Thursday, November 8, 2018

Under the Radar Varieties Shine at Daniele Cernilli's Italian Wine Book Party Tasting

While the usual belles of the ball - Italian all star wines from Barolo, Sassicia and Tuscany - displayed their charms at the Italian wine tasting Monday at Farallon restaurant, for me, the fun was tasting the indigenous grape wines from organic vineyards (along with some top notch Chianti).

Wines from the little known Bellone, Cesanese, Lacrima and Pecorino grapes (from producers with organic vineyards) had something fresh and lively to say. Each was a pleasure to discover. And they were all priced well below $20 - a win win for consumers looking for something different - and affordable.

Daniele Cernilli and Marina Thompson (husband and wife)
at the book launch party at Farallon
The tasting was held to celebrate Italian wine expert Daniele Cernilli's The Essential Guide to Italian Wine 2019, now in its 5th edition. A judge for Decanter's World Wine Awards and Vinitaly, Cernilli was one of the founders of the acclaimed wine guide Gambero Rosso in 1986 (before starting his Essential Guide series in 2015) and is a widely respected and influential expert. Today, his website Doctor Wine is a popular destination.

The 2019 edition of the book covers 1,134 selected producers and 2,809 wines (including 652 wines priced under 15 euros [or $17 U.S.]). In 2018, 10,000 copies of the book were sold.

Organic or Biodynamic certifications are noted in the guide.

Monday's tasting included 24 producers, four of whom were certified (or officially in transition) to organic certification. These include: Casale del Giglio in Lazio (near Rome), Felsina (in transition to organic) and Querciabella in Tuscany, and Velenosi (some organic vineyards) in the Marche.



This winery 30 miles south of Rome has been a pioneering leader in raising the profile of wines from the Lazio region. It began with a large scale planting of international varieties back in 1985, after government funded research found that the region's red clay and alluvial soils could grow worthy wine grapes. More than 60 varieties were planted.

Mater Matuta temple remains from the 9th-5th
century BCE were found adjacent to Casale
del Giglio's vineyards south of Rome
The name Casale del Giglio means "House of Lilies." Uniquely, a ancient road, parallel to the Appian Way, and a temple to the goddess Mater Matuta, dating back to the 9th-5th centuries BCE, have been found on the property. A 5th century BCE ceramic wine goblet was found on the site, along with other Etruscan objects now housed at the Villa Giulia in Rome.

Today the winery produces mainly novel international blends but has recently branched into indigenous grapes, including Cesanese.

Casale del GIglio's Cesanese is made with native yeast (700 cases, $15)

Winemaker Paolo Tiefenthaler and Proprietor Antonio Santarelli  

With 345 acres of planted vines, Velenosi is the second largest family owned winery in the Marche, a province on Italy's eastern side, bordering the Adriatic coast. Founded and run by Ercole and Angela Velenosi in 1984, it has become a Marche success story, achieving recognition for its indigenous grape wines, including Pecorino and Lacrima. (The latter is not yet organic).

These vibrant and unique wines sell for just $15 and can be found in the U.S. on

Velenosi's Offida Pecorino DOCG - a treat!


The 2015 Chianti Classico ($33) won a 97 point rating
and a platinum medal from Decanter's World Wine Awards
Querciabella, which means beautiful oak, is renowned for its Chianti Classico, grown using Biodynamic practices. 

Like another great Biodynamic producerin Tuscany, Avignonesi, it is certified organic, not Biodynamic, due to the fact that Demeter Italy's standards are particularly stringent, exceeding those Demeter standards in other European countries and the U.S. 

All of the wines here are well worth seeking out, offering outstanding values and pleasures, and the book is an excellent way to seek out affordable wines that you can't always find on the shelf. The book is exceptionally well curated. And it would also make an excellent holiday gift, coupled, of course, with a bottle of one of its highly rated wines.

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