Wines of the Week

Is there life after Chianti?

The Other Italy

If you’ve ever eaten a pizza or ordered a plate of pasta in an Italian restaurant, chances are you know at least a little bit about Italian wine.  We’ve all encountered Chianti on the wine list, and probably Brunello and Barolo, too.

But even though Italian wines are wildly popular in the US, and even though we’ve all quaffed a carafe of Sangiovese at one time or another, there’s so much more to enjoy.  Let’s go a bit off the well-worn track, away from the Chianti region, away from Piedmont, and see where it takes us.

First stop – the Marches.  This area is just west of the port of Ancona, on Italy’s east coast about 230 miles south of Venice.  The most famous wine of the region is Verdicchio, a white wine with a lemony flavor profile and zippy acidity.  An extremely ancient varietal, it’s mentioned in Roman writing as far back as 400AD.  Aside from being a great pairing with seafood, you’ve probably seen the famous bottle, which is made in the shape of a fish.  Fun stuff.

Inzolia is a golden white wine grown in Sutera, on the south coast of Sicily. It has honey and melon aromas, and often contains flavors of bitter orange and grapefruit.  Many times, it’s left to oxidize, when it gains a deep golden color and nutlike qualities.  Interesting, and worth the search.

In Umbria, the wine to look for is Sagrantino di Montefalco.  The area borders Tuscany and the Marches, but the main varietal is the Sagrantino grape.  It’s deeply colored and quite tannic, so it’s often blended with Merlot, which makes it a bit softer.  Since it contains a high proportion of tannin, it ages well, and winemakers often leave it in oak barrels for over two years.  Flavors include black cherries, ripe blackberry, and some spice and earth.  Since it is so highly structured, it pairs especially well with steak, truffle dishes, venison, hard cheese, and even wild boar.

While you might not go out of your way to find wines from Sardinia, you probably should.  This island is the second largest in the Mediterranean, off the west coast of Italy, just south of Corsica.  Here, they make a killer Grenache, which they call Cannonau.  It’s a bit rustic, so it pairs well with strongly flavored red sauces and spicy pasta dishes, but the flavors of ripe plums, blackberries, and violets, accented by a slight bitterness on the finish, make it a great food wine.

There’s so much more to enjoy with Italian wines, so make a New Year’s resolution to explore some of the less familiar areas.  Meanwhile, here are some other Italian recommendations to start the year off right.

Citra Caroso Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva 2010 ($22) – It’s easy to get confused between Montepulciano, which is the name of a grape, and Vino Nobile from the district of Montpulciano.  Hint:  look for the word “Abruzzo.”  The almost-black color in the glass promises a full-bodied experience, with flavors of raisins, licorice and complex fruit.  According to the tasting notes that accompanied this sample, the flavors are “elegante e potente,” because the whole thing was in Italian.  Enjoy this wine with food, and decant it first.  WW 92

Frescobaldi Nipozzano Vecchie Viti Chianti Rufina Riserva 2012 ($27) – This classic blend from the Rufina area of Tuscany follows the traditional recipe of Sangiovese, with a percentage of Colorino, Malvasia Nera, and Canaiolo.  A nose of warm earth, tobacco, and a burst of dark fruit is followed by a medium-bodied mouthfeel, and a mix of dark plum and cherry, and soft tannins.  This is a very typical “true to type” Chianti.  As a Riserva, it was aged for 24 months in oak and an additional three months in the bottle before release.  WW 88

Tenuta Valleselle Aureum Acinum Amarone della Valpolicella 2012 ($40) – This traditional blend of Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara grapes is on the sweet side, which we expect from an Amarone, with heady flavors of smoke, raisins, and dried black cherries.  Try it with more aromatic cheeses such as French Camembert, and other strongly-flavored foods.  WW 91-92


The Wine of the Year

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