Italian wine can be quite expensive sometimes. With Barolo, Amarone, Bolgheri and Brunello di Montalcino, it can seem daunting to begin exploring this country’s long and distinguished winemaking history. But drinking your way through Italy doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg, or a boot as it may be. While top producers such as Vietti and Altesino are well known for their wines that can cost multi-hundreds of dollars, they also offer entry level bottlings that are made with the same quality and care in the vineyards as their higher end wines. I love taking home Italian wines after a long days’ work because they have a wonderful acidity that makes them perfect for a meal. These are some of my favorites.
Vietti, a fourth generation producer famous for their world class Barolos, makes a wonderful Barbera D’ Asti, Tre Vigne ($15.99), that is as delicious as it is affordable. The growers of Asti have long boasted that they produce superior Barbera than their more heralded neighbors in Alba. With notes of berries on the tip, a luscious medium body, a touch of barrel spice and delectable hints of meats slow roasted in a wood burning oven. This wine would pair perfectly with a rustic dinner of rotisserie pork loin and grilled vegetables.
The next wine comes from Puglia which is the “heel” of the “boot.” The Feudi Di San Marzano’s Negromaro ($12.99) is a wonderful bargain. I love recommending it for people looking for a “Tuesday Night Dinner” wine. This plush wine tiptoes on your palate with hints of perfectly ripe plum and black cherry followed by a savory herbaceous tone and finishing with mineral notes derived from Puglia’s volcanic soil, in which the grapes were grown. My Mother, having lived in Naples for several years, always said that Italians know when to pick produce at the perfect ripeness and this wine is a perfect example of that adage. It’s a great wine to pair with a thin crust pepperoni pizza (with a little char on the crust of course), or Mom’s Chicken Cacciatore.
The final wine I’d like to recommend comes from Altesino, the prestigious Brunello di Montalcino producer. While their bottlings of Brunello often retail for over $100, the Rosso Di Altesino ($15.99) is more reasonable to those seeking a delicious bottle of wine more suitable for drinking on a nightly basis. Comprised of 80% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot it has subtle hints of red fruit and tobacco on the nose while displaying vibrant acidity with essences of cherries and herbs on the palate. A touch of silky tannin lends structure and complexity to this fantastic wine. It would be an outstanding accompaniment to a hearty dish of sausage and peppers with crusty garlic bread.
Hopefully I’ve succeeded in making Italy more accessible to the everyday wine drinker. From the tip of Sicily to the base of the Alps in the North, Italy has such a diversity of wine growing regions, wine making styles and grape varietals. One could easily drink only Italian wine for the rest of their life and still only discover a fraction of what this nation’s ancient wine making tradition has to offer the oenophile.
Eric B., Beltramo’s Wine Consultant