For five Monday nights in January and February, I have class. Wine class. It was a xmas gift, one I hope will keep on giving forever. My ambition is to become *knowledgeable enough about Italian wines where I can suggest a few up-and-comers to friends, identify rip-off Chiantis before purchase and amass a nice cache of vino to complement whatever miracle dishes Xtina whips up for dinner.
*I promise not to insist that you sniff the glass before imbibing, or study the legs or think of adjectives for the soil and wood perfumes that waft from the glass.
So what have I learned after the second week? Answer: grapes are incredibly complicated creatures that react to everything: sunlight, soil, breezes, you name it. The great thing about Italy is that the wines are more varied here than anywhere else in Europe. There are over 300 wine-producing grape varietals in Italy -- twice as many as in France and four times as many as in Spain. So, region by region (even hill by hill), the local vintage changes dramatically. Ok, we all know that. But if you know a few things about the grapes and the producer beforehand, the wisdom can go a long way towards improving your meal.
Ok, so now to the truly useful tips. I've now tasted 8 wines, running the gamut of red, white, rosatto and even a Moscato. Here are the ones to keep an eye out for the next time you pay a visit to your local off-license, enoteca or Wine World.
1) Cortese dell'Alto Monferrato Oro, 2003. This is a white from Piemonte, the land of Gavi. I would put this number against any Gavi I've tried. The trick is bariq barrels. This is a strong candidate for my annual "best of" list. ;-)
2) A 2004 Sicilian Syrah called Monreale Syrah from the Spadafora vineyard. I know I said I wouldn't mention perfumes and adjectives, but this baby gives off an unmistakable coffee aroma. Perfect for heavy pasta dishes: tagliatelle with pomodori, melanzane parm.
3) a 2004 Pinot Nero from Cantina Produttori Termeno in Alto Adige (a region that makes fantastic reds and whites). This is a very dry red, but light enough to accompany a fish meal, I'd say. I didn't know too much about the Pinot Nero (or, Pinot Noir, as the French, the masters of this grape, say). My loss. I promise to research more and get back to you. On a personal note, I actually stopped into this cantina in the German-speaking village of Tramin (Termeno) quite by chance a few weeks back. I wanted to buy some bottles of the LeGrein, a smooth red I first tasted at lunch. The cantina was packed with oldtimers, playing cards and swilling the local vintages on tap. It was uncharacteristically raucous for a cantina, almost intimidating. The wines are worth the trip, however.
4) Here's a sweet wine for those of you who like something to accompany dessert, a moscato from Cantina Sant'Andrea in Terracina, south of Rome. The one in particular I liked was a Moscato di Terracina Oppidum 2004.
Imbibe with care.