Navigating Italy’s best wines – Istituto del Vino Italiano di Qualita Grandi Marchi

Winery map of the Institute of Fine Italian Wines Premium Brands

My motto is “discover the world and savor the classics.”  But when it comes to learning about wine, I believe in starting with the classics, and that applies to wine regions, specific appellations and producers.  With Italian wines, it can be a daunting exercise simply because of the sheer numbers:  Twenty official wine regions, 370 controlled appellations (48 Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita  and 322 Denominazione di Orgine Controllata), about 2,000 grape varieties of which most are indigenous to Italy, and a span of vineyards covering over 1.75 million acres of unique terroir.

There are no private classifications of wines like the 1855 Classification in Bordeaux, or Grand Cru designations of terroir as in Burgundy, to guide you.  They do have “Classico” designations which define the original winemaking zones within a DOC/G, presumably in the best terroir, and they have quality consortiums like Gallo Nero in Chianti Classico and now the Institute of Fine Italian Wines – Premium Brands.

The Grandi Marchi (Premium Brands) tour through San Francisco last week underscored the importance of learning about Italian wines by tasting the classic wines of classic producers, because only through quality can you taste terroir and typicite.

The Institute is a quality consortium comprised of 17 of Italy’s greatest winemaking families whose brands are known worldwide.  Producers span the country from Gaja (Piemonte), Alois Lageder (Alto Adige) and Masi Agricola (Veneto) in the North, to Antinori in Tuscany, to Mastroberardino (Campania) in the South.  But beyond simply promoting their wine brands, the consortium’s aim is to “raise the bar” by continually seeking to improve the quality of the wines through investment, research and preservation, to educate consumers around the world about Italian food and wine and to “set the bar” for DOC/DOCG quality.

In a way, the translation of Grandi Marchi to ‘Premium Brands’ doesn’t do the consortium justice because here in the U.S., ‘premium brands’ is just another commercial segment of which there are thousands of brands.   The Grandi Marchi are not just long-standing, high quality producers of classic wines, but leaders in and for their categories.  Perhaps ‘Great Houses’ would be a better term.

Here are just some of the reasons why these wines are Grandi Marchi.


Alois Ladeger’s Tentutae Lageder ‘Porer’ Pinot Grigio 2010 is not your typical Pinot Grigio from Alto Adige.  It is a richer, more elegant wine with peach and pear fruit like Alsatian Pinot Gris but dry, and lighter than an Oregon Pinot Gris.


Mastroberardino is one of the finest producers in the south of Italy and Taurasi, 100% Aglianico, is one of its most famous wines.  The Radici Taurasi Riserva DOCG 1999 shows Taurasi’s powerful structure with black fruit core, cola and spice.


The Cabreo Il Borgo IGT Toscana 2008 from Ambrogio & Giovanni Folonari showed Sangiovese’s cherry fruit with savory notes of tea, dried herbs and baking spices that gains a little more structure from addition of Cabernet Sauvignon.


I have been told that Italy’s three greatest red wines are Barolo DOCG,  Brunello di Montalcino DOCG and Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG.

The Barolo DOCG 2007 from Pio Cesare is a classic, full-bodied and structured Barolo with a nose of black fruit, rose petals, spice and earth.  It is a beautifully balanced wine with long finish that just makes you sigh…

Masi Agricola is synonymous with Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG and for good reason.  The Riserva di Costasera Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2006 is nearly opaque ruby with garnet rim, full-bodied with a heavy cloak of velvety tannins, rich with dark cherry and blackberry confiture, cinnomon spice and cocoa.  Finish is long.

For more information on the quality consortium and for links to individual producers, visit the Institute’s website.