Italy has a fascinating wine producing history. It began with the Etruscans and Greeks (they made wine in Sicily around 800 BC), but the better recorded history of winemaking began with the Romans in 8 BC. In fact, the Romans liked their wine so much that the Emperor had to issue a decree in 92 AD to destroy some vineyards to free up land for food production!
So, it’s no surprise that Italy is a world leader in wine: the world’s second largest producer and making every style from light bodied whites to full bodied reds. It can be divided into 6 major wine producing regions from north to south. The regions (and the major wines from the region) are: Piedmont (Barolo, Barbaresco), Veneto (Valpolicella, Ripasso, Amarone, Pinot Grigio, Prosecco), Tuscany (Chianti, Brunello, Vino Nobile), Umbria (Orvieto), Puglia (Primitivo, Salice Salentino), and Sicily (Nero D’Avola, Grillo, Marsala, Inzolia). This, of course, is a brief overview, and does not do justice to the diversity of wines produced.
To showcase that diversity, we will review some of Italy’s lesser known wines since they represent tremendous quality and value, not to mention they are amazing with food. As customary, my ratings are based on a 5 star system developed by the British wine critic, Michael Broadbent: 5 stars: Outstanding; 4 stars: Very good; 3 stars: Good; 2 stars: Moderately good; 1 star: Not very good, but not bad; No stars: Poor.
Nuragico Justu Vermentino di Sardegna 2016 ★★★★ $14.95 (Vintages) Vermentino is a white that makes its home on the island of Sardinia off the west coast of mainland Italy. It’s dry, medium bodied, and shows green apple, lemon, and a grapefruit peel finish. It is a classic accompaniment for seafood in Italy.
Fontanafredda Pradalupo Roero Arneis 2017 ★★★★ $17.95 (Vintages) This white is from an area more famous for its Barolo and Barbaresco reds, Piedmont. In the glass, it is a beautiful pale lemon colour. The aroma suggests minerals, flowers, and pear, but the palate adds hints of honey and wonderful acidity. A good wine pairing for a rich risotto or match it with your appetizers – shrimp would be delightful.
Anselmi San Vincenzo 2017 ★★★ $17.95 (Vintages) A blend of Garganega, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc from the Vento region. This dry white has just a dot of sweetness with some grassiness, herbs, and citrus. You could pair this with salads or sushi, but it’s pretty easy to drink on its own.
Zenato San Benedetto Lugana 2017 ★★★½+ $18.95 (Vintages) Just edging into medium bodied, the juicy lemon, green apple, and stony notes linger into a relatively long finish. Try this white with roasted halibut or salmon. The racy acidity is the perfect pairing for a rich fish dish.
Beni di Batasiolo Sovrana Barbera d’Alba 2015 ★★★½+ $18.95 (Vintages) Barbera is a wine that is ready to drink with no aging necessary. It has low tannins and high acidity that make it wonderful with food. Expect some metallic blackberry, dark cherry, and licorice from this red and the finish lingers. Pairs beautifully with tomato based dishes. Match it with cheese tortellini pasta in a rose cream sauce for a memorable dinner.
Sella & Mosca Riserva Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva 2015 ★★★½ $17.95 (Vintages) Grenache is known as Cannonau in its home base in Sardinia. The grape produces a typically spicy red with red plums and cherries. Mediterranean cuisine with olives, tomatoes, garlic, and herbs would make this sing. If you want a great recipe for a chicken dish that fits this description, just drop me an email!
Niro Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2015 ★★★★ $16.95 (Vintages) Montepulcianos from the Abruzzo region are inky purple, full bodied wines that are loaded with dark fruits and this is no exception – blackberry, dark plum, black cherry, and blueberry mingle with a little licorice. Italian roast beef with tomato gravy is incredibly good with this wine. Once again, if you want the recipe, just ask me…
Rocca Delle Macie Sasyr 2014 ★★★½ $15.95 (Vintages) Sasyr is not a typical Tuscan wine since it is Sangiovese blended with Syrah. The former grape is native Italian, while the latter is a transplant to Tuscany from France. The blend produces a medium bodied wine with a blend of red and dark fruit flavours with just a dash of white pepper and dark chocolate. In Florence, I’ve had wines like this paired with pasta in a wild boar and dark chocolate sauce, but it would also work with your favourite pork dish.
Grillesino Battiferro Morellino di Scansano 2016 ★★★★ $18.95 (Vintages) Morellino is a lesser known red from Tuscany from closer to the seacoast, but it needs to be better known! It is produced from a clone of Sangiovese, the same grape that is used to make Chianti. This wine is deeper coloured than most Chiantis with dark cherries and herbs predominating. Salami, steak, or tomato based pastas would be happily matched with this very good red.
Feudo Montoni Lagnusa Nero D’Avola 2015 ★★★★ $23.95 (Vintages) The baking Sicilian summers ripen this grape perfectly giving a red that shows flavours of dark plum, black olive, and herb. It has big, full bodied flavours that would suit lamb roasted with Herbes de Provence, grilled steak anointed with good olive oil, or hearty pasta with mushrooms.