Gruppo Italiano Vini is Italy's largest wine producer, and has followed an interesting path to get where it is: Rather than concentrate in one area, the people behind it decided to work throughout Italy, and rather than start from scratch they purchased established wineries, many with long histories, including Nino Negri in the Valtellina, Melini and Macchiavelli in Chianti, and Fontana Candida in the Colli Albani. Recently they have, like many others, turned their attention to the South, purchasing Terra degli Svevi in Basilicata, Castello Monaci in Puglia, and Rapitalà in Sicily.
When Roberta Speronello contacted me to ask if I'd be interested in tasting some of their wines, I of course replied yes, and asked that she send me things I knew I wasn't familiar with, from their newer southern holdings. She kindly did, and here we are:
Tenuta Rapitalà Piano Maltese Sicilia IGT Bianco 2007
This is a blend of Grillo, Catarratto and "International Varietals" from vineyards at elevations of about 400 meters. It's pale brassy gold with brassy reflections, and has a very fresh, rather enticing nose with loquat (nespolo) and honeysuckle supported by savory heather that gains depth from hints of gunflint and peppery spice that sends a tingle up the nose. Refreshing. On the palate it's medium bodied, with rich loquat and white plum fruit supported by clean tart Regina Claudia acidity, and by gunflint bitterness that leaves a peppery smoky trail, and flows into a long spicy bitter finish. It's powerful and fresh, in an up-front almost voluptuous sort of way, and will drink quite well as an aperitif with flavorful antipasti, and will also work well with white meats -- either fish or animal -- while its slight sweetness will help it work well with oriental dishes, including somewhat more heavily spiced Thai or Chinese. In short, fun, and versatile, a nice wine for the summer months.
Santi Melibéo Lugana DOC 2007
The one non-southern wine of the group, this is from the southern shores of Lake Garda. It's pale pale brassy gold with a slight reddish cast. The bouquet is moderately intense, with heather mingled with spice and some minerality, and underlying alcohol and Delicious apple. Fresh, in a reserved sort of way. On the palate it's medium bodied, and softer than I might have expected from the nose, with warm loquat fruit supported by loquat and slightly green apricot acidity, which flows into a clean fairly tart finish. It's quite approachable in a pleasingly languid key, and will drink nicely as an aperitif or with fish dishes, including pasta with or risotto seasoned with fish sauces; I might also be tempted to serve it with meat or fish from the more delicate Chinese cuisines, for example Cantonese. Expect the bottle to go quickly.
Castello Monaci is in Southern Puglia:
Castello Monaci Mé Dos Malvasia Nera Salento IGT 2006
Deep cherry ruby with black reflections and cherry rim. The bouquet is fresh, and young, with rich cherry plum (red plums, not prunes) fruit supported by hints of sage and spice that add depth; the overall effect is direct, but also welcoming. On the palate it's medium bodied, with fairly rich cherry fruit supported by minerality more than acidity, and by pronounced India ink bitterness that flows into a clean bitter finish, while the tannins are fairly smooth and also bitter. Direct, a wine that doesn't demand center stage, but rather supports what it's served with, and will drink very well with simple grilled or pan-sautéed meats -- an elegant burger with home-cut French fries or grilled eggplant, for example. Expect the bottle to go quickly, and you may want another handy.
Castello Monaci Maru Negroamaro Salento IGT 2006
Deep pigeon blood ruby with cherry rim that has faint hints of almandine. The bouquet is fresh, and vinous, with pleasing hints of sandalwood and greenish spice mingled with red berry fruit. Nice depth in a youthful key, and inviting. On the palate it's medium bodied, with pleasingly rich red berry fruit supported by moderate slightly balsamic acidity, and by smooth sweet tannins that have some warm leather to them too, and flow into a clean savory finish with balsamic overtones. It's young, far-removed from the flavor registry one finds in Cabernets and Merlots, and I found myself much enjoying it; it will drink well with hearty red sauced pasta dishes, and also with simple grilled meats or light stews, and is the sort of thing you will need more than a bottle of if 4 of you sit down to dinner, because you will suddenly realize it's gone. It has the easy grace of a monello, the naughty boy who gets away with things because of his charm.
Castello Monaci Artas Primitivo Salento IGT 2005
Impenetrable pigeon blood ruby with cherry rim. The bouquet is elegant, with rich cherry fruit supported by vinous accents and some jammy vegetal spice that gains depth from hints of cedar and some savory notes. Nice balance in a fresh, youthful key. On the palate it's medium bodied, and rather languid, with rich cherry plum fruit supported by mineral acidity and smooth tannins that have pronounced India ink and graphite shaving bitterness to them, and flow into a clean lasting bitter plum cherry finish. Poised, and quite approachable in a fairly international key; it will drink well with flavorful roasts or stews, for example something made with lamb, and though I am certain it will age nicely for a number of years, I'd be tempted to drink it now to enjoy its freshness. If you like well-fleshed, graceful -- there's nothing settled about it -- fruit driven wines, you will enjoy it.
Castello Monaci Aiace Salice Salentino Riserva DOC 2003
This is an 80-20 blend of Negroamaro and Malvasia Nera, and is deep pigeon blood ruby with cherry rim. The bouquet is powerful, and vinous, with rich slightly jammy forest berry fruit that gains depth from some vegetal accents and warmth, and also reveals warm balsamic notes and hints of hardwood ash with swishing. It's charged, and gives an impression of summer heat, but is also pleasant to sniff. On the palate it's full, with fairly rich rather black currant/blackberry-plum fruit supported by moderate balsamic acidity and by bitter tannins that flow into a warm bitter finish. It's pleasant, but displays a slight emptiness in the middle palate that suggests that the grapes didn't ripen as well as they might have in a less extreme vintage -- though it's clearly a step above both of the 2006 Castello Monaci wines, their fruit is richer because they're from a better vintage. This said, while I wouldn't be tempted to drink it far from the table it will drink very well with succulent meats, in particular a thick porterhouse steak grilled rare or a roast leg of lamb. In short, with the proper foods it will be hard to beat.
Terre degli Svevi is in Basilicata:
Terre Degli Svevi Serpara Aglianico del Vulture DOC 2001
The back label says that it's non-filtered; it's almost impenetrable pigeon blood ruby with ruby rim that displays slight hints of almandine. The bouquet is moderately intense, with vinous notes mingled with red berry fruit and prunes, some underbrush, and underlying spice as well; it comes across as somehow subdued, and gives an impression of needing more time (something quite possible in an Aglianico del Vulture, as they are very long-lived). On the palate it's ample, with fairly rich red berry fruit supported by moderately intense graphite bitterness and moderate acidity, while the tannins are ample and smooth, and flow into a clean bitter finish. To be honest I had expected more -- Aglianico del Vulture has a certain mystique about it, of the sort one also associates with Barolo or Amarone, and one expects these wines to make the earth move. This was good, but (like many Baroli and Amaroni, alas), didn't make the earth move, at least not for me, and I wouldn't drink it far from the table. I would on the other hand, be happy to serve it with a steak, or stewed boar, and my dinner companions -- who aren't as critical about wines as I am -- would be absolutely delighted. It will also age well for many more years, and if I had several bottles I would set a couple aside until at least 2015.
More about the Gruppo Italiano Vini: Their Site