“Wine refreshes the stomach, sharpens the appetite,
blunts care and sadness, and conduces to slumber.”
-- Pliny the Elder
I learned during my years-long study to achieve my WSET Diploma that Italy did not become a nation state, or one unified country, until 1861. This had never sunk in during my high school history classes; it was only when I began studying about Italian wine that I learned that prior to 1861, and after the fall of Rome in the fifth century, Italy was a fragmented collection of numerous, politically divided city states, often at war with one another. Once united, however, Italy faced other obstacles, including two world wars and its own civil war, before ultimately surviving as a democracy and a European power.
In spite of its disruptive history, Italy has consistently been producing killer wines dating back to ancient times. In fact, there is some belief that the first vitis vinifera vines were grown in Italy, although there are some folks in Spain, Greece, and Georgia (the Eastern European one) who would strongly object to this notion!
Regardless, it's safe to say that Italy has been producing wine for thousands of years, in all its different regions, and is much glorified in wine circles throughout the world. The popularity of Italian wine amongst the clientele of The Wine House in West Los Angeles, where I am employed, is pretty amazing. Folks love Italy, Italian food, and especially Italian wine. Our Italian tasting events usually sell out pretty quickly (in non-COVID times!).
LA Wine Writers recently spent a lunch hour at Marino's Restaurant in Los Angeles, hosted by Bethany Burke of Taub Family Selections & Palm Bay International, where she presented a tour of Italy via the wines of four producers that she represents. We "traveled" up and down the boot of Italy, from Piedmont to Sicily. It was a nice reminder of how diverse and good Italian wines, both red and white, can be, and also how reasonably priced.
|(From top left, clockwise) Bethany Burke of Taub Family Selections; |
Torbato sparkling wine; the day's white selections; Chef Sal Marino's first course.
Here's what was tasted:
The Whites, and Bubbles
Also from Sella & Mosca was the 2020 Monteoro Vermentino di Gallura Superiore DOCG, from the northeast section of the island of Sardinia. This area experiences hot days and cool nights, which are perfect conditions for this grape. A lovely summer sipper with crisp acidity, and well priced at around $24.
Like Sella & Mosca, Mastroberardino is responsible for the revival of indigenous grape varieties, but in the Campania region of central Italy. First up was 2019 Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Biano DOC. The wine is 100% Coda di Volpe, Italian for "tail of the fox," so named because of the long pendulous bunches these grapes grow in. And ever the romantic language, Lacryma Christi is Italian for "tears of Christ." This is a citrusy, spicy white with medium acidity, priced at about $20.
Also from Mastroberardino was the 2019 Fiano di Avellino DOCG, a more full-bodied white, with notes of almonds, citrus, flowers, and herbs. It's priced at about $22.
At just 12.5% abv, these beautiful wines paired beautifully with Chef Sal Marino's starter courses of tuna tartar and salad.
After the appetizers and whites, things got seriously red, with three Chianti Classicos and three Nebbiolos.
From Tuscany, the wines of Rocca delle Macie showcased the beauty of Sangiovese in its various iterations of Chianti Classicos. The Zingarelli family runs this vineyard, which was started by the late Italo Zingarelli of "spaghetti western" fame in 1973, when he moved from making moves to making wine. His son and his family now run the operation, and are active in the Chianti Classico growers' consortium.
|The red wines and their pairings.|
The 2018 Chianti Classico DOCG Tenuta Sant'Alfonso features 100% estate Sangiovese, and is aged in French oak for a year (retail price $28). The 2018 Chianti Classico DOCG Riserva Familia Zingarelli is a fine example of the Riserva style, which means the wine has spent at least two years in oak and at least three months aging in the bottle (retail price $28). The 2018 Chianti Classico DOCG Riserva di Fizzano Gran Selezione is the historic cru of the winery, and a fine example of this fairly new category of Chianti Classic, which is above Riserva (retail price $41). The additional requirements above Riserva are .5% more minimum alcohol and 30 months aging, as opposed to 24 months. Paired with Chef Sal's red-sauce pasta and braised lamb with polenta, these were just spectacular wines for the money, and a good lesson on Chianti Classico wines.
Moving to Piedmont, in Northern Italy, we got into the Nebbiolos, one of my favorite grapes. This lighter-bodied wine was presented in three versions, all 100% Nebbiolo, in various vintages, from Beni di Batasiolo, a Dogliani family winery. First up was 2017 Barbaresco DOCG (retail price $40), aged 12 months in Solvenian and French oak plus 12 months in stainless steel. The 2016 Barolo DOCG is a mixture of all five of Batasiolo's vineyards, aged in Slovenian oak for 24 months plus 12 months in stainless steel (retail price $42). Finally, there's the lovely 2013 Barolo DOCG Briccolina, also aged 24 months in French oak and 12 more in stainless steel (retails for $115). Briccolina is a Barolo Cru, in the village of Serralunga. This absolutely elegant wine displayed a brown-tinged garnet color, and aromas of flowers, herbs, berries, delicate spices. The tannins are integrated and lovely on the palate.
Bonus Reds and Truffle Pizza
|Chef Sal shaves truffles onto pizza, served with big bold reds.|