Sunday, June 04, 2023

Italian wines for the summer of ‘23

Here’s the thing: Life, at any age, can be as rich or as impoverished as one can stand it to be. There, so much for my philosophy of late. Now let’s talk about Italian wine. Huh? On the wine trail in Italy, talking about Italian wine? Well, how about that!

I was making my regular run though my local Italian store here in Dallas, Jimmy’s, when a I saw this stack of wine from Friuli at what appeared to be unbelievably low prices. The winery in question was LeVigne di Zamo’, a winery which I visited many years ago, when it was called Abbazia di Rosazzo. An historic place and an important winery, as the winemaker at the time was reputed to be one of the great winemaking stars of Italy. And the wines were exceptional.

Fast forward 30+ years into the present and they have a different name and owner. But the wines are still shining bright. I picked up a selection, three whites and a red, and took them home to try.

It seems the local distributor closed them out because the vendor was one of the bottom 25% on their vendor list which involved hearty sales and good profit. So, the guys in the corner offices told the operatives on the ground floor to jettison them, ASAP, profit be damned. Good for them. Better for us. Awful for the producer.

Nonetheless, the wines were in impeccable shape. The picture shows the wines I tried, but I’m going to talk about just one of them this time, the Sauvignon Blanc.

I don’t think I’ve had a Sauvignon Blanc as compelling as this one for quite some time. Normally selling for at or under $20 in the US, at $4.99 it was an absolute steal. And I rescued as many as I could.  I first wrote about this wine a few weeks ago, and I can't stop talking about it.

The wine has this bracing acidity without resorting to the overly grapefruity type of SB. Well balanced, bone dry and one of those wines that makes you thirsty. Have you ever had that happen to you with a wine? I don’t know what the technical reason for that is, but at dinnertime, it’s a real plus. We tried it with several different dishes over a few nights. I made an asparagus lasagne, which I’d had when I was in Venice in April, and wanted to replicate it back home. I know, asparagus and wine, yuck! Well, this wine in interaction with the asparagus went fruity not sour. It was a revelation and quite pleasant.

The next day, with pan seared scallops and capers the wine was firing on all 4-6-8 cylinders. Just a juicy, mouthwatering delicious wine. I am smitten. I cannot imagine a distributor shitcanning the wine for the sake of greater profit. But I am not surprised by anything these days.

Anyway, this goes into regular rotation for the summer. The other wines from them that were in the close-out stack, the Ribolla Gialla, the Zamo’ Bianco and the Zamo’ Rosso, were all interesting as well. Notable was the red, which a bought a six pack of. Notable, because I already have more red wine in the wine closet than I will ever drink in my lifetime. But it was that good. And a helluva deal.

The other wine hails from Sicily. It is the Cavallo delleFate, from Tenuta Regaleali. A Grillo wine that I had not seen from this producer, and I have been to the winery a time or two. Anyway, I spotted on the back label that the Tasca family had initiated a new importation relationship with the Trinchero family (Sutter Home, etc.) in Napa and was intrigued. Regaleali was a long-time staple in the Winebow portfolio, while the Etna offshoot from the Tasca family still safely resides over at Dalla Terra. So much for inside baseball.

The wine, a Grillo, caused me to wonder what Regaleali was up to. Grillo can be a light, crisp white wine, maybe with a little fresh fruit up front. But essentially an innocent quaff. Like something one would find Barbie drinking in her upcoming movie, poolside at her mid-century house in Palm Springs.

We tried this wine at the same time as my lunch partner brought a Benanti Etna Bianco, both from 2021. So much has already been said about Benanti, here and in even more authoritative places. So, I won’t go there now.

But the Cavallo delle Fate really hit a spot, and not a sore one. Over a long lunch, I had time to really get into the wine, or vice versa. And it made an impression. At one time, I thought to myself, “Am I drinking Corton Charlemagne?” I think the only other Sicilian wine I could ever think that about might be from Tenuta Rapitalà, their Conte Hugues Chardonnay (originally called Tenuta Rapitalà Grand Cru). In any event it was a fleeting thought, because, it’s a Grillo. How could it ever aspire to greatness like a grand cru from Burgundy?

But I was sampling it with another revered white from Sicily, the Benanti, and it stood up to it and, in my opinion, matched it from a gravitas point of view. I was totally taken aback, enough so to go back to the store and buy more. At under $20 (this was not a close out!) this wine punched way above its weight class. I’m still thinking about it. We had it with a chicken Milanese with shaved Parmigiano and arugula and it was stunningly good.

OK, that’s it. I’ve gotta get back to my Venetian photograph project. I am transitioning well out of being a wine only person (so long Italian Wine Guy) and pivoting to photography. I have about 9,000 more hours to go. Thanks for reading. Buy some of these wines. Have a great summer!

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