Monday, November 24, 2008


Not long ago Gary Grunner--a wine aficionado with a special interest in Italian wines—invited me over to his house for a tasting. He had just returned from the Newport Wine Festival and wanted to share some of his newest gems with a few other writers and friends. As usual, Gary prepared a generous plate of cheese, bread, olives and other tempting noshes to complement the flavors of his wines—always a surefire way to keep me interested.

The conversation that afternoon ranged from where Italy's wine business was heading to what Italian producers needed to do in the US market to keep ahead of the rest of the world. Gary has been in the wine business and selling Italian wines since the early 1980s, and has witnessed first hand the intense growth of the industry as well as the increased competition. But in spite of the obstacles he believes there is more opportunity than ever for new, great wines.

With that in mind, I was secretly thinking that he could be setting himself up for a fall if the wines didn't deliver. But he went down to his cellar and returned with 5 bottles, lined them up on a long wooden table, and simply smiled.

Here are my reviews:

Barbi Brunello di Montalcino 2003 DOCG (Fattoria dei Barbi)

Made from 100% Sangiovese grapes, this Brunello has a really interesting mix of aroma vs. palate. At first the nose reveals roasted meats, toast and ripe concentrated stewed prunes. Then you taste the intense ripe cherries, plums and spices and then a bit later chocolate, more spices and black pepper.

Fattoria Dei Barbi Morellino Di Scansano 2005 DOC

The Colombini family has owned property in Brunello di Montalcino since 1352, and they established Fattoria dei Barbi there in 1790.

Medium weight and bright ruby colors decorate this Morellino Di Scansano from Tuscany's Montalcino area. The first aromas are apparent immediately in a verdant dense forest, mushrooms and barnyard, then on the palate comes the sour cherry. Slightly tannic, but opening nicely within a hour or so with a finish of raisins and cola.

Fattoria dei Barbi Toscana Brusco dei Barbi 2006 IGT

Fattoria dei Barbi uses a patented technique of fermentation developed by Giovanni Colombini to make this Sangiovese Tuscan red wine. The process involves the extensive soaking of the grapes with their pomace which results in an intensity of flavors, softness, color, and complexity.

The initial fermentation lasts 10 days, transforming the sugars to alcohol. Then the stainless steel vats are sealed, the temperature dropped and the wine left in contact with the skins, continuing to ferment slowly. After three months the skins are then removed and the wine remains in the stainless steel vats until bottling.

The color of this wine is a ruby red with aromas of raspberries and spices while on the palate are earthy autumnal tones of underbrush. There is a smoothness in the tannins and a good balance overall with a finish that's full circle back to red berries.

Galarej Barbera D'Alba

Made from 100% Barbera grapes, this red wine is deep ruby-red with aromas of raspberry, flowers and vanilla, and flavors of violets, cedar and pepper spices and a medium-body.

Excellent with grilled meat, steaks, burgers, pizza, red sauce pasta dishes.

Galarej Barolo 2004 DOCG

This Barolo is made from 100% Nebbiolo grapes with colors of deep garnet and a nose of cherries, raspberries, herbs and spice. There's a full, rich, ripe palate of dark berries and leather, along with a warm, smooth finish that reverberates an earthiness. 13.5% alcohol content.

What I have come to appreciate about all the wines Gary represents is his preference for wines that generally over-deliver in quality as compared to the market price. That afternoon he particularly enjoyed discussing wines such as Fattoria dei Barbi, and he beamed with pride as he inducted his new brand Galarej into his portfolio.

Gary also talked about his newest endeavor with importer, Pietro Cavallo called 'Wine Project', as well as 'Grapes on the Go' his new consulting company that offers expert advice on wine, as well as restaurant and fine wine shop ventures.

It's clear that his favorite wines are those that not only best represent their grape variety and region, but also reveal a sense of passion that can only come from family-owned wineries with a joyous commitment to the wine business.

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