Canberra importer finds Italy’s sweet spot

Can a wholesale import business focussed on sweet Italian wine succeed in Australia? Canberra’s Brian and Carol Keil, with Italian based Imogen McNamara, will soon know. With the first shipment of their Pilgrim Wines now in Australia, the Keils paraded their sweeties, and a few dry wines as well, in front of the Canberra trade two weeks ago.

I offer my impressions below. But bear in mind that distribution has barely begun and prices are estimates only, based on list wholesale price. You should send queries about pricing and availability to


Maso Martis Brut Rosé 2009 (Trentino) $90 750ml
A very good, if very young, 100 per cent pinot noir bottle-fermented bubbly rosé, with a strong acid backbone that seems slightly separate from the intense varietal flavour. Distinctive style, but when you can buy 1999 Pol Roger Champagne for around $80, it’s hard to see value in this youngster.

Volpe Pasin Sauvignon 2008 (Colli Orientali del Friuli) $60 750ml
A bright, fresh, intensely flavoured, finely textured sauvignon blanc. It’s pure and varietal but not as in your face as Marlborough styles. $60 seems a lot to pay for sauvignon, especially when you can buy similarly restrained styles from Sancerre (in France’s Loire Valley) for $20–$30.

Russiz Superiore Friulano 2008 (Friuli Venezia) $60 750ml
Made from the friulano grape, also known as sauvignon vert, sauvignonasse and, formerly, as tocai Friulano. The wine’s reminiscent of gewürztraminer in its grapey intensity, viscous texture and firm finish. Idiosyncratic and not to my taste.

Volpe Pinot Grigio (Colli Orientali del Friuli) 2006 $82 750ml
There’s no doubting the intensity of varietal flavour. But it’s marred, in my opinion, by oak flavours that aren’t integrated with the fruit. It reminded me of poorly oaked wines we made in Australia thirty years ago, before our vignerons learned to ferment (not just mature) whites in oak barrels.

Palari Faro 2006 (Sicily) $117 750ml
Did I miss something? Let’s, euphemistically, call this much-awarded red “rustic”.

Marco Donati Sangue di Drago 2007 (Trentino) $82 750ml
Made from old teroldego vines (the variety shares a parent with shiraz), this unique wine is bright, crimson rimmed and brimming with succulent, jube-like aromas and flavours. The palate’s velvet textured with fine, bone-dry tannins.

Dominio di Bagnoli Friularo Vendemmia Tardiva 2001 (Veneto) $81 500ml
Late picked friularo grapes give this red particularly ripe fruit flavours that jut through the high acid and austere tannins. It’s idiosyncratic and ageing well but I suspect uninvited microbial guests may be behind the accompanying “rustic” notes.


Maso Martis Moscato Rosa 2008 (Trentino) $94 375ml
Who can resist muscat – especially a limpid, delicately pink, penetratingly musky, aromatic luscious one like this. Simply delicious.

Bonotto delle Tezze Raboso Passito 2007 (Veneto) $84 500ml
The Bonotto family’s sweet red offers a tour de force of deep purple colours and sweet-and-sour juicy, fruity, stalky flavours. It’s made from late picked air-dried grapes and matured for two years in small oak barrels.

Dominio di Bagnoli Friularo Passito 2001 (Veneto) $82 750ml
Proprietor Dr Borletti makes his passito from friularo grapes dried in the estate’s grainary. The wine is matured in oak barrels for three years and emerges intensely raisin like and sweet, lifted by volatile acidity (aka vinegar – a minor but useful component of all wines).  But underlying the seductive sweetness are the very dry, grippy, firm, red-wine tannins.

Le Salette Recioto della Valpolicella 2005 (Veneto) $101 500ml
This wine could’ve been a blend of very ripe, sweet black cherries laced with balsamic vinegar – complex and fascinating but way out on the vinegar limb. It certainly stretches the concept of wine to the limits and tests the boundary between wine and vinegar – intense, sweet fruitiness being the flux.

Trabucchi Recioto della Valpolicella 2005 (Veneto) $129
Like the Le Salette wine above, the flavours resemble super ripe, sweet black cherries; but there’s little balsamic in this recioto; instead very dry, persistent, red-wine tannins acting as a foil to the plush, sweet fruit. A wonderful and distinctive drink.

Tramin Gewurztraminer 2007 (Alto Adige) $80 375ml
This is a richly textured but very fine, luscious, barrel-aged, late-picked gewürztraminer, that avoids the heaviness and hardness often associated with the variety.
Tramin Gewurztraminer Terminum Vendemmia Tardiva 2006 (Alto Adige) $130 375ml
Sample cork tainted; unable to rate. Dear Italians, wake up to screw cap.


Le Salette Passito Cesare 2005 (Veneto) $87 500ml
This is made from dried malvasia and garganega grapes and aged in oak for twenty months. Presumably this oxidative process explains the wine’s slightly bronzed colour and touch of sherry-like tang overlying the intensely sweet, dried-fruit flavours.

Suavia Recioto di Soave Acinatum 2005 (Veneto) $86
This beautiful, fine, soft wine is made from dried garganega grapes, fermented and matured in oak barrels. The shimmering lemon-gold colour belies its age and fit with its lively, luscious, lovely apricot-like flavours.

Trabucchi Recioto di Soave 2005 (Veneto) $110 500ml
This another glorious recioto di Soave, this time fermented in steel tanks and matured in oak. Luscious, apricot flavours are at the core, but there’s a beautiful lift and buoyancy and a lively, fresh acidity drying out the finish.

Marco Cecchini Picolit 2006 (Friuli-Venezia-Guilia) $110 500ml
A comparatively dull wine after the Soaves, presentable and luscious with flavours reminiscent of honeycomb; but, alas, didn’t push our buttons.

Marco Cecchini Verlit 2006 (Friuli-Venezia-Guilia) $85 500ml
This is made from dried verduzzo grapes fermented and matured in oak barrels ¬– a winemaking regime that adds a slightly varnishy, sherry-like complexity to the concentrated, luscious sweet fruit flavours.

Cantine Viola Moscato di Saracena 2007 (Sardinia) $122 500ml
What an extraordinary wine – it’s a golden-amber colour; the aroma is high-toned and penetrating with subtle, underlying caramel notes. The palate is lively ¬– the plush, sweet, caramel and toffee flavours tempered by an intense, acidic backbone. It’s made from gently heated, crushed malvasia and guarnaccia grapes, with slowly-dried moscato grapes added.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2010