Yes, I’m aware that I’m mixing cultures with that title but that’s exactly what I had, a little bit
of red wine. And since it was vino rosso that means it was a little bit of Italian red wine. There
were quite a few bottles poured but we all received just a taster’s portion or a little bit hence the
title. Why Italian wine? Well, this is the country of 2000 different varieties of wine grapes. Boy,
that’s a lot more than a little bit. Of course I didn’t sample all 2000 varieties, just the popular
varietals like Nebbiolo, Sangiovese along with Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah. But that’s the beauty
of Italian wines. A little bit of old varietals vinified the original way all the way to New World
style wines that are Californian as much as they are Italian.

The King and Queen of Vino Rosso

Arguably, the royalty of Italian red wine hails from the North, specifically from the Piedmont
region. Here the “Foggy Grape” or Nebbiolo produces the King and Queen of Italian reds –
arguably King and Queen of all red wines – Barolo and Barbaresco ( http://the-gochiso- ). Because Nebbiolo grapes carry a fair
amount of acid and tannins, they aren’t exactly great eating grapes (think sour and bitter)
though birds aren’t as picky when pilfering grapes from vineyards so growers often intersperse
Dolcetto grapes as sacrificial offerings. Though both Barolo and Barbaresco can be teeth staining
and membrane striping when young, bottle aging transforms the wine and rewards those who
wait to a multifaceted, multidimensional liquid red nectar with cherry, leather, tobacco, dried
herbs and earth that’s perfect with roasted meats and hearty stews. In fact Barolo and Barbaresco
are probably one of the top three red wines that I enjoy.

Central Italy’s King

Denizens in Tuscany would most certainly argue that Nebbiolo doesn’t hold a candle to their
native grape, Sangiovese. Sangiovese which is the main grape in Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino
and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano has a right to claim grape nobility on its own merits ( http:
// ). From the
simple red wine found in woven straw fiaschi all the way up to the greatest Brunello di
Montalcino, Sangiovese makes wine for every palate… unless you don’t like red wine. And they’
re food friendly with just about any terrestrial creature (or plant) and lighter versions even pair
with heartier seafood.

The Southern King

The Aglianico is considered the noble red grape of the South primarily grown in Campania and
Basilicata. This thick skinned grape produces teeth staining, rustic wines with spicy overtones
almost like the midpoint between Cabernet and Syrah. These are usually best paired with hearty
red meats like lamb… lamb… and lamb. Oh, and it’s also great with beef. Most Aglianico have
flavors of dark red and black fruits with black pepper and earthy undertones with enough acid to
be food friendly and allowing longer aging.

The Others

Though these grapes are noted as “The Others”, that doesn’t marginalize them in any way. They
all make classic Italian red wines that are distinct in their own right and also beautifully pair
with food. For instance Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (which is actually the Montepulciano grape
as opposed to Vino Nobile di Montepulciano which is made from Sangiovese) produces silky
wines with lower tannins and just enough acidity to pair with hearty roasts and stews. And
though you may not have heard of Corvina Veronese, when it’s mixed with Rondinella and
Molinara grapes, the resulting wine is called Valpolicella which you may have tried at some point
in your life. When these three grapes are air dried on straw mats then vinified, the resulting wine
is called Amarone which takes concentration to a new level. Or the Sicilian Nero d’Avola which
produces wines with ripe plum flavors and silky tannins which pair well with grilled and
barbecued meats.

New Kids on the Block

Italy also has its share of wine innovation the foremost being the introduction and
incorporation of non-native wine grape varietals into winemaking. The strict DOC and DOCG
regulations previously specified exactly which grapes were allowed within certain regions (along
with a host of other regulations including length of aging, crop yields, minimum alcohol levels,
etc) so that wines produced with “foreign” grapes were declassified to Vino di Tavola or table
wine status. With the international acceptance (with corresponding prices) of Tignanello and
Sassicaia which were originally labeled as Vino di Tavola (almost like labeling Screaming Eagle
Cabernet Sauvignon simply as table wine), the Italian classification system added a new category
– IGT or Indicazione Geografica Tipica which simply denotes a specific region in Italy. Most of
these IGT wines simply use grape varietals not originally planted in the region like Cabernet
Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. And many of these wines cost more than DOCG wines.

An Italian Red Wine Blind Tasting

I attended a blind tasting of various Italian red wines… well almost all Italian reds. The host of
the tasting forgot the theme and provided a French red wine from Provence. After tasting and
giving each wine a score, we revealed the identity of each wine. Because you’re not influenced
by any labels, blind tastings are the best way to determine your true likes and dislikes in wine.
At the last blind tasting of Chardonnays that I attended, one of my bottles was corked. I’m
happy to report that neither of my Italian reds were corked… though one bottle was seriously
cooked. But not due to faulty storage conditions on my part – after purchase it sat quietly in
the dark at 55 to 57 degrees. Hopefully both of my wines will be in perfect condition at the next
blind tasting. Here are my favorites from that evening:

2000 Elio Altare Arborina Barolo (4.75)
Cherry, earth and dried herbs on the nose with a nice balance of fruit and earth on the palate
and a seamless flow with a medium long finish

2001 I Balzini Black Label (4.5)
A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese and Merlot with a concentrated nose of dark fruit
and earth and while concentrated on the palate, not overbearing with a seamless flow over the
palate with a medium long finish

2003 Querciabella Chianti Classico (4.5)
Thyme and red cherry on the nose with hints of leather and tobacco with a concentrated palate
but seamless flow over the palate with a long finish

2007 Grilli del Testamatta (4.5)
Slight tobacco and ripe red cherry on the nose with cherry and earth on the palate with a nice
balance between fruit and earth and a long finish
Sukoshi Bit of Vino Rosso