Value Italian Wines
In the spirit of our “Value Italian” wine tasting on Thursday, I thought I would highlight some of our bargain Italian wines. I will admit that my Italian wine knowledge is not as strong as I would like it to be, but I always find that research is a great teacher. Since I love rustic Tuscan cuisine in my own home, as well as experimenting with simplistic ingredients that are in season, I really ought to be focusing in incorporating Italian wines into my rotation. And fortunately enough, there are plenty of fantastic Italian wines out there that won’t break the bank!
Italy is home to some of the oldest wine growing regions in the world. Etruscan and Greek settlers were planting grapes long before the Romans started their vineyards in the 2nd Century BC. Today Italian wines account for one-fifth of the world’s wine production, currently beating out the French in production.
Italians love their wine. It is the soul of every meal each day (as well as an occasional afternoon nip). Although Americans have increased their wine consumption and appreciation over the years, the Italians still have us beat…and by a long shot. Italians consume 59 liters per capita per year, compared to American’s 7.7 liters. Since there are 750 ml in a standard bottle of wine, that’s 10.2 bottles of wine for the Americans (that’s pitiful folks) and 78.6 bottles for the Italians. Hopefully I did my math right.
You are not going to find the typical domestic grapes, or even the French grapes, in the Italian wines. Standard grapes are Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Montepulciano, Barbera, Nero d’ Avola, Moscato and Pinot Grigio. If you are new to Italian wines, those grapes can sound intimidating, but trust me, they’re not. Once you familiarize yourself with these grapes, picking out Italian wines becomes a more enjoyable process. The best way to learn about varietals is to taste them!
Italian wines can range from bold and boisterous to soft and subtle. They tend to have earthy and cedary characteristics in contrast to many of the domestic wines that can be very fruit forward. These characteristics come from vines that have been cultivated in the same earth for centuries as well as the “old vine” wines which can be up to 100 years old and tend to be less common in the United States due to our “newness” to wine production.
Italian wines are typically built to go with food. Meaning drier, fuller bodied wine that will compliment the food yet not overpower it either.
Here is just a sample of some value Italians:
Terredigiumara Nero d’ Avola 2007 – $15
This wine is made from 100% Nero d‘Avola, a variety unique to Sicily. Over the years, it has been referred to as the “Prince” or “Emperor” of Sicilian varietals. The grapes are ripened to perfection under the warm Sicilian sun and are picked in September/October. This wine captures the essence of Sicily. It is ripe and concentrated, offering supple flavors of wild strawberries and black cherries. The finish is soft, round and appealing, with hints of sweet red berries lingering on the palate and a spicy finish.
Brigaldara Valpolicella Classico – $15
A blend of 40% Corvina, 20% Corvinone, and a mix of 40% Rondinella, Molinara and Sangiovese. This baby Amarone is aged 6 months opposed to the standard 3 years for Amarones, giving it a much nicer price tag. Amarones are typically rich and dry, made with partially dried grapes. The process is labor intensive and time consuming, making a standard aged Amarone more on the expensive side.
Castello di Farnetella Chianti 2007 – $16
Made with the Sangiovese grape from the Chianti region of Tuscany. Very dark reddish-purple with ruby glints. This wine is a great benchmark of Chianti with its aromas and flavors. Black cherries are up first on the nose and palate, with an overtone of leather and a back note of subtle spice. Fresh and bright, mouth-watering acidity and soft, barely perceptible tannins.
Ca’ Donini Pinot Grigio – $9
A pure Pinot Grigio from northern Italy vinified in temperature controlled stainless steel vats. Pale gold in color. Fruity bouquet with hints of crisp apples. Dry, crisp, and refreshing on the palate. Beautifully balanced to compliment a wide range of foods from white meats, shellfish and seafood.