Italian Wines to Buy Today
A range of reds
With so much great wine on the market -- and there really is oceans of the stuff out there -- it’s worth taking a look at what may be overlooked in the market today.
We seem to be in the middle of an apparently endless wave of markdowns and closeouts that could put the stress on wallets everywhere. There are simply too many great deals to ignore, so a bit of selectivity is in order.
A good place to start would be with the overlooked vintages from Italy’s more famous regions, as well as a few up-and-comers from the edges.
Talk about an embarrassment of riches -- Piedmont has only had one crappy vintage since 1995! And this in a region more used to having only three or four solid vintages in a decade. The end result: downward pressure on Barolo and Barbaresco prices, as well as a lot of great wine being declassified or blended back into straight Nebbiolo. I’ve called Langhe Nebbiolo the greatest wine value on the market, and it’s never been truer.
If you’re looking for the experience that Barolo or Barbaresco can offer, the 2003s (the product of a hot vintage) have been generally overlooked in the marketplace and are seeing the greatest discounts. The 2005s, on the other hand, have been damned with faint praise. 2005 is a wonderful little vintage that I expect will be heavily discounted moving forward as the more highly regarded 2006s start to flood the market.
Tuscany is planted with vines like New York is ripe with taxis. No matter where you look, you can’t help but spot some. Only difference is that there are no values in NYC taxi rides. In Tuscany, it seems like prices are dropping with every vintage, with a few notable exceptions. No need in talking about those aia wines (many of their names end in “aia”!). No, if you want value it’s worth looking at the Rossos of Tuscany: Rosso di Montalcino and Rosso di Montepulciano. From the best producers these are wines that can rival their competitors: Brunellos and Vino Nobiles, respectively.
Of course, the real value in Tuscany remains Chianti Classico Riserva! Like Piedmont, Tuscany has been on a roll for almost 15 years, with only 2002 and 1996 sticking out as tough vintages. There is a sea of Chianti, and a lot of it is better than ever. While Chianti has a variable reputation, most estates made major investments during the 1990s and are now reaping the benefits by producing cleaner, fresher wines for less money. Like Piedmont, the 2003 vintage has pretty much been discounted to death (a hot vintage here as well and less successful than in Piedmont). While the quality of the 2005 vintage isn’t quite at the level of Piedmont -- the critics think it’s even worse -- and since it was sandwiched by two “vintages of the decade” it’s been totally overlooked. I smell a value, and violets, and sour cherries, and mineral spice notes!
I’ll be tasting through a small sampling of current release Lagrein soon, but I already know that these wines should be great QPR (quality to price ratio) wines. Coming from the rugged Dolomite Mountains along the border with Austria in North Central Italy, Lagrein is one of my favorite Italian reds. While the prices are not falling, and due to the modest production there is no reason to expect them to, they are fairly priced and kick the butts of wines costing double or triple. At their best they are medium-bodied, quite fresh yet at the same time intensely flavored with dark cherry and plum fruit, accented by spice and mineral notes. If you haven’t tried Lagrein you owe it to yourself to check it out!
Sicily has burst onto the wine scene over the past few years and it’s no surprise when you consider that Sicily produces more wine than Australia. Yes, that is correct, though lots of it is consumed in situ. In years past, Sicily was most famous for their bulk wine production and Marsala. While it’s easy to dismiss much of those older style wines, they have proved most valuable. While being misappropriated for the production of bulk wine was a shame, it did preserve acres and acres of old vine vineyards, and prevented their wholesale replacement with the so-called international varieties! Nero d’Avola, with its plum black cherry fruit, has been at the vanguard of the Sicilian renaissance here in the U.S., but it’s worth exploring further afield.
If you’re looking for a lighter style of wine, try Frappato. It is frequently blended with Nero d’Avola, but on its own Frappato is light and fresh, if a bit high in alcohol. It’s a great table wine with soft tannins and pure fresh fruit. There is some evidence that Frappato is an off-spring of Sangiovese, and it does share a certain brightness and red fruit character with Sangiovese.
Perhaps the most noble (I’m gonna include that term in my next Annoying Wine Words) of Sicily’s rediscovered grape varieties, Nerello Mascalese thrives on the higher altitude vineyards of Sicily. The poor volcanic soil gives these wines a transparency that belies the near tropical climate we associate with Sicily. Truth is, at high altitude Sicily can be down right chilly! Nerello Mascalese tends to produce slightly austere wines, with wonderful herbal aspects to the dark berry fruit. Nerello Mascalese is commonly blended with Nerello Cappuccio, a spicier wine than Mascalese, but equally capable of depth, power, and elegance.
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