I watched “Under the Tuscan Sun” the other night for the 1,000th time. It isn’t the best movie in the world, but it does make you want to move to Italy, buy a villa, cook all day and sip wine all night. Of course only when you aren’t venturing off to the Amalfi Coast, wandering through museums looking at the great Di Medici art or wandering through vineyards of some of the most prestigious wines in the world. If you can’t travel to one of those regions though, you can watch the movie (or just put on “The Godfather”) with an incredible bottle of Italian wine. Here are a few suggestions that will take you to Italy. Some selections were sent for editorial consideration; most selections can be found at Spec’s locations throughout Dallas.
Moscato has been a hot white wine over the past few years, especially for those who like a bit of residual sugar in their wine. Though made throughout the world, I am a believer in embracing the region this one comes from, the gorgeous Piedmonte hills of Italy. Here the combination of sun and soil help the fresh, floral Moscato grape shine the brightest. Vietti Moscato d’Asti “Cascinetta Vietti” from grapes grown on the family owned Vietti estate located in Castiglione Tinella is filled with layers of honey, stone fruit, spiced ginger and floral rose and white flower. Though there is a sweetness to the wine from residual sugars left during fermentation, there is also a nice balance of acidity, keeping the wine from becoming too sweet. This balance between acidity and sweetness is something that many Italian Moscato wines do well verses others made around the country.
I did a wine tasting for a holiday party just before Christmas for an Italian family wanting to feature some great Italian wines. Their roots were actually Sicilian so we chose a few wines from Sicily, as well as some favorites from throughout Italy. Insolia (also spelled Inzolia), an indigenous white grape from Sicily, turned out to be one of the highlights of the night. We selected Principi di Butera Insolia, once a royal estate where King Philip II of Spain named the first Sicilian Prince, Ambrogio Branciforte, Prince of Butera. The wine reflects the vineyards, with attention given to managing the vines to maximize sunshine, the maritime climate and mineral rich soils to produce the highest quality wines possible. Insolia is a very dry slightly acidic wine, usually used in making Marsala but on its own is filled with citrus and toasted almonds, pairing well with earthy mushroom risotto and hard cheeses.
My particular favorite of this tasting was a velvety, balanced and elegant Giovanni Rosso Donna Margherita Barbera d’Alba from the Piedmonte region in Northwestern Italy. Fermented in cement tanks, adding an extra layer of minerality to the wine, aged 12 months in French oak and bottled unfined and unfiltered, creating an well rounded, varietally correct flavor. Filled with layers of black cherries and blackberry with dried spices, cedar and a hint of tobacco, pairing nicely with pasta with tomato sauce, grilled fish and charcuterie.
The red wine we found from Sicily was also a favorite of the night, though much earthier, bolder and much more intense than the Barbera. Firriato – Santagostino Baglio Soria Rosso is grown in clay soils at a 180m above sea level in Trapani and is as powerful and intense as it is rich and elegant, blending 50% Nero d’ Avola with 50% Syrah and aged 8 months in French and America oak before bottling. Filled with luscious and dominant notes of ripe cherry, berry, baking spice and pronounced dried herb notes, this is ideally paired with grilled beef or game, stewed meats and aged cheese.
For those who love a traditional Chianti, try a Classico (from the most central part of the Chianti region around Tuscany, and made up of at least 80% Sangiovese and the other 20% specific red grapes allowed in the region, though many producers only use Sangiovese, and is aged a minimum of 12 months in oak). A Classico always bears a black rooster on the neck of the bottle, but will also usually say it is a Classico on the actual label. I tried a Villa Cerna Chianti Classico Riserva the other evening and was pleased with how approachable the wine was, as some Italian wines need several hours of time after the bottle is opened to really open up. Filled with fresh, floral aromas balanced with juicy fruit notes, and just enough acid matched with tannin to keep it interesting.
Though Barolo is the undisputed king of Italian wines, the Nebbiolo grape can shine outside of the region, maintaining the hearty, fleshy intense red fruit and herbal notes outside of the prestigious region. Nebbiolo is throughout the Piedmonte region, adapting particularly well to the high altitudes, mountainous terrain of the region delivering wines filled with both bracing tannin and bright acidity, giving Nebbiolo the wonderful ability to age. The district of Gattinara makes wine from Nebbiolo and though they are typically earlier to drink than their Barolo partners, they tend to be slightly earthier and more rustic than traditional Barolo. Travaglini Gattinara balances pronounced blackberry, black cherry and red berry fruit notes with spiced anise, toasted vanilla and leather notes for a nicely rounded, bold and distinct Italian wine, and without the high cost compared to some Barolo options.