Wine Review: Oasi degli Angeli, “Kurni” Marche Rosso IGT 2008

A few nights ago, I was in Milan (Italy) and I went to dinner with a friend of mine to an excellent restaurant that I will review in a future post.

Beside eating wonderfully, my friend and I decided to treat ourselves to a very special Italian red wine that I had noticed on the wine list, had never had before but had heard and read excellent things about: the fabled, divisive, extremely rare to find Oasi degli Angeli, “Kurni” Marche Rosso IGT ($100) from the Marche region.

The Bottom Line

Overall, the Kurni is a great wine and a very special one, one which in my view does not leave whoever is fortunate enough to get to taste it indifferent: it is a wine that forces you to pick a side, either you like its style or you do not. Personally, I liked it a lot, I am glad I got to enjoy it and I found it a pleasure to drink, worth seeking out if you come across it and want to treat yourself to something really special.

Rating: Spectacular and Special Spectacular – $$$$$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

About the Estate

A few words about Kurni and the vineyards it comes from: it is a wine made of 100% Montepulciano grapes harvested from about 10 hectares only of Montepulciano grapevines trained as free-standing plants (according to the bush vine training or “alberello” style) with an average age of 65 years and an astounding density of up to 22,000 vines/HA(!) which allow an annual production of just about 6,000 bottles. The Kurni ages for 20 months in new oak barrique barrels.

About the Grape

Before we continue, let’s focus for a moment on the Montepulciano grape variety. First off, let’s dispel a possible source of confusion: although the name refers to the Montepulciano area near Siena (Tuscany), the Montepulciano grape variety is an Italian indigenous variety that originates from the Abruzzo region.  Consequently, it is important NOT to confuse Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG (which is a Tuscan appellation whose wines must be made of 70% or more Sangiovese grapes) with Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC or Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane DOCG (which are two appellations from Abruzzo whose wines are required to be made out of at least, respectively, 85% or 90% Montepulciano grapes).

Montepulciano is a grape variety that is widely planted across central Italy (about 30,000 HA), especially in the regions of Abruzzo, Marche and Molise. Beside Italy, it is also grown in California, Australia and New Zealand. It is a grape variety that results in deeply colored wines with robust tannins, that are often used in blends. On account of the wide diffusion of Montepulciano grapes, the quality levels of the wines made out of them varies considerably – hence, caveat emptor: you need to know which producers to trust and buy from. (Note: information on the grape variety taken from Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012)

Our Detailed Review

But let’s get back to the wine that we are going to review in this post. Retailing in the US at about $100 a pop, the Kurni is by no means an inexpensive wine, nor is it an easy to find one, but let me say it up front in my view it is one that is worth the investment if you come across it and have the inclination to “invest” that kind of money in a bottle of wine. But let’s get down to it using a simplified version of the ISA wine tasting protocol that we described in a previous post: should you have doubts as to any of the terms used below please refer to that post for a refresher.

First off, the bottle of Kurni we had was a 2008 vintage with a whopping 15% VOL ABV, so it is no wine for the faint of heart. 😉

In the glass, the wine was ruby red and (as you may expect) thick.

The nose was intense and fine, with complex aromas of ripe cherries, raspberries, plums, roses, vanilla, sweet tobacco, licorice and cocoa.

In the mouth the wine is between dry and medium-dry (see more on this below), definitely warm and super silky smooth; fresh, with tame but very present tannins and quite tasty. The wine is full-bodied and balanced (although certainly leaning toward the “softness” side), intense in the mouth (you truly have to taste it to believe this: its concentration is incredible, it is just like an explosion of ripe, sweet red fruits and cherry jam in your mouth!), fine with corresponding mouth flavors and a long finish; its evolutionary state is ready (which means that you can certainly drink it now, but it will get even better with a few more years under the belt – if you can wait!)

As a side note to the tasting, I think it is important to underscore that a notable characteristic of a relatively young vintage of this wine (such as 2008) is the discernible mouth feel of latent sweetness of the Kurni, which (as indicated in the tasting notes) places it somewhere in between a dry a semi-dry wine. In the Italian wine aficionado world, there have been endless discussions as to whether this latent sweetness is due to fairly high residual sugar levels or instead the significant extent of smoothness and explosive fruit flavors of the wine.

In an interview, Kurni’s enologist defined his wine as a dry wine, therefore supporting the latter of the above two theories. Also, vertical tastings of several vintages of Kurni have reportedly confirmed this interpretation in that older vintages would taste drier than younger vintages (which would not be possible if the wine’s latent sweetness were due to higher residual sugars). Having said that, I think it would be helpful if Oasi degli Angeli made the official residual sugar level of the Kurni publicly available (I have not been able to find this information anywhere online), as this could put an end to the debate.

Oh, and by the way: should you not trust my opinion – would you? really? 😉 the Kurni 2008 was awarded the top rating by both the ISA Duemila Vini wine guide (5 bunches) and the Gambero Rosso wine guide (3 glasses).

If you have had a bottle of Kurni before, let me know which side you are on! 🙂

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About Stefano

I am a photographer and an ISA certified sommelier. I contribute to two blogs, Flora's Table (the fine cooking and wine blog - www.florastable.com) and Clicks & Corks (my photography and wine blog - www.clicksandcorks.com). My photography Web site is at www.LightQuill.com
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24 Responses to Wine Review: Oasi degli Angeli, “Kurni” Marche Rosso IGT 2008

  1. talkavino says:

    Very interesting experience, Stefano. Do the older vintages also have 15% ABV? The older vintages might taste drier because they might be simply made differently – it would be interesting to taste this exact vintage in 5 years to see how it would evolve. But as long as it is balanced, I think that is all that matters – and of course the fact that it gives you pleasure : ) By the way, this wine seems to be available in US, at about $100/bottle…

    • Stefano says:

      Anatoli, it definitely was an interesting and if you will educational experience. Like I said, Kurni is a wine I am glad I had the opportunity to try out.
      Very good point regarding the possibility that they changed the winemaking style over time. Kurni is a relatively young wine, as its first vintage was 1997. Going back to 2003 the ABV has always been 15% VOL – beforehand I was only able to find a 2002 label that has it at 14.5% VOL, I could not find any information regarding the ABV of vintages older than 2002, so I am not sure.
      Also, totally agree that it would be nice to buy a bottle, forget about it for a few years and then drink it when it is about ten years old. I think it could be quite spectacular.
      Anyway, I really enjoyed Kurni, even if it was still a fairly young vintage!

  2. This is a wine I might not buy for myself but given your recommendation as special I would have no hesitation in buying as a present for a special birthday or anniversary, obviously hoping that I will be around when they open it! So many times I have bought wine as an expensive gift and wondered if it was worth the high price so thank you Stefano.

    • Stefano says:

      Maria, thank you very much for your comment: I think you are absolutely right and giving a bottle of Kurni to someone special for a special occasion would be a fabulous present – provided that the recipient appreciates great wine, that is! 😉

  3. Wine from Montepulciano grapes is my favorite wine and I always keep a bottle or two in my cooler. I am going to ask Brian if he can find this wine for me, it sounds amazing. The wine shoppe in my neighborhood carries Italo Pietrantonj 2008, it’s really nice. My love affair with Montepulciano D’Abruzzo doesn’t stop with wine I always have Mosto Cotto in my pantry. Thank you for a wonderful post this wine is quite costly and if I can find it will be reserved for a special occasion.

    • Stefano says:

      Hi Suzanne, thank you for your comment: Pietrantonj is an excellent producer of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (their Cerano is really quite something). I am pretty sure you would love enjoying a bottle of Kurni in good company on some special occasion!

      • I will try to find it online,I haven’t had the Cerano and will try that also. On another note, I love the wine you paired with my paella, I’m so glad I bought 4 bottles (2 of each) because I enjoy a glass every night, It’s one of my new favorites Thank you for introducing me to this wonderful wine, It is so light and crisp I love it,

      • Stefano says:

        I am so glad you liked them, Suzanne! 🙂

      • I do very much. I so appreciate your expertise. I feel like I am starting to understand (a little) the art and it is an art of pairing wine. There is so much more to learn, you should offer online tastings, I don’t know how that would be done but I certainly would pay to learn from you.

      • Stefano says:

        Thank you very much for your support, Suzanne: it is very much appreciated.
        And thanks for the online tastings idea, I will give it some thought. 🙂

  4. Now I’m going to be on the hunt for this very special bottle. My husband’s 50th birthday is in the fall, and I think he would LOVE it. Hopefully I can find it locally in Canada (fingers crossed).

  5. ChgoJohn says:

    Posts like this one are such a help, Stefano. a $20 bottle of wine isn’t suitable for all occasions but without the right information on-hand, you’re often relying on blind luck when you try to upgrade to a more expensive choice. Going solely by price tag is about as bad a method as can be. So, thanks for helping us all out, Stefano.

    • Stefano says:

      Hi John, apologies for the belated reply – thank you for your comment.
      I totally agree: price by itself does not mean much and can lead to unpleasant (and costly) surprises!
      Hopefully my review can provide potentially interested buyers a clearer idea as to what to expect from this wine.
      Thanks again.

  6. Stefano your post are always so informative and well written. It sounds like you had a lovely evening in Milan. I look froward to reading the restaurant review. 😉

    • Stefano says:

      Thank you so much for your kind words, B: I am glad you enjoy reading my posts, even in spite of their length! 😉
      And yes, it definitely was a great night: as a “sneak peak” of my restaurant review, I had fettucine with Bra sausage ragout (divine!) and stuffed lamb chops (OMG!) plus the Kurni. It hardly gets any better than this, at least in my book! 🙂

  7. Gary says:

    HI Stefano, liked your writings on the Kurni. I have been a passionate collector of Kurni for several years and I believe you are right about the residual sweetness fading with age. I have tasted many vintages including 00,03,04,05 etc. up to 2010. The 08 has a bit more sweetness than 09 and 10 so I think it is a bit of an exception. I have some large format Kurni so it will be interesting to drink those in the future. My favorite vintages are 2004, still a brute, the 06 sleek like a mazerati, and the 2007, polished and seamless .

    • Stefano says:

      Hi Gary, thank you very much for taking the time comment! I bow to you and your outstanding collection of this great wine. 🙂 I have read and heard excellent things about 2006, which is said to be a magnificent vintage for Kurni and your experience seems to confirm it (I love your “sweet as a Maserati” metaphor!)
      Thank you again for sharing your experience – I hope you will contribute again and share your knowledge on future wine posts on this blog.
      Take care

  8. Stellar review, Stefano. You convey how and what you taste so well that I feel like I tried it with you. It is no easy thing to achieve, as we all realize again and again when we try to write about what we experienced…it sounds like an amazing experience.

    One question though, or thought: When it comes to Rieslings, especially the sweeter Rieslings with higher amounts of RS, we usually say, and it has been my experience as well, that they tend to taste less sweet and therefore drier when they have aged a number of years. The sugar level in the wine, does not reduce though, as tests have shown. That seems to stand in contradiction to your claim that an aged wine cannot taste drier if the sugar is the reason why it is perceived as sweet when young.

    I know whites and reds are different, but that seems to me should be a universal theme. Am I completely off track here?.

    • Stefano says:

      Oliver, first off thank you very much for what you said: I think it is the best compliment I have received on a post of mine! Seriously, the intent when I write about wine or photography is always to try to convey in words at least something of what I felt when I tasted a wine or took a shot, realizing that words are often a limitation in describing feelings (quoting one of my favorite Depeche Mode songs “words are meaningless and forgettable”). Hearing from you that sometimes I succeed is, to quote the famous MC spot, priceless 🙂

      Now, on to your very interesting but also hard to answer question about RS in the Kurni vs German Rieslings: as you know, I am unfortunately no expert in German Rieslings (I think I drank it twice, that’s it) – well, at least I am not until we get together and you enlighten me on this great wines 🙂 However, I did some research and this is the most relevant bit of information that I have been able to find, which would seem to confirm the “Kurni theory” also in the case of Rieslings. Clearly, I cannot vouch for the reliability of the source, although it looks like a very well done wine blog and I can certainly follow the logic of the post. Let me know what you think:

      “So when a sweet German Riesling gets old what happens? A comment I hear a lot is that it loses its sweetness. That is wrong. The sugar level in a wine is locked in from the moment it is bottled and that cannot be changed. Same with the acidity. But our perception of these components changes. As Riesling gets older it gets leathery, gamey and earthy like a forest floor and the sweetness recedes into the background but as I said before the levels as measured by a lab are locked in for the life of the wine. The acid may also be a little lower by our perception but chemically speaking 10 grams of acid is 10 grams of acid. Age can change a wine as much as age can change a person. Heck, some Rieslings even get salty, like we do when we get older.” (Source: http://rockssandfruit.blogspot.com/2013/03/what-happens-when-german-riesling-gets.html)

      • Oh you are very welcome! Also, we need to remedy your abysmal record of trying Riesling very soon! Yet another reason to get together quickly…

        It is funny you quote the Rocks and Fruit post, which I have happened to have read just recently (I think it is in my queue for the Sunday Reads). I agree with the author, because I have also been told about the studies that the sweetness and the acidity are “locked in” at bottling. That doesn’t explain, however, why the wines taste less sweet. And that was what I was aiming for. Just because there is more residual sugar in a wine does not mean that it cannot taste less sweet later in its life. So I guess I am still taking issue with the fact that some say that Kurni could not taste less sweet if it was a sugar issue and not a mouthfeel issue. Get me?

        Thanks for digging into this. And again, we need to get you out of that sorry state of misery that is not having had many Rieslings in your life…:)

      • Stefano says:

        Hahaha!!! I know, I know, I have a long way to go with Riesling! Although, to be more precise, I really need some good guidance (I mean, practical guidance!) from you with sweet Rieslings, because I have had my fair share of dry Rieslings (just not German ones, for some reason) which I like quite a bit (I also have a review of one in my queue). It’s in the sweet Rieslings that I am seriously lagging behind!

        Regarding the fading of the “sweetness” feel of Kurni or sweet Riesling for that matter, I totally see your point and you are right in saying that in both cases the people who picked a side on this issue only get to the point (which is technically correct) that sugar does not “disappear” from a wine with aging, so if there was RS when the wine was bottled, the same g/l sugar is still there after years of aging, but then they can only speculate as to what causes the different mouthfeel of drinking a drier wine that is felt with older Kurni’s or sweet Rieslings.

        Personally I believe that the only way to settle this argument for certain would be to have a chemical analysis of say a bottle of Kurni at the time of bottling and then repeat the same analysis on the same bottle after say seven/ten years of aging. This would show what has changed chemically in the wine during the aging process and most likely give a technical explanation of that sensory feeling that we discussed before.

        Until then I think there is only room for speculation and personal opinions… 🙂

  9. Pingback: Still Blowing Like a Candle in the Wind… One Year Later! | Flora's Table

  10. londonmum says:

    Was introduced to this wine at an amazing little enoteca in spello, Umbria last year. Had ordered a bottle of sassicaia and the owner poured us a glass of kurni to try. It blew me away and I much preferred it. I can see why this wine puts people on the fence as the flavour is very jammy and sweet but I loved it.

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