Italian wines have had a checkered life in the U.S.

Italian wines have had a checkered life here in the U.S. For a time, led by Chianti with its Sangiovese, the grape of origin in Tuscany, it seemed it was on every table either California grown and bottled, or brought over by an army of Italian makers, who sensed they could fill the jugs with anything that seemed palatable to American taste. The ‘60s saw an “enough is enough” disgust with what passed as Chianti and Italy was shocked into action, as prices and demand plummeted.

At the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano reception in San Francisco recently, Contucci wine distributor Matt Pye (left) greets guests while Andrea Contucci promotes his wines. Photo by Frank Mangio

A wine revolution occurred in Italy to reverse this trend and the government, along with key winemakers, set up strong standards to identify excellence. Wineries were told to abide by these standards for bottling their wines or “die on the vine.”

Today, Italian wine exports have reached a record 4.4 billion Euros last year, up 12 percent, with the U.S. the biggest customer. Italy is now winding up its largest expo, Vin Italy in Verona, where more than 4,200 winemakers displayed their wines. Simultaneously, Wine Spectator, the largest wine trade publication in the world, printed six full-page color ads, mostly from Italian marketing associations promoting wine growing areas like Montepulciano. They brought their mayor, Andrea Rossi, to the recent San Franciso Italian Wine Masters two-day exhibition and conference.

Master sommelier Catherine Fallis praised the quality of wines coming out of the Tuscany and Siena districts especially Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. At the grand tasting seminar conducted by Tim Gaiser, education chair for the Court of Master Sommeliers, a select group of wines were tasted from Brunello di Montalcino, Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Conegliano Prosecco Superiore.

Catherine Fallis (left) Master Wine Sommelier and emcee of the recent San Francisco Masters Italian Wine Expo, with the Mayor of Montepulciano Andrea Rossi. Photo by Frank Mangio

In my last trip to Italy last fall, Montepulciano was a quick view on a hill as I made my way to nearby Siena as planned. Not so next time. This small medieval city is a natural movie set with its surrounding wall, dramatic overlook of the Tuscan countryside and wineries that are beautifully crafted in the city and on the outskirts.

Vino nobile means the wine of popes and nobility. Its grape is the Sangiovese clone Prugnolo gentile. “It is the gentle clone of Sangiovese, with more aging,” I was told by Andrea Contucci of Contucci Winery, located in the center of Montepulciano. “It is made with the highest standard in Italy, DOCG, no less than 70 percent Sangiovese. My wine is very traditional, it goes back to the 11th Century.” 2008 is the newest vintage of his Vino Nobile, although the 2006 Reserva ($30) was a silky, refined masterpiece of Italian wine culture. It was aged for a minimum 36 months, then 10 months in bottle before release. A 2007 Riserva is just now released ($27). Cartucci also revealed that “the 2011 harvest was a long Summer with rich grapes but low production. Picking was finished in early October just before the strong, destructive rains hit us.”

To learn more about these wines, visit Discover Montepulciano at

Taste of Wine seen in Great Taste magazine

I am happy to report that “Taste of Wine” can now be seen in the leading restaurant magazine’s Internet network, Great Taste of Orange County. It’s a very attractive publication for foodies, hospitality, catering and culinary professionals. Subscribers are up to 22,000. Take a look at

Wine Bytes

— Flemings La Jolla presents First Friday Wine Tastings, the next one is from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. April 6. This event features 20 wines from a major grape-growing area, this time Washington and Oregon. The cost is $25 per guest. RSVP at (858) 535-0078.

— San Diego Wine Company has a California Reds Tasting from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. April 14. The cost is $10 each. Call (858) 586-WINE for more information.

— Twisted Vine Bistro & Wine Bar in San Diego is pouring the Wines of Veneto, Italy, from 4 to 6 p.m. April 14. The event includes five glasses of wines with “lite bites.” For RSVP and price, call (858) 780-2501.

— Seasons 52 at South Coast Plaza, Orange County, hosts Merryvale Vineyards and Starmont Winery’s Casey Chandler of Napa Valley starting at 6:30 p.m. April 16. The cost is $100 per person, with a six-course dinner included. RSVP at (714) 352-1701.

Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator. His library can be viewed at (Average Google certified 900 visits per day) He is one of the top five wine commentators on the Web. Reach him at



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