Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

A word on Italian regional wines

By Jessica Yadegaran
Thursday, May 17th, 2007 at 11:09 am in Uncategorized.

I tasted some fabulous indigenous wines from Italy last night. Unfortunately, too late for my story in yesterday’s paper, “Hi, My Name is Xinomavro.” But I can redeem myself by passing the knowledge on to you.

Based on my findings, I’d suggest skipping Tuscany, and to some extent, Piedmont, and go straight for the interesting and under-marketed wines of Sicily, Alto Adige, The Veneto, and Emilia-Romagna. Even Campania.

You see, Tuscan land is pricey and as such, so are the wines. If you’re starting out and want to learn about the diverse range of wine Italy has to offer, there’s no reason to spend the $50 or $60 that these Brunellos and Barbarescos command.

My biggest takeaway about Italians wines so far is that they’re just so smooth and easier to drink that California wines. I’m finally starting to notice it. California wines have so much more alcohol (average of 15 percent compared to 12 for Italian wines, let’s say) that to drink them with food or even after dinner while you’re watching TV can feel like a huge burden. The majority of these silky wines go down so easy without sacrificing structure or complexity.

The most gorgeous wines I tried at a tasting of regional wines were all under $35. They’re all available at Prima in Walnut Creek. Here goes:

WHITES

2004 Elena Walch Gewurtztraminer ‘Kastelaz’: It’s widely believed that Gewurtztraminer is not from Germany but from Italy. The word means “a spicy little white from Tramin,” and Tramin is a town near Trento, which is in the Alto Adige, the country’s northern most wine region. Walch married into a wine family, and now she’s one of the lead winemakers creating gorgeously fragrant and dry Gewurtz. A special treat at $34.

2005 Sibilla Falanghina, Campi Flegrei: Not my favorite — until I had it with sardines. This white grape grows in Campania, along the ocean, and it’s a magical beautiful thing, but the grape tastes like serious ocean — salty, minerally and seaweed-ish. So serve it with something that can stand up to all that salty flavor. $16.50. The winery’s red, Piedirosso, had the same salty finish, at least to me. $15.50

SPARKLING
NV Barbolini Lambrusco Grasparossa de Castelvetro: The salesman for this wine tells me Lambrusco has come a long way from the cheap stuff he and his Italian buds used to drink as kids to get drunk. This red sparkling is dark, dry, lean, and fruity, and will go fabulously with a bolognese. A perfect food wine. And a steal at $13.

REDS
2004 Poggio Bortolone Cerasuolo di Vittoria: This blend from Sicily is made with 60 percent Frappato and 40 percent Nero D’avola, both indigenous grapes. It’s a light-bodied peppery wine with a finish of rose petals and violets that just goes on and on. Very impressive to me. It was my splurge at $25.50.

2005 Elena Walch Lagrein: It’s widely believed that the Lagrein grape has been grown in the Alto Adige region since the 16th century. It used to be used primarily for blending but stands on its own beautifully in this wine. Consider it a serious Gamay, without the sweet nose. $18.50.

2004 Zenato Valpolicella Ripassa: The runaway hit of the night. This wine from the Veneto was so drinkable, so smooth, silky and luscious, I kept confusing it with a $75, 2001 red wine being poured alongside it. It was so settled, so succulent, I’m sure Prima will run out soon. $25.

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