In 2020, there were days when the pandemic dominated my thoughts and actions; wine was a source of relief, but it was filed in the back of my mind. Looking through last year’s tasting book, I noticed I overlooked these enjoyable northern Italian wines.

Trentino is widely acknowledged for its quality Champagne-styled sparkling wines. One of the classic grapes of Trentino’s sparklers is pinot noir, which Bottega Vinaia sources from family-farmed vineyards for its still wines.

The 2017 Bottega Vinaia Pinot Noir Trentino is an eye-catching bright red and filled with fermented aromas and flavors of cherry, strawberry and spice. It’s a good match with pork chops and roasted chicken seasoned with smoked paprika. 88 points. Retail prices range from $17 to $25.

A little more than 200 miles south of Trentino is Piedmont, arguably Italy’s food and wine capital—in a country that is renowned for its regional food and wines, you will surely get an argument from the non Piedmontesi.

Nevertheless, Piedmont’s Barolo, Barbaresco and Barbera are recognized worldwide as anchors of Italy’s wine treasures. The historic Fontanafredda estate is uniquely bound to the region’s wine and food fame.

In 1858, Vittorio Emanuele II, the first king of Italy, purchased the Fontanafredda hunting estate in Langhe in the Piedmont region for the home of his mistress (and later wife), Rosa Vercellana. They produced a son, Count Emanuele Alberto di Mirafiori, who created the winery at Fontanafredda and made its first Barolo in 1878. In 2008, Oscar Farinetti, founder of the international food and wine emporium Eataly, became the principal partner of Fontanafredda.

Fontanafredda Barbera

The 2018 Fontanafredda Briccotondo Barbera Piedmont is an ideal everyday wine. Aged for six months in a mix of French oak barrels and Slavonian oak large casks, black cherry dominates the color, aroma and flavor of the medium-bodied wine. The restrained use of oak barrel aging creates a pleasing partnership of fruit and acidity, making it delightful with pizza, meat-sauced pastas and eggplant-focused dishes. 88 points. Priced at a very reasonable $15 to $16.

North of Fontanafredda’s renowned wine area, lies Piedmont’s unheralded Gattinara appellation where the Travaglini family has been farming and making wine since the 19th century. However, it was not until 1958 when Giancarlo Travaglini established an estate winery focused on nebbiolo, the grape of Barolo and Barbaresco.

Gattinara’s rocky soils impart substantial acidity and its alpine location challenges nebbiolo ripeness. But over the decades, the Travaglinis mastered the viticulture, producing gracious wines after a few years of cellaring. The 2016 Travaglini Gattinara is such a wine.

Travaglini 2016

Aged for two years in Slavonian oak casks and nearly one year in bottle, the 2016 Travaglini displays nebbiolo’s rose-like and raspberry aromas, red-berry flavor and cranberry-like acidity. This is a wine to enjoy with steaks, lamb chops and duck. It is also one best enjoyed after an hour in a decanter. 89 points. Retail prices range from $25 to $30.

It was in the mid-1980s that I visited Rocca delle Macie in Castellina in Chianti, one of Tuscay’s important villages in the Chianti Classic zone.  Founded by the acclaimed Italian film producer Italo Zingarelli, Rocca delle Macie leapt to the front pages of wine publications in Europe and America. If truth be told, I thought the publicity was better than the initial wines. Some were enjoyable, but others were over-oaked and the multiple bottlings lacked focus—mistakes common to new winery owners. By the mid-1990s, I removed Rocca delle Macie from my then-restaurant wine list.

Rocca delle Macie

In the past decade, my tastings of this Chianti Classico estate were more reassuring. My most recent is the 2016 Rocca delle Macie Chianti Classico Riserva Famiglia Zingarelli. Made from 90% sangiovese and 5% each cabernet sauvignon and merlot, the wine is strikingly aromatic and flavorful; black cherry, red plum and cinnamon are bound with soft tannins giving the wines a gentle, ripe fruit character and a long, fresh finish. This is one of the best Rocca delle Macie Chianti Classicos I’ve had in years. 92 points. Retail prices range from $17 to $30; an absolute steal at less than $25.

The distribution of a vaccine portends a more normal 2021 where good wines like these do not get forgotten from the travails of our daily existence. Enjoying wine is a routine we can all look forward to. Happy New Year!

Photos by John Foy