Honoring the Legacy of Ezio Rivella and his pivotal role in Italian winemaking – Live from Vinitaly 2024

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Honoring the Legacy of Ezio Rivella and his pivotal role in Italian winemaking – Live from Vinitaly 2024

Cavaliere del Lavoro Ezio Rivella was the first oenologist-manager in Italian wine and he is considered one of the fathers of modern winemaking in Italy. He passed away in January 2024 at the age of 90, having been the president of the Italian Wine Technicians Association, the first Italian leader of the World Association of Oenologists, the founder of the Oenological Studies Center, the president of the National DOC Wines Committee of the Ministry of Agriculture, the vice president of the International Office of the Vine and Wine in Paris and the head of the Wine Union – Italian Confederation of Vine and Wine. This was an emotional session, with all five speakers – Daniele Cernilli (Doctor Wine), Riccardo Cotarella (President of Assoenologi), Enrico Viglierchio and Rodolfo Maralli (Banfi), and Gianpiero Scavino (Bel Sit Winery) -passionately and respectfully recalling Rivella’s impact on their careers and wineries.

Viglierchio and Maralli, representing Castello Banfi, opened the discussion with their stories of Ezio Rivella reaching out to the Mariani-May family while they were still making Lambrusco for Riunite in the 1970s. Rivella convinced the Italian-American brothers to make a historically large investment in Brunello di Montalcino, eventually creating one of the leading companies in Italian wine. Rivella led the Mariani-Mays to purchase Poggio alle Mura, on high ground at Montalcino, eventually planting over 800 hectares of vines.

Daniele Cernilli remarked, “At the beginning of Banfi’s Brunello, I remember no one knew what they were doing. ‘Americans? What are they doing here? Why is Rivella working with them?’” Rivella nurtured a vast body of work on the history and evolution of Sangiovese in the territory, with excellent results. Maralli said, ”Before and after Brunello, before and after Ezio Rivella, these two periods are easy to define. Before, the wine had potential all based on location. After Rivella, we had the first SuperTuscan of Montalcino.”  Viglierchio added, “He believed in infinite study to best understand our varieties and our territory.

Cotarella talked about his experience of Rivella’s influence and being a young man, watching Rivella meet renowned oenologist Giacomo Tachis. Cotarella recounted, “Rivella was a magician for a cantina. He taught people how to grow and how to break into the market. He was an incredible technician and, as a manager, he was completely attentive to the commercial market. He spoke ‘Roman’ – he would ask, ‘Have you made a budget? Have you checked the market?’ Today, I try to be as passionate as he was.” 

The tasting included 3 Barbera d’Asti wines from Bel Sit, Rivella’s family winery for 6 generations in Castagnole Lanze in Piemonte and 3 from Castello Banfi, all six wines being from historic vintages selected by the speakers. Presenting the Bel Sit wines was Gianpiero Scavino, who now co-owns Bel Sit with his brother.

The first wine was Barbera d’Asti DOCG Superiore “Sichivej” 2001, a deep garnet wine with a nose of cognac, brandy and cigar box, with balsamic herbs lifting the character. Surprisingly smooth and retaining a touch of acidity, the wine tasted of black cherries soaked in alcohol, with notes of vanilla and walnut shell, like an old-school, wintery fruit and nut loaf.

Number two was Barbera d’Asti DOCG Superiore “Sichivej” 2003, deep ruby in color with a garnet rim, the wine was savory, meaty and caramelised, with notes of well-cooked ripe red cherry jam and licorice. Almost Port or Recioto in character but without the residual sugar, the wine was dry with smooth, velvety tannins.

Wine number three was Barbera d’Asti DOCG Superiore “Sichivej” 2015, a deep intense ruby in color, with a complex nose of burnt sugar, creme caramel, amarena cherry and licorice and a touch of eucalyptus. Good acidity, very well-balanced, smooth fine tannins and a warm soothing character all worked together to make this a very pleasant meditation wine.  

The Banfi wines began with Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 1985, a sheer style of ruby red with notes of caramelised blood orange peel and sweet baking spices.   The wine recalled torrone, with hints of vanilla and toasted nuts. A strong acidic spine and very silky tannins made this wine what we described as “SO GOOD” in our notes. 

May 21, 2024
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