Italy’s 3 most expensive wines and crus


Italy’s 3 most expensive wines and crus

29 June 2016

If someone opens a bottle of one of Italy’s most expensive and coveted crus, you’ll know it’s a special occasion.

“Of the millions of square miles of land on our planet, a few regions are considered extraordinary, perhaps even magical.” James Suckling was talking about one vineyard in particular in his video Cannubi: A Vineyard Kissed by God, but these words are just as fitting for several other prestigious vineyards in Italy. When you drink a glass of wine, chances are the grapes in the bottle (roughly 520, to be exact) are blended from several vineyards, all crushed together. A wine’s certification tells the consumer something more about its origins: a DOC has geographical boundaries delineating where its grapes may be grown, vinified, and bottled (among other rules, like grape varieties used); and a DOCG is even more exacting in its regulations. It’s much less common to drink a glass of single-vineyard wine. For these, a wine is made from one vineyard whose soil, sun exposure, and microclimate combine perfectly to nourish a particular variety of grape, producing a wine that is clearly distinguishable from, say, the other side of the very same hill. These wines, of course, possess complex and beautiful characteristics, high quality…and a hefty price tag. They are called crus, a term originally from France that has been adopted and used by Italy (sometimes you’ll find an official Italian term to describe similar concepts, such as the Piedmontese MeGA, Menzioni Geografiche Aggiuntive). Here are the three most expensive, coveted, and top quality crus in Italy. If someone opens a bottle of one of these at dinner, you’ll know it’s a special occasion.

Cannubi: Barolo DOCG

Hand-harvesting grapes in crates Hand-harvesting grapes in crates - © Courtesy of Tenuta Carretta Winery

The most desirable and highly contested cru in Piedmont is in the Barolo winemaking region, the Cannubi hill. This cru consists of 38 hectares (95 acres) of land overlooking the town of Barolo. In this perfect little area, the weather is neither too hot nor too cold, and the soil has a high amount of sand and is poor in nutrients—a good thing for vine cultivation. The nebbiolo grapes grow to make an elegant, fine, complex, well-structured Barolo DOCG that can age for years (Barolo is made from 100% nebbiolo). These wines with “Cannubi” written clearly on their labels can usually be found for around €70-€100 (in the US, you’ll find it around $150-$200). Cannubi is the original cru of Barolo. In 1750, before “Barolo” was known as a wine, someone had already bottled a wine named Cannubi, according to A Vineyard Kissed by God. This had never been done before—that is, consciously bottling and labeling a wine as single-vineyard—and it shows that even 250 years ago, the incredible quality of this hill was not overlooked. Twenty-six producers currently make Cannubi wine (though it can vary year-to-year, around 25-28, which is well-explained in this detailed letter), which means some of them have just a micro-parcel of land - a “fazzoletto,” or tissue, as Italians say. We’d be remiss not to mention a sort of Cannubi Wars that erupted around 2012 due to differing opinions on who gets to label what Cannubi, for there is the “heart” and then its adjacent vineyards; all of which, it must be added, are of the highest quality. This is why you may find bottles labeled “Cannubi Boschis/Muscatel/San Lorenzo” instead of simply “Cannubi.” An exciting new issue has recently come up with Cannubi, with considerably less tension surrounding it than the label battle: 22 producers have currently agreed to pursue organic certification in Cannubi and its adjacent vineyards, covering 82% of the area, attesting to the strength of tradition, respect for the land, and highly attentive care that the producers give to these precious vineyards.

Cartizze: Prosecco Superiore di Cartizze DOCG

Glera grapes Glera grapes - © Courtesy of Col Vetoraz Winery

Those who are in the know might order, simply, a glass of Cartizze; those not in the know might mistakenly serve them any prosecco from Valdobbiadene. But Cartizze is a cru located on a very special hill within the Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG zone in the Veneto, and its land may be the most expensive in all of Italy, selling for around 1.5 million euros per hectare - if you can find someone willing to sell it to you. The single hill of 106 ha (262 acres) is right next to the small town of Valdobbiadene, cultivated exclusively by hand because the sloping, terraced hillsides are too steep to allow any other way; they are a strikingly beautiful sight. The soils are marine in origin and mineral-rich, and are particularly well-suited to growing the glera grape, which makes up min. 85% of “Cartizze Superiore” prosecco. The earth is sandy at the hop of the hill, progressing towards rocky at the bottom; cartizza means “rock” in the local dialect. Cartizze prosecco is usually made in the Martinotti-Charmat method, but some producers have begun using Metodo classico (read about the differences between these two sparkling winemaking methods here); and it is most often made Dry, with min. 11.5% alcohol (some producers have begun making it as Brut and Extra-Brut, which have lower residual amounts of sugar). On average, a bottle of Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze will set you back about €15-€20 (US, around $40).

Costalunga: Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG

With this cru, we’re still in the Veneto, but we’ve moved from prosecco territory to the zone of intense red wines, the Valpolicella Classico where Amarone Classico della Valpolicella is made. First, how is this famous red wine different from any other, beyond its terroir or grapes used? Amarone is known for its concentrated color, intense flavor, and high alcohol (min. 14%, but often 15% or more) - it’s like pushing any other red wine to the extreme. This is because of the way it’s produced: from drying the grapes corvina and rondinella (plus other varieties in a small percentage, if desired). The process of drying evaporates the waters, thus concentrating the tannins, colors, flavors, aromas, and sugars, which consequently raises the alcohol. Grapes drying in crates Grapes drying in crates - © Jo Martorana

The higher price tag on this wine is not inflated; its production process is what hikes it up. Because everything is concentrated, the grapes have to be perfect; there is no room for a single fault, because anything “off” is magnified in the wine. This maniacal care, the time and space spent drying the grapes in uncontaminated areas (100-120 days until they lose at least half their weight); and the fact that more grapes go into each bottle than an average wine all contribute to real production expenses. Costalunga is known to be a top cru for Amarone della Valpolicella (which may be certified DOC, or DOCG since 2010), and is located just east of Lake Garda and about 18 km north of the medieval city of Verona. Its 35 ha (86 acres) overlook the beautiful lake, whose reflected light off its waters gives the Costalunga its moniker, “the vineyard of light.” And this light isn’t just pretty; it boosts photosynthesis, helping the grapes mature and grow rich in aromas, which get concentrated in the wine. The nearby Monte Baldo and Adige Valley direct cooling breezes through the area, providing an excellent ventilation that is indispensable for the development of perfectly healthy grapes - remember, there’s no room for mistakes. Thinking of buying a bottle for a special occasion? Expect to pay around €50-€70 for a good bottle (and in the US, $110-$130).