Sips of Italy 

Discovering Italian wine values

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Since this week’s Dining column deals with the (mostly) Italian fare at Brio Tuscan Grille, I thought I’d carry on the theme here and pop the cork on a few bottles of reasonably priced Italian wines. Even with the relatively strong Euro versus a weak U.S. dollar, there are bargains to be had from Italy. Here are a few of them.

Although Italy is known best for its red wines—Chianti, Barolo, Barbera and such—modern winemaking techniques have vastly improved the quality of Italy’s whites. Pinot Grigio, of course, is the mother of Italian white wines—by far the most commercially successful varietal. One of my favorites of late has been Attems Pinot Grigio ($10.25), which comes from Friuli-Venezia Giulia, the northeastern-most region of Italy, bordering Slovenia and Austria. Attems has more tropical-fruit flavors and aromas than most Pinot Grigio, which can be pretty bland. By contrast, this one is rich, complex and brimming with ripe fruit—pineapple, pear and peach flavors, especially. It makes for a pleasant aperitif but also pairs up well with grilled chicken.

For a few more dollars ($14.99), I also recommend tracking down a bottle of Ca’ Montini Terre di Valfredda Pinot Grigio, from Trentino. This single-vineyard Pinot comes in a cool, sleek and stylish bottle and offers gorgeous white-flower aromas on the nose, along with complexity and concentration on the palate—another example of better-than-average Pinot Grigio from the country that does it best.

Terredora di Paolo Falanghina Irpinia ($13.99) is from Campania, where Falanghina grapes have grown for thousands of years. Nice acidity and flavorful notes of pear, pineapple and quince make this Falanghina a perfect partner for Caprese salad with fresh buffalo mozzarella. Aged in stainless steel, the wine is oak-free with a delightful floral finish.

I recently cooked up a hearty batch of pappardelle with multi-meat Bolognese sauce and opened a bottle of Produttori del Barbaresco ($31.99) to drink with it: slam-dunk. The Produttori is a collective of small wine growers in the Barbaresco appellation that Robert Parker said “sets some of the highest standards of winemaking for any cooperative in the world.” The 2006 vintage I enjoyed is 100 percent Nebbiolo with lots of ripe fruit (dried cherry and currants) and firm tannins—a full-bodied wine that will age nicely for years to come.

On a more economical note, I also picked up a bottle of entry-level Chianti that is readily available in most of our state stores: Castello di Querceto Chianti DOCG ($7.99). Querceto is said to refer to the “little forest of oak and chestnut trees” in which the winery is situated, in Chianti, Tuscany, of course. Don’t let the meager price fool you: While not exactly mind-blowing Chianti (which are few and far between to begin with), this friendly, easy-drinking blend of Sangiovese, Trebbiano and Canaiolo grapes is ideal everyday Chianti. It was made to sip with pizza, spaghetti & meatballs and the like—a perfect pizza-parlor red with nice acidity to partner well with tomato sauce. An amazing value, this one!

Founded in 1877 in Tuscany, Ruffino wines have made big inroads globally; you can find Ruffino in more than 85 countries on five continents. At Brio Tuscan Grille, I tasted Ruffino Fonte al Sole 2008 ($9.28) and was surprised at the quality for the price. It’s a 60/40 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese, with acidity and fruitiness (black and red berries) that are typical of Sangiovese. Cabernet tannins help balance out the fruit and acidity and make this a good choice to drink with everything from barbecued ribs and grilled-fish dishes to lasagna, burgers or roast chicken. Mangia e bevi!

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