(As originally published in Vines on Pine's newsletter in October.)
Columbus Day is the time to reflect on all things Italian. What does it mean to be Italian? As the sole Italian here at Vines, I am tasked with addressing this philosophical/enological question.
For years, many Americans viewed Italian food and wine through the lenses of Pizza, spaghetti and meatballs, Pinot Grigio, and Chianti in straw baskets. All of these images and tastes, served on the ubiquitous red checked tablecloth of stereotype.
The Italian peninsula is however, as diverse as any country on earth. It is home to scores of different microclimates; Historically as well as culturally influenced by the French, Germans, Swiss, Croatians, and Hungarians in the North, and in the south by the Spaniards, Moroccans, Greeks, Maltese, and Turks. This obviously bleeds into their language, which is home to over 30 different dialects, and their winemaking traditions.
For these reasons it was impossible to choose only one wine to represent my ethnic home. Rather, I thought it appropriate to talk about three distinctly different, but equally illustrative wines. Each wine is as unique as it’s region of origin and an area I have been lucky enough to visit and experience. So in essence, this is "My Italy " as told through wine.
The first stop on the tour is in Piemonte, home to my first selection: 2009 Matteo Correggia Roero. This Nebbiolo is rich with the personality of this area. The green lush hills, give way to the foothills of the snow capped Alps, not far from Emilia, where my family is originally from. Watching the distinctly steep rolling green hills, abutted by farm land, gorgeous fifteenth century construction and vineyards immediately resonated with me when I first visited this area at a young age.
It was here that I had my first “Aha” moment of complete understanding: That perspective one finally gains upon being in the ancestral environment. “This is where Im from, and where I should be.”
I immediately remembered the distinct smell of the air- light and fragrant with the smell of the elderflowers and wild azaleas in the summer when I first set foot there, and looked around the panorama my forefathers gazed upon. Upon opening this bottle and inhaling the succulent aromas of black cherries and elderflowers, I am immediately transported to the first summer I visited this land. The flavor of amarene or black cherries, the preferred sweet of this area is first on the palate, with a rich sediment and smokiness that reminds me of the smell of the wood smoke from the outdoor pizza ovens. The elegant Nebbiolo grape also is vinified into Barolo, so the wine has body, but is subtle and graceful on the palate. It highlights many regional dishes beautifully without overpowering them: Most notably lasgne with baschamel, or osso bucco and risotto. At $19.99, it is an absolute steal.
The next stop down the autostrada del sole on our wine journey is Tuscany, home to the artistically rich city of Florence, the historical gem Sienna, sensually gorgeous beaches and Montetti Caburnio 2009. This unusual blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Alicante is ostensibly a Brodeaux blend, being made in the soil of Sangiovese and Chianti. An idea as bold and unorthodox as the spaghetti westerns once filmed in this picturesque land. Due to the warm sun, cool nights, and arid soil, this wine develops bold, pungent cherry fruit on the front, bright acidity, stunning structure, rich complexity and a silky tannic finish. This wine is my first love at Vines On Pine, like the girl in the red bathing suit I fell in love with in Talamone, not far from Maremma where Caburnio is made. The food pairing that comes to mind is bistecca fiorentina (Tuscan Steak). This wine brings me back to the barbecues we would have on the cliffs by the ocean in Talamone, where my family rented a house in my 12th summer. At $18.99, it has complexity not seen in wines going for $50 or more.
Lastly we arrive in Avellino, just outside Naples, where Ocone Flora Falanghina is from. This wine speaks very clearly of its origin. This wine is completely bio dynamic, and untouched by commercial yeasts or oaking. It is as earthy, minerally and direct as a Neopolitan conversation. And like Napoletan, the musical sounding local dialect, this wine has a charm all its own. Typical of the Neopolitan character, appearances can be deceiving. At first it is floral, sweet and demure on the nose, rife with honeysuckles. Upon your first sip, however you can be surprised at the lemony, slightly acidic taste, and refreshing finish.
Falanghina is the ideal choice with a local dish of grilled sardines over bitter greens, or a risotto with sea urchins.
Like Odysseus and the sirens who seduced him in the bay of Naples, it’s light sophisticated nuance will intrigue you; keeping you coming back for more.
At $19.99 it is a wine, which will leave you plenty of Shcarol (Napoletan for Escarole or money) left over for your own Italian vacation fund contribution.