Thoughts on some of the most enjoyable - and affordable - Italian wines I've tried over the past few months...
Marchesi Pancrazi S. Donato 2010 (IGT Toscano Rosso)- Think Tuscany and you probably think Sangiovese if it's a red wine, correct? Well so did Vittorio Pancrazi when 3300 vines identified as Sangiovese were planted at his estate in Montemurlo, west of Florence. The trouble was that the vines were actually Pinot Noir, something that was not discovered for more than a decade!
Undaunted, Pancrazi went ahead producing Pinot Noir and has since planted several of the best Dijon clones of this variety. He has also included Pinot Noir on another property of his named San Donato and to accompany that variety, he has also planted Gamay. The result is a delighful wine named S. Donato, a blend of 50% Pinot Noir and 50% Gamay. To make as elegant and as charming as wine as possible, the Pinot Noir is vinified in a traditional way, while the Gamay undergoes carbonic maceration, just as Gamay is treated in Beaujolais.
This 2010 version is a very appealing wine, full of fresh strawberry and bing cherry aromas and flavors; medium-bodied, this has tangy acidity and very light tannins. It's fine served at room temperature, but I find it even more enjoyable if you chill it for 20 or 30 minutes in the refrigerator before serving. This is a lovely food wine for the next 2-3 years; pair it with an array of things from young cow's cheese to roast chicken in red wine sauce. It's also nicely priced at $19, making this an excellent value. (Imported by Empson, USA)
Donnachiara Greco di Tufo 2010 (DOCG) - Greco di Tufo is one of the great whites of Campania; produced from the Greco grape named for the Greeks who colonized this part of Southern Italy some 2000 years ago. The wine, along with Fiano di Avellino, is produced in the province of Avellino - also known by its historical name of Irpinia - some 25 miles east of Napoli. This version of Greco di Tufo from this excellent producer has every element you'd want to find in this wine. Medium-bodied with beautiful aromas of fresh lemon, quince and magnolia, this is medium-bodied with ideal balance, very good acidity and a long, flavorful finish with a distinct minerality. Enjoy this over the next 2-3 years with clams, shrimp or scallops. At $20, a wonderful value! (Imported by Michelangelo Selection, Manhasset, NY)
Vistorta Merlot 2007 (IGT Venezia Giulia) - Merlot just doesn't get the respect it deserves these days, be it from California or France. As far as Italy, Merlot is something of an afterthought for most consumers, but there are some famous examples from Tuscany as well some notable versions made in Friuli. One of the loveliest from this northeastern region is the Vistorta bottling from Conte Brandolini d'Adda; this estate located in the province of Pordenone. Medium-full with aromas of red cherry, fennel and thyme, this has a delicate herbal streak that is common with cool-climate Merlot. The tannins are moderate and there is good acidity as well as impressive depth of fruit. Food rounds out this wine quite nicely, especially veal, lamb or an aged cheese. Enjoy this over the next 5-7 years. Very nicely priced at $25. (Imported by Palm Bay)
Bucci Rosso Piceno "Pongelli" 2009 (DOC Rosso Piceno) - For some time now, Bucci has been recognized as one of the premier producers of Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi for both its regular and sublime riserva bottlings. But they also produce beautiful red wines from Marche, in this case from the Rosso Piceno zone. The Pongelli is a 50/50 blend of Sangiovese and Montepulciano aged for six months in older oak casks (thus the wood influence is minimal) that is medium-bodied with lovely aromas of bing cherry and strawberry jam. Tannins are moderate, while the acidity is precise and there is very good persistence. This is a nicely balanced, easy to drink wine with a subtle touch of spice; overall the wine offers beautiful complexity. Ideal with pork, veal, beef or pastas with bolognese sauce; it could even work with rich seafood such as tuna or bass. This is a marvelous value at $23. (Imported by Empson USA)