* Things I Love about Italy
I just returned from a two-week trip to Italy - this time focusing on Piemonte and Campania. I’ll report on the new wines I tried in upcoming posts, but for now I’m writing a special entry, as this was my 40th trip to Italy.
This is all about my love affair with Italian wines, food and its citizens in general, so here is a brief list of what I love most about these topics.
First and foremost, I have to mention the generosity and friendliness of the wine producers of Italy as well as the rest of its residents I’ve met over the past nine years. There are kind people everywhere, but Italians for me are the most gracious of all. They’re always asking if you have a nice place to stay or you’ve selected a good restaurant for lunch or dinner; if not, they’re glad to recommend somewhere. This is not just from producers I know, it’s been my experience with total strangers as well. Italians just have it in their DNA to be friendly; it’s a basic as that.
From the dramatic hillside vineyards in Alto Adige and Piemonte in the north to the extreme viticulture along the Amalfi Coast in the south, Italian viticulture is among the most specialized and remarkable in the world. A simple drive on the main road from Alba to Barolo is a dream come true for any wine lover or even just a lover of nature.
View of Cerequio and Sarmassa Vineyards from Barolo (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
The restaurants of Cuneo
Great food is a constant in Italy, but nowhere are the more excellent places to dine than in the province of Cuneo in Piemonte, especially in and around the town of Alba. This includes the Barolo and Barbaresco zones, so given the quality of these wines along with the local products, it’s no surprise. Among my favorite dishes that are classics in this area are agnolotti al plin (small ravioli stuffed with meat or a vegetable such as spinach) or coniglio al brasato (braised rabbit). There are too many restaurants to name; a few include Le Torri in Castiglione Falletto, Bovio in La Morra, Profumo di Vino in Treiso and Trattoria La Libera in Alba.
Trattoria La Libera, Alba (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Gewurztraminer from Tramin
The town of Tramin in Alto Adige is the home of the Gewurztraminer grape. While there are other areas in this region that yield excellent examples of Gewurztraminer, the finest are from Tramin. There are three examples in particular: "Nussbaumer" from Cantina Tramin, "Kastelaz" from Elena Walch and "Kolbenhof" from J. Hofstatter. Each of these displays the gorgeous perfumes of grapefruit and lychee along with distinct spice and a lush, rich entry on the palate and are gorgeous food wines.
The white wines of Campania are among the finest in all of Italy and are for me the best in terms of quality/price relationship. The most famous are Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino from the province of Avellino; look for the excellent new 2008s just arriving on the market. (You may still be able to find examples from the outstanding 2007 vintage, which should be in fine shape.)
Falanghina is becoming a big success story in several zones in Campania; this is a flavorful white with pear, lemon and quince flavors and vibrant acidity. Finally, look for the rare whites from the Amalfi Coast, which are usually intensely flavored and high in acidity.
A few recommendations: 2008 Mastroberardino Greco di Tufo “Nova Serra” (one of the best examples ever of this wine), 2008 Greco di Tufo “Cutizzi” from Feudi di San Gregorio, 2008 Fiano di Avellino Terredora “Terre di Dora”, 2008 Falanghina from Vinosia, 2008 Tramonti Bianco from Giuseppe Apicella and the 2007 Fiorduva from Marisa Cuomo (these last two wines are from the Amalfi Coast). Look for most of these wines to be in the $20- $25 price range, with the Cuomo retailing for about $45).
Grown most notably in Piemonte, this is the grape that is the sole variety used in several great red wines of that region including the famous Barolo and Barbaresco as well as Roero Rosso and Nebbiolo d’Alba. Unlike some international red varieties that scream of ripe black fruit and display deep color, a well made Nebbiolo has a garnet color and aromas of red fruit (cherry, currant) and notes of tar, orange peel and nutmeg. The aromas and flavors of Nebbiolo, especially as expressed in Barolo and Barbaresco take you to another level. Wines made from Nebbiolo are especially wonderful with ligher game or poultry. Try a Barbaresco from producers as such Produttori del Barbaresco or Rizzi for a true representation of this wine, while producers such as Elio Grasso, Marcarini, Giovanni Rosso and Ceretto are among the dozens that craft outstanding bottlings of Barolo that offer beautiful sensations of terroir.
Gianluca Grasso, winemaker, Elio Grasso, Monforte d'Alba (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Brunello di Montalcino
This is the most famous example of the Sangiovese grape from Tuscany. At once charming in its cherry and cedar flavors and yet powerful in its capabilities to age for 20-25 years, Brunello is a singular wine. The bottlings from the excellent 2004 vintage are just being released; among those to search out include those from Pian dell’Orino, Il Poggione, Col d’Orcia, Poggio Antico and Talenti.
Vin Santo, Recioto and other dessert wines
There are so many wonderful dessert wines produced throughout Italy; sadly, these wines rarely get the attention they deserve (a common problem worldwide). Vin Santo, the lush, caramel, apricot, honeyed specialty from Tuscany is most famous, but there are also outstanding examples of Recioto from the Veneto region, including the delightful Recioto di Soave from Garganega and Recioto della Valpolicella, with delicious black raspberry fruit and medium sweetness that pairs perfectly with aged cheeses.
This is a fine introduction to modern Italian red wines, offering ripe black fruit, spice and notes of tar, clove and tobacco. These are enjoyable, delicious wines that don’t cost an arm and a leg (most are in the $14-$16 range, while a few of the single vineyard or selezione bottlings can run up to $35 a bottle). Given the recent earthquake in Abruzzo, let's show our support for the hard-working abruzzese by drinking a bottle of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo.
Worker in Abruzzo with just harvested Montepulciano grapes (Photo ©Tom Hyland)