editor, broadcaster, and consultant in the fields of wine, spirits, food, and travel, her work appears in many national publications including Art & Antiques, Luxury Golf & Travel, Food + Wine, and Wine Spectator. She began her career as a restaurant reviewer for the Los Angeles Times while working in film and television.

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  • Irene Graziotto

    I am very happy to hear that more and more Americans are deepening their knowledge of Italian wines through organic and biodynamic producers along with autochtonous varieties and less known areas (Etna just to mention one). There is a lot to discover and things are changing a lot for us Italians as well.

    As for the Prosecco col fondo, it’s an old product, not a brand new thing at all. Back in time, people living in Valdobbiadene, Conegliano and Asolo hills (the traditional Prosecco areas) used to harvest at the end of October or even later and, because of winter cold climate, fermentation would stop and the wine remain sweet. At the beginning of the following year, let’s say January and February, people would bottle the unfermented wine and with the arrival of spring and the higher temperature fermentation would start again. Being the wine made for personal use by almost every family, people didn’t really care nor had the money neither the proper equipment to make the degorgement, so they simply left the yeast inside the bottle.

    As for the recently coming back of the Col Fondo I believe there are several causes for it. First of all, with the Prosecco growing extremely popular, Prosecco producers have started looking for something different to give to their consumers and importers and, consequently, they brought back the Col Fondo tradition which gives a different intensity and personality to the Prosecco. Secondly, differently from 10 years ago when wine had to be limpid otherwise clients would not have bought it, nowadays people are learning to appreciate non-filtered wines thanks to new approaches such as organic and biodynamic, thus making col fondo a perfectly “normal” wine.