Of all the wines we source from outside France, Italian cuvées are undoubtedly the most prolific, making up over half of the non-French bottles taken home by enthusiasts around the world. Here, we’ll look at the market trends we’ve observed over the past year and point out some of the best performing signatures from the bel paese.
Italy’s winemaking roots run deep, and the nature of the peninsula’s wine production has evolved over time. Whilst it has been close to the hearts of impassioned inhabitants since the age of Antiquity, global success for the country’s cuvées dates from around the 1990s, when producers began to proudly distribute their wine more widely. Three decades later, 2019 was yet another year that saw Italy placed top in the world in terms of volume of wine made, reaching a total of 47.5 million hectolitres. It should be no surprise to hear, then, that Italy continues to build a superb reputation for an international clientele. With its exceptional producers, rich heritage, and vast variety of grapes, this country is a veritable goldmine for collectors of fine wine.
Italian wines at auction: top-priced lots
Barolo’s reign continues
Outshining its neighbours in our results for Italian wine sales is the Barolo appellation, dominating the top 10 and making up 50% of the top 30. Located in the Piedmont region, just beyond France’s southern border, these misty heights are home to the Nebbiolo grape, which is crafted into powerful cuvées with stunning aromatic complexity. These wines can be aged for an incredibly long time in the cellar and they mature beautifully, hence why they are especially coveted. Once again, a cuvée by Bruno Giacosa came out on top in terms of selling price, beating last year’s record Italian bottle by over a thousand euros.
Even though the Barolo appellation’s reign isn’t, in itself, a new trend, what has emerged this year is more variety of producers featured in the top results. Whilst the highly renowned Giuseppe Rinaldi remains our top domain in terms of overall sales, and still appears in the top 10 lots with an excellent three-bottle lot of 1996 Cannubi San Lorenzo Ravera cuvée which sold for €1,830 (€610 per bottle), we see that other Piedmont signatures have overtaken. Domain Giacomo Conterno has been run for over a century with a pioneering impulse and a strong sense of identity; a good example of an estate drawing increasing interest for the Piedmont region at auction. Similarly, names like Roagna, Cappellano, Mascarello, and Vietti performed really well, proudly flying the flag for the Langhe and its exceptional offerings. As we can see, enthusiasts are developing a real sensibility for the delicate and gently vinified style of Barolo wines. Sometimes a comparison is made between the Piedmont region and France’s prestigious Burgundy, and 2020’s auction results confirm that such a comparison is becoming just as pertinent in terms of the prices attained. From a selling perspective, we put a private collection up for auction last year that was bursting with Piedmont bottles, especially those from the old Barolo tradition. The triumphant results recorded demonstrate a real thirst on the part of enthusiasts for rare wines and collectors’ cuvées.
Tuscany taking off
Piedmont might well be the star of the show, but we would be mistaken to present this transalpine region as the sole source of Italian excellence. Further south, we find the rolling hills of Tuscany, where the mid-20th century innovation of blending native grapes with Bordeaux varietals gave rise to the ‘Super-Tuscan’ phenomenon. Whilst this denomination is not official, born of producers’ desires to distinguish their cuvées from table wines, interest in these wines has not faltered. This is proven by the region’s rise in our top ranking, with Tuscan producers taking third and fourth place. The Brunello di Montalcino cuvée from Soldera’s Case Basse is made from the region’s classic Sangiovese grape and is aged for almost three years in oak. A bottle of the 1990 vintage went under the hammer for an impressive €1,351. Then, just brushing against the 1k threshold at €992 is Tenuta dell’Ornellaia’s 2001 Masseto cuvée, a 100% Merlot has always reached far higher prices than the estate’s eponymous cuvée, with the domain going as far as to start producing the two totally separately. When we look at Tuscany’s progress from 2019 to 2020, this is a region tending towards dynamic developments, and other excellent domains to look out for include Tenuta Greppo (Biondi Santi), Tenuta San Guido, Cerbaiona, and Montevertine.
Outstanding names elsewhere
Even though Veneto appears only a couple of times in our top results of 2020, the few names featured make a real impression. This is a region known for its production of Amarone della Valpolicella, a wine made using traditional appassimento methods unique to this part of the world. Renowned for masterful Amarone cuvées matured for up to ten years in oak is Giuseppe Quintarelli, whose 2007 vintage in magnum format sold for €921. Zyme is another producer known for practicing this age-old craft, hence the selling of a 2001 vintage for €282. These results show a relatively niche but strong interest in fine wines with a regional speciality.
Finally, let’s look to the island of Sicily, which is a hothouse for experimental production and vignerons with a strong sense of viticultural philosophy. Frank Cornelissen has been a pioneer in the region of Mount Etna, an area formerly very little explored for its vine growing capacities. Always striving to craft profound, territorial wines, Cornelissen continues to perform well at auction, with a two-bottle lot of the Magma cuvée reaching a hammer price of €540 last year. Arianna Occhipinti is another Sicilian star. She is committed to biodiversity and puts native varietals – especially Frappato and Nero d’Avola – at the heart of her work. Sicily is perhaps the most striking example of how an appreciation for ancestral knowledge can be artfully combined with a nature-focused, even eco-friendly, philosophy that has not stopped gaining traction in recent years. Whilst these wines don’t (yet) attain the heights of the likes of Piedmont, indications would suggest that they are going from strength to strength on the auction market.
All in all, the performance of wines from Italy at auction has continued on its strong, upward trajectory. As time goes on, we can see that more producers are making their way into our top results as we expand our offer of fine Italian cuvées, and a few more regions are finding favour with enthusiasts. Whilst we may compare this performance to that of their French counterparts – especially as French wine still makes up the vast majority of our catalogues – it’s clear to see that many of these producers can hold their own. Mature vintages have a monopoly over the top spots for now, but these classic cuvées are rubbing shoulders increasingly often with up-and-coming domains that are just as worthy of your attention.
If you have some fine Italian wine in your cellar, don’t hesitate to get in touch! iDealwine offers free estimates as part of our bespoke selling service.