Although published in 1990 and out-of-print, Burton Anderson’s The Wine Atlas of Italy still offers some of the most insightful observations on Italian wine to be found anywhere. Almost 30 years ago his take on Azienda Agricola Comincioli was that they were an “unsung producer of some of the most consistently impressive” wines in Riviera del Garda — an agricultural zone on the glacial morainic slopes of Lake Garda, known mainly to locals and the cosmopolitan crowd of tourists that flock to this region, one of Italy’s most breathtakingly beautiful. Not much has changed for Comincioli since Burton wrote those words. They are still producing some of the most charming wines in the northeast of Italy to little fanfare from mainstream wine pundits. The good news for wine lovers is that these charming wines are a superb value.
Along with his wife Elisabetta, and sons Roberto and Andrea, 13th generation farmer Gianfranco Comincioli presides over 34 acres of vineyard and 64 acres of olive groves. Indeed, it is for the amazing (if somewhat controversial) olive oils for which Comincioli is most well-known. But the wines are made with the same painstaking care as the oil — soaked in a philosophy based on an unwavering respect for traditions and the environment. Gianfranco and family are dedicated to not only preserving their region’s indigenous grape varieties but to use them to produce wines of the utmost quality.
The farm lies in the Valtènesi sub-zone, the most venerated of the district. Valtènesi is distinguished by superior exposure to the sun and moderating breezes from the lake. For context, Comincioli’s vineyards are almost directly across the lake from Valpolicella, where Italy’s famous Amarone is produced. In fact, many of the same techniques for producing Valpolicella are used at Comincioli.
Harvesting the fruit takes place exclusively by hand, using small crates to avoid stress and prevent squashing of the grapes. Hand-sorting is done to remove any inferior fruit. There are four harvests in a single vintage. The first harvest, from the oldest vines, is directed at grapes destined for raisining (drying the grapes before vinification to concentrate the fruit’s sugars and flavors). Subsequent harvests are done on the basis of ripeness, the age of the vines, and the altitude of the vineyard. Work in the cellar is just as meticulous, with concerted effort to avoid any unwanted oxidative effects. The result is a group of unique wines that express both sense of place and purity.
Special prices based on purchase of 6-pack (mix-and-match)
~$22 Comincioli “Riviera” (Riviera del Garda DOC 2014) RED
Drinking at its peak right now, the 2014 cuvée “Riviera” is based on a little over half the native Groppello variety with the remainder a blend of Sangiovese, Marzemino, and Barbera. The wine is aged in stainless steel tanks and oak casks. Full of juicy red and black berries with intoxicating floral and spice aromatics, it’s reminiscent of the Valpolicella Ripasso from the other side of Lake Garda but with a vibe all its own. It’s ideal balance will pair beautifully with most classic Italian pasta dishes.
~$38 Comincioli “Gropél” (Riviera del Garda DOC 2015) RED
A celebration of the native grape variety Groppello rounded out with very small amounts of Sangiovese, Marzemino, and Barbera. A portion of the wine is made in the “appassimento” style of drying the grapes before vinification to concentrate the fruit’s sugars and flavors. It is then aged in stainless steel tanks and oak casks. “Gropél” is a unique red wine that delivers the weight, textures, and concentration of ripe fruit that Amarone lovers cherish, with the aromatics and flavors exclusive of Valtènesi.
~$24 Comincioli “Perlì” (Vino Bianco 2017) WHITE
The only reason this elegant white is declassified into the humble status of Vino Bianco is because Gianfranco has produced it using only the local indigenous varieties of Trebbiano Valtènesi and Erbamat, both grapes that are not allowed under DOC regulations but were introduced from obscurity into the Comincioli vineyards 30 years ago. One sip of its concentrated fruit and bracing minerality is enough to prove its bona fides as a wine of distinction and longevity. All the citrus, floral, and autumn meadow aromatics will curl your eyebrows. It’s style and grace are reminiscent of the best in Lugana, on the southern shore of Lake Garda. Certainly fans of Sancerre will be impressed.
~$58 Comincioli “Suler” (Riviera del Garda DOC 2011) RED
Valpolicella is on the other side of Lake Garda from Comincioli and is world famous for the production of Amarone in the “appassimento” style. This regional style is uniquely conveyed in the cuvée “Suler.” A mix of Sangiovese, Marzemino, Groppello, and Barbera grapes from Comincioli’s oldest vineyards (40 to 90 years old) are placed in shallow, ventilated crates for a period of 20-30 days before vinification. After extensive aging in stainless steel tanks, oak casks, and finally in the bottle, “Suler” delivers full-bodied elegance.