Italian Wines for Cold Winter Nights
Warm and comforting, robust yet refined, fresh and flavorful describe both authentic Italian cuisine as well as some of the finest wines from the country. As temperatures cool, a hearty Italian wine can be the ideal wine to open. The bonus of being a food-friendly wine is resplendent with a wide array of flavors. Consider one of these wines to pair with your favorite Italian-inspired dish.
Prosecco is Italy’s favorite sparkling wine, yet it may be a bit too fruity for some. Adami makes an incredible array of Prosecco sparkling wines that are crisp, light and fresh without being too fruit forward. Adami Bosco di Gica ($20) has just the right amount of citrus, melon and stone fruit flavors balanced with bright acidity to make a nicely rounded and refreshing bubbly, perfect for the start of an evening.
Staying with sparkling wines, Franciacorta is a wine region located an hour north of Milan. One of the best is from BellaVista with their traditional method Brut and their sister winery, Contadi Castaldi with their Brut Rose. They are also made in the traditional method from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, creating a lively sparkler filled with red rose, wild berry and spice. Both retail for around $30.
The Alto Adige region of Italy features vineyards climbing to upwards of 8000 feet above sea level, growing cool weather white varieties like their beloved Pinot Blanc and Pinot Grigio. The whites of the region prove that great wine can be produced in even the most challenging of circumstances. Tieffenbruner Pinot Grigio ($15) is one such wine that shows the delicate nuances of a variety that can often be over-processed in other parts of the country. Mineral and herbal notes fill the steely fresh wine, leading into ripe stone fruit notes of white peach with just the right balance of citrus.
Alto Adige boasts great red wines as well. At lower elevations of the region, fresh and vibrant Pinot Noir, light and fruity Schiava and earthy Lagrein are grow. The Lagrein variety has been developed in the region for generations, often by villagers on their property for personal consumption. Abbazia di Novacella, an active Augustinian Canons Regular monastery which dates back to the 12th century, maintains itself economically through the cultivation and sales of agricultural products. Their Abbazia di Novacella Lagrein ($28) is bold and concentrated, layered with blackberry, black cherry, balsamic and earthy wild flower notes – an interesting wine showing the broad range of flavors available in the region.
Chianti is one of the most recognized wines of Italy, showcasing the Sangiovese variety. One of the oldest and most respected producers of Chianti and Chianti Classico is Antinori, which dates back 28 generations. 2011 Antinori Villa Rosso Chianti Classico DOCG ($35) shows the power of the variety with ripe red fruit notes and sweet and savory spices, enhanced by oak aging for 12 months. Antinori Badia a Passignano DOCG ($60,) from an 800-acre estate surrounding the Abbey of Vallombrosian monks, shows one of the finest and most true expressions of Sangiovesse in the region. The wine opens with red and blackberry aromas with licorice, spice and toasted oak. It is subtle, elegant and refined, with a smooth, silky finish highlighting the expressive characteristics of the variety. Both are perfect wines for serving with braised short ribs, grilled meat or hearty stews.
One of Italy’s most interesting white wines is the Soave. Made from the Garganega variety in the Veneto region of Italy, Soave was one of the first regions in Italy to achieve the quality DOC status. The wine combines fruit-filled notes with bright acidity, making it a perfect wine to start an evening or pair with anything from roasted chicken to fish. Monte Tondo Soave Classico ($17) fills the palate with juicy fresh citrus, tree fruit and steely minerality mixed with a creamy texture and rich finish.
Though the Sagrantino variety may not be as familiar, it certainly comes with the same distinguished history of many of the other noble Italian varietal, like Nebbiolo, Sangiovese and Barbera. Dating back to 1549, the varietal is considered to be indigenous to Montefalco in Umbria. Stemming from the word sacrament (from the Latin “sacer”- sacred), the variety was cultivated originally by monks to produce wine for religious ceremonies. The wine had almost become extinct by the 1960s when a select number of producers revived it in the Umbrian region. Today, almost 2000 acres of Sagrantino are grown in Montefalco, elevating it to DOCG classification.
Perticaia Vineyard is named for the ancient Umbrian word for plow, the tool that local farmers say is the biggest reason they turned from raising sheep to practicing agriculture. Owner Guido Guardigli felt a deep connection to the land during a trip to Umbria in the early 1990s. He saw the potential of the native Sagrantino grape and wanted to have his own winery.
Guardigli had retired after stints as director of winemaking at several estates in Umbria and Tuscany, but after seeing the land around Montefalco, retirement was over. After buying the land he planted new vineyards. He built the winery to blend in with old farms around him.
Guardigi’s vineyards and olive groves blended in perfectly with the medieval towers, hilltop castles and villages in the area. The company now has 37 acres, about half of which are planted in Sagrantino. Be sure to try their Sagrantino Montefalco D.O.C.G., an excellent choice.