Monday, December 08, 2014

Raffaldini Vineyards - Great Italian Wines from North Carolina

So, it has become clear to me that there is a secret cabal going on between the sovereign state of North Carolina and the country known as glorious Italy. In a small spot in a gorgeous countryside, Italy has established a toe hold in the United States of a unique kind. It is clear that they intend to dominate from this position a particular industry there. South Carolinians have kept this pretty much to themselves, but as a northerner I feel very much compelled to expose this connection and be the whistleblower on this occasion, and do service to my fellow citizens!

I am of course speaking of Raffaldini Vineyards!

The Raffaldini family dates back to the year 1348 in the town of Mantua, located in the Northern Province of Lombardy, Italy. To this day, the family owns and lives on the land that is their ancestral home. The romantic town of Verona, home to Juliet Capulet of Romeo and Juliet, lies just to the North. The Raffaldini family motto, “Audentes Fortuna Iuvat” means, “Fortune favors those who dare.” This Latin phrase originates from the Aeneid, Virgil’s most famous work. Born in 70 BC during the reign of Julius Caesar, Virgil is best known as the author of this epic poem that links the birth of Rome to the Trojan War.

Nestled near the Yadkin River and Blue Ridge Mountains, the rolling hills and gentle slopes of the Raffaldini vineyard (established in 2002) are blessed with a predominant amount of broken granite and schist which provide for excellent soil drainage and trace mineral extraction. This gives the fruit that sense of "somewhereness" that Matt Kramer coined referring to that term, terroir! The elevation of 1200 feet also offer uniqueness to their site.
Villa Raffaldini also has a 6,000 square foot tasting room and event venue inspired by villas in Mantua, Italy; home to the Raffaldini family, in the north-central region of Lombardy. Villa Raffaldini features traditional Italian art, architecture and tasting rooms on both of the two levels. From it's many rooms one can enjoy panoramic views of the Blue Ridge and Brushy Mountains.
Now, I feel it necessary to "expose" Raffaldini, because the South Carolinians have been harboring a great secret - Raffaldini makes awesome wine! I have friends and family members who have traveled to the Yadkin valley, where Raffaldini is well known. But of course, as a cold, cantankerous, skeptical New Yorker, I cast a cool eye on these warm-blooded southerners and their foreign allies. I cannot lie, I was able to score some wine through some very generous people, because, sadly for me, I have not yet gotten don to the Yadkin Valley. It is clear I am poorer for it. But after tasting Raffaldini, I open my arms wide, and say "Congratulations! Well done!"
Pinot Grigio is the Italian white wine most widely recognized by consumers. It is grown most prominently in the Friuli and to a lesser extent the Alto-Adige and Veneto regions of Northern Italy. Pinot Grigio is also grown widely in Europe under the following names: Pinot Gris Germany (Ruländer), Alsace, France (Tokay d'Alsace) and Eastern Europe (Tokaji). The wine is almost universally sold as a straight varietal though Viognier is being increasingly added to boost aromas and fragrance sensations. Pinot Grigio is also a distant relative to Pinot Noir. 
These thin-skinned grapes produce wines that are marked by their dryness, crispness and acidity. This combination gives the grape tremendous mouth-watering appeal. On the nose the sensations are of flowers and minerals and the palate is apple, pear and lemon.
Vermentino can be found under fairly intensive cultivation in nearly all the Southern Mediterranean coastal districts from Spain to Liguria and on the two major islands semi-enclosed by that arc, Corsica and more famously, Sardinia. It is also grown in small areas on the island of Madeira and at some places in southern France. Vermentino is clearly Spanish in origin. It seems to have traveled from Spain to Corsica in the 14th century and from there went on to Liguria. Its appearance on Sardinia was fairly recent, the final decades of the last century, and it was first planted in the Gallura at the island's northernmost tip. Vermentino is without question Southern Italy’s premier white wine.
Vermentino shows a clean, mineral nose featuring peppered citrus and pear. Flavors of green apple and lime are heightened by refreshing acidity, good richness (without the use of oak) and a wonderfully lingering finish.
Sangiovese roughly translates from Latin as "Sanguis Jovis" or "Blood of Jove". Jove was the Supreme God in Roman mythology. It is the principal grape grown in the Tuscany region of Italy. Three clones of Sangiovese are the most sought after. The first clone, Sangioveto or Grosso is used for Chianti. The second clone, Brunello is used to make Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino and the third Prugnolo, for Vino Nobile di Montepulciano wines.
Sangiovese is one of the flagship red varietals of Italy and is known for attaining worldwide distinction in the communes of Chianti and Montalcino. At Raffaldini, it seems to thrive in their Mediterranean climate and rocky soils. Their Riserva is crafted predominantly from the Brunello clone. Sangiovese Riserva emulates the “Super Tuscan” style by including the international varieties Petit Verdot and Malbec, which enhance the wine’s acid and tannin structure.
See, smell, swirl, sip and savor, an then close your eyes. You are in Italy. This is as good a Sangiovese as you will taste anywhere. A lovely, lovely wine with big flavor, great complexity, and wonderful balance. A lovely, lovely wine.
The Montepulciano grape is most famously found in the province of Abruzzo, Italy. Montepulciano produces a wine with deep color and intense fruit aromas with hints of savory spice. This is the first vintage of Raffaldini's Montepulciano to incorporate the traditional Italian method of appassimento, which involves drying the fruit prior to fermentation, and intensifies the flavors of the grape and the wine. This is a big, full bodied wine. Big dark fruit, dark cherry and cassis, big tannins, and acidity that carries the fruit forward so that it lingers for a long, long time. I was kind of sad I drank this incredible red wine, because I could have easily laid this wine down for another five to eight years. A fabulous deep, dark red. Again, seems like it might have come from the old country itself.
There is no question that Raffaldini's wines are an incredible contribution to east coast winemaking, and easily makes them one of the best wineries in the south. The wines, though, could just as easily, in a blind tasting, have come from Italy. They are big, bold, complex, with gorgeous, long lasting fruit. The wines I had the pleasure of tasting are at the level of Barboursville or VaLa, or Hopewell Valley Vineyards, or other standard bearers such as Pollack or Black Ankle or Bedell or Wolffer.
Great wine! A great new producer of uncommon quality. Exceptional!