by Ronnie Grant
The Wine Country’s Italian Wine Buyer
Wine in central and southern Italy is as diverse as the regions themselves. For centuries the regions of Italy have developed their own wine identity that each region has its own unique grape varietals. Yes there is some overlap among the twelve regions, but the true beauty of the wines from these areas is the variation.
It’s a wine explorers dream.
The reason why I’m focusing on central and southern Italy is the lack of publicity the twelve regions receive; well except for one, Tuscany. The other regions are Umbria, Lazio (where Rome is located), Marche, Abruzzo, Molise, Puglia, Campania, Basilicata, Calabria, Sicily, and Sardinia.
Wine has been made here for thousands of years when the Greeks started cultivating indigenous grapes or brought from Greece their own varietals. Despite this long history most of these regions are only known for large scale production, or bulk. Rumors abound that some of the wine ends up in northern Italy in blends or even into wines produced in other countries, such as France.
Not that very good wine hasn’t been made, the stigma still sticks. I even argue these are “noble wines” as some like to describe wines from Piedmont or other wine producing regions around the world.
There are now many producers that have improved their viticulture practices, oenological procedures and marketing. Don’t forget that Southern Italy has plenty of sun, limited rainfall, and soils suited for vine-growing all that was needed was for wineries to start taking vine growing seriously by lowering yields, thus the amount of wine produced, and the actual vinification of the wine by modernizing their winemaking facilities.
One must not forget the cuisine of central and Southern Italy and the fact that wine in Italy is truly about how they pair with food. When discussing great wine the conversation needs to begin and end with vino e cucina.
It goes without saying that the most popular cuisine in America is from Italy which is influenced by Italian-Americans with roots in Southern Italy. It's the wine from Southern and Central Italy that really shine with the traditional Italian-American meals we enjoy. It could be the sun-drenched reds from Sicily or the succulent white wines from Campania (think Neapolitan pizza), the great Sangiovese from Tuscany that is built for grilled/roasted meat, or the everyday drinking Montepulciano from Abruzzo; all of these wines should be on your table.
Tenuta di Pietra Porzia 2010 Regillo, Frascati Superiore, LazioFrascati is a little town south of Rome and the wine from there is found in many cafes throughout the capital city of Italy. This gives you a good idea for the perfect setting for this Frascati made by Pietra Porzia: your table at home. It has a deep, almost intense, pear aroma, with some perfume. But the great value shows up when you drink this. There is plenty of fruit on this to make for a great aperitif and complex enough – there is a touch of almonds on the palate – to keep people interested. Malvasia di Candia, Malvasia del Lazio, Bombino, and Grechetto are the grapes.
$13.99 per bottle
Arnaldo Caprai 2010 Grecante,
Grechetto dei Colli Martani, Umbria
Central Italy is known more for her red wine, but when it comes to white wine, Grechetto is, in my opinion the grape one should look for in Umbria. Caprai’s has a fair amount of rich fruit, though not quite “chardonnay-esque” texturally. If you’re serving any kind of white meat (chicken or pork) or fish dish pour this with it. You’ll understand why Italians know how to make wine as this just wants a good meal to go with it. (reg. $17.99)
$13.99 per bottle
Piero Mancini 2011 Vermentino di Gallura, Sardinia
Gallura is a peninsula on the northeast corner of the island of Sardinia that specializes in Vermentino (the grape is also grown on the coast of mainland Italy, on Corsica and in the south of France under the name Rolle). Mancini's version of the grape is very fresh and forward, made with no oak or malolactic fermentation, just grapejuice fermented at low temperature in stainless steel for the aromas. Pale yellow color; aroma of peach, tangerine and herbs; medium-weight in the mouth, with bright acidity; very clean, good length, finishes with a touch of tangerine.
$14.99 per bottle
Marisa Cuomo 2010 Ravello, Costa d'Amalfi, Campania
I’ve tasted the last two vintages of this wine with the importer, but never pulled the trigger to bring it in. I’ve loved but felt there might not be a market for it. I take pride in a somewhat eclectic mix of Italian white wines but the nature of the business means Pinot Grigio rules the roost. The pure class of this wine makes it fit perfectly into our white wine program. The wine has a very pretty nose, with a slight floral character, but the palate is stunningly complex with a bit citrus/tropical texture. It’s a blend of Falanghina and Biancolella, two grapes indigenous to Campania.
$22.99 per bottle
Colosi 2009 Sicilia Rosso, Sicily
Sicilia Rosso is a tribute to the oldest and most typical Sicilian grapes, Nero d’Avola, also called Calabrese. The synonym Calabrese is an “Italianization” of the old Sicilian dialect name for the species “Calavrisi” which means literally “Avolla grape” or grape originating in Avola. Colosi’s is a dry, full-bodied wine with aromas of black fruit, blackberry and strawberries. Perfect with red meats and aged cheese.
$9.99 per bottle
Di Majo Norante 2009 Sangiovese Terra Degli Osci Molise
Super smooth with plush and juicy fruit, this is a great party/everyday wine, though grilled meats or pizza would make for a great pairing. Wine should be more than just a “cocktail” and in Italy there is a culture of wine, food, and friends that I feel should be followed here. Norante’s inexpensive Sangiovese makes for a good start towards creating a wine culture here in the States. For the ones with the question in their mind, Terra deglic Osci is in the Molise region along the east coast of Italy.
$9.99 per bottle
Menhir 2010 Primo, Salento Primitivo, Puglia
Primitivo is a relative to Zinfandel, but that’s it. Where Zinfandel is in your face and full of overripe and heady fruit, Primitivo, at least those from Puglia, gives us a wine that has more a refined fruit forward character. The reason for this, is southern Italians typically add a bit of spicy pepper to their dishes. They’re not going for four-alarm heat, just a very subtle hint of spicy flavor. You need a wine with supple, fruity texture to soak that up. If you’re serving a pizza with a spicy sausage on it, this is the wine.
$11.99 per bottle
Cirelli 2010 Montepulciano d'Abruzzo
Quite honestly, this is the best example of what wine should be, something that can be enjoyed without any pretentions. It’s a classic table-wine, in the best sense of the word. Brisk and lively, though carrying a decent amount of richness and tannin, this Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is the quaffing wine extraordinaire.
$14.99 per bottle
Umani Ronchi 2010 Fonte de Re,
Lacrima di Morro d'Alba, Marche
A customer said to me one day, while she was looking at this wine, “do you have many people taking a bottle of this home? It’s just so aromatic.” My first thought was no, not enough. Lacrima is the varietal used in the bottling and has the customer alluded to it is very gorgeous aromatically, conjuring up images of violets and maybe lavender. There is plenty of bright, juicy, and deep fruit to balance everything making for a great wine to just smell. Coming from the Marche you’re going to find a soft and easy going palate that is well suited for grilled or roasted entrées.
$15.99 per bottle
Statti 2010 Gaglioppo, Calabria
Nice, zippy wine with pure cherry fruit, a wine that is soft on the palate and easy to drink. It does have nice complexity—the nose has flowers and spice—but if there ever was an unpretentious wine in the store, this is it.
$15.99 per bottle
Grifalco 2008 Grifalco, Aglianico del Vulture, Basilicata
What is an Aglianico? It’s a grape that originally—the theory goes—came to Italy from Greece and has taken root, primarily, in two Italian regions: Basilicata and Campania. Grifalco keeps it simple. This is aged mostly in concrete tanks and is a fresh and easy drinking example of what this grape is all about. But there is no mistaking the full-bodied nature of this wine either. Aglianico, on the nose, is very expressive and on the palate structured much like Cabernet Sauvignon.
$21.99 per bottle
Sanguineto 2009 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Tuscany
Stunning, truly stunning; I fell in love with this immediately. It has the traditional qualities that I love for in a wine from Montepulciano: delicate aromas, a bit of power on the palate from the Sangiovese, and a dry finish. The nose definitely provides a great example of what Sangiovese should be, beautiful, yet intense. The mouthfeel does have a fair amount of suppleness, but nothing like some of the modern interpretations that we’re beginning to see in a Vino Nobile. This is an outstanding classic.
$37.99 per bottle