With our upcoming NOTOCON wine tasting, I thought that I would give a little 101 on Italian wines. Just to give a few good reasons to buy Italian wines, they have the depth of minerals, high acidity, and well rounded tannins like the French wines but they are far more affordable and easier on your pocketbook. I am totally in love with Italian wines. One of the most versatile and best known of all the Italian grapes is Sangiovese, which means ” the blood of Jove”. The Sangiovese grape has had a long history starting with the Etruscans who were the first to cultivate the grape. It wasn’t until 1590 Giovanvettorio Sodeini who actually wrote about the grape, however the Antinoris claim to have been cultivating the grape since the 1100s even to modern day. Also please realize that there are 14 different clones of Sangiovese. How did this happen? Well you need to understand Italian history. Most people from the hill top fortified towns through out Italy rarely in history ever left their town. Italian from the end of the Roman times up into the mid 1800’s was just a number of city-states who didn’t get along with each other and were constantly fighting. So wine and food is very localized. As a result the Sangiovese grape became a bit different in each of the various areas that it grew over the centuries thus 14 different clones exist.
The most known Sangiovese clone to most Americans is Chianti, which is grown in the Chianti region of Tuscany. Now if your idea of the bottle in the basket is Chianti, you don’t know Chianti. FYI most wine historians claim that the grape in that bottle was really Nero d’Avalo and not even really Chianti; also it was the junk wine and not even the better Nero d’Avalo. Chianti has a ruby red color with flashes of bright burnt orange. It’s aroma is cherries. It’s initial taste is red fruits. The finish is rich red fruits with notes of oregano, espresso and tabacco on the end. Like most Italian wines it has a high acidity thus pairs well with local foods. There’s a saying in Italian, “What grows together, goes to together”. Hence why local foods and local wines go hand in hand in Italy. You want to taste an inexpensive but delicious Chianti, try Fattoria di Grignano Poggio Gaultieri Riserva. You can pick it up for under $20 and have some Pasta Marinara with it. If you want to spend a little more, try Castelli del Grevepesa Lamole Gran Selezione especially 2010s, which was a vintage year (FYI it was a perfect growing season and the grapes couldn’t be better) for under $30.
The best of the Sangiovese clones is Brunello di Montalcino. Brunello means “little brown one”, because at harvest time the grape turns brown in color, letting the vintner know that it’s time to harvest the grapes. Brunello is a more full body wine than Chianti. Black fruits are in the aroma and taste with lots of dark chocolate and violet notes in the finish. A great Brunello makes a number of great Cabernets seem lifeless. This wine goes good with local veal and anything steak like. I will confess that Brunello is now my favorite wine. While Brunello is one of the more pricey of wines to buy but when comparing it to French wines of the same caliber, Brunello is far more affordable. You can pick up a decent Brunello for under $40 such as Tenuta Di Sesta Brunello di Montalcino. If money is no problem, I suggest my favorite Brunello, Castiglion del Bosco Milecento Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2010, which is truly an elegant wine with lots of chunky minerals. The Milecento is the prefect Brunello in my opinion and for around $200, you too can own one. I confessed that I’ve only tasted this lovely elixir just once but thanks to the generosity of the owners of Castiglion del Bosco, there’s one in my wine cellar.
The most under rated of the Sangiovese clones is Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. While the town of Montepulciano is just 20 minutes away from Montalcino, Vino Nobile is different from Brunello as it doesn’t the depth of character but for the price, it is probably the best bargain wine that you can buy at your local wine store. The wine has rich berries on the nose and palate with intense spices and minerals on the finish. You can easily pick up Vino Nobile di Montpulciano for around $15. I suggest the Leone d’Oro Vino Nobile di Montpulicano. You will be surprised at the rich fruit, complexity and elegance of this inexpensive bargain.
As you can see there are is so much to experience in Italian wines. Next time you are out to eat instead of getting that Cab that you have every time, be adventurous and try an Italian, you wont be disappointed.