A few weeks back, Janet Tyson Prosser, proprietor of the area’s only specialty wine store, Tyson Fine Wines and Things in Anniston, called me to make an immediate command performance at her shop on what was otherwise a boring morning spent with crippling writer’s block.

Arriving short of breath and somewhat disheveled, I was greeted by Lars Leicht, director of trade development for Banfi, with nine fine wines opened for tasting. Gentle readers, it is experiences like these that make the job worthwhile.

Banfi is a privately held, American family conglomerate wine-importing company founded in New York in 1919 by John Mariani. Today, John’s American-educated grandchildren own and preside over Banfi’s vast holdings.

The company takes its name, Banfi, from the founder’s aunt, Teodolinda Banfi, who supervised John’s early education, introducing him to fine wine and food. Teodolinda served as head of the household staff of the late Pope Pius XI and holds the distinction of being the first woman from the laity to live within the walls of the Sistine Palace.    

Lars Leicht, Banfi’s man on the ground in America, grew up in Oneonta, N.Y. He has worked for Banfi for 30 years, including stints in Canada, the Caribbean, the Far East and Montalcino, Italy. He returned to Banfi’s home office in America in 1997.

Leicht presided over the impromptu morning tasting. His interesting commentary interspersed with Italian phrases was lovely. Things like malolactic fermentation, barrel-aging and lees-stirring sound more romantic when spoken in Italian dialect.

I found all nine wines exceptional. Listed below are some of my favorites from a morning immersed in Italian history and premium Italian wines. All are available at Tyson’s or by special order:

La Pettegola Vermentino-Toscana IGT $16. Vermentino is a common Italian white grape varietal with a taste profile akin to sauvignon blanc.

Clean and crisp with a just a hint of floral in the nose. Nice refreshing finish. Great with raw oysters, but if raw oysters are not your forte, boiled or broiled shrimp, crab or fish should pair wonderfully well with this wine.

IGT, Indicazione Geografica Tipica, is a more casual classification for Italian wines not meeting the strict guidelines governing other classified and codified growing areas. This classification is no indication of value or quality, and wines from this classification cover a wide range of prices.

Col Di Sasso 2015 Toscana IGT. $9.75. A red wine made from cabernet and sangiovese. Sangiovese is the main red grape of Tuscany. The most famous red wine from this area is Chianti.

“Col Di Sasso” translates to “Stony Hill.” Call this a baby super-Tuscan, a tony name given to Tuscan reds that do not fit in a category, in this instance because cabernet is in the blend.

Easy-drinking red wine that sees time only in neutral oak. Light, refreshing, low-alcohol red. Ideal for summer, especially wood-fired pizza.

Cum Laude 2012 Toscana IGT. $26.50. From a blend of cabernet, merlot, sangiovese and syrah. A true super-Tuscan, but the words “super-Tuscan” never appear on the label. This is not a term recognized by Italian wine governing bodies.

Full-bodied wine with supple tannins, inexpensive in comparison to super Tuscans like Sassicaia and Ornellaia that command stratospheric prices in the $200 range.

Banfi Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2012 Tuscany. $58.40. The rarest, most expensive and longest-lived wine from Tuscany, made from 100 percent sangiovese.

“Montalcino” is the medieval village name and “Brunello” translates as “dark one.” So this is a dark red wine from Montalcino. DOCG is a higher classification than IGT wines. Montalcino is not a large production area, hence scarcity drives the price.

By Italian law, this wine must be aged four years before release, two of which must be in oak, hence the wine is very drinkable upon release.

Delicious, soft, velvety wine that cries out for red meat.

If interested in tasting these wines and others, follow Tyson Fine Wines and Things on Facebook or Instagram for notification of upcoming Banfi tastings.

Pat Kettles writes about wine and spirits every other Wednesday. Contact her at