Italians have a nice little saying that would be good to earmark in your search for a fulfilling life of good wine and good friends: “Amici y vini, sempre meglio vecchi.”
It means, “friends and wine are always best when they’re aged.”
Making friends and making wine is the passionate lifestyle in every corner of Italy. There are reportedly more than 384,000 wineries in Italy, both big and small, making 377 different kinds of wine.
This is the land of wine. The Italians brought wine to France when the Roman legions conquered the country. Now the Italians are the number one importers of wine to the United States — replacing the French.
Yet here in the U.S. there are many who have not been educated to Italian wines and their terroir taste. Mouthfeel is less grape and more the earth and its minerality and herbs. Soils in subclimates can change radically in vine blocks. There is a special affinity for Mediterranean food and Italian wine, unlike any other country.
When one overindulges in wine, Italians just shrug and say: “He didn’t eat enough food.”
There are three wines that I want you to be familiar with: Barolo in the Piedmont district north of Milan; Amarone in the Valpolicello district near Varona and Brunello Montalcino in Tuscany.
Barolo is king of the reds with the power and glitz from the Nebbiolo grape. Minimum aging is three years by law. It is a dry, full-bodied robust wine that can be aged for many years with stunning results. Some names to know include: Beni Di Batasiolo, Guiseppe Rinaldi, Fontanafredda, Michele Chiarlo and the legendary Gaja, a winery named after its founder, Angelo Gaja, considered the father of modern day Piedmont wines.
All of these wines are expensive and can go upwards of $600. With some digging, there are value bottles of Barolos out there for about $40.
Moving south to the district of Veneto, the home of the sparkling wine favorite, Prosecco, a fascinating and powerful red wine is viewed as a sensational favorite. Its name is Amorone from the Valpolicella area. The process is extraordinary as grapes are harvested deep into October by carefully choosing bunches having fruit apart from each other to let the air flow through.
These grapes: Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara, are allowed to dry and shrivel on mats and drying racks to lose water and concentrate the sugars and flavors, in a process called “Appassimento.”
This lasts for up to five months before they are then crushed and fermented with alcohol in most cases 16 percent. Wines to know are: Cesare, Allegrini, Masi, Tommasi and Alighiera. Prices are mostly in the range from $70 to $100.
Brunello do Montalcino, in the south of Tuscany, is our third stop.
The name Brunello means “nice dark one” and indeed it is, as it gets its clonal history stems from Tuscany’s most popular grape, Sangiovese.
It is only made around the medieval town of Montalcino, 600 meters straight up.
The founder of this wine is considered to be Ferrucio Biondi Santo in the 1870s. There are now some 200 producers who must, by law, barrel this wine for at least four years, plus one year in bottle, before selling. The winery that popularized Brunello is American owned and operated, Castello Banfi.
The 7,000-acre property was purchased in the 1970s by the Mariani family, importers that wanted a higher quality Sangiovese (Chianti) than was then available.
Their pursuit of excellence was rewarded as they are now considered Italy’s premier vineyard estate and the leader in clonal research on the Sangiovese grape. Other Brunello di Montalcino names to know include: Biondi- Santi, Castiglion Del Bosco, Poggio Antico, Il Poggione and Altesino. Prices run from the $60 to $100 range.
The 2010s, now in release, are spectacular and will age beautifully.
Encinitas is the place to be 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 21 at the Lumberyard Center. It’s the 2nd annual Encinitas Foodie Fest, blending the best of North County food, drink, art and music. Fifteen chefs will show how to prepare farm-to-table cuisine on three different stages and six chefs will compete for the Best of the Fest competition. A “Barefoot Bar” will be serving a dozen or so craft beers, wine and spirits. Wines provided by Carruth, Lorimar, Meritage Wine Market and Tasting Room Del Mar. Live music throughout the fest. The event will also benefit the Systic Fibrosis Foundation. Cost is $48. Ultimate Foodie VIP package for two with major perks including two nights lodging May 20 and May 21 at the Best Western Moonlight Beach for $1,000. Details are online at foodiefestencinitas.com.
Westfield UTC Center in La Jolla brings its 4th annual Uncorked Wine Walk and Concert event, May 7 from 4 to 7 p.m. Cost is $20. Features Temecula wines. It’s a self-guided wine and restaurant walk through the center. Ticket sales help support the Temecula Valley Wine Growers Association. Call (515) 210-7788 for details.
Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator. He is one of the leading wine commentators on the web. View his columns at tasteofwinetv.com and reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Facebook.