Monday, August 05, 2013

What to Drink When Italy Takes a Vacation

Great Italian wines for everyday enjoyment (and one special occasion wine)

It’s August and I’m on a plane to Indianapolis. I had a brief weekend layover in Dallas from a week in Orlando. I’m surrounded by heat, humidity and ambition. Meanwhile, thousands of miles away and in another time zone, Italians and other fortunate ones have taken the month off. The government in Italy is in shambles, the government in America is in gridlock and the stock market is set to wobble on its axis. I’m up before the sun rises, but in Italy folks are walking back from the beach, getting ready for a long, leisurely lunch.

I imagine them in shorts and swim suits. The sun is warm, but the breeze off the water cools the skin. Somewhere on the coast (we are more in the south than in the north) fishermen have brought in the fresh catch. There are any number of tasty crustaceans, some small fish for frying and some medium sized fish, sweet meat and ready for the human participants who have planned a civilized afternoon with their carcasses. In Italy, for a fish the afterlife is as good as what preceded it, provided the chef is caring and intuitive.

I imagine them calling me on the mobile asking me my advice for their repast. Here are a few I would recommend.

From Scilio, the Valle Galfina Etna Rosato would work very well with a spicy pasta dish, maybe a little arrabbiata, and some tiny creatures, baby octopus, that kind of thing. The wine is beautifully hued, with a heartier body than rosé wines coming out of Provence. This is wine for the more adventurous rosé lover. In keeping with my Etna obsession, grapes of Nerello Mascalese make up the wine.

Reflecting on this wine now it is one that I could never tire of. It is white, it is rosé and it is red. And served cool, it provides comfort and pleasure on a lazy afternoon on the first day of a long period of vacation. I’m very jealous. I found it for $16 in the US.

Still unable to shake off the Siren call of Etna, I linger. From Tenuta delle Terre Nere comes their Etna Bianco. Old vine field blend, mainly of Carricante but additions of Catarratto, Inzolia, Grecanico and Minnella. I found this in Napa for $23. For my tastes, Carricante is the new Riesling, with that healthy acidity, dry finish and a fine sandpaper texture. This wine is savory and makes me thirsty for more. It is a gulpable wine that has earned a place in my pantheon of heroic Sicilian wines.

From Le Marche, Aldo Cifola’s La Monacesca Verdicchio di Matelica is a wine I have loved for years. Served with a little age (this is a 2009) the wine tasted like a red wine in body, but serves up relief in its calm, measured coolness. Made for langosto and any kind of crustacean, lightly grilled with just a spritz of olive oil and a squirt of lemon. I could imagine the nap (and the lazy dreams) one might have after eating a plate of these precious little creatures with this wonderful wine. Around $22 US.

From Burlotto in Piemonte, Pelaverga is the new Grignolino. Not as tannic (or bitter). It is a red wine that cross-dresses as a rosé. I love the way this wine works its way into one’s system, like a civilized morphine drip. We sipped this in a chapel, but I could easily envision this under a canopy, with some special creature that was just caught while she was on her way to the water. Found in some places in the US at around $18.

Returning to the white theme. Vermentino is so popular these days. They come from France, Sardegna, Tuscany, Texas, Napa and Liguria. The last Vermentino I had was a well known one from Sardegna; I took a sip and returned the cork to the bottle, saving the rest for cooking. It was extracted, assertive and overblown. Very disappointing.

However, I came across one from Liguria earlier in the summer with dear old mom. La Ginestraia, which can be found around the US for around $20.

Dear old mom e-mails me, asking me where she can find that wine in a retail store in California. She is luckier than most, as the wine is fairly hard to find, but easy in California, where the West Coast importer is. The wine is a perfect European example of a crisp, edgy, sharp Vermentino. I love the way it went with the grilled artichoke, but it could as easily match up with all those round, bumpy creatures one finds in the savory soups around Liguria. As well, it could match up with a light salad tossed with oil and lemon (no balsamic, please).

And while we have been flirting with red with the Pelaverga, there is always one of those evenings in August when the invite comes to go to dinner, either in a restaurant or in someone’s home. Maybe the sun has gone down, and the air has a light chill. Then the time is right for a proper red wine, maybe with some meat. A splurge, or maybe a wine on a list that was priced when it was put on the list, so now it seems like a bargain at twice the price. My selection is the 1996 Mascarello “Monprivato” Barolo Riserva. I was at an outside gathering in Sacramento in June and some charitable soul poured me a glass. It seemed heresy in California to sip on it, what with all the wonderful things we had at the table. But I quickly fell into the sinner’s pattern and thoroughly enjoyed my transgression. It was light, the tannins had calmed, the wine was in a perfect state (as I was) and it just seemed to glide down like the wave we had been waiting for all day. If one could still find it in the US it would go for around $400 (if available), which is a bit out of the range of the other wines. But vacation time has its high points and one peak experience is worth the price, no?

The good news? When I got to Indiana it was a cool 75º F. The bad news, I wasn’t the one on vacation on some wonderful Italian coast. But we couldn’t all fit, in any event. You can fit most of these wines into your budget and you should seek them out. I drink them, I like them, you might too.

Happy Holidays!

written and photographed by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy
wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W


Giulia Agostini said...

The wines you have been reviewing are fabolous, and it is very nice for a grown up in the Valdobbiadene Prosecco / Cartizze area to get her summer inspired by different flavors.

Thank you for sharing in your great blog!

Marco Cantanzaro said...

I finally got to try Terre Nere's Etna Bianco. James Suckling said it all: "Heaven".

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