The Unique Varietals of Italy
You’ve got to love Italy’s dedication. As the world around them adopts the most globally popular varietals as their own (Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot and Pinot Noir topping the lists), year after year Italy sticks to its guns. They like their regionally-developed grapes. Tuscany likes their Sangiovese because it goes so well with their tomato-based pastas and ribollita. So why would they want Pinot? The same goes for Basilicata and their Aglianico, Campania and their Falanghina, Sardinia and their Vermentino, and we know Piedmont isn’t pulling up their precious Nebbiolo anytime soon. (A relief, to say the least.)
That’s not to say that Italian winemakers don't experiment with a little Cabernet Sauvignon here and there, add a little oomph to their SuperTuscan blends or a little Chardonnay to fatten up their Northern white wines. But it took a long time to develop a marriage between regional wine and regional cuisine that many consider the best in the world. So it serves us well that Italy keeps with these traditions a little longer. Let everyone else grow Chardonnay. Italy’s got a pretty good thing going here.
2007 Argiolas Costamolino Vermentino di Sardinia (http://www.garyswine.com/fine_wine/italy/70023.html)
- Grape variety: Vermentino
- Region: Sardinia, Italy
- Food pairing: Fish crudo or lemon risotto
The island of Sardinia has long been known as a destination for wild beauty and rugged landscapes, a far cry from the rest of Italy when it comes to dialect and tradition, and a remotely pastoral seaside haven. But a high-quality wine region is not something people have always seen in Sardinia. With a passion for the islands native varietals (Vermentino, Nuragus, Cannonau, Monica and Bovale Sardo, among others,) the Argiolas family and winemaker Giacomo Tachis (father of such prestigious Italian wines as Sassicaia, Tignanello and Solaia) have placed Sardinia on the wine map. A classic example of Vermentino, their Costamolino is a fresh and soft white wine with notes of orange peel, tropical fruits and floral honey with a zesty acidity. Perfect with fish crudo or lemon risotto.
2007 Mustilli Falanghina (http://www.garyswine.com/fine_wine/italy/10953.html )
- Grape variety: Falanghina
- Region: Sant’Agata dei Goti, Campania, Italy
- Food pairing: Pizza Margherita
Despite the fact that Campania has been producing wine grapes since well before Vesuvius buried Pompeii (79 A.D., history buffs), it wasn’t until recently that the grape-growers here began holding on to their grapes for local winemaking rather than selling them to larger cooperatives for blending up North. And I, for one, am glad that small wineries like Mustilli have decided that a white grape like Falanghina deserves to be bottled on its own. “Falanghina is easy to drink, a delicate flavor, soft and elegant,” says winemaker Anna Chiara Mustilli in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle. “It should never be blended, or you lose the delicacy.” Mustilli’s 100% Falanghina is at once light and lush, with flavors of apple, almond and nutmeg that are absolutely perfect for Autumn and complement simple, fresh pizza Margherita like no other.
2007 Musto-Carmelitano Serra del Prete Aglianico (http://www.garyswine.com/fine_wine/italy/10957.html)
- Grape variety: Aglianico
- Region: Basilicata, Italy
- Food pairing: Pasta with eggplant and olive
We love stories like this one. About twenty years ago, Elisabetta Musto-Carmelitano’s uncle Giuseppe declared that his then 8-year-old niece would inherit the property that he had painstakingly built up since his return from years as a POW in Australia. She took that call to stewardship seriously, and has since taken on the creation of a rather impressive winery. Betty has been running the show since she was in her teens, and is out to make the best Aglianico possible with her prime real estate. Some of her vines are a whopping 90+ years old, while some are only a “mere” forty; regardless, her Aglianico del Vulture Serra del Prete is full of deep wild strawberry, lavender and anise notes and some significant (but never overbearing) tannins.
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