Vineyards at Villa Matilde
Having not traveled for more than a year outside of my home city of New York, one of the places I miss most is Italy. Sure, I could be stuck in worse towns, but a wobbly curbside table over a puddle near a pile of trash while breathing in bus exhaust fumes ain’t no dolce vita in the piazza. Luckily, I can at least get a sense of traveling there in my wine glass.
Some of the most interesting wines from Italy these days are not the big names we’ve come to know. Oh, I’ll never turn down a great Soave, Verdicchio, Barolo, Aglianico, Chianti Classico or Brunello. But since I’m more than ready for a little adventure (and guessing you might be by now too), I thought it worth exploring some lesser known territory.
“Ouedis” Alta Langa DOCG Brut
Enrico Serafino “Ouedis” Alta Langa DOCG Brut 2016: While there is so much great Prosecco, Franciacorta and other sparkling wine from Italy these days, Piedmont’s Alta Langa is lesser known in the states. This winemaker helped achieve the DOCG designation (signifying the highest quality) to distinguish the wines for the region. Named for the god Odysseus, this Metodo Classico 80% Pinot Noir/20% Chardonnay drinks like a much more expensive Champagne. (This winemaker’s Barolo is pretty special too.) $38
Venturini Baldini Lambrusco Montelocco
Venturini Baldini Montelocco Lambrusco Emilia IGP, Semi Sec: My favorite wine to match with pizza is Lambrusco because the refreshing carbonation and cool serving temperature cut the fattiness and saltiness of the cheese, while the tart fruit and tannins match the sauce. This 100% Lambrusco Salamino is an off-dry style, which gave me pause, but it actually doesn’t drink too sweet. A refreshing hint of mint mingles with bright cherry and raspberry along with ever-so-subtle florals in the finish. $17
Villa Matilde Falanghina
Villa Matilde Falanghina Rocca dei Leoni 2019: The white grape of Campania blooms in this zesty, balanced white with hints of Meyer lemon, tart apple and white flowers. $20
Montaribaldi Roero Arneis Capural DOCG
Montaribaldi Roero Arneis Capural DOCG 2019 Farther north, the signature grape of Piedmont has the citrusy zest of an Abariño, with the orchard fruit (pear, apple) depth of an Alsatian white, and just a hint of florals and tropical fruit. $19
Banfi San Angelo Toscana IGT Pinot Grigio
If you’ve avoided PG in favor of white wines from grapes that seem more “interesting” to sip, it’s worth trying one again, even side by side with others. These three from different regions around the boot show what good winemaking can do for this grape.
Mezzacorona Pinot Grigio
Cesconi Pletter 2016: This 100% Lagrein (“Pletter”) grown at the foot of the Alps in Trentino is brooding in color, yet brightly flavored, with a slightly floral and peppery finish. $30
Stemmari Nero d’Avola
Stemmari Nero d’Avola 2018: The signature red grape of Sicily shines in this wine, with ripe dark berry and plum flavors that match well with a variety of dishes from small plates to mains. And it’s a steal for $10.
Masciarelli Marina Cvetic ISKRA
Marina Cvetic ISKRA 2015: Gianni Masciarelli named this wine—the Serbian word for “spark”—for his wife Marina. This 100% Montelpucliano (here it’s the grape, not the place) comes from grapes harvested from a single cru in Controguerra (province of Teramo) in Abruzzo. Brambly fruit and a slight hint of licorice make this dense, velvety beauty an ideal accompaniment for roast dinners or stews with Asian spices. $38
The red stars of Tuscany are the Sangiovese-based Chianti, Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino—and they’re go-tos for very good reasons. However, in recent years, Tuscan winemakers have recognized the potential of the terroir and sun-bathed climate to coax even more character from Sangiovese by blending it with other grapes—sometimes ones that previously had not been native to Tuscany for IGTs otherwise referred to as “Super Tuscans”.
Il Palagio “Roxanne” Toscana Rosso IGT
“Roxanne” Rosso Tuscano 2018 IGT: Yep, this wine by Il Palagio is the Sting and Trudie Styler-owned one. But hey, purists—don’t put on the red light! This well balanced, earthy yet fruity and slightly peppery blend of 90% Sangiovese and 10% Ciliegolo really delivers (like the Italian takeout you’ll want to eat with it). $20
Badia a Coltibuono Montebello Toscana IGT
“Montebello” Toscana IGT 2015: When it comes to modern reds from Tuscany, we tend to think of Sangiovese-dominant blends. However this Super Tuscan from Badia a Coltibuono incorporates nine regional grapes in a throwback to the old field blend style of Tuscan winemaking, with each varietal fermented and aged individually, then blended together. So much going on here—earthiness, florals, ripe cherry fruit and even a hint of smokiness. $61
Agricola Punica Montessu Isola dei Nuraghi
Agricola Punica Montessu Isola dei Nuraghi IGT 2018: Super Tuscans get all the publicity, but this is a super Sardignian! From the Sulcis Iglesiente region of the island comes this Carignano-led wine blended with a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Syrah that has those Rhône-like jammy notes with a bit of herbaceousness and meatiness. If you think Sardinia is only about grenache-like Cannanau, give this heartier red a try. $37
Michele Chiarlo Cipressi Barbera Nizza DOCG 2017: The name comes from the cyprus trees on the Cru La Cort estate on a UNESCO World Heritage Site where this luscious, well-structured Barbera is grown. The rich finish of this wine goes on for days. $30
Pasqua Romeo & Juliet PassioneSentimento Rosso, Veneto IGT
Pasqua Romeo & Juliet PassioneSentimento Rosso, Veneto IGT: The Veneto, where the ultimate romantic drama Romeo and Juliet takes place, is known for its Valpolicella red wines made from local grapes Corvina, Covinone, Rondinella and Molinara. It’s also known for Amarone, a specific style of Valpolicella using pressed juice from dried grapes. Pasqua is a winery that likes to defy conventions and here they do this by making an Amarone style using alternate grapes—40% Merlot with 30% Corvina and 30% Croatina—that have all been dried on mats before pressing. Unlike Amarone, the result is less leathery, with softer fruit and a more chocolatey texture. Also unlike Amarone, it’s only $16.
I am a freelance writer and the author of New York Cocktails from Cider Mill Press. I am so looking forward to the day when I can once again ruminate over a play I just