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An Impressive Chardonnay from Central Italy
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
May 24, 2016
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Azienda Paolo e Noemia d’Amico, Lazio, Chardonnay “Calanchi di Vaiano” 2014 (Curious Cork Imports, $27):  The wine map of Italy is vivid in my mind, as it probably is for most devotees of Italian wine.  When I met producers Noemia and Paolo d’Amico, and their talented winemaker Guillaume Gelly, recently, my very first issue of business was to ask, “Where exactly is your estate?” because I couldn’t quite fathom its coordinates.  In short order, my confusion over location gave way to admiration for their fine wines.

Their location, in a word, is Lazio, the region south of Tuscany on Italy’s western coast.  It is a region far better known for its major city, Rome, than for distinguished winemaking.  But the d’Amico estate sits in an obscure part of Lazio, in the far north interior, where Lazio meets Umbria.  It is a dramatic hilly area, overlooking deep valleys of vertical lava and tufa cliffs, a UNESCO protected area.  The family property there dates back 30 years, and is situated at more than 1600 feet.

A breathtaking drone’s-eye view of the property depicts rolling hills of vines, steep cliffs, stunning gardens, artwork everywhere and exquisite taste in every detail.  It is a place where Nature takes precedence over technology: winemaker Gelly takes pride in being an agronomist as well as an enologist; he says that he spends 70 percent of his time in the vineyards, and aspires to a hands-off role in the winery.  The estate’s organic vineyards grow mainly “international” varieties such as Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, and Sauvignon Blanc, but also Sangiovese, Trebbiano, Grechetto and Pinot Grigio -- the latter three varieties used to make a DOC Orvieto called Noé, in honor of Noemia d’Amico.  Apart from the Orvieto, most of the wines I tasted were not DOC but IGT (or IGP in the new nomenclature that the d’Amicos prefer); their location is such that some of the wines are IGT Lazio while others are IGT Umbria.

The wine that particularly captured my fancy was the 2014 “Calanchi di Vaiano” Chardonnay.  It is a small production wine from a 30-year-old, 12-acre vineyard that also grows grapes for the Chardonnay called “Falesio.”  Calanchi di Vaiano is the unoaked wine, while Falesio is partially barrel-fermented and aged.  Gelly harvests the Chardonnay vineyard several times -- in 2014, a challenging year when rain fell on 13 days in July, it was five harvests over three days -- and separates the pressed juice into four tanks.  A must selection determines which juice is destined for the unoaked Calanchi and which for the oaked Falesio.

The 2014 Calanchi di Vaiano Chardonnay sports an aroma of citrus, fresh apricots, apple and herbs with quiet underlying notes of nuts and caramel. In your mouth the wine is fresh and lively, but deceptively so because it is so much more than just a fresh white Italian wine.  For one thing, it has a rich, oily-like texture that stretches all the way down your throat.  Other virtues are the wine’s concentration of fruit character, its precision and purity of flavor and the fabulous minerality that emerges in the glass.  At the heart of the wine’s structure is its brilliant acidity, which gives the wine thrust as it moves through your mouth.

When I remarked on the complexity of the wine and particularly its earthy, nutty notes, winemaker Gelly explained that although the winemaking is straightforward (stainless steel fermentation and no malolactic) he holds the wine on its fine lees for eight months. He is able to do that without concern, he said, because of the health of the grapes, thanks to the health of the vineyard.  The use of the lees, which are protective against oxygen, in turn enables him to reduce the amount of sulfites in the wine.

Considering the quality of this Chardonnay from a vintage that was less than ideal, I eagerly await future vintage of this classy wine.

92 Points