Empson: A Very Long Love Affair with Italian Wine

CEO Tara Empson

New Zealand born rugby player Neil Empson started his career by buying and selling Ferraris, including the spectacular 1964 Ferrari 275 GTB (see below), which raced in the 1966 Monte Carlo Rally.  But 52 years ago he and his wife Maria made the transition from fast cars to Italian wine by launching Empson Selections and, as they say, went off to the races.  They’ve had great success, and since 2018 their daughter Tara is taking the business to the next level. We’ve only met Neil a couple of times, most recently at Vinitaly in Verona while working on our Brunello di Montalcino report. However, sharing the Empson’s fondness for fast cars and Italian wine, we feel a special bond with this family. Our reviews of several wines imported by Empson to the US can be found below.

The Empsons not only worked as an Italian export company  (later with import companies in the US in 1991 and Canada), they also invested in Italian wineries.  In 1977 they purchased Monte Antico and in 1988 the Chianti producer Toscolo. They also developed and continue a long-term relationships with with star enologist Franco Bernabei (shown here with Neil a few years ago). With their daughter Tara now at the helm, Empson continues to expand its horizons to Sardinia with Jankara Winery and recently to Oregon and New Zealand.

We recently visited the headquarters of Empson USA to talk about the business and to taste a selection of its impressive portfolio. Our review of the wines follow.  Overall, the Empson portfolio is first class. It offers a variety of top quality wines from many of Italy’s finest producers. The reviews of the Chianti Classicos that Empson brings into the US will be included in our upcoming report on Chianti Classico Revisited.

Sparkling Wine

Ferghettina 2019 Saten Brut Franciacorta  93  Pale yellow. This 100% Chardonnay from the Franciacorta region is an elegant sparkler made from estate fruit. It has an abundant mousse, scents of pear and fresh bread, and a layered, richly flavored, balanced palate with a dry finish. The Saten wines are under lower pressure than Champagne and have a softer, more silky texture as a result. Long, rich finish. 12.5% alc. Roberto Gatti founded Ferghettina in 1991.

White & Rosé Wines

Bucci 2022 Verdicchio Classico Superiore dei Castelli di Jesi 92 Light-medium yellow straw. Bouquet of orchard fruit and green citrus mirrored on the palate. Excellent volume in the mouth with a broad, round mouth feel. Finishes with good extract and a sense of minerality. Made from organically cultivated 45-year-old vines grown in calcareous clay soils, fermented in stainless steel and matured in large French and Slavonian oak casks. The winemaker is Gianni Gasperi.

Tenuta Montecchiesi 2022 Vermentino Chardonnay Toscana IGT 90  Sourced from vineyards in the Cortona area, this Vermentino based blend is herbal in character. Orchard fruit, rosemary and other herbs show on the nose. The palate reveals good volume and refreshing acidity, again with an herbal accent. A blend of 60% Vermentino and 40% Chardonnay fermented and aged in stainless steel. 13% alc.

Bortoluzzi 2022 Sauvignon Friuli-Venezia Giulia 91 Hand harvested, 100% Sauvignon Blanc from 15-year-old vineyards close to the Gradisca d’Isonzo. Opens with scents of fresh mown grass, sage and apple. Full and generous in the mouth with additional notes of passion fruit and citrus. Fermented and aged in stainless steel. Super value! pH 3.3, 12.5% alc. The winemaker is Giovanni Bortoluzzi.

Jankara 2022 Vermentino di Gallura Superiore DOCG Sardinia 93 Light yellow straw with scents of blanched almonds, lemon and a hint of tropical fruit. Beautifully textured with silky mouth feel. The palate shows good concentration of citrus and minerals along with a faint petrol note. Long, rich finish. Fermented and aged in stainless steel. 13.5% alc. The winemaker is Gianni Menotti.

Fantini 2022 Calalenta Rosé Abruzzo 91 From the Terre di Chieti in southern Abruzzo comes this Provence style rosé made of 100% Merlot. It’s pale pink in color with red berry aromas and flavors complemented by light herbal notes. An easy drinking rosé that’s pleasant by itself or accompanied by light fare. All free run juice fermented and aged in stainless steel. pH 3.39, 13.5% alc. The winemaker is Dennis Verdecchia.

Red Wines

Pietradolce 2021 Etna Rosso  91 This alberello (bush vine) trained, single vineyard, 100% Nerello Mascalese is grown on Mount Etna near the town of Castiglione di Sicilia. Light red in color, it reveals red cherry and earthy, mushroom like notes on the nose. In the mouth, it’s broad, silky and finely textured. The flavors tend towards riper berry and cherry fruit with an earthy hint of tomato leaf. The finish is long and fine with accessible tannins. Macerated and fermented in concrete tank, followed by aging in fine-grained, French oak. 14% alc. The winemaker is Carlo Ferrini.

Marcarini 2018 Barolo La Serra DOCG 94  Light red color. This is a beautiful Barolo from the Marcarini family’s 3.5 ha La Serra vineyard. It reveals a dried cherry, rose petal, and underbrush bouquet.  The mouth feel is silky with multiple layers of flavors.   A focused, refined wine with a very long, extract-rich finish. Fermented in stainless steel and concrete followed by 24 months in Slavonian oak casks of 25-30 hl. 14% alc. The winemaker is Valter Vonetti.

Marchesi Pancrazi 2018 Pinot Nero Villa di Bagnolo Toscana IGT 92  Medium red fading to the rim. An Italian Pinot Noir showing real varietal character. The fruit is plum and cherry with complementary underbrush, earth and tea-like notes with a hint of balsamic. Finishes with firm tannins. Sourced from estate vineyards at the bottom of Monte Ferrato. Fermented in 30 hl botti followed by 18 months in barriques. 13% alc. The winemaker is Niccolò D’Afflitto.

Cresta 2019 Fontalpino Chianti Classico (Castelnuovo Berardenga) 93 Medium ruby red. This all Sangiovese Chianti Classico sourced from the warmer area of Castelnuovo Berardenga offers real drinking pleasure. Fresh and dried red cherry with light earthy notes show on the nose and palate, and the finish is long and inviting. A particularly fresh, pure and easy drinking, medium weight Chianti Classico. Fermented in stainless steel and aged one year in oak. 13.5% alc.

Livernano 2021 Chianti Classico (Radda in Chianti) 91 Medium ruby red. Attractive red berry aromas and flavors with a smoothly textured, soft, round palate. Medium flavor concentration with firm, mouthwatering acidity.

Livernano 2015 Chianti Classico Riserva (Radda in Chianti) 93 Multifaceted bouquet of dark fruit, earth and a hint of mushroom. A nicely balanced wine, round and full in the mouth with good tannic grip. A mature, earthy wine that’s ready to drink now. If you see this on your local shop’s shelf, do yourself a favor and buy it!

Toscolo 2019 Chianti Classico 90  Medium dark ruby. This blend of 95% Sangiovese and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon reveals red cherry and a hint of smoky oak on the nose. The mouth feel is suave with medium concentration of  herbal-accented red fruit on the palate finishing with firm but not aggressive tannins. An easy drinking Sangiovese. Sourced from vines aged 10-30 years grown in calcareous clay soils and matured 12 months in barriques. 13% alc.

Conti Costanti 2018 Brunello di Montalcino 95 Medium ruby red in color, the Costanti Brunello di Montalcino reveals a perfumed bouquet of dried cherry and earth. Beautifully silky in texture, this is a refined Brunello with concentrated, fresh red fruit flavors and a very long, focused finish.  Excellent now but will be even better with more time in the cellar. With vineyards at Colle al Matrichese just east of the commune of Montalcino, the Constanti family was among the early pioneers of Brunello.  The winemaker is Vittorio Fiore.

Dal Cero 2016 Amarone della Valpolicella  94 This is a beautiful example of Amarone, beginning with a spicy, rich nose of fruit cake and Port-like notes.  Silky on the rich, deeply flavored palate, yet firmly tannic on the finish.  The perfect wine for Thanksgiving. A blend of 60% Corvina, 30% Rondinella, and 10% Molinara Veneto, hand harvested, dried for 2+ months, and matured 48 months in oak botti and 20 hl French oak tonneaux.  16% alc. .


Source : https://i-winereview.com/blog/index.php/2024/06/12/empson-a-very-long-love-affair-with-italian-wine/