Unfamiliar Italy: Great Wines for Explorers

Bottle shot IL Lambrusco exe sweet Morellino fronte 2009Bolla_Tufaie_Label

Italy, perhaps more than any other wine-producing country in the world, is impossible to ever fully cover. Within its 20 wine regions are countless denominations, villages and towns. There are IGT’s DOC’s, DOCG’s, and none of the above. Then are are the grape varieties — hundreds of them, if not more, depending on who you ask. The big boot is the vinous embodiment of “an embarrassment of riches.”

But here is the ironic thing: Most Americans tend to stick with the same Italian wines bottle after bottle. And while I love Chianti and Brunello, Barolo and Barbaresco and the rest, there is infinitely more to explore.

Lambrusco: This great red sparkler of Emilia Romagna is a phenomenal wine on its own and a brilliant secret weapon when it comes to pairing a bottle with tricky foods. Mionetto’s Il Lambrusco, bursting with pomegranates and cherries, is a stunner, with a bone-dry finish that calls for ground meat, whether a bolognese or even, interestingly enough, a taco. (I tried the taco pairing; it was phenomenal.)

Morellino di Scansano: From the southern part of Tuscany,this Sangiovese-based red offers just enough of a change from the normal to remain exciting. Tenute Costa’s “Terre di Fiori” Morellino di Scansano 2009 is an unabashed winner, singing with flavors of leather, cherries and dried Mediterranean herbs.

Soave: Though it may not have possessed a stellar reputation in the past, this wine is hitting it out of the proverbial park right now. Bolla has ramped up quality in recent vintages, and now produces wines of both serious character and wallet-friendliness. At a remarkable, eye-opening Bolla wine lunch last week, I swooned over their “Tufaie” Soave Classico 2010, a luminous gold-toned white that reminded me of apricots, honey and dried pineapple. I’m still craving it a week later.

Real Marsala: Though you’ve had a cooking bottle of Marsala languishing in your cupboard since Milli Vanilli topped the charts, this is like nothing you’ve had before. Florio’s Dry Marsala, with its deep nuttiness, is the embodiment of how accomplished this fortified Sicilian wine can be.

And, of course, there’s more. From the mountains up north to the vistas of the south, Italy is one of the most thoroughly exciting wine-producing countries in the world right now. Best to take full advantage of all it has to offer, and start popping those corks.