By Maxine Howard
Italian winemakers and their representatives took over the St. Regis Hotel in San Francisco earlier this autumn for the Simply Italian great wine tour. With stops in Chicago and Las Vegas, the tour offered the chance to share the wide variety of magic Italian winemakers weave with their grapes.
More than fifty wineries from all over Italy poured their best wines at seminars and the grand tasting. While some were established labels, others came to the United States to find importers for their brands.
Seminars highlighted the range of grapes grown and the full gamut of wines produced all over Italy. At one session fourteen wines took participants on a fascinating tour. We started with non-vintage Prosecco from Carpenè Malvolti that demonstrated the fruity aroma yet dry finish of this sparkling wine.
Moving through a procession of increasingly complex whites, we continued to some remarkable reds. The 2005 Rubesco Riserva Vigna Monticchio from Cantine Giorgio Lungarotti, a blend of 70% Sangiovese and 30% Canaiolo, was one of the most complex of the tasting with notes of dark cherries and silky tannins. The 2006 Mille E Una Notte (meaning 1001 nights) from Donnafugata was another spectacular red blend. This contained 90% Nero d’Avola and 10% of “the best grapes harvested at Contessa Entellina in 2006.” The aroma was of dark fruits and the taste had a great balance of fruit and earthiness with a slight tannic finish.
Simply Italian might be a misnomer, as the variety of grapes, wines and regions was anything but simple. Among the variety of interesting wines here are several that stood out:
Perla Del Garda is a small producer from Lonato, a town in Lombardy in northern Italy. Coming from generations of farmers, this brother/sister team started releasing their own wines only a few years ago. Their white wine, Perla 2009, comes from the Lugana region within Lombardy. It is produced from Trebbiano grapes. Very tasty, the wine was crisp and flinty with a slightly smoky touch. Their red, Terre Lunari, is a blend consisting of 80% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc. It showed nice fruit, tempered by the earthiness of the Cabernet Franc and soft tannins.
From the island of Sardinia came Argiolas with flavorful, distinctive wines. The 2010 Costamolino is a white wine made from the Vermentino grape. It had notes of tropical fruit with a slight sweetness reminded me of a Riesling. The 2008 Perdera comes primarily from Monica grapes. It had a gorgeous deep red color, with dark fruit flavors culminating with a peppery finish. The 2005 Turriga is 85% Cannonau grapes with 5% each of Carignano, Bovale Sardo and Malvasia Nera. This medium bodied, food friendly wine was one of my favorites.
Valentina Cubi brought a great range of wines using basically the same grapes from the Veneto region in northeast Italy. I was impressed at the different tastes that are all called Valpolicella (the name of the region within Veneto). The 2009 Iperico was a lighter red with nice flavor. It was made from 65% Corvina, 25% Rondinella and 10% Molinara. The 2004 Morar was a well made, full bodied wine of greater complexity. It was composed of 70% Corvina, 25% Corvinone and 5% Rondinella. The third Valpolicella, a 2005 Arusnatico, had the same composition as the Iperico but tasted altogether different. The distinction is that the Arusnatico undergoes a second fermentation on the stems in February. This treatment produces a deep red, well-structured wine that is both fruity and spicy. It fills the mouth and finishes with silky tannins.
For a wine lover constantly in search of new tastes, this mini tour of the varieties of Italian wine beyond Pinot Grigio and Chianti was quite a revelation. I recommend trying bottles from different grape varieties to compare with your old standards for a fresh experience.
Maxine Howard is the West Coast correspondent for the Amateur Gastronomer.