I'm still getting the hang of Italian wines.
When "in the know" wine folks talk about the "finest wines in the world," the debate generally centers on
The first time I tasted Barolo, the Italian "wine of kings," I nearly choked. THIS is supposed to be the best wine in the world?" Granted, I've come a long way. As time's gone by, I've worked on my learning curve of appreciation for the -- shall we say -- interesting flavors of Italian and French wine.
When the SPinC and I did our first Italian wine and food pairing cookfest, we discovered many Italian wines are either very affordable or very expensive -- there's not a lot in between. Finding wines that are decent, drinkable, and affordable is a challenge. In the $10-15 range, there's surprisingly little. You've got your very inexpensive wines, and then you've got your garden variety Barolo, which will run you $50 or more. (Although I found a very decent Barolo at Trader Joe's for $25 that was divine with a roasted lamb steak.) Research is necessary.
When I think about buying Italian wine, I keep a few simple things in mind:
1) Italians are foodies. They have been for millennia. They're also fiercely territorial. If you ever get into a food conversation with just about anyone of Italian heritage, they'll tell you the food on "Nonna's table" was REAL Italian. As I've mentioned before, people make wines that go with whatever they happen to be cooking -- so if you know the menu, choose accordingly. Italian wines, like French wines, are generally named for the place they're made, so let that be your guide.
2) Just as Italians made wine to complement the food they were making at the time, they also made their wine to go best with food. I have yet to run into many Italian wines that I would have as a "drink at the end of the day" wine. Put them with the right food, and squisto!
3) Decant, decant, decant. Italian wine is built to age, so when you open it, you need to let it wake from its slumber. A good rule of thumb for the wines we'll be looking at is to crack the bottle 20-30 minutes before you pour.
Here are a few alternatives:
Ruffino 2005 Orvieto Classico ($7-10) -- Orvieto is in
The Ruffino has a nice nose -- light and floral with a scent of honey. It's fruity, slightly citrusy, but not incredibly dry -- in the ballpark of a rich Sauvignon Blanc. It had a refreshing finish with a little citrus tang and smooth flavors of melon. Like Sauvignon Blanc, this would be a very food friendly wine. Foodwise, think about light pork or rich chicken dishes, meaty fishes, or even salads. The acidity in this wine would be able to stand up to things like asparagus.
Pala Triente 2004 Cannonau Di Sardegna ($11-13) -- That's "
This wine is largely (95%) made from the Cannonau grape, known to the rest of the world as Grenache -- the other 5% is other native varietals. Interesting to note -- this is a macerated wine. Maceration is the same process the French use to make
Michele Chiarlo 2004 Barbera D'Asti ($12-14) -- First off, the "
I find the Barbera produces a wine like a fruity, amped Cotes-du-Rhone. There's a nice nose on this wine. It's a slightly alcoholic, very fruity, floral experience. The flavor is full of bright fruit -- like a cross between
Until next time…buon' appetito!