Raffaldini Vineyards: Italian Varieties as a Strong Suit

Feb 05

In 50 or 100 years, we may see as many wines made from Italian varities in the Mid-Atlantic as from French varieties.

Wineries like Barboursville Vineyards near Charlottesville, Breaux Vineyards in northern Loudoun and Villa Appalaccia south of Roanoke have demonstrated that pinot grigio, barbera, nebbiolo, sangiovese and other Italian varieties can make classically typical wines in this region, and in some cases, world-class.

Raffaldini Vineyards in Ronda, NC, located in the Swan Creek sub-AVA of the Yadkin Valley, is branding itself with high-end, food-friendly classy wines based on Italian varieties (their motto is “Chianti in the Carolinas”). Established in 2001 by Jay Raffaldini, whose family goes back to 1348 in Lombardy, the winery has garnered some attention, including being listed as one of the top ten “hot brands” by Wine Business Monthly in 2010.┬áLeading Italian varities include: pinot grigio, vermentino, sangiovese and montepulciano.

I recently had the opportunity to taste two excellent new releases from Raffaldini; the 2012 Vermentino riserva and the 2011 Montepulciano riserva, both labeled with the Swan Creek sub-AVA.

My impression from tasting vermentino at Barboursville Vineyards was that this was a dry aromatic Italian white grape, much like pinot grigio but with more aromatics and more palate weight. This impression was confirmed in tasting the Raffaldini 2012 vintage; this will be a first-class grape for the Mid-Atlantic region.

vermintino riservaRaffaldini Vermentino Riserva 2012, Swan Creek AVA, NC

Nose: green apple and spicy (nutmeg) pear notes, v. aromatic w. herbal and focused mineral notes. On the palate, is surprisingly full-bodied with rich, round texture (8 months in 33% new French oak), acid a bit low but is a very versatile food wine (enjoyed with cheddar souffle), and has great potential for a range of styles and showcasing regional cuisine in a stylish way.

The Montepulciano was a rare treat. I had tasted Raffaldini’s first vintage done in a regular table wine style and it also showed impressive typicity and potential for this region.

The wine below was a surprise with the opaque color, the mostly closed but intriguing spicy nose, and the very full-bodied and high tannin palate. After tasting and then matching with food, I casually looked at the label and was amazed to realize the alcohol level was 15%; I read the back label and then it all made sense; this was made from grapes picked dried to 27 Brix, sorted 3 times, and fermented for 55 days on the skins in stainless steel tanks, then aged for 18 months in oak, mostly two year old.

montepulciano riservaRaffaldini Montepulciano Riserva 2011 (15% alc., appassimento) Swan Creek AVA, NC

Color: Impressively dark for the vintage; opaque ruby.
Nose: Cardamom and spicy black cherry notes (that take awhile to emerge); intriguing.
Palate: rich, dense and concentrated, high tannins but smooth, slight bitter finish with dark chocolate hints. Long clean finish. Classic passito style. Young, needs time but good for strong cheese, dark chocolate desserts, confit reduction. Impressively clean and concentrated for such a difficult vintage. Anyone who loves Amarone will want to try this but not for another 4 years or more.


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