Italian Review


Last week I said we were going to review our various wine regions for our Features in September. Some of you caught onto the fact that this “review” is also a bit of inventory clearance prior to our closing Back Bay Cafe and consolidating things in Washington. No matter. You still get some great buys on some great wines, so be sure to get them while they last.
Nino Franco “Rustico” Prosecco Superiore (Valdobbiadene, Veneto, Italy) - Regular Price $21.95/ Feature Price $18.66
We start with a fresh, clean, just off-dry sparkler from the Veneto region, high in the northeast of the country. This is Italy’s answer to France’s Champagne, but unlike that French bubbly, which is fermented in the bottle, Prosecco is produced using the Charmat method, in which the secondary fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks, making the wine less expensive to produce. At 11% alcohol, this is a bubbly you can start the evening with...and still have room for wine with the main course.  Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate gave this wine 90 Points and wrote:
“The palate has lovely balance, an utterly seductive leesy/creamy texture and a smooth finish that leave the palate refreshed and wanting more."
I’ll say! Try it now and you’ll know what you’re going to serve at your first holiday get-together.
Pieropan Soave (Classico) 2008 (Veneto, Italy) Regular $21.00/ Feature $17.85
We just introduced this one at the beginning of this summer, but it’s such an elegant white dinner wine, that I had to review it here. It’s another one that’s not just for summer. Keep it in mind for holiday feasts. Last May I wrote:
Soave (SUAVE-ay) can be “dee-lish” and it can be thin, dull and sour. Knowing this, wine importer Neil Empson decided to go to the Veneto region in northern Italy, where Soave is produced, and find the highest quality producer who farms south facing hillside vineyards, restricts grape production and makes wine the "old school" Italian way. He found this in the Pieropan family winery, a tradition that goes back several generations to 1890, when the winery was founded by Leonildo Pieropan. The operation is now run by the founder’s grandson, also called Leonildo, his wife Teresita, and their two sons Andrea and Dario. The wine is made from 85% Garganega and 15% Trebbiano di Soave that are entirely estate-grown and hand-picked. The use of the latter grape is part of Pieropan's effort to safeguard ancient native Italian varieties that have lately been neglected by most growers.
There’s one way the Pieropans are not “old school” - the use of a Stelvin screw-cap closure on their 2008 vintage. Foregoing the traditional cork meant giving up the coveted “Classico” designation on their bottle. Young Andrea explains the issue: “In actual fact, all Pieropan vineyards are in the historic Classico region, so this vintage is as Classico as all our previous years. However, for merely bureaucratic reasons, having decided to use a Stelvin screw cap closure, we cannot state this on the label – that’s because the Classico regulations do not provide for screw cap closures.” Well, why would a “traditonal” winery give up the designation? Again, Andrea: “We believe this Stelvin closure allows us to maintain utmost product freshness and avoid oxidization. It therefore also allows us to make minimal use of sulfites, since the product is so well preserved by the closure itself. This means higher quality and greater consumer health.”
The best of the old and the best of the new at a price you can afford.
Casabianca Poggio Gonfienti Rosato 2010 (Colli della Toscana Centrale, Italy) - Regular Price $13.90/ Feature Price $11.82 (Washington store only)
There are only a few bottles left of this dry rosé of Sangiovese, and it’s really a summertime wine, so get it while you can. Great with crab cakes or summer salads. I like to say it’s “a chillable Chianti.”
Turner & Cole Poggio del Falco 2006 (IGT Tuscany, Italy) Regular Price $22.75/ Feature Price $19.34
And while we’re in Tuscany, we’ll take a grab at the last few bottles of this wonderful “super Tuscan” from our friends at Turner Wine Imports. The “Super Tuscan” designation is what we call wines that are from the Chianti region of Tuscany but don’t have the requisite 85% Sangiovese. This one from the “Hawk Hill” is a rich blend of Sangiovese with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, and it’s made with organic grapes and no added sulfites. At 11.5% alcohol, it’s perfect for the table. This is one of those wines you should have in your wine rack for an impromptu supper of cuisine from the Tuscan hills.
Rimbaldi Montepulciano D’Abruzzo 2009 (Abruzzo, Italy) - Regular Price $13.75/ Feature Price $11.69
This is one of those wine names that I love to say with a litlting Italian accent and a bit of Roman hand waving. Phonetic spelling doesn’t do it justice, but it’s something like “mont-ee-pull-CHAHN-o dah-BRUT-so.” Made from the Montepulciano grape (with a bit of Sangiovese allowed) in the east central Italian region of Abruzzo, this is Italian table wine at its best. It has a bit of pepper and spice and some rustic earthiness that makes it go great with peasant food - sausages, mushrooms, tomatoes, hard cheeses. Get the picture? It even comes bottled with a convenient screw-cap. And with a Feature Price that puts it in the “everyday” category, this is another one to keep on hand...and then “Mangia!”
Mazzaro 2005 (Puglia, Italy) - Regular Price $20.95/ Feature Price $17.81
The importer of this wine is Jim Stock, The Haw River Wine Man of Burlington, NC. Jim, though of Greek stock, speaks Italian and travels to Italy every year to meet with producers and bring us great Italian wines like this one. He’s also my mentor on pronouncing Italian names. When I first saw this one I was going “MAH-zer-oh.” Wrong. It’s “MAHTS-er-oh.” Sound so much more Italian, doesn’t it? The wine is made with a grape Jim first turned me on to - Aglianico (ah-LYAH-nee-koe) - one of Jim’s favorites. This dark purple grape makes up 50% of the wine, with the other half made from the more familiar Cabernet Sauvignon. That makes for a powerful combination. And the grapes are all organic, as well. If you like a big Italian red, you’ll love this Mazzaro. And you’ll love knowing how to say it, too.
Sesti Monteleccio 2005 (Montalcino, Italy) - Regular Price $26.55/ Feature Price $22.57
Now for the good stuff. We introduced this one in our “Wines for Holiday Feasts” Feature of 2008. It’s got a couple more years of bottle age on it now, but for a wine of this stature, it’s just reaching its maturity. When we reviewed this wine last Spring, I wrote:
This wine has a habit of overshadowing (even outclassing) much more expensive competition. In fact, when English wine writer Jancis Robinson did a tasting of 11 top Italian estates (including Gaja, Sassicaia and Ornellaia), the standout for her (and the only one she wrote up in her newsletter), was Sesti's Monteleccio. But this shouldn't surprise, really. What's in the bottle here is not only pure Brunello di Montalcino material, but actually Brunello from one of the best and most historic vineyards in the zone. It's just bottled early (after a year in large oak botti, versus four years for the Brunello) to be more approachable.
A “baby Brunello” that’s all grown up and ready to grace your finest dinner table.
Italians for the Masses
Friday night is Music in the Streets, so for that night only (and in Washington onlyl), we’re going to Feature some of our popular Italian wines that sell at very attractive prices every day.
Cielo (CHELL-oh) Pinot Grigio (IGT Venezie, Italy) Everyday low price - $9.75
The name means “heaven” in Italian, and a lot of our customers agree with that designation. We sell many cases of this everyday dry Pinot Grigio.
Badia Corti Orvieto Classico Abboccato (Umbria, Italy) Everyday low price - $11.50
OrvietoOrvietoThe grape here is principally Trebbiano, Italy's most widely planted (and sometimes uninteresting) white grape. Here it is enriched with Malvasia Blanca, giving it a luscious fruit and flowers redolence that makes it most refreshing. This off-dry white has enough acidity to offset its sweetness. A great wine with a plate of mixed cheeses. Limited quantity.
Sant’ Evasio Piemonte Barbera (Asti, Italy) - $24.25 for 3 Litri bag-in-box (4 bottles equivalent) = $6.06 per ”bottle”
Barbera D’Asti is a great Italian food wine. Here you get the added value and “keepability” (stays good for up to 5 weeks after opening) of a high-tech wine box. Perfect to serve to a crowd. Canella Bellini (Venezia, Italy) - Regular Price $16.45/ Feature Price $13.98 A wine cocktail, invented at Harry’s Bar in Venice, that combines Italian sparkling prosecco with white peach puree. This version is already mixed for you and, with its handy screwcap, you can keep it in the refrigerator and pour it in a glass when friends come over. At only 7% alcohol, it’s a great treat on a warm afternoon or after a long week’s work.