Monday, October 19, 2009
The day was rainy and dreary, as it had been for the past few days...but how could I be dreary when I had an Italian wine tasting to prepare for and host! This idea of exploring the wines of Italy actually came from the client. She had an Italian wine at a restaurant and fell in love with it (the wine was Montepulciano, I'm glad she wrote it down :-) When it comes to Italian wines, most people just think Chianti and Pinot Grigio. But Italy has over 500 documented grape varieties and 20 wine regions. Clearly we have missed a few. Since my client wanted to learn more about Italian wines and maybe even discover some new ones that she loved, I figured I would pick some popular Italian varietals that Americans may not be too familiar with. So, on with the tasting.
Since it was raining and cold, I figured that people would be a bit tardy so I started off with Verdi Spumante for guests to sip on as they arrived and got situated. This spumante is made from the moscato grape using the 'champagne method'. It's pretty sweet, labelled 'demi-sec' which is about 33-50 grams of sugar per liter. I knew my audience though, and the Verdi was a hit.
The 1st white served was Marchesini Frascati Superiore which is a blend of trebbiano and malvasia grapes. The Frascati had a slightly honeyed flavor with a bitter herbal finish. Very light in body, this went very well with some of the light appetizers that were served. While this was a new wine for many of the guests, not too sure if they're interested in buying it by the bottle. Although, one guest did say that if she was somewhere it was being served, she would definitely drink a couple of glasses.
Since pinot grigio is one of Italy's most popular wines, and one that most people have tasted, I figured I should have it at the tasting but maybe just in a different way. Antica Corte's blend of pinot grigio and garganega fit the bill. Very smooth with light acidity the garganega added a bit of apple and pear flavors to blend with the typical citrus taste of pinot grigio. Slight acidity and minerality were also found on the palate. A nice alternative to your straight pinot grigio and very good as an aperitif or salads and chicken...or chicken salad!
At an in-store wine tasting I tasted and enjoyed the Mormoraia Vernaccia di San Gimignano. Made from the vernaccia grape (San Gimignano is the town it originates from) it was the 1st white wine to gain DOCG status in Italy. This particular style of Vernaccia di San Gimignano was aged in stainless steel for 4 months before bottling, lending to a very crisp flavor and a bit of strong acidity on the palate. Slightly almond-y and floral on the nose, but fruity citrus flavors like grapefruit were on the palate. Most of the guests liked this medium-bodied white and thought it would taste great with shrimp or a light fish.
We took a short break at this point to clean our glasses and our palates before we started with the reds. There were smoked meats available, olives, pizza, and pasta. All the perfect Italian foods to pair with the Italian wines. Guests asked various questions about general food and wine pairings, wine temperatures...you know, the kind of stuff that people always want to know but are afraid to ask. Glad they felt comfortable enough with me to ask.
First red wine, Azelia Barbera d'Alba from Piedmont, Italy. The barbera grape is the 2nd most widely planted red grape, sangiovese (used for the popular Chianti is 1st). A very smooth example of barbera, this wine had very good acidity to balance with the medium tannins making for a velvety mouthfeel. Refreshing fruit flavors of raspberry and cherry were present on the palate with a spicy finish. Barbera most closely matches pinot noir in terms of flavors and style of wine. While of course you can pair Barbera d'Alba with any food with red or tomato sauces, this would also go well with salmon and light red meats.
Wine Enthusiast had an article in their October issue about Ripasso so I thought that I put one into the mix for this wine tasting. The Ripasso process is essentially the union of 2 wines: Vapolicella, a base wine made from fresh grapes, is poured over the skins, seeds, and pulp of dried, fermented grapes previously used to make Amarone. This combo undergoes a 2nd fermentation which results in Ripasso which actually means, 'passed over twice'. The resulting wine from Villa Mafei's Valpolicella Ripasso was a rich cinnamon and spice flavor with hints of cherry and almonds. The crowd loved the slightly oaky taste on the finish, definitely a crowd favorite. Paired with the salami and prosciutto the wine tasted even richer. Not too bad I might add for a bottle that was under $20.
Saving the host's request for last (so she could taste and assess the other wines with an open mind) we tasted the Montepulciano d'Abruzzo from Abruzzi, Italy. Similar in style to Zinfandel, this medium-bodied but heavily tannic wine showed strong ripe notes of cherry and crushed blackberries on the palate fading into a spicy vanilla finish. Great with olives, antipasto and just foods in red sauce in general. As the saying goes: "If it grows together, it goes together", and boy does this stuff grow and go together!