The Armit Italian portfolio tasting has always been a key date in the diary of serious wine buyers. Ever since John Armit set up in the company in the late 1980s, Italy has been Armit’s strongest suit. This year the company engineered an unprecedented access to the portfolio with buyers tasting up to 80 wines at home, including wines from its marquee producers such as Tenuta San Guido and Bruno Giacosa. In the first part of a tasting special Peter Dean picks 10 white wines that hit that sweet spot between accessibility and class, and focuses on wines that deliver outstanding value, at a time when the on-trade in particular needs to be buying more scrupulously than ever.
“It has been the smaller producers and less well known that have provided some of the most excitement in the tasting, as well, of course, as the ‘lesser’ wines from those marquee producers,” writes Dean.
Before diving into the Armit Italian portfolio, a few words about what’s happening with Italian wine in the marketplace. Liv-Ex, the global marketplace for the wine trade, posted an unprecedented high value in fine wine trading in 2020. And it is not the Bordelais that are behind the upward curve but the Italians.
The most traded wine by value was a Barolo Riserva, the third most was Sassicaia 2013 which had increased in value by over 30%. The top 10 wines in order came from Italy, Bordeaux, Champagne and the USA.
Of course these wines are part of the upper echelons of the fine wine market but when you delve through Armit Wine’s extensive, specialist Italian range you find a great number of marquee producers apart from Tenuta San Guido that are also putting their weight behind this upward curve. Bruno Giacosa, Fattoria le Pupille, Michele Satta, Querciabella, Roagna, Tua Rita, to name just a handful.
Collectors and premium on-trade will need no introduction to the flagship wines from these producers that are helping drive this interest in Italian fine wine – Barbaresco Asili, Barolo Falletto, Saffredi, Marianova, Batàr, Camartina, Barolo La Pira, Sassicaia, Guidalberto, Redigaffi, Syrah Per Sempre, and so on.
Scale, varieties and vintages
One impressive facet of tasting through the complete Armit Italian portfolio is the sheer length and breadth of it – 23 producers from all across Italy with literally hundreds of wines. And it has been the smaller producers and less well known that have provided some of the most excitement in the tasting, as well, of course, as the ‘lesser’ wines from those marquee producers.
Italy’s bewildering assortment of indigenous grape varieties continues to throw up surprises – Favorita, Freisa, Timorasso, Garganega, Albarol, Teroldego, Ciliegiolo are just some of the unique grapes that stood out for me – add to that the huge array of terroir, sub-zones, climate and a mix of vintages and the choices of wine become almost bewildering… in a good way.
Of the new vintages tasted, the wines come from essentially 2015 – 2020, based on style. 2015 and 2016 are two excellent vintages from which there were top-ranking wines more or less across the board, with particularly good wines in Tuscany and Piedmont. Vintages since then have also been good to very good with the whites and rosatos showing well from 2019 and 2020.
Unlike previous Armit Italian portfolio tastings – the 2021 tasting was conducted at home with 80 samples which had the effect of being able to really spend time with the wines and conduct some decent desk research at the same time as tasting; nothing though will ever be as good as meeting the winemaker face-to-face and learning about the new vintages first-hand.
10 white ‘pearls’ from the Armit Italian portfolio
Bianco del Drago 2017, Veronese IGT, Musella,
Sourced from three hills close to Verona, and under the careful eye of fervent biodynamics ambassador Maddalena Pasqua, the wines of Musella are focussed, elegant and brimming with life. This 100% Garganega is complex with an expectation of being sweet – ripe, honeyed, nutty and orangey – but delivers a dry, tannic, beauty. (£14.70)
Roero Arneis 2019, Piedmont DOCG, Giacomo Fenocchio,
Primarily reknowned for his reds, 5thgeneration winemaker Claudio Fenocchio also makes this flavourful Arneis that is supremely good value. The wine looks more evolved than a 2019, being a deep yellow-gold, it is no shrinking violet like many Arneis can be, but delivers wonderful depth of flavour. The nose has pretty wild flowers and a candied element, the finish is clipped and dry. (£11.30)
Montemarzino Vino Bianco 2017, Piedmont, Luca Roagna
Stunning vin de meditation from a winemaker who’s clearly obsessed with the use of wood. Fifth generation, and great grandson of one of the founding fathers of Barbaresco, Luca Roagna practises Fukuoka viticulture – biodiversity at the core of his approach, as well as old vines, massale selection. In the winery he uses long macerations and ageing in large format wood. This is only the fourth vintage of this 100% Timorasso that spends two years in large oak casks. On the nose you pick up the wood, solera-style, on the palate the wine is complex delivering zesty citrus and gingery spice. Fans of Vina Tondonia’s whites will lap this up. OK this is definitely not cheap but would work brilliantly on a by-the-glass pairing menu. (£49)
Roero Arneis 2019, Piedmont DOCG, Bruno Giacosa,
The ‘genius of Neive’ shouldn’t need an introduction; Bruno Giacosa handed down his quest for perfection to his daughter Bruna, who has been at the helm for the past 15 years. There is fantastic precision, elegance and refinement in this Arneis – on the nose and on the palate where it is crisp, deep and complex. Arguably the finest expression of Arneis and one of the star white wines of Italy in my book. (£20.26)
Etichetta Grigia 2019, Colli di Luni Vermentino DOC, Liguria, Cantine Lunae
On the Ligurian border with Tuscany, Paolo Bosoni is at the helm of Cantine Lunae that has been championing local grape varieties for over 50 years. His Albarola has texture, grip and huge complexity. It was this grey label Vermentino, however, that ticked all the boxes – golden on the eye; citrus, floral and apricot on the nose; vibrant mineral texture on the palate, with lemon pith, apple, saline, fresh and crisp. Superb value for money. (£11)
Costa di Giulia 2019, Bolgheri Bianco DOC, Michele Satta
Satta is one of the founders of the Bolgheri DOC and still as innovative today as he was when he set up shop in 1983. This is a Vermentino/ Sauvignon Blanc blend (70/30) with purity, focus, power, depth and great complexity. It’s a blend that is more than a sum of its parts, although the individual components are discernible – bags of Sicilian lemon, vibrant texture, long length (£14)
Poggio Argentato 2019, Toscana Bianco IGT, Fattoria le Pupille
Best known by connoisseurs for Saffredi, Maremma’s first Super Tuscan, Fattoria le Pupille’s mainstay is a range of excellently made Tuscan wines that deliver a good deal of bang for your buck. First made in 1997, this Toscana Bianco is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc (60%), Petit Manseng (25%), Traminer (10%) and Semillon (5%) that has a nice balance between elegance, mouth-watering acidity and salinity, and some pretty decent structure. Quite delicious (£11.80)
Pecorino 2019, IGP, Abruzzo, Agricola Tiberio
Cristiana and Antonio Tiberio really need to be on your radar if they are not already. Located in the rugged Adriatic terrain of Abruzzo, they are fast turning into icons within the region making wines from old varieties of native grapes – Trebbiano and Pecorino for whites and Montepulciano for reds – at prices that are a steal for wines of this character. Pale yellow, this offers aromatics of lemongrass, green apple, lime, sage; the palate is bright, textural, packed with flavour, and has a pleasingly sour edge on the long finish. (£10.60)
Etna Bianco 2019, DOC, Sicily, Pietradolce,
A relative newcomer by Italian standards, Pietradolce was established in 2005 on 11 hectares of high-altitude vineyards on the volcanic soils of Etna. Its range of Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio and Carricante is fascinating and shows off not only what the varying ages of the vines bring to the wine, but also what part aspect plays. The Archineri is a mighty powerful wine with fruit coming from 100-120 year old bush vines, but at almost half the price is this similar 100% Carricante that is like its baby sibling – but displaying an awesome amount of energy, concentration and purity. (£13.40)
Samas 2019, Isola dei Nuraghi IGT, Sicily, Agricola Punica
This is a fascinating project with lofty provenance – a joint venture between Tenuta San Guido, Sardinian winery Agripunica, Santadi’s president Antonello Pilloni and legendary Tuscan winemaker Giacomo Tachis. The idea was that great craft wines could be made with international grapes on the unique terroir of Sardinia. They were not wrong! This is a blend of Vermentino and Chardonnay (80/20) that is wonderfully expressive aromatically with citrus and Mediterranean herbs (wild sage); and has crisp orchard and stone fruit, salinity, minerality and refreshing acidity. A wine that is made for summer. (£10)
Please note all prices are on-trade for a single 75cl bottle
All wines are imported in to the UK by Armit Wine. Armit is a supplier partner of The Buyer. To discover more about them click here.