Vermentino Values 

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A recent trip to Michelangelo Ristorante in Salt Lake City served to remind me of a wonderful wine I enjoyed there a couple of years ago. I’d actually discovered it first at Mario Batali’s Babbo restaurant in New York City. It’s not present on the current Michelangelo wine list, but the wine I was so fond of was an Italian white wine called Cantina Santadi Vermentino “Cala Silente” di Sardegna. I don’t believe the state wine stores carry Cala Silente, but a nice substitute is Argiolas Costamolino Vermentino di Sardegna DOC ($12.95).

Vermentino is an interesting and appealing white wine varietal, and an especially good value as Italian wine prices continue to escalate while the U.S. dollar gets mauled by the Euro. Since it hasn’t become especially fashionable or trendy yet, Vermentino can usually be had for less than $15. Wine historians speculate that Vermentino'originally a Spanish grape'made its way to Liguria in Italy in the 1300s via Corsica, and finally spread to Italy’s Sardinia (Sardegna) in the late 19th century.

I mention Vermentino here in particular as we approach summer’s end since Vermentino is such a spectacular summer wine. The rich soils and high grape yields where Vermentino is grown in Sardinia result in a totally tasty but very drinkable, low-alcohol wine that is perfect for summer sipping.

Vermentino also partners really well with fish'even fried fish like fried salt cod (baccala) and fried baby eels. Risottos with shrimp, clams or mussels are other good matches for Vermentino, which also goes nicely with most Italian antipasti and soups.

I remember that Cantina Santadi “Cala Silente” from Babbo so well. I drank it alongside a simple sautéed skate dish and'as with most Vermentino'I distinctly recall the explosion of herbs on my tongue. That’s not so surprising since Vermentino is typically grown alongside sage, mint, fennel and the like. Come to think of it, drinking Vermentino with a braised or grilled fennel dish would probably be awesome.

The Argiolas Vermentino de Sardegna is a little lighter and more delicate on the palate than I remember “Cala Silente” to be. I think that’s probably because the latter spends some time in oak, giving it a bit of roundness and heft, whereas the Argiolas is fermented in stainless-steel tanks. Still, the Argiolas isn’t that lightweight. In fact, in the Wine Advocate, Robert Parker called it, “Reminiscent of a lightweight Hermitage.” With the current 2003 vintage, I taste apple, pears, a touch of grapefruit, even a hint of pineapple, and those distinctive herbal flavors. Again, a very nice wine for pairing with lighter foods in warm weather or for sipping all by itself. Enjoy some before the snow starts to fly!

Sips: On Tuesdays, Fresco Italian Café forgoes wine corkage fees as a way of saying “thanks” to the regular folks who support the restaurant. Personally, I think it’s a great idea for restaurateurs to encourage customers to bring their own wines to their restaurants once a week. It gives us all a chance to work through our own cellars and still enjoy superb restaurant food. I hope that customers will pay back the favor by perhaps also ordering a bottle from the Fresco wine list, or perhaps an after-dinner drink or aperitif. Fresco Italian Café is located at 1513 S. 1500 East, and its phone number is 486-1300.

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More by Ted Scheffler

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