Rosso di Casanova di Neri, Sant’Antimo DOC, 2011

Rosso di Casanova di Neri

As fall quickly turns to winter here in Chicago (I could’ve sworn I was out enjoying the weather just a week ago), I’m looking for some good Italian red wines to fortify my spirits. Good red wine is certainly something not is short supply coming from Italy, and when looking for a sure thing (or at least close too it), it’s hard to go wrong in either Piedmont or Tuscany. Sure enough, this latest one comes from a region at the heart of Tuscany, the Sant’Antimo DOC. It’s a region that doesn’t get a lot of attention (and one you may not see often in your local wine shop), but that’s for an understandable reason. It shares it’s borders, almost exactly, with three other wine regions, all (two in particular) more well known: the Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, the Rosso di Montalcino DOC, and the Moscadello di Montalcino DOC. However, what sets the Sant’Antimo DOC apart from these other regions is the grapes that can be used in producing these wines. While the other three regions can only use one grape as their primary grape (Sangiovese for Brunello and Rosso; Moscadello for the final region), Sant’Antimo wines have much more flexibility.

As you’ve probably guessed from the names of the region’s sisters (or brothers; would red wine regions be considered masculine and white wine regions feminine? Is that a sexist generalization that speaks to stereotypes about what types of wine men and women prefer? Probably questions for a different blog…), this region is situated around the Tuscan town of Montalcino. However, unlike it’s siblings, this region is named instead for a magnificent Romanesque 12th-century Abbey that is in a valley surrounded by the vineyards. The region is relatively young; it was only given it’s DOC designation in 1996. Though the region wasn’t originally laid out this way, very shortly after it’s inception it was modified to allow for certain ‘international’ varietals. This allowed winemakers to continue using some of the same grapes that had become popular under the more generic Toscana IGT, which houses the popular “Super Tuscans” (I haven’t covered these wines yet, but in short they are wines made by popular winemakers but under the relatively generic IGT, allowing for much more freedom in the grape selection and overall winemaking process). Today the Sant’Antimo DOC allows wines to be ‘varietals’ – using Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, or Pinot Nero for red wines and Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio for white wines – as well as the more general ‘rosso’ and ‘blanco’ wines, made from the same local grapes allowed in other Tuscan wines.

This particular wine is a ‘rosso’ from Casanova di Neri, produced from grapes grown in their “Cetine” vineyards, south of Montalcino. The wine has a deep purple ruby coloring, bordering on purple, but with a bit more clarity. It has a nice full nose with lots of red fruit notes, led by pomegranate and red cherry. It’s definitely a full bodied wine, but with smooth tannins and a nice bit of acidity to give it some backbone, it doesn’t overwhelm too much. The tannins, while noticeable, take a back seat to the acidity and flavors on the palate. Here again stand out notes of pomegranate and bright cherry, as well as a bit of blackberry and a few other darker, earthier notes. It has a nice finish to it, with the acidity and fruit flavors lingering.

Price: $20

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Leone de Castris ‘Maiana’, Salice Salentino DOC, 2010

Maiana, Salice Salentino DOC

I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus, which is pretty clear to anyone looking at the site recently (and by recently I really mean at any point in 2014). With other projects stacking up a bit (a few of which also involve wine), it’s been hard to find time to blog. However, that’s hopefully going to change a bit in the second half of the year. This refocus on the blog is somewhat prompted by the discovery of a wine shop in my neighborhood that I didn’t realize existed (and has for many years), and which turns out to be maybe the best one. It’s somewhat frustrating that it took me nearly two years to discover it, though I supposed that also speaks to the large number of options in my area. It has a great traditional feel (I don’t think they have air conditioning, which is surprising given how hot and humid Boston summers can get), and is one of those shops with so many small rooms that you keep thinking you’ve seen the whole thing until you go around the next corner. It takes a good 20 minutes to decide if the place is really as big as it seems, or if you’ve simply been walking in circles the whole time (in this case, it’s the former).

The wine I dug up on my first trip in is from the southern Italian region of Apulia (or Puglia, in Italian. I never understood the English name for this region. Lombardia to Lombardy makes sense, Toscana to Tuscany I can see, but why add an “A” to Puglia? Why not just Pulia?). This region is the stiletto heel of the Italian boot, jutting off the southeastern end of the country in the direction of Greece. As I’ve mentioned previously, the four regions of southern Italian (Campania, Basilicata, and Calabria are the other three) don’t have quite the same reputation for fine Italian wine as their northern counter parts. And while Apulia produces more wine then any of those other three regions, this is as true here as anywhere else. Through the middle (and into the later) 20th century, most Apulian wine was reserved for blends in northern wines or, most commonly, in vermouth. Still today, roughly 75% of the wine made in the region is sent off for those purposes. However, there has been much more of an effort in recent years to make more quality wine in the region. As part of this push, many of the traditional vineyards have been replanted, often being replaced with French varietals in the process.

This wine that I grabbed, however, comes from a region where traditional varietals are still predominant – Negroamaro being the most popular. The region is the Salice Salentino DOC, located in the southern half of the Italian heel, which is actually called the Salento peninsula, centered around the small city of Salice. Wine has been produced in this area since around the 6th century BCE, with the red wines in ancient times were often praised for their sweetness. This is a bit at odds with Negroamaro, though, who’s name translates roughly to “black bitter one”. The reputation more likely came from Negroamaro’s sidekick in these parts – named Malvasia Nera. This grape is often blended with Negroamaro and adds softness to what are otherwise typically dark and intense wines.

This particular bottle is from the producer Leone de Castris. It is made from 90% Negroamaro and 10% Malvasia Nera. It’s appearance is dark and inky; ruby in coloring and deep in intensity. The nose has notes of dark fruit and herbs, along with some oak-related scents such as cedar and vanilla. It has a lot of body and good acidity, with smooth tannins that stick around a while after everything else has left. There are more fruit notes, with lots of dark cherry, plum, and blackberry, along more oak-related flavors and some spice. Overall a very nice expression of what I would expect from a Salice Salentino – I look forward to my next bottle of Italian wine from this shop.

Price: $13

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Luca Ferraris, Ruche di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG, 2011

Luca Ferraris, RucheAfter a bit of an absence, I’m back with what will hopefully be the first of a number of good Italian red wines this fall. As much as I love summer in New England, fall and winter is really the best time to drink red wine, and though Italy has many great white wines to offer, I’ve always felt as though it was her reds that made her shine in the wine world. For this red wine we travel to Piedmont (where else?). When thinking of red wine from Piedmont, the same three grapes seem to always dominate the conversation – Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Dolcetto. And for good reason; these three grapes make up the largest portion of red wine production in the region and are among the most important grapes in the Piedmontese winemaking tradition. However, as is the case throughout Italy, there is much more that Piedmont has to offer in it’s red wines than just those three grapes. This wine, from the Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG, shows us an example of that – the Ruché grape.

Red wines from this region, which is situated among the Monferrato hills in southeast Piedmont (the area that also lends it’s name to the Barbera del Monferrato DOC, among other things), are made from the Ruché grape. This grape, which must make up at least 90% of the blend, is found almost exclusively in this area of Piedmont. It wasn’t long ago that almost nobody had heard of this grape; as recently as the early 1980’s it was rarely grown even in this part of Piedmont. But interest in the grape has risen steadily since then, culminating in the creation of it’s own region, which was upgraded to it’s current DOCG status in 2011 (making this region one of the newest regions I’ve covered so far). There is some debate as to the exact origins of the grape, with some claiming that it originated in southern France instead of Italy, but it’s ties to Italy today are clear. With an estimated 125 acres of vines currently planted it is one of the most exclusive grapes made in any Italian wine region, DOC or DOCG.

This wine is produced by Luca Ferraris, a Piedmontese winemaker whose family has been making wine in the Monferrato area stretching back four generations.  It has a nice clean, ruby red coloring to it. The nose is bright and fresh, carrying notes of cherry, plum and some spice. On the palate it has the feel of a young wine, with nice, bright, red fruit flavors, including plum, raspberry, and cherry, along with some spice and blossom notes. It is a rather full bodied wine with medium acidity and smooth, if somewhat subtle, tannins. It lingers on the palate nicely, with the red fruit and spice sticking around. The wine also has a bit of earthyness to it, which rounds out the red fruit flavors rather nicely. It definitely has some heft, but doesn’t hit you over the head with it. Overall an enjoyable wine, which is a touch exotic.

Price: N/A

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cantineGarrone ‘Ossolanum’, Valli Ossolane DOC, 2011

Ossolanum, Valli OssolaneThe hot Boston summer means that drinking anything but white wine is tough. Sometimes, however, you want something with a little more body than you’d find in a typical white wine. People usually think the options at that point are either Rose or Lambrusco, both of which can be great options. But what about a chilled red wine? Though the concept seems rather foreign to most people, with the right wine it can be the perfect answer to a hot summer evening. But not all red wines would be good when chilled, so finding the right one is key. As a general rule of thumb, you go north. North in Italy means Switzerland or Austria and the small number of wine regions tucked across the Italian border in their shadows. That is exactly where you’ll find this region, the Valli Ossolane DOC.

This region is one of the most obscure Italian wine regions I’ve explored so far. So much so that it’s not in The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia, one of my go-to sources for all things wine. In fact, this small region was only granted it’s DOC designation in 2009, making it one of the most recently crowned wine regions in the DOC catalog. It sits right up against the border with Switzerland with Lombardy to it’s right and Valle d’Aosta about 40 miles to the southwest and has one of the most impressive landscapes of all Piedmontese regions. It is not the northern most wine region in Italy, since the country angles slightly northward as you move east (making Alto Adige the northern most area) but it is more northern than just about any other Italian wine region in it’s area.

The region produces four different types of wine – three red and one white (surprising for a region so far north). The white wine must be made up of at least 60% Chardonnay, with other Piedmontese varietals making up the rest of the blend. Of the three red wines, two are varietals made from Nebbiolo – one “standard” version and a Superiore version, which has some additional requirements including a longer aging period. The final red wine is a blend of Nebbiolo, Croatina, and Merlot.

The red wines from this region, though often consisting of mostly Nebbiolo, tend to be bright and fruit driven; not as big and powerful as the Nebbiolo’s found in southern Piedmont. This particular wine is from the producer cantineGarrone and falls into the third category of red wines, a blend that consists of mostly (but not all) Nebbiolo. In has a dark, ruby red coloring and a fruity bouquet that is a bit muted at first, when the wine is cold, but opens up nicely as it warms. There are notes of blueberry and raspberry, with qualities that remind me of a raspberry sorbet (though not as sweet). The body is dry and has medium acidity and tannins, with more traditional red and dark fruits notes – cherry and raspberry on the forefront. It is nice and crisp when chilled, perfect for sitting outside when it’s hot. If you’re looking for a red wine you can drink chilled, this would definitely be one of my recommendations.

Price: $18

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Cantine Gini, Vernaccia di San Gimignano DOCG, 2011

Cantine Gini, VernacciaThe Vernaccia di San Gimignano DOCG stands out as one of the primier white wines of Tuscany, which, given how prolific a wine producing region Tuscany is, should be pretty high praise. But, as famous as Tuscany is for it’s red wines (Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino, to name a few), the Vernaccia di San Gimignano DOCG is it’s only white wine DOCG region (and even this was only gained in 1993). There are certainly many more red DOCG regions than white in Italy as a whole, so it may not be surprising that Tuscany would reflect that imbalance as well, but given that Emilia-Romagna and Lazio, less prolific wine-growing areas that border Tuscany, have two apiece, Tuscany only having one is a little surprising.

However, if you’re only going to have one white wine DOCG region, ideally it would be a pretty prestigious one, and the Vernaccia di San Gimignano DOCG competes with just about any other white wine region in the country on that front. It is considered to be among Italy’s oldest and most noble wines, with it’s roots dating back before the Renaissance. Though it only received it’s DOCG status in 1993, this region was given the very first DOC designation when the classification system was created back in 1966. Despite it’s relatively good reputation within Italy, the wine does not hold a lot of weight with the outside wine world. Most wine drinkers are much more familiar with it’s northern counterparts, Soave and Roero for example, than they are with Vernaccia di San Gimignano.

The region itself is centered around the Tuscan hill town of San Gimignano, about an hours drive southwest of Florence. The wines produced in this region are made from primarily the Vernaccia grape (at least 90%), and have been traditionally known as the wine that kisses, licks, bites, and stings. Vernaccia can be a confusing grape because the name, or a variation of it, is used to describe grapes grown in different parts of Italy that aren’t actually related to one another. The reason for this is that the name Vernaccia comes from the Italian word Vernaculo, which means common or indigenous (the English word “vernacular” is closely related). Because of that, you will find grapes with local names very similar to Vernaccia in other regions of Italy, such as Marche and Sardinia. However, in most instances when people use the word Vernaccia, it is in reference to the grape that makes Vernaccia di San Gimignano.

This wine is from the Tuscan producer Cantine Gini. It has a nice lemon coloring, pale and shimmering. The nose is light and refreshing, very fresh. It has a mineral quality to it, along with floral notes and a bit of a green aspect to it – some green apple and pear in the background. It is dry with a medium body on the palate, backed by nice, crisp acidity. There is an herbaceous quality to the wine, which goes with the green apple and pear on the nose. There are some other fruit and floral notes as well. It is tart, and though crisp, is not so light as to be overlooked. It has some bitterness on the finish, rounding out with a nice bit of character, thought a bit less so than some of the most classic Vernaccia di San Gimignano’s. In many ways it reminds me of a more southern Italian white wine.

Price: $13

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