Sunday, August 06, 2017

Lose your V-Card in Italy

Breezes off the Mediterranean lightly caress your skin. You lean back, sated under a cerulean sky. Italian summer sun warms you as you feel a single drop of sweat glide down the gentle curve of your neck. Heavy-eyed with relaxed languor, you turn your head and reach your hand to softly caress…your wine glass.

OK. I’ll stop. I’m your wine guy, not your Scrittore di romanticismo. People with more adjectives than I have for scenery, food, and sex have set countless pages of romantic fiction under the warmth of the Italian sun. Still, if you’re into daydreaming about seduction and romance in Italy, we’ve got you covered here in Vine land for whatever your scenic backdrop.

Italy is home to more than 600 autochthonal (WineSpeak for “native”) grape varieties, both red and white. Until the last couple of decades, many of these grapes were completely unknown in American markets. With an increased interest in indigenous varieties driven by expanding palates and books like Bianca Bosker’s “Cork Dork,” more and more of these grapes are making their way onto wine lists of all stripes.

Interestingly, many of these Italian white varieties start with the letter “V” – and they share a winesexy aspect. Most summertime wines are either a bit watery and flabby (like cheap Pinot Grigio) or have such high acid that they can be hard to drink (like many Sauvignon Blanc). These V-wines nestle themselves into a sweet spot – less acid and more fruit richness – that make them particularly welcome partners, especially when you’ve got a bit of an appetite on a warm day.

With glasses outstretched, let’s meander to a few of these romantic Italian spots and see what they’re pouring…

Our first stop is under the Tuscan sun in the town of San Gimignano, known as the “Town of Fine Towers” and also for production of the Vernacchia grape, considered to be a simple, everyday white wine to enjoy on the palazzos of this hillside town. An example I could offer you would be the Fontaleoni 2016 Vernacchia di San Gimignano – full of apples and pears on the nose, with more citrus on the palate. However, that citrus doesn’t mean thin. The wine gently coats the midpalate. The acid comes in a bit on the finish, which is fairly gentle, with only a little lemony twinge at the end. It tastes like summertime, like a tart lemonade with intentions. 

We set sail from here to the lovely island of Sardinia, with its crystal blue waters and gorgeous natural scenery. Love lasts on Sardinia, which boasts some of the longest life expectancies on the globe. Perhaps this is driven in point by consumption of Vermentino, the best known grape on the island. I like to think of Vermentino as the Viognier of Italian white wines. The example I came across, the Castanzu 2015 Vermentino di Sardegna is lovely and lush, rich with lemon, peach, and cedar on the nose. Rich without much sweetness, I found lemon rind and peaches as the main fruity characteristic, backed up by distinct creaminess. Plenty of minerals and a little smoke on the finish, which is quite dry and lemony.

From here, let’s pay a visit to the rolling hills of central Italy, specifically the Marche region, where they are best known for your other romantic obsession – Italian shoes. In addition to cobbling, they’re known for growing Verdicchio, which was largely a blending grape until improvements in winemaking techniques over the last half of the 20th century smoothed out many of the acidic rough edges of this particular grape. Our version here, the Indigenous 2015 Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi is a good illustration of the balance. It’s tart without being overly acidic. The nose is full of orange blossom with a flavor of pineapples and apricot. I found a nicely balanced weight in the body with a little lemon zip at the end. There’s plenty of minerality throughout, yielding a very refreshing sip that you might enjoy while you try on that pair of Fabianis.

Moving southeast down the coast from Marche brings us to Puglia, the “heel” of the Italian boot – and to the Itria Valley, where you and yours can lose yourselves for hours amidst the olive groves and charming towns lined with pointed stone houses called trulli. In this valley (which is technically not a valley, as there are few distinct mountains), they produce whites from the Verdeca grape.

Once a primary grape in vermouth, Verdeca is largely used as a blending grape to give body to leaner whites. Some producers are now producing single varietal Verdeca wines, like the Masseria Li Veli 2014 Verdeca di Valle d’Itria. A bit darker in color than the other whites here, the Verdeca has a bit of a funky, somewhat herbal nose, followed by a very minerally, lemon and tangerine body. The finish is flinty with a flavor which reminds me a bit of orange bitters. Stronger as a food wine than on its own, it’s great with a seared tuna steak with a niçoise-ish side of roasted potatoes and green beans with sliced olives and a vinaigrette.

Pick your favorite Italian spot. Pour yourself a glass. Take a sip. Let your eyes unfocus and close. Have yourself a vision…and let yourself be awakened with a kiss. 

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