Italian wines are some of the most misunderstood wines in the world . I think most of us cut our teeth on rot gut cheap Chianti’s that had more acid than the marinara sauce we were eating with the spaghetti and meatballs. Some of that jug wine ( by the way Ernest and Julio Gallo was from California) was better suited to peel paint .Although I experienced my first Italian wines from my friends Grandfathers basements in Brooklyn ,and I don’t remember Wine spectator reviewing those I do remember how great they were with Nonna’s ( Grandmother in Italian) homemade pasta.
I love Italian wines and not just with Italian food. I will take an Amarone over a California Cabernet any day. Made from the corvina and rondinella grapes, the grapes are left to dry on a mat before pressed resulting in an intense slightly raisin taste. Paired with the Osso Buco I made the other day it is a marriage made in heaven..
The most popular grape from Italy is the Sangiovese grape which is found in central Italy all the way down to Sicily. Sangiovese is the grape found in Chianti’s , Brunello de Montalcino, Super Tuscans (along with Cabernet sauvignon) and Morellino di Scansano. This is a grape that is lighter than a California Cab , more similar in structure to a Pinot Noir with some great nuances . As they age they take on much more depth and complexity and is the wine of choice for any pasta with a red sauce.
Once you have a great Super Tuscan like Sassicaia, Ornellia, or Tiganello, you will come to understand how great Italian wines are . These are some of the most expensive wines produced in Italy and are the French equivalent to a Bordeaux blend. Containing different blends of Cabernet Savignon, Cab Franc, Sangioves, and Petit Verdot, these wines are silky smooth and are amazing with meat , pasta dishes or just a plate of cured Italian meats with Cheese.
Barolo which is made from the Nebbiolo grape comes from the Piedmont region of northern Italy. This is the one wine I hesitate to recommend anyone. First of all they need to age 10 years or more before they show their pedigree. Then they should be decanted for at least 5-6 hours, and last but not least these are FOOD WINES. They are not be sipped before dinner. They can be rough, tannic and completely unlike any wine from California. Find any good Nebbiolos in California lately?
However when handled the right way and allowed to age, Barolos are some of my favorite wines. Great with anything from meat to seafood, a great Barolo is a true experience
The best value wine in Italy comes from Sicily and it’s called a Nero D Avola. Similar to a Shiraz these fruit forward, low acid wines are easy to drink and go great with the regional Sicilian cuisine.
Another gem of a wine that is a reasonable value is the Primitivo grape which is the original red Zinfandel .Find an ancient vine, late harvest Primitivo and you are in for a treat.
Listen, go make a bowl of fresh pasta with a simple fresh tomato sauce with a touch of Pancetta, put the Godfather on the TV, and open a bottle of any of the above and FAGETABOUTIT.