The royalty of Italian wine visited Miami this week, bringing some of that country's rarest and best wines. The group is called Il Grandi Marchi; it's made up of 18 of Italy's top producers, led by Tuscan wine pioneer Piero Antinori.
"We are all highly individualistic, competitors but with a real friendship," said Antinori.
Their wines are individualistic too.
"Our wine is an expression of our soil," says Alberto Chiarlo, who poured a powerful, mineral-scented barbera. "We used to feel inferior to barolo, so we want to make a very special wine."
Barolos, for their part, are trying to soften their image. Based on the inky nebbiolo grape, they have had a reputation as powerfully tannic when young, needing years of aging. That's changing now.
"It's partly because of global warming," said Pio Boffa, of Pio Cesare. "But we also learned to decrease our yield, which makes the grapes ripen earlier."
When Antinori's turn came, he closed his eyes, sipped his 2005 Tignanello, and said: ‘‘This wine has real meaning for me personally, for my company and I think also for Tuscany and Italian wines in general."
He created Tignanello in 1971 as one of the first of what became called Super Tuscan wines -- based on Italy's native sangiovese, but with the then-controversity addition of such non-Italian grapes as cabernet sauvignon.
They quickly became international hits, earning Antinori his place at the head of the Grandi Marchi.
• 2005 Tignanello, by Antinori, Tuscany IGT: aromas and flavors of mulberries and mocha, big, ripe tannins, powerful and smooth, long finish; $90.
• 2003 Biondi Santi Brunello di Montalcino, Tenuta Greppo DOC: pure black plum and espresso aromas and flavors, powerful, concentrated and smooth; $125.
• 2005 Gaja Barbaresco, Piemonte DOCG: Aromas of violets, flavors of black plums and black coffee, light body, big tannins, youthful, closed;; $225.
• 2003 Lungarotti Torgiano Rosso Riserva Rubesco Vigna Monticchio DOCG: pure red raspberry flavors, soft, smooth and concentrated; $70.
• 2004 Mastroberardino Radici Taurasi DOCG: violet aromas, ripe red plum flavors, sweet, very crisp, very young and crisp; $35.
• 2004 Michele Chiarlo La Court Barbera d'Asti Superiore "Nizza'' DOC: aromas and flavors of black cherries and black plums, powerful, concentrated, smooth; $42.
• 2004 Pio Cesare Barolo, Piemonte DOCG: aromas and flavors of red raspberries, cinnamon and mocha, smooth, ripe tannins; $65.
• 2005 Umani Ronchi Cumaro Rosso, Marches DOC: dark purple, light body but concentrated flavors of black cherries and mocha, firm tannin; $35.
• 2006 Alois Lageder Benefizium Porer Pinot Grigio, Alto Adige: full-bodied and full-flavored, with vanilla, caramel, minerals; $25.
• 2003 Brunello "La Fuga," Folonari Tenute DOCG: aromas and flavors of black cherries and milk chocolate; $65.
• 1999 Ca' del Bosco Franciacorta Cuvée Annamaria Clementi: aromas of toasted almonds and herbs, white grapefruit flavors, full-bodied; $80.
• Nonvintage Prosecco Cuvée Extra Dry, Carpenè Malvolti DOC: soft and fruity, with tart lemon/lime flavors, softly sparkling; $16
• 2005 Donnafugata "Mille e una Notte'' Contessa Entellina DOC: light, crisp black plum flavors, big tannins; $80.
• 2006 Jermann Vintage Tunini, Friuli Venezia Giulia (sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, ribolla gialla, malvasia, picolit grapes): floral aroma, spicy, smooth, tart kiwi flavors; $80.
• 2005 Masi Costasera, Veneto: sweet anise aromas and flavors, very concentrated, ripe tannins; $40.
• 2003 Rivera Il Falcone, Castel del Monte Riserva DOC: aromas and flavors of black cherries and black pepper, firm and concentrated; $30.
` • 2004 Tasca d'Almerita Rosso del Conte, Sicily: spicy tart cherry and anise flavors, rich and ripe; $70.
• 2006 Tenuta San Guido Guidalberto, Toscana IGT: very smooth, very powerful mulberry flavors, big, ripe tannins; $50.