Twenty years ago only a handful of kosher wines were produced in Italy and, to tell the truth, most of those were pretty mediocre. Starting about five years ago, however, as those who keep kashrut became increasingly aware of quality wines, Italian producers responded and enormous strides have been made. The result: kosher wine, much of which is worthy of our attention, is now made in every wine-producing region in the country. Perhaps the most exciting recent step in kosher Italian wines is the introduction of truly excellent wines from the Falesco winery in the Umbria region.
The following are my recent tasting notes for a collection of kosher Italian wines, those recommended at different levels. As to my scores, those are based on a maximum of 100 points. Wines earning 96-100 points are truly great wines; those attaining 90-95 points are exceptional in every way; and those earning 85-89 points are very good to excellent and highly recommended. Wines that are awarded 80-84 points are recommended but without enthusiasm; scores of 70-79 indicate wines that are at least somewhat faulted; and those earning less than 70 points are not recommended. As always, prices are based on an average of three stores and Internet buying sites available in the greater New York City metropolitan area.
Falesco, Macillano, Umbria, 2005: A near twin to the non-kosher edition. Dark garnet, a full-bodied blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, those showing gripping but gentle tannins and spicy oak, both now integrating nicely to show red and blackcurrants, wild berry and licorice notes, those lingering very nicely indeed. Drinking now-2105. $80. Score: 92.
Borgo Reale, Pinot Noir, Puglia, 2009: Ruby toward garnet, medium-bodied, with soft tannins integrating nicely. Opens to reveal aromas and flavors of raspberries, cherries and cassis, all lingering nicely on a lightly spicy finish. Drink now-2013. $14. Score: 88.
Borgo Reale, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Abruzzi, 2008: Medium-bodied, with light tannins and a fresh blackcurrant personality along with notes of vanilla and minerals on the finish. Drink now. $12. Score: 85.
Borgo Reale, Chianti Classico, Vespertino, Tuscany, 2007: Dark ruby in color, medium-bodied, with chunky, country-style tannins. Opens to reveal red berries, cassis and notes of chocolate. Given time to open in the glass a pleasant little wine to match pizzas and pasta dishes. Drink now. $15. Score: 85.
Borgo Reale, Rosso di Montalcino, Tuscany, 2007: A wine with a split personality for it opens light- to medium-bodied with soft tannins to highlight raspberry, red cherry and red currant fruits, goes on to a dramatic change in revealing ever-increasing tannins and blackcurrant and purple plum fruits. In both stages of its personality, hints of earthy minerals and what at one moment feels like baking chocolate and at another cigar tobacco. Easy to drink, and best matched with small cuts of beef or lamb. Past its peak. Drink up. $12. Score: 84.
Monte Olivo, Opinioni, Umbria Rosso, 2005: A medium- to full-bodied blend of equal parts of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Soft, near-sweet tannins highlight lightly spicy aromas and flavors of currants and blackberries, those matched by a hint of cured cigar tobacco and dark chocolate. Round and appealing. Drink up. $15. Score: 86.
Cantina Gabriele, Cabernet Sauvignon, Lazio, 2008: Garnet toward royal purple, medium-bodied, with gently gripping tannins and good balancing acidity. On the nose and palate wild berries, raspberries and cassis, those supported by hints of pepper and Oriental spices. Drink now. $11. Score: 85.
Cantina Gabriele, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, 2007: Dark ruby, medium- to full-bodied with gently gripping tannins parting to make way for currant, wild berry and spicy aromas and flavors. Drink now. $13. Score: 84.
Cantina Gabriele, Chianti, Tuscany, 2008: Dark ruby, medium- to full-bodied, with soft tannins opening to show appealing cherry and wild berry fruits on a light herbal background. Drink up. $15. Score: 84.
Sentieri Ebraici, Dona Gracia, Marche, 2008: A light- to medium-bodied white wine made entirely from Trebbiano grapes. Light golden straw in color, light- to medium-bodied, with fresh aromas and flavors of citrus and tropical fruits on a background of Mediterranean herbs. Drink up. $13. Score: 85.
Sentieri Ebraici, del Vecchio, Marche, 2008: Ruby toward garnet, medium-bodied, made entirely from Sangiovese grapes, soft, round and red with aromas and flavors of red berries, plums and cherries. Not typical to the variety, but an easy-to-drink quaffer. Drink now. $12. Score: 84.
Castello di Cesare, Rosso, Lazio, 2007: Dark ruby in color, an unoaked blend of equal parts of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Medium-bodied, with almost unfelt tannins showing a basic berry-cherry personality. A simple but pleasant enough entry-level wine. Drink up. $7. Score: 84.
Bartenura, Barolo, Ovadia Estates, Piedmont, 2007: Garnet with tinges of orange, medium- to full-bodied, with chunky tannins and smoky wood that give the wine a countryesque (yes, Virginia, there is such a word) persona. Opens to reveal a generous array of blackberry, plum and currant fruits, those supported by hints of black pepper, porcini mushrooms and earthy minerals. Drink now-2013. $46. Score: 87.
Bartenura, Pinot Grigio, Pavia, 2008: The color of damp straw, light- to medium-bodied, with apple, pear and floral notes on a crisply dry background. Simple but pleasant. Drink up. $14. Score: 85.
Bartenura, Barbera d’Alba, Ovadia Estates, Piedmont, 2009: Medium-bodied, with soft tannins and quite generous acidity, opens to reveal raspberries, cassis and pink grapefruit on the nose and palate. Uncomplicated but clean and pleasant. Drink now. $17. Score: 85.
Bartenura, Chianti, Ovadia Estates, Tuscany, 2009: Ruby to garnet in color, medium-bodied with soft tannins and an appealing berry, black cherry personality. Not complex but easy to drink. Drink now. $17. Score: 84.
Rashi, Barbera d’Alba, Piedmont, 2006: Medium-bodied, with soft, gently caressing tannins and fine acidity that highlights wild berry and cherry fruits, those supported by notes of spicy oak. Drinking nicely now but not for further cellaring. $22. Score: 85.
Rashi, Barolo, Piedmont, 2006: Dark garnet in color, medium-bodied, with gripping tannins and a light animal aroma that arises when the wine is first poured, those receding to reveal almost compote-like berry, black cherry and currant fruits. Made from traditional Nebbiolo grapes but hardly representative of traditional Barolo. Drink up. $50. Score: 84.
Rashi, Moscato d’Asti, Piedmont 2007: Light, semi-sweet and lightly frizzante, showing appealing pear, green apple and citrus notes. Not complex but lively and refreshing. Drink up. $16. Score: 84.
Santero, Moscato, Primo-V, Puglia, n.v.: Generously sweet and floral, with good balancing acidity to keep it lively. On the nose and palate kiwi, guava and papaya fruits. A pleasant quaffer when served well chilled. Drink now. $7. Score: 84.
Daniel Rogov is the world’s premier kosher wine critic and the author of the annual “Rogov’s Guide to Israeli Wines” and “Rogov’s Guide to Kosher Wines.” He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.