italian wine

Beyond the Super Tuscans: A fresh look at Armit Wines

armit wine the three drinkers

The Three Drinkers headed to the first portfolio tasting in years of wine merchant Armit, famed for its stunning Italian wine agencies like Sassicaia and Ornellaia. Expecting the Italians, they found a lot more on offer, some of it equally spectacular. Colin Hampden-White tells all...

Armit Wines has now been supplying wine to the trade and private clients for over thirty years. Founded in 1988 by John Armit, the company started to forge relationships with producers so they could buy direct. Some of the strongest relationships were with Italian wine producers including the greats like Sassicaia and Ornellaia and it was with these relationships and wines that Armit became well known. Italian wine isn’t the only wine Armit specialises in, however. Far from being a one trick pony, Armit has wines from all over the world, and these wines are just as impressive as the Super Tuscan wines they still supply.

sassicaia the three drinkers

There was something different about the Armit tasting this year in comparison to some they’ve had in the past. There wasn’t an Italian wine to be seen. Armit wanted to show off more wines in their stable and shine a light on some other great regions.

Kicking off the tasting were a couple of wines from New Zealand. A fresh and fruity Riesling from Borthwick vineyards and some rich and refined Pinot Noir from Bell Hill, showing how well New Zealand competes with the likes of Burgundy for Pinot Noir. Staying in the southern Hemisphere, there were wines from South Africa, with a Grenache from Momento and a Cabernet  Sauvignon from Delaire Graff standing out. From Napa there were stonking wines from Diamond Creek and away from the usual Californian regions, there were wines from Santa Maria Valley by Bien Nacido and Solomon Hills showing very well. 

Baptiste & Julie Guinaudeau from Lafleur in Bordeaux

Baptiste & Julie Guinaudeau from Lafleur in Bordeaux

The new world wines didn’t have it all their own way though. Armit also have some great relationships in Spain and France, with two prominent producers being Domaine Leflaive and Lafleur in Burgundy and Bordeaux and in Rioja, Rioja Alta. These are some of the best estates in the world and to find them in one room is testament to the selection Armit have harvested over the years. 

Alongside these grand names in wine, there are lesser known, but just as exciting, wines from Torre de Oña, also in Rioja, Dowie Doole in Australia, Domaine Huet in the Loire and closer to home, Digby sparkling English wine. And just to top things off, Chateau Dereszla in Hungary had some very refined Tokaji, both dry and sticky in style.

The quality of wines on show was over all very high and the message from Armit was loud and clear: They are not only an Italian wine merchant. Sure, you can still buy your favourite Italian wines from them, but try reaching further afield when you visit their website, or call for advice, and you will be well rewarded for it.

See more are armitwines.co.uk

By Colin Hampden-White

A Super Tuscan Rising Star: Tenuta di Biserno

We’re massive fans of Italian wines and Tuscany in particular holds a special place in our hearts. Helena Nicklin heads to a lesser known part of the region to get to know a very exciting wine producer…

If you’ve tried the finest wines from Tuscany, chances are that they’ve been touched by the hand of the most famous wine family in the region, if not the country: Famiglia Antinori. All those beautiful names - Ornellaia, Sassicaia, Massetto, Solaia, Tignanello - have been blessed with the Antinori magic and most of them still are. But this is not a story about the famous Tuscan region of Chianti, where wine tourism mechanics move like well-oiled machines. This is about another coastal Tuscany; a part that’s still rugged, still being discovered and gorgeously authentic called the Maremma.

What’s more, it has already formed a reputation for making wines that breaks the rules but in doing so, have created fine wines to rival the very best in the world. We’re talking about the Maremma, which is coastal Tuscany. It’s an area that splits into three sub regions: Upper, Central and South, but it’s the Upper or ‘Alta’ Maremma where the very best wines are being made. Sassicaia, Ornellaia, Massetto – yes, but there’s a new kid on the block steaming through the ranks and it’s made by Lodovico Antinori’s team at Tentua di Biserno in Bibbona.

From Bolgheri to Bibbona

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Marchese Lodovico Antinori came across what would become the Biserno Estate (Tenuta di Biserno) back in 1995. Located in the Alta Maremma, just north of Bolgheri in Bibbona, the area boasts wild, sweeping landscapes, pine forests, hilltop castles and stunning views all the way down to the Tyrrheniansea. Most importantly however (for the wine in any case), the combination of this climate, cooled by the sea breeze with the unique soils of the area made the Marchese sit up and pay attention. At the time, he had been looking for land with which he could extend his beloved Ornellaia vineyards, but he soon realised that the terrain was much hillier; much stonier than it was at Ornellaia and so would need to be a separate project with different grapes. In a surprising move that some might say is a sad regret for the family, Ornellaia was sold (a long story for another time), but this now meant that Lodovico could devote time to pursuing a new story in this incredibly exciting, undiscovered terroir on just the other side of the fence.

The Birth of Biserno

In the midst of the vines, the lemon trees and olive groves and with a gorgeous infinity pool, sits the Biserno guest house. Originally destroyed in 1850, it was rebuilt in the 1950s and while not open generally to the public, the eight bedrooms can available for exclusive, prearranged visits, which can include wine tastings, personal tours of the region and cooking classes on request. Tiziana, the in-house chef buys fresh produce daily from the local market and makes food with stunning simplicity with the lightest of touches. It is the vines and the wines however that demand even closer attention.

The Biserno wines

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49 acres of vines were planted at Biserno between 2001 and 2005. The clay element of the terroir particularly led Lodovico to plant Bordeaux varietals; Cabernet franc, then some Merlot with, interestingly, a generous dollop of Petit Verdot and a smattering Cabernet Sauvignon. Within these 49, there is a patch of 6 acres, which stands above the rest and is home to the star wine of the Tenuta’s stable: Biserno ‘Lodovico’.

Just like Sassicaia at the very beginning of the Super Tuscan story, Bibbona does not have its own DOC, so all wines, no matter how great, can only be called IGT (Indicazione Geographica Typica). This may change as it did for Sassicaia (Sassicaia was only granted its own DOC in 2013) but to be honest, they may not even want that. A DOC means rules after all – and we all know that Bolgheri didn’t get where it is today by following those! Here’s a look at what Tenuta di Biserno produce and where you can find them:

The Tenuta di Biserno wine range

Rosé - Sof A brand new rosé, named after Lodovico’s 21 year-old daughter Sofia who came back from travels demanding they make a dry pink. It’s made with more or less 50 % Cabernet Franc and 50% Syrah. 2017 is the first vintage and it has a very pretty, vibrant pink colour with a refreshing prickle of CO2. On the palate, bright red fruit settles to soft, strawberry cream and a saline finish.

£24.50 from Corney & Barrow and by the case at Champagne & Chateaux

Red - Insoglio del Cinghiale (The wild boar’s hideout): Always mostly Syrah (it’s the only red Biserno wine with Syrah in it). Made to be released a year after production and meant for immediate drinking. The 2016 has a lovely purple hue and a typical Syrah garrigue character; herbaceous and violet-scented with bramble fruit a touch of smoked meat. There’s a cool, saline seam running through it too, which appears in many of the Biserno wines.

£21.50 from Corney & Barrow and by the case at Champagne & Chateaux

Red - Il Pino di Biserno: A step up from Cinghiale and where Cabernet Franc starts to come into its own, with some Petit verdot, a splash of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot – like an inside-out Bordeaux blend. With a deeper colour and more complexity than Insoglio and with a year in oak barrels and 6-8 months in bottle before release, the 2015 had a generous, silky red fruitiness and spice amongst the brambles.

£42.20 - £47.95 depending on vintage from Corney & Barrow and by the case at Champagne & Chateaux

Red - ‘Biserno’

With Biserno, Lodovico put the wheels in motion for the next Tuscan icon wine. 2007 was the first vintage and the blend is predominantly Cabernet sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet franc and Petit verdot. The left banker of Biserno, as it were. You can see the vintage variations throughout the years. We tasted the following vintages:

2007: Animal, meaty and powerful. Lots of garrigue herbs. Not shy!

2008: More refined tannins; silky, with a mineral core.

2009: A warmer vintage, shown by lots of baked fruit, blackcurrant compote. Fleshy texture.

2010: Very cool, wet year creating a very elegant and cool mineral vintage that’s drinking well already. Not typical.

2015: Surprisingly drinkable given its youth. Very strawberry up front, with fine, tight tannins and secondary notes of spice just starting to show.

£95.95 - £102.95 depending on vintage from Corney & Barrow (also available in magnum and double magnum) and by the case at Champagne & Chateaux.

Red - Biserno ‘Lodovico’

The first Lodovico vines were planted in 2012 and every year made a difference.  Helped by Michel Rolland, the Marchese always has the last say on the blend. Lodovico is generally around 95% Cabernet franc with 5% Petit Verdot. The 2013 had quite long skin contact (21-28 days) and was aged for 16 m in mostly new French oak. It showed immediate ripeness of fruit with sweet spiciness, concentration, fleshy and complexity. The production is generally small (5 – 10,000 a year) depending on the vintage and it’s only made in best years. Releases so far are 07, 08, 11, 13, 15, 16, 17.

£220-£240 from Corney & Barrow (2012 also available in magnum) and by the case at Champagne & Chateaux.

By Helena Nicklin