Bold reds under an Italian sun

The Grapevine

May 26, 2011|By Lisa Aireythewinekey@aol.com

Italian wines have long lost their wicker basket/drip candle image. They are not synonymous with "cheap" whether talking price or quality. The best of the best hold their own within the global wine market in prestige and excellence and by so doing have removed the glass ceiling for other Italian producers who wish to climb the price/quality ladder.

This shift goes part and parcel with the changing image of Italian cuisine in this country. Italian restaurants are not just slinging spaghetti onto red-checkered table cloths. Pasta is an art form. Many restaurants, both Italian and non-Italian alike, make their own. Even pizza has gone ultra-gourmet these days.

It is no small wonder that the rich Italian red that accompanies these designer dishes is in keeping with the entrée price points.

Wine is food, at least in Europe, where it is considered an essential part of the meal. And most Italian reds are crafted with food in mind. They have bright acids to cut the fat and ready the palate for the next bite of food. Their alcohol levels are generally moderate and the wines are not heavily oaked.

They are flavorful and toothsome while still maintaining versatility at table, all the while maintaining an elegance that allows for them to sipped alone. And that's a good deal at any price point.

Light and fresh

Fonterutoli Badiola 2008 ($18) This sangiovese/merlot blend is full of sour cherry fruit with bright acid, yet still full and rich on the palate. It's built for food and will complement any tomato-based pasta dish.

Bertani Valpolicella 2008 ($14) A bright little number that is fresh and clean with a tart strawberry fruit. It's a low-tannin red that won't have you reaching for a glass of water as the temperatures climb. Fabulous for picnic fare.

Rich and satisfying

Fonterutoli Chianti Classico 2007 ($31) This sangiovese blend boasts bright acids with dark cherry fruit and a dense almost tarry finish with a hint of walnut. A big wine with impact. A chianti with guts and stuffing.

Cesari Mara Ripasso 2007 ($18) A very satisfying mélange of sun-dried cherries and chocolate. Smooth. Rich. Delicious.

Banfi Belnero 2007 ($34) A sangiovese blend that just begs for beef and has the mojo and muscle to match! There is plenty of power and chewy tannins midst the dark fruit and dark spice. The finish hints of walnut, a note that will carry the wine right on through from entrée to cheese course. Grana padana, anyone?

Stunning

Fonterutoli Siepi 2006 ($90) A lovely single vineyard sangiovese/merlot blend that is elegant and feminine with tender tannins. It reminds me of sassafras. A beautiful bottle of well-crafted wine. Living proof that a wine doesn't have to be pterodactyl in structure to be full-flavored or high-quality.

Fonterutoli Zisola 2008 ($31) This fabulous wine is made from nero d'avola. But it doesn't taste like the muddy, stewed nero d'avola you know and hate. This exquisite little find tastes of pomegranate, red licorice and rhubarb. The fruit is just tantalizing and the tannins pure satin.

Antinori Tignanello 2007 ($77) This super Tuscan is as "knife and fork" as they come. Big. Bold. Chewy tannins. Ripe berry fruit. A touch of tar. It's a prize-fighter.

Bertani Villa Arvedi Amarone 2006 ($60) A spicy and rich red with sundried plum-cherry fruit laced with chocolate. The tannins were satin-smooth and the alcohol was in perfect balance. It was an extraordinary Amarone, neither hot and brandied nor characterized by rusticity or volatile acidity. Good stuff here.

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