When we look closely at the performance of non-French wines in iDealwine’s auctions, Italy undeniably stands out, representing more than half of the wines sold. This overrepresentation is unsurprising – our transalpine neighbours were world leaders in wine production in 2018 – and interest in Italian wines hasn’t ceased to grow, driven by an increasingly international clientele at our auctions.
While the history of winemaking in Italy hails back to Antiquity, for a long time it was made primarily for family or local consumption. A trend began to appear from the 1990s of producers distributing their wines more widely. Leaps in quality by many winemakers drastically increased the aging potential of wines, in turn creating growing interest from wine lovers looking for something new.
In the past decade especially, Italy has established a reputation as one of the world’s fine wine powerhouses. A combination of an extraordinarily rich viticultural history, legendary producers throughout the peninsula, an unparalleled diversity of indigenous grape varieties (350 officially recognized; in reality many more), and many age-worthy productions make this wine-producing nation a fine wine collector’s dream.
Italian wines at auction: highest-priced lots
Barolo, “king of wines, wine of kings”
Unsurprisingly, Piedmont makes up the vast majority of our best-selling domains and wines at auction. Bordering the south of France, Piedmont’s hills, propitious to morning fog, are the preferred growing place of Nebbiolo, a grape variety of rare elegance. Its most stunning expressions – characterized by a hauntingly beautiful bouquet and powerful structure – are found in the Barolo appellation. Of the 40 highest priced lots of Italian wines sold at auction last year, half came from this appellation spanning solely 2,000 hectares. And for good reason, these wines are perfectly suitable for extremely long aging thanks to their 18-month élevage in oak barrels. They are the perfect example of interest in wines from the Italian peninsula, starting with those from Giuseppe Rinaldi, from whom almost one hundred wines were auctioned for over €20,000. Rinaldi’s traditional winemaking practices – completely without concession to current fashion – have elevated his releases to amongst the most revered in the Langhe.
The most expensive wine of the year was a magnum of 1990 Barolo from Bruno Giacosa – another profoundly great winemaker whose achievements transcend not only Piedmont but all of Italy – which went for €2,006, whereas the average price of other wines from the appellation peaks at €403. Angelo Gaja, Giacomo Conterno and Roagna are three other highly interesting and increasingly coveted producers to look out for. The dominance of Piedmont wines in the Italian auction market shows that the frequent comparisons with France’s Burgundy don’t end with the delicacy of the grape variety or the elegance of its wines: prices for the finest offerings from Barolo and Barbaresco are beginning to reach the heights of Burgundy.
Great opportunities throughout Italy
It’s not only Piedmont in the limelight: all of Italy’s regions have much to offer and are garnering attention from wine lovers with a taste for variety. Beginning with Tuscany and its Super-Tuscan wines, blends of local Sangiovese and Bordeaux grape varieties. These are the most prestigious, and therefore expensive, wines in the region, undoubtedly because of their remarkable quality and aging potential. The highest priced bottle last year was a magnum of 2011 Sassicaia from the iconic Tenuta San Guido, auctioned for €413. Given the soaring achievement of the 2015 and 2016 vintages – widely considered as benchmarks for all Italian wine – all releases will benefit from the critical acclaim the wine is currently enjoying. Piero Antinori, another respected Tuscan name, saw his renowned Solaia reach €158 in the 1991 vintage. Other Super-Tuscan wines such as Ornellaia and Masseto are also thoroughly worth seeking out.
Verona in the Veneto region produces stunning Amarone. Its unique method of production and simply inimitable style mean that this wine is loved by wine enthusiasts the world over. Wines from Giuseppe Quintarelli are increasingly sought after, with some bottles selling for €268.
It’s also worth noting the dramatic entrance of star Sicilian natural winemaker, Arianna Occhipinti, who showcases the island’s grape varieties Nero d’Avola and Frappato. Over the course of 2019, no fewer than 145 bottles of her elegant, expressive and thrilling wines were auctioned.
Further north, in the Abruzzo region, cult producers such as the eminent Emidio Pepe and mysterious Valentini have definitively rewritten the reputation of Abbruzese wine. Their releases – which showcase diverse interpretations of the regional Montepulciano d’Abruzzo – represent some of the Italy’s most characterful, age-worthy wines. It’s hard to believe that in the 1960s, Emidio Pepe had to travel to Europe and New York to create an international market for Montepulciano and Trebbiano, when one considers how admired and actively sought after his wines are today.
Other widely admired names in the exciting, fast-moving world of natural winemaking include the inimitable Elisabetta Foradori in Trentino-Alto-Adige, and Stanko Radikon and Joško Gravner in Friuli, all three pioneers of amphora vinification and producers on the vanguard of an increasingly dynamic movement. Given the difficulty of finding mature vintages of such small productions, collectors look to the auction market and are prepared to pay ever higher sums for a taste of these rare pearls.
While for years the majority of wines sold on iDealwine have been French, this is simply because our wines have always been sourced from French cellars – we look forward to our catalogues becoming more diverse in the future. While for many years, Italian wines suffered from comparison with their French equivalents, the finest Italian releases can easily stand their own. From the most iconic, revered names to talented young producers contributing to the revival of the country’s incredibly diverse terroirs, il bel paese is enjoying a golden era for its fine wines.
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