First, let me start off by saying wholeheartedly, if somewhat inelegantly, that I freakin’ love Italian wine. I admit it – my objectivity on the matter is entirely questionable. But still. I just can’t help myself. Maybe it’s because Tuscany is where I received my formal wine education (and believe you me, I “studied” the material – hard). Maybe it’s because there is something about ordering bottles with ornate names like Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi and Est! Est!! Est!! di Montefiascone that just feels right. Or maybe it’s because one would be hard-pressed to find another major wine producing region capable of giving us such an exciting array of wine in such wildly different styles.
There are few experiences more nourishing to the soul than drinking Chianti with a Bistecca alla Fiorentina in Tuscany, or sipping a crisp Vermentino in Cinque Terre on the Ligurian Coast, while tucking into a plate of seafood so fresh that there is simply no way it wasn’t plucked straight from the sea minutes before its untimely demise on your plate. I highly recommend putting a trip – and a long one – to Italy on your bucket list if you haven’t yet had the good fortune of seeing this glorious country. In the meantime, I will share a couple of easily-found Italian wines for you to enjoy while you make your travel plans. Who doesn’t need a stiff drink while navigating United’s speech recognition-driven reservation line? “Agent. Agent. AGENT.” [stares angrily at phone, in disbelief] “AAAA-GENT! I SAID AGENT!
My personal travel traumas aside, next time you go to reach for a Pinot Grigio, I urge you to opt for a Pinot Bianco instead. In Northern Italy – namely the regions of Alto Adige and Friuli – the grape (also known as Pinot Blanc in France and Weissburgunder in Germany) finds its finest expression. It’s often more luscious, mineral-toned and, well, interesting than Pinot Grigio, and it’s probably time you stop showing up to every dinner party with that same tired bottle of Santa Margherita. Snag yourself the 2010 Alois Lageder Pinot Bianco ($14) from Alto Adige if you can find it. It’s soft and silky with notes of white peach, key lime and almond, and a crisp, slightly floral finish. Sip it alongside a plate of creamy cheese and cured meats, grilled fish or Panko-crusted pollo alla Milanese dressed with a healthy squeeze of lemon.
Barbera is pretty much my go-to red wine grape when struggling with a wine list or a tough crowd with uncertain tastes. It is reliable, versatile and generally one of the most food-friendly wines out there. Hailing from the Piedmont region of Northern Italy, it is also often far cheaper than its famous Nebbiolo-based cousins, Barolo and Barbaresco. This week, I grabbed a bottle of the 2009 Michele Chiarlo Barbera d’Asti Superiore “Le Orme” ($14). What always charms me about this particular Barbera is its purity of fruit. Juicy, clean and vibrant, with aromas of tart cherry, pomegranate and a faint hint of smoked meat, it is a wine that truly does speak of its place. It is not complicated by excess oak treatment, making it an elegant but easy-going addition to any table. Pair it with a selection of salumi, a plate of spaghetti al pomodoro or grilled pork loin with an herb stuffing.
And then, like I did when I returned to the U.S. after two years of eating and drinking like that, join a gym and get back to your carb-counting.
Photo Credits: www.aloislageder.eu / www.chiarlo.it