The first in an occasional series of companies with a focus on Italian wine.
If there’s one word that has no translation at Dalla Terra, an Italian-focused wine importer, it’s “boredom.” Actually, in Italian, that would be la noia, but it’s a phrase rarely spoken in the offices of this importer of wines from regions large and small, well known and under the radar.
“Italy is known for having a wealth of indigenous grapes—many of them still unknown even to Italians” says Scott Ades, president of the company, adding that such a sense of discovery keeps things exciting—and surprising.
As Italy’s more popular regions become less approachable, either by price or supply, areas previously overlooked and underappreciated are gaining new ground and bringing new sensibilities to the market. This is Dalla Terra’s prime playing field. The importer represents 24 wineries in 12 of Italy’s 20 major wine-producing regions. There is no number to attach to the diversity of styles, terroirs and philosophies represented in the portfolio.
“We have a very stable portfolio—our philosophy is to have one winery from an area,” Ades says. “So we are very careful about what producer we select and we work with them for year to ensure their supply and quality is consistent, and they are a fit.
He added, “We get married to our wineries and we really don’t like to get divorce. We are monogamous by region.”
Translated as “of the earth,” Dalla Terra’s portfolio is just that: estate-based family wineries—“people who have generational continuity.” They also are stewards of their territories, with many practicing organic or biodynamic agriculture by default. The company includes boutique wineries with smaller productions that typically and unusually represent a territory, and larger producers with up to two million bottles per year. Most represented producers average around 300,000-400,000 bottles per year–a scale that is still manageable and personal but also ensures a continuity of supply. Dalla Terra acts as both a direct importer and a national agent.
The company’s Italian expertise is anchored on founder Brian Larky’s five-year stint as a winemaker in Franciacorta following an enology education at UC-Davis and roles at Far Niente and Domaine Chandon in Napa. Ades, a former investment banker, was chief operating officer at Winebow, a national importer, before coming to Dalla Terra six years ago. They are supported by a team of 11 regional managers and a professional admin staff.
The company does much of its sourcing by visiting, of course, but also using its on-the-ground network of producers and their peers in Italy, tapping into like-minded producers. “We try to keep a tight portfolio and don’t have room for losers” Ades says, so using reliable sources in addition to their own intel, has proved a successful method resulting in a portfolio of quality-driven wines with approachable price points.
“The price-quality ratio in these regions—the wine you get in the glass for the price you pay—is very surprising, especially from southern Italy,” Ades says. He cites Campania, Puglia and Sicily as regions to watch and in the north, Valtellina, a small mountainous region in Lombardy, near the Swiss border.
In the end, he says, “There something in Italy for everyone to love.”
In no particular order, here are a few selects I sampled from the portfolio:
Cleto Chiarli “Amabile” Centenario Lambrusco Grasparodda di Castelvetro DOC. A bright red-fruited fizz with violet floral and black pepper notes in an off-dry style . The sister wine, “Vigneto Cialdini,” shows a more acid-driven and a meatier (think bacon!) profile. Great with Korean BBQ.
Alois Lageder Schiava (2019) Alto Adige is a super-fresh wine with a good mineral bite and plenty of bright and lively sour cherry, wild raspberry. Racy and sharp. Drink chilled. A sister white, “Porer” Pinot Grigio, is slightly pink tinged with white flower aromas, Rich and full, round and textured and featuring stone fruit, and not your usual PG, this one is delicious and substantial.
Inama “Vigniti de Carbonare” Soave Classico DOC (2017). Made by a pair of brothers in the volcanic soils of Soave, this is a round and mouth-filling wine bursting with yellow apples, lemon merangue and a hint of anise. Slightly waxy, very delicious. The sister “Vigneti di Foscarino” wine from the same year is similar in style, but made from old vines, is deeper and richer in fruit with hazelnut tones.
Vietti Colli Tortonesi Derthona Timorasso (2018). A prime example of what’s old is new again in Italy. An almost-extinct grape from Piedmont, Timorasso is now enjoying a renaissance. This sample from a venerated producer showed lots of lime blossom on the nose, followed into the palate where it met up with a chalky/limestone minerality. Clean and direct, reminds me of a very sharp linear Chenin Blanc. Unusual and delicious.
La Valentina Pecorino (2019), Pecorino Colline Pescaresi IGT Marche. From the Spoltore commune in Abruzzo’s Pescara province, this is a wine typical of what you find off the beaten path in eastern Italy: uber-local, terroir driven, authentic and not replicated anywhere else. This sample has a cheese rind-umami quality to it complemented by ripe yellow apples, yellow plum and quince, then its medium body is all herbal, savory, with tingly green bitters and a tart nut skin and mouthwatering acid.
Garafoli “Macrina” (2019) Verdecchio dei Castello di Jesi Classico Superiore. A bit of creamy lees, beeswax and a rich hazelnut tone. Good jolt of fresh acid, slightly bitter nut skin on the finish, More botanic and savory than fruit but has some yellow pear and nectarine. Mineral, citrus, almond, no oak. Sustainably farmed. Perfect with grilled tuna, salad Niçoise and Dijon dressing
Tenuta Capofaro Tasca “Didyme” (2018) Salina IGT Malvasia. White floral, sweet ripe tropical fruits: pineapple, guava and some white peach. A bit of some yogurt/lactic creaminess. Like most Italian wines, needs food to appreciate, and a cool seafood salad would be good with this one. Certified sustainable.
Tasca D’Almerita Fondazione Whitaker “Mozia” (2018) Grillo, Sicilia DOC. Grillo is one of the most underrated whites and this one is a good example of why you should discover it. White florals and crisp minerality, balance with round fruit in the mouth. Slightly saline, making it perfect for seafood but good on its own with fried calamari or crispy appetizers like mini baked spanakopita.
Aia Vecchia Vermentino (2019) Toscana. A silvery white wine that really shines on the palate with lime zest, white flowers menthol and an undertone of garden vegetables. A touch of honey on the finish.