Each time I taste another well made ‘alternative’ variety from the King Valley I thank phylloxera.
That’s because, when everyone’s nightmare grape louse swept through the region between 1991 and 1995, it forced the Valley’s growers to replant widely (on rootstocks). And when they did, it served as the ideal excuse to introduce better clones, and more varieties beyond the usual Shiraz/Chardonnay/Riesling etc suspects.
Of course, phylloxera wasn’t the only catalyst here. Stir in a concentration of local Italian family grapegrowers keen to promote some of the varieties of the homeland, and a bump in local nurseries offering more genetic diversity and you end up with an explosion of Sangiovese, Nebbiolo (and eventually Prosecco) et al calling King Valley home.
Pizzini were the pioneers too, crafting Sangiovese and Nebbiolo from their own vineyards since 1995. With this now 25 year legacy, it’s unsurprising that the family are making better Sangiovese than nearly anyone else in the country – and these three wines are prime examples.
What I always like about so much of the Pizzini range is that it feels autentico. There’s typically less obfuscation of toasty oak, less of a push to make big, ripe, firmly Aussie wines, and more emphasis on savouriness, tannins, and heart. It doesn’t always work – and you won’t see mega scores for these wines – but there’s an unquestioned, warts-and-all personality here that is so satisfying.
Anyway, enough me, let’s look at three Sangiovese:
Pizzini Nonna Gisella Sangiovese 2019
Varietal Sangiovese from the King Valley at a very good price. Easy! Bright forest berries with just enough rusticity to the tannins for you to come away impressed. Red berries and leather, the oak clearly older, the savour spot on. Nice drinking fare, with no alarms, just enjoyment.
Best drinking: over the next five years to enjoy that fruit. 17.5/20, 91/100. 13.5%, $24. Would I buy it? Yes.
Pizzini Pietra Rossa Sangiovese 2019
Love the new packaging for this release of Pizzini’s mid-tier Sangio. It feels real too – red earth, a little volatility, red berries, long tannins. Good chewy Sangio tannins, leather and good acidity too. There’s a bit to come I think here – a sense of timeless pace, which is pretty great for a sub $30 wine. It’s savoury, a bit diffuse, yet charming too. Less about bright fruit (especially after the Nonna Gisella), and more a thing of leathery savoury form. Like old-school Rosso di Montalcino. Good stuff.
Best drinking: good now, probably even better in two or three years, and will drink ok for a decade. 17.7/20, 92/100. 13.8%, $28. Would I buy it? Yes.
Pizzini Rubacuori Sangiovese 2016
Speaking of new labels, the photo-adorned front here is great. Then again, while it’s a new statement with the front label, the direction for this King Valley Sangiovese stays true to Pizzini. Importantly, this has its own style – Brunello light it is not. From the outset it’s quite Australian – there’s a brick dust and caramel secondary character on the nose that feels local. The whole wine is quite developed, which surprised me. Drink up. Charismatic though. Blood, rust, dried red fruit, there’s a line of forest berries but it’s still more earth than fruit. The tannins are authoritative too. The tannins and back end are what brings you back. Lots of drying secondary charms here and undoubted quality, even if it’s a slightly divisive wine.
Best drinking: now, for mine it’s going to look more dried out with more bottle age. 18/20, 93/100. 13.8%, $140. Would I buy it? I like it, and would enjoy a glass. Don’t think I would spend the money on a bottle though.
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