Posts Tagged ‘Italian Wine’

Alright, training wheels off.  Let’s try something a little more advanced.

Now I don’t mean advanced as in you need sommelier schooling to appreciate the wine, I mean it requires a little context.  Today’s wine is not a fruity, light aperitif, nor a bulky, oak-water behemoth. It’s something, well, just different.  To begin its list of oddities, it’s from Lazio – Rome’s province.  Not much notable wine is made on the outskirts of the Eternal City, save for the wonderfully named region Est! Est!! Est!!! and a few other simple whites.  Its grapes are commonplace, in terms of quantity in Central Italy, prestige, and flavor.  The fermentation method is certainly old-school – which is fitting because the vines are tended to by the sisters of a Cistercian Abbey.  This is a wine worth contemplating.

The 2006 Monastero Suore Cistercensi “Coenobium” [$13 at Cork Dork Wine Co.] is a blend of Verdicchio, Trebbiano, Grechetto and Malvasia [Pronounced ‘Che-NO-bee-um’, Latin for ‘monastery’]  Winemaker Giampiero Bea employs a natural, hands-off approach with this wine – the juice sees extended contact with the skins during fermentation, using no commercial yeasts or additives, and no fining or filtering of the final product.  This kind of open-tank, natural yeast fermentation is usually associated with Belgian beers, especially Lambics.  The other techniques are more often used with red wines, as they introduce more oxygen into the winemaking process.  The wine certainly tastes a bit oxidative but not in the “half-empty bottle of white left in the fridge for two days” kind of way. It has a beautiful deep yellow almost light brown color, with an oxidized nose of preserved lemon.  The sip starts out with that same lemon citrus with a creamy, smooth mouthfeel.  Towards the end, though, it does a 180 to a more acidic, tangy, even coppery or petrol kind of taste that lingers for quite a while.  This is a unique wine.  Even if it weren’t as good as it is, I’d still recommend trying it just to discover the different kinds of flavors a white wine can deliver.

I first tasted this wine with Brian Daunheimer from Grand Pere Wines during a Thursday tasting at the Cork Dork.  After searching around online, $13 is an absolute steal for this bottle [most places, I found it retailing at $20 and up].  Drink it with your favorite white fish.

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Forgive the week-plus long absence, I was in NYC on a relaxing yet waistline-expanding vacation.  Time to get back into the swing of things with a solid Italian wine for fall.

I’ve previously professed my love in this forum for Salice Salentino – the blend of Negro Amaro and Malvasia from the Southern Italian province of Apulia.  It’s a wine that offers a usually fruit-forward profile of tart cherries and [depending on the Malvasia used] interesting hints of smokiness and earth.  It’s been compared to Pinot Noir in that it’s fairly lighter bodied and fruity, but Negro Amaro has a bit more bulk and definitely more noticeable tannin.  Also a plus is the fact that even the best are rarely above $20 retail.  It’s a slam dunk crowd pleaser if you spy one on the list at any Italian restaurant – here’s the Vallone ’06 Riserva on the list at Broders‘ at a pretty decent $34.

A couple of widely distributed examples I’ve recommended before are the Taurino Salice Salentino [usually around $9-12, a lot of MSP retailers carry it] and the Epicuro Salice Salentino [$5 at Trader Joe’s, one of the best values in wine I’ve ever found].  I spied a new one at Surdyk’s just before the sale started, and obviously, it’s a new favorite for me.

The 2008 Luccarelli Salice Salentino [I got it for $11.99 at Surdyk’s but I think it’s $8.99 currently on sale] offers an opaque dark red with ruby towards the rims and a pungent nose of blackberry-raspberry with some spice.  The sip starts berry-filled, almost sweet tasting framed by dusty-dry tannin.  It turns a little more tart and earthy towards the end, but it retains its fruit forward light body throughout.  It has a nice core of berry fruit, it’s smooth and simple – a steal at $8.99 if you can get it.  It’s a solid wine with any red-sauced fare.  I had it with this extremely basic eggplant pasta – great match.

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I’ve written here before about my love for Insolia – the native Sicilian grape also called Ansonica in Tuscany [Also often spelled in both cases with a s/z swap, Inzolia and Anzonica].  Good Insolias can have a deep golden color, often with lemon, orange and almond notes, and nicely perfumed.  They are dry wines, perfect for seafood, flaky white fish and cheeses.  Widely available Insolias I like a lot are from Cusumano [usually around $10] or Feudo Principi Di Butera [around $12-13].  Today’s wine is very comparable to the Donnafugata Anthilia I wrote about a while back, but with a little more focused flavors, I feel.

2008 Case Ibidini Insolia [$14.99 at Sorella, though you can save %15 there with this print-out coupon] is 100% Insolia, aged for a few months in stainless steel and a few more in the bottle before release.  Case Ibidini is the second label of the well established Valle dell’Acate winery, who also grow Sicily’s famed blood oranges on their 100 hectare estate on the SE end of the island.  The wine is a straw color with a very pretty nose of minerals, some light citrus and dry hay.  Minerals stay put on the sip with some under-ripe pineapple and wet stones to a dry, salty-tang finish.  This wine tastes like the Sicilian sunshine beating down on a rocky lemon grove.  Well defined flavors, nice and dry, very refreshing.

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Back in March, some journalists, bloggers and wine aficionados were invited to Piemonte in Northern Italy for a meeting intended to show off the prowess of that region’s second most important grape: Barbera.  It’s a grape that has fallen out of fashion and many attribute it to the misapplication of French Oak aging [That certainly was the consensus of the bloggers who attended].  The grape is characterized by high natural levels of acidity, low tannin and bright cherry fruit.  Done right, oak can mellow the acidity and deliver a clean basso where tannin is lacking.  I haven’t sampled Barbera in-depth enough to elaborate on oak’s officiousness on the grape as a whole.  I can only take it one wine at a time.

What’s to like about Barbera;  It’s a lighter bodied red wine that I’ve found to be more reliable than Pinot Noir in the $10-15 price range.  What’s not to like; The oak flavors associated with the wines will leave many [and there are some that would even argue, most] cheaper Barberas tasting disjointed.  Which camp will today’s wine fall into?

The 2007 Marchesi di Barolo ‘Maraia’ Barbera Monferrato is aged for about a year in American Oak, which tends to deliver buttery, toasty flavors [often associated with Napa Chardonnay] as opposed to French’s Oak’s more vanilla-toned flavor. I picked it up at Surdyks a while back, not sure if they even still have it.  I think they may have the Marchesi di Barolo ‘Ruvei’ Barbera d’Alba instead.  It will be a comparable wine, however maybe more aggressively oaky, as it was partly aged in small French Oak barriques [I’m just guessing, though. Ah, the benefits of being a non-expert].  I do know they also carry the Michelle Chiarlo ‘Le Orme’ Barbera d’Asti – one of the better Barberas I’ve found for $10.

This wine sports a translucent brick red color with a slightly ‘hot’ (that is, alcoholic) nose of plums, asphalt and certainly an oak component.  The soft attack brings tart cherries into the fold, the flavor and backbone of the wine are concentrated in the mid sip, and the aftertaste is oaky for sure.  I wouldn’t say the oak is aggressive, but I do think the normally fruity flavors of the Barbera take a bit of a back seat.  That being said, I think this was about $13 at the time of purchase, I’d give it a solid B for price/quality.  Let me retaste and thoughtfully consider a couple more Barberas to get an oak barometer on this grape – I’ll get back to you on this.

[Update, 7-19-10] I noticed this bottle is sold by the glass at Cossetta’s in St. Paul.  I’d definitely recommend it with their Mostaccioli. 

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I said in an earlier post about the Albana grape that it’s genetically related to the often uninspiring Garganega, which is most famous for being the majority grape in Soave.  Today, I give you a Garganega blend you should get the next time you’re eating pork [it was spectacular with my sous-vide chop, above].  Garganega is a very vigorous vine, and much like Sangiovese, it’s a very easy grape to produce quantity over quality.  If yields are not controlled, Garganega is notorious for turning out thin, pallid and neutral tasting.  So it’s one of those grapes that needs the right terroir for sure, but it also needs the right blending partners.  Like John Wayne in The Quiet Man, it needs the right counterpart(s) to soften its unabashedly burly presence.  Not that there aren’t great 100% Garganegas out there, especially in Soave Classico.  However, even in that region, Chardonnay and Trebbiano regularly contribute. Northern Italian whites are known for being mostly light, refreshing and floral wines – like Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco, Gavi, and everything in the Trentino/Alto Adige region.  Today’s wine fits in that mold.

A region close to Soave in the Verona province of Northern Italy is Bianco di Custoza – a DOC blend which calls for a majority Garganega, often supplemented with Trebbiano, Chardonnay, Tocai Friulano, Malvasia Toscana, Cortese and others. The 2007 La Colombaia Bianco Di Custoza [$11.99 on sale at France 44], features a nice shiny light gold color and a pleasant nose of lemon, apple, green grass and herbs.  The body carries medium weight with flavors of grass and pears, framed by a dry-mineral taste that consumes the rocky finish.  Not a ton of acidity, as is the M.O. of the main grape, but the flavors hold up nicely throughout the sip.  It’s an enjoyable wine that would please the Chardonnay crowd, and would be a nice aperitif with a plate of apples and cheeses.  Not a mind blowing wine, but a quintessentially Italian one – modest, flavorful and tasty.

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[Bottle Of The Month] – It was a late entry, I drank it on the 30th, but the wine of June 2010 is the 2007 Zaccagnini ‘dal Tralcetto’ Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva [They will be $11.99 at Surdyks Summer Sale starting July 7th, an incredible value].  Montepulciano [the grape] is often called a ‘pizza wine’ – the homogenous Italian red wine for any dish with red sauce [though it was very good with my spinach-ricotta lasagna, this wine is no mere pizza wine].  This is a popular bottle, it regularly garners 90+ pt scores from the major wine mags.  So read my notes, or just trust me when I say it’s really good.

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[The Expo List, Part 2 of 7] As I laid out in Part 1 of this series, I’m on a mission to track down the seven wines from the Minnesota Monthly Food & Wine Experience in February that I had noted in my wine journal as being ‘standout’ wines.  I do not remember the criteria for what a ‘standout’ was [I’m especially confused about the inclusion of the Geyser Peak Sauvignon Blanc]. I really don’t remember a whole lot specifically about these wines apart from the dozens I tasted.  Although I probably remember today’s wine the best of the seven because I tasted it in a seminar during the middle of the day lead by Vittorio Navacchia, co-owner of Tre Monti.  The 2008 Tre Monti Vigna Rocca Albana [$13.99 at Excelsior Vintage] stood out from his offerings that afternoon, and upon re-tasting, this certainly deserved the ‘standout’ designation.

Albana is a local specialty of the Emilia-Romagna region of Northern Italy.  There are written records of Albana growing in Romagna since the 13th century, though folklore has the grape being spread by the conquering Roman legions.  Either way, Albana has had a few centuries to get cozy with the Romagna terroir, but many wine experts malign the grape.  It’s genetically related to the (somewhat) uninspiring grape Garganega, and the dry (Secco) version of Albana can often be dismissed as simple, chalky and flat.  The 2008 Tre Monti is none of those.  It’s a deep almost-orange gold color with ripe fruit smells. The sip begins with soft peachy fruit then slowly deepens and widens to a mildly alcoholic and slightly sour orange finish.  It shows its 14.5% but it’s not overwhelming, if a bit in the forefront at the end.  It’s a bulky wine, not for the faint of heart.  The Chardonnay/Viognier crowd will dig this.

It’s been getting pretty hot in the City of Lakes lately, and my stash is mostly comprised of reds right now.  I’ll be rectifying that, so get ready for a Vinho Verde taste-off, tips on the best cheap domestic Sauvignon Blanc, as well as pictures from some wine happenings around the Twin Cities.

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Probably more than any other wine, I love Brunello di Montalcino. Despite its recent difficulties, that most sublime expression of Sangiovese is as good as it gets for my palette.  I am, however, less fond of the price tag.  If $50+ wines were in my everyday budget, I probably wouldn’t drink anything else.  I wanted a little nicer bottle for a recent pre-Memorial Day feast, so a happy compromise was the  2007 Il Poggione Rosso di Montalcino [90/WA] [$24.99 at Surdyks].  Rosso di Montalcino is the ‘baby Brunello’ appellation.  It’s the same Sangiovese grown inside the same boundaries as Brunello.  However, it only requires a 12 month aging before release [at least 6 months in oak, though the 2007 Il Poggione Rosso got a full 12 months in French oak].  Wine that begins as Brunello can also be declassified as Rosso if it doesn’t mature to the winemaker’s liking.  So the Rosso offers those same intoxicating cherry, tobacco/earth flavors as Brunello, in a bit lighter style that’s approachable sooner and usually half the price.  For all things Brunello, Rosso and Montalcino, read The Montalcino Report, a great blog by winemaker Alessandro Bindocci of Il Poggione.  His 2007 Rosso absolutely hit the spot.  It’s a nice shade of translucent brick red with light brown rims, a dried cherry/light floral nose, and a forward core of black cherry/berry fruit with smooth tannin.  This wine is ripe and oaked, and very pleasing //#andgoodwithporktenderloin//.

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A while back, a friend texted for wine list assistance.  He was taking his girlfriend to Bar La Grassa for her birthday and needed a good white.  A few weeks prior I instructed him to buy a Cusumano Insolia for a trip to the gf’s – it ended up going very well with sushi.  Insolia [or Inzolia] is the paragon of the collection of grapes that make me crazy for Sicilian whites.  Insolia is bright, fresh, lemony, often with luscious, tangy acidity.  Much the same can be said of the other Sicilian whites, like Fiano and Grecanico.  Grillo and Catarratto are, along with Insolia, major grapes in Marsala, but make a simple and lively still wine on their own [try Ajello’s blend]. I also like Feudo Principi di Butera for a good Insolia at around $12-13.

I scanned La Grassa’s wines online, figuring you have to drink Italian wine at the best Italian restaurant in town [except Broders, that is]. Based on the successful feedback from the Insolia pick, I recommended the 2008 Donnafugata Anthilia Bianco, Sicily [87/WE].  The wine is an 80% blend of Ansonica and Catarratto, with 20% mystery grapes ‘according to the vintage’.  I found it recently at France 44 [$15.99] and I believe it was on La Grassa’s list for about $23, so that’s not bad at all.  It sports a light gold color, a salty and slightly herbal nose, a bright lemon/green melon flavor that quickly fades to a mineral-dominated sip.  It’s medium bodied with not a huge amount of acidity, but the minerally tang you get on the finish makes up for it.  It’s a fine example of the region and, as you might suspect, it absolutely begs to accompany seafood.  Try it with this summery calamari preparation.  My friend and his gf called it a great selection, and if your tastes tend towards Sauvignon Blanc over Chardonnay, I think you’ll like it too.

It’s gotten hot in MSP – it’s 90 and humid as I write this.  Good thing I still have half this bottle left.

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I recently ate at the lauded cathedral hill outpost La Grolla with the family after seeing the Dead Sea Scroll exhibit at the Science Museum.  Their wine list is a decent mix of recognizable big brands and many of the usual Italian suspects (Il Poggione, Banfi etc.)  We were seated in the corner under two large paintings of Venetian canal-scapes, and I can’t think of that cloudy sinking lagoon without craving Valpolicella.  For the uninitiated, Valpolicella is a red blend of Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara grapes from the Veneto region [east of Lake Garda] in NE Italy.  In his [widely panned] Venice-set novel ‘Across The River and Into The Trees’, Hemingway describes Valpolicella as ‘light, dry, red and cordial, like the home of a brother whom you get along with’. Regular Valpolicella is usually lightish-medium bodied with fruit-forward style, but for my money [in this case, my dad’s money] Ripasso [lit. “repassed”] Valpolicella is worth the extra few bucks.  It’s made by taking the grape pommace left over from making Amarone and steeping it in a fresh batch making the wine more tannic and concentrated. La Grolla’s list included the 2007 Villalta Ripasso Valpolicella for $36 [I believe it retails for about $20].  It had a very nice inky purple hue, medium body with a delightful core of plum-prune fruit.  It was not as thick and concentrated as many Ripassos I’ve had.  It did begin to deliver that Amarone-like raisinated flavor as it sat in the glass, while remaining rather light on the palette.  It’s not mind-blowing, but it’s very satisfying.  My only real gripe was La Grolla’s IKEA-looking stemware that rendered the wine almost aroma-less.  Most of their list is between $26-40 – i’d say the Villalta had fair QPR in that range.  [And my Linguine alle Vongole was very good, if a little garlic-laden for my tastes//#moltoaglio]

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