For some odd reason, I haven’t written a single post about Italy, since I started this blog last July. I can’t explain why. I drink them regularly and enjoy them greatly Better yet, when I don’t know which wine I’d like to drink, my almost automatic choice is to go for an Italian wine.
This realization (about my unintentional un-Italian blog bias) dawned on me as I was drinking a delicious bottle of 1997 Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico Riserva. From a fantastic vintage, it was just ripe and nicely opened up, with a great garnet color, bright aromas and flavors of cherry, cedar and cigar box, as well as those velvety yet firm tannins and astringent finals. Not terribly complex, but everything I expect from good sangiovese.
Italian wines from indigenous grapes like sangiovese, barbera, nebbiolo and sagrantino, in red, or greco, garganega and falanghina in white, to name but a few, are among my favorite. Their distinctive character, the fact that you can’t find them anywhere else in the world, is what makes them interesting. Much more, in my opinion, than the internationally-inspired Bordeaux blends from Bolgheri, for instance. Not that they are not good. It’s simply that they are a reflection of the competitive spirit that Italy needed to get rightfully noticed, almost thirty years ago, to take its place in the wine world, rather than a reflection about the true nature and quality of Italian wines. I’ll take a well-made barbera from Bruno Giacosa, with its lovely acidity and freshness and great structure, without too much wood, over any supertuscan cabernet blend. The Piedmont region is exemplary in its insistence on indigenous grapes, and why not, when nebbiolo, barbera and dolcetto have so much to offer. Drinking a mature Ornato Barolo from Pio Cesare has been one of the great wine tasting experiences of my life: a firm hand in a velvet glove.
In that same spirit, I’ve generally been less impressed by Sicily, where I find that the sun-drenched wines are often overripe, solidly oaked and too sweet. With some exceptions. Last winter I had a lovely wine from Abbazzia Santa Anastasia, Baccante 2004, which is made from chardonnay and grillo. Very distinctive, with good acidity and balance. Benanti’s wines from the Etna DOC have also impressed me favorably, with a unique set of flavors and aromas coming from indigenous varietals like bianco de caselle (white) and nerello mascalese and nerello cappuccio (red). It’s in this type of uniqueness and character that Italian wines are great. Salute!