Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Wines of the 2010 Giro d'Italia

Picture: Assaggi Chef Domenico Cornacchia and Christian G.E.Schiller

The Giro d’Italia is one of the world’s most famous cycling races. The 2010 Giro d’Italia, the 93rd edition of the Giro, started off in Amsterdam today, on May 8. A few days ago, Chef Domenico Cornacchia of Assaggi Osteria in McLean, Virginia organized a tasting of Italian wines that follows the route of the 2010 Giro. What a great idea!!

The 2010 Giro d’Italy

The 2010 Giro covers much of the Italian peninsula, and runs counter-clockwise from its start in Amsterdam to the finish in Verona. The Giro rolls from Piedmont on the northern border with France to the Amalfi Coast, then travels across to the Adriatic Coast. From Bitonto, the Giro travels north along the Adriatic and passes through l’Aquila in a commemoration of the earthquake which caused widespread destruction in the city. Then, it’s on to Venezia and the Monte Zoncolan near Italy’s northern border. The final week lingers in Trentino and Lombardia in the north near Switzerland before the final time trial in Verona.

Fausto Coppi

This year, the Giro celebrates the career of Fausto Coppi, with a stage in Novi Ligure, Piedmont. Coppi is Italy's greatest cycling hero. At the same time, he was dogged by tragedy and conflict, from being born into a poor farming family to his premature death from malaria 40 years later. One aspect of that life was his affair with Giulia Locatelli, referred to very seldom by her name, but more simply and detachedly as the "White Lady". They had a child together. The press ate up the scandal as the relationship became public, in a deeply Catholic country where adultery was punishable by prison. It was a liaison so influential to the nation that the Vatican intervened and asked Fausto Coppi return to his wife and family.

Picture: Fausto Coppi

Italian Wine

Italia is home of some of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world. Etruscans and Greek settlers produced wine in the country long before the Romans started developing their own vineyards. Two thousand years later, Italy is world leader in wine, accounting for about 20% of world wine production. Italians also lead the world in wine consumption by volume, 59 liters per capita, compared with 8 litres per capita in the US. Wine is grown in almost every region of the country.

The Classification System

Italy's classification system has 4 groups of wine, with 2 falling under the EU category Quality Wine Produced in a Specific Region (QWPSR) and 2 falling under the category of table wine. The 4 classes are:

Table Wine: (1) Vino da Tavola (VDT) - a basic wine, made for local consumption; the bottle label does not indicate the region or grape variety. (2) Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) - this appellation was created in 1992 for wines that were considered to be of higher quality than simple table wines, but which did not conform to the strict wine laws for their region.

QWPSR: (3) Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) and (4) Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG). Both DOC and DOCG wines refer to zones which are more specific than an IGT, and the permitted grapes are also more specifically defined. Presently, there are about 120 IGT zones, 310 DOC and 30 DOCG appellations.

Wine Regions

There is wine everywhere in Italy, from the Alps in the North to Sicilia in the South, clustered into 20 wine regions, which correspond to the 20 administrative regions. The about 30 DOCG wines are located in 13 different administrative regions but most of them are concentrated in Piedmonte and Tuscany.

The Piedmonte area of northwestern Italy is further divided into the two popular regions of Barbaresco and Barolo. The predominant grape there is the Nebbiolo.
Northeastern Italy has the Veneto area. Soave and Valpolicella are two important regions that produce many local varieties.

The large area in central Italy is Tuscany and is known for Chianti. The Sangiovese is the predominant red grape in Tuscany. The Chianti area of Tuscany is a large geographic area that is divided into eight zones. Each zone has a Chianti DOCG that regulates the Chianti made in that zone.

In Italy’s South are Puglia and the island of Sicily. The Negroamaro grape is widely grown in this area.

Italy’s Grapes

There are several hundreds of indigenous grapes in Italy. The following is a list of the most common and important ones.


Sangiovese - Italy's claim to fame, the pride of Tuscany. It produces Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino. Sangiovese is also the backbone in many of modern-styled blends with Bordeaux varietals, typically aged in French oak barrels, to produce a wine for the world market: high-alcohol, fruity and jammy.

Nebbiolo - The most noble of Italy's varietals. Nebbiolo is difficult to master, but produces the renowned Barolo and Barbaresco. Traditionally produced Barolo can age for fifty years-plus, and is regarded by many wine enthusiasts as the greatest wine of Italy.

Montepulciano - The grape of this name is not to be confused with the Tuscan town of Montepulciano; it is most widely planted on the opposite coast in Abruzzo. Its wines develop silky plum-like fruit, friendly acidity, and light tannin.

Barbera - The most widely grown red wine grape of Piedmont and Southern Lombardy, most famously around the towns of Asti and Alba, and Pavia. Barbera wines were once considered as the lighter versions of Barolos. But this has changed. They are now sometimes aged in French barrique, intended for the international market.

Corvina - Along with the varietals rondinella and molinara, this is the principal grape which makes the famous wines of the Veneto: Valpolicella and Amarone.

Nero d'Avola - Nearly unheard of in the international market until recent years, this native varietal of Sicily is gaining attention for its plummy fruit and sweet tannins. The quality of Nero d'Avola has surged in recent years. Trader Joe’s sells a very good Nero d’Avola at a very reasonable price.

Dolcetto - A grape that grows alongside Barbera and Nebbiolo in Piedmont; a wine for everyday drinking.


Trebbiano - Behind cataratto (which is made for industrial jug wine), this is the most widely planted white varietal in Italy. It is grown throughout the country, with a special focus on the wines from Abruzzo and from Lazio, including Frascati. Mostly easy drinking wines.

Moscato - Grown mainly in Piedmont, it is mainly used in the slightly-sparkling (frizzante), semi-sweet Moscato d'Asti.

Pinot Grigio - A hugely successful commercial grape, known as Pinot Gris in France and Grauburgunder in Germany. Produces crisp and clean wines. Typically mass-produced wine in Italy.

Arneis - A crisp and floral varietal from Piedmont, which has been grown there since the 15th century.

Garganega - The main grape varietal for wines labeled Soave, this is a crisp, dry white wine from the Veneto wine region.

Wine Tasting at Assaggi

The Wine Tasting followed the Giro’s course by sampling the wine varietals from the region, town or place the 2010 Giro traverses during the 2000 mile race. We tasted 16 wines, like the Giro – very fast. There was not much time to reflect and take adeaquate notes. Still, it was a lot of fun in a very lively atmosphere. I felt a bit like in a Osteria in Milano.

Picture: The 2010 Giro'Italia

After the Dutch party with the

(1) Gewurztraminer from H. Lun (beautiful nose, good acidity, lingering finish) the Giro returns to Italy, touching down in Piedmont with

(2) Gavi Vigna del Lago 2008 from Laura Valditerra (crips, fresh, lots of spices on the nose) and the

(3) Barbera d’Asti Bricco del Uccellone 2001 from Braida (dark violet, expressive nose with spices, licorice, plenty of fruit, good acidity, nicely balanced, 91 points The Wine Advocate). The Giro continues its southward journey with two stages running from Carrara with

(4) Valgiano Rosso 2004 (60% Sangiovese, 20% Merlot and 20% Syrah, wave of blackberry and plum on the nose, a full-bodied wine, round tannins, a long, chocolaty and mineral character, 91 points Wine Spectator) from Tenuta di Valgiano to Montalcino with

(5) Brunello di Montalcino 2004 Donna Olga. Then there is a running stage with

(6) Ferro e Seta 2004 (50% Cesanese and 50% Sangiovese) from Villa Siomone-Costantini in the Appenino not far from Roma. The Giro returns to the flat lands with two stages for the sprinters from Frosinone to Cava de’Tirreno with

(7) Kerres 2005 (100% Piedirosso) from I Pentri, and Avellino to Bitonto with

(8) Quarantale 1998 (Negro Amaro and Malvasia Nera) from Rosa del Golfo, which passes through Campania to the Adriatic Coast. As it heads deeper into Abruzzo, the Giro races over bumpy territory in the earthquake country around l’Aquila, which hosts the finish of a hilly 256 kilometer stage with

(9) Dante Marramiero 1998 (100% Montepulciano CRU, one of the 3 wines that cost more than $1000 a case) from Marramiero. Then the Giro races north through Porto Recanati and Cesenatico with

(10) Conte Guido 2000 (Montepulciano and Cabernet Sauvignon). From Cesenatico, there’s a transfer to Ferrara in Emilia-Romagna with

(11) Magnificat 1997 (100% Cabernet Sauvignon, opaque purple in the glass, viscous and oily with never ending legs, thick and concentrated, long finish, 90 points The Wine Advocate ) from La Palazza Drei Doná and the final week of the Giro is a hilly affair through Venezia with

(12) Amarone Case Vecie 2004 from Brigaldara (one of the 3 wines that cost more than 1000 $ a case, almost 17% alcohol, notes of dark blueberries, spices and herbs on the nose, a full-bodied wine, lingering notes of sweetness round out the long finish, 94 points The Wine Advocate), Friuli with

(13) Tato 1999 (a barrique-aged blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon and 35% Merlot, a new world style wine, purple in the glass, graphite and black currant on the nose, a full-bodied wine, good acidity, nice finish, 90 points The Wine Advocate) from Sant’Elena, Trentino with

(14) Mason 2003 (100% Pinot Noir, attack of ripe berry and earthy notes on the nose, a full-bodied wine, good structure, long finish, 90 points Wine Spectator) from Manincor, and Lombardia with

(15) Ai Suma (100% Barbera d’Asti CRU, the most expensive wine of the tasting, aged in 100% new oak, very much new world style, inky in the glass, notes of chocolate and berry jam on the nose, a full-bodied wine, dense, lush on the palate, lingering finish, 94 points The Wine Advocate). For the final stage, the Giro skips its traditional finish in Milano, thanks to a dispute with the City Council in the northern city. Instead, the 2010 Giro finishes with a 15 kilometer time trial in Verona with the amazing

(16) Recioto della Valpolicella 2001 from Monte Faustino (15% alcohol, with noticeable sweetness).

What a ride! We enjoyed tasting a comprehensive array of 16 different wines from some of Italy’s finest producers from 11 different Italian regions (Piedmont, Tuscany, Lazio, Campania, Puglia, Abruzzo, Marche, Emilia Romagna, Veneto, Friuli, Trentino).

Italian Dinner

Following the tasting, we enjoyed a 4 course Italian dinner, prepared by Assaggi Osteria's renowned chef/proprietor Domenico Cornacchia and paired with wines from the Bartali, Icario and Fontalpino wineries.

Finti Ravioli di Pesce Spada con verdurine e colatura di Alici
Mock Swordfish ravioli of vegetables, greens and “colatura di Alici”
Wine pairing: Vermentino Lugure, Sardus Pater , Sardegna
Lasagnette Verdi con ragu’ d’Anatra e Porcini
Spinach Lasagnette with porcini mushrooms and Duck Ragu
Wine pairing: Gaglioppo, I Greco, Calabria
Spalla D’Agnello con erbe e limone, carciofi alla menta e fave al prosciutto
Roast Spring Lamb shoulder with lemon, and herbs, mint artichokes, and fava beans with prosciutto
Wine pairing: Nero d’Avola, Caruso e Minini, Sicilia
Semifreddo al Gorgonzola con croccante alle noci
Gorgonzola nougat with walnut crisp
Wine pairing: Orvieto Passito Calcaia Muffa Barberani, Umbria

Dominico Cornacchia, Dominic Nocerino and Giovanni Cesaratto

Domenico Cornacchia is the chef at and owner of Assaggi Osteria. He was corporate executive chef and partner at Café Milano, for more than 15 years. For those who love Italian cuisine, Assaggi Osteria features homemade pasta, fresh seafood, veal and scrumptious beef.

Picture: Domenico Cornacchia and Christian G.E. Schiller

Dominic Nocerino led the tasting. Dominic is the founder and owner of Vinifera Imports. Vinifera Imports represents a number of the most celebrated producers in Italy's greatest wine growing areas. Dominic's knowledge, understanding, and enthusiasm added immensely to this event. Giovanni Cesaratto is co-owner and the Maitre d’Hotel of Assaggi Osteria. He very ably orchestrated the whole event.

Assaggi Osteria, Virginia

Vinifera Imports, New York State

Schiller Wine - Related Postings

Benzinger Wines Served at the 2010 "Green" White House Correspondents Dinner

Oysters and Wine

In the Glass: A 2007 Sylvaner trocken "Vom Langen Sterk" from Michael Teschke, Rheinhessen, Germany

The Wines of Domaine de la Solitude, Chateauneuf du Pape, France

In the glass: Hugel et Fils wines at the cuisine des emotions de Jean Luc Brendel at Riquewihr in Alsace

In the Glass: 2007 Rheinhessen with Oysters at the Ten Bells in the Lower East Side in Manhattan

Dennis Cakebread and his Wines, Napa Valley, at EVO Bistro, McLean, Virginia

Pio Boffa and the Wines of Pio Cesare, Piedmonte, Italy

Dinner in McLean - What we Ate and Drank


  1. Giovanni CesarattoMay 8, 2010 at 2:33 PM

    Thank you for the wonderful posting, we very much appreciated your attendance at the Giro event. We look forward to seeing you soon, regards, Giovanni

  2. Great info, it tells me that people look at a very wide group of factors when making their wine buying decisions. That is the beauty of the internet, a consumre can find a wide range of information in a quick amount of time. With that info, they can Look At Labels, and then decide for themselves what to buy.