Italian wines continue to live up to their reputation

I’ve been doing a lot of saluting lately as Italian wines are bursting with new, beautiful releases up and down the peninsula. There is no country quite like Italy with its varied complexity of varietals, from lovely whites at the northern border district of Trentino-Alto Adige to the dark, deep luster of Sicilian reds. There are more than 300 regions sanctioned by the government, making wines from more than 2,000 grape varietals. Wine making has been going on for more than 3,000 years. Unlike California, which labels its wines by the grape, Italians label their wines by the district. A Sangiovese grape wine is labeled Chianti, a Nebbiolo grape wine is labeled Barolo or Barbaresco, favorite locations for the making of that wine.
Two recent wine tastings had me happily declaring the recent 2006 releases as the best since 2001. The first was a gathering at When In Rome in Encinitas where Italian wine expert Marco Barat was holding court as special guest of G.M. Daniel Shaffer. Marco, in addition to his humorous one-liners, waxed poetic on five wines from Puglia, on the southeastern coast of Italy.
As Daniel served Italian courses like Grillata di Pesce with halibut cheeks and scallops to add to the Specialita d’ Puglia, orichette pasta, broccoli and salcicccia, Marco poured the 2006 Feudi San Gregorio Fiano di Avellino and Ognissole Primitivo di Mandura. Both were beautifully balanced reds with light fruit to accent the floral, honey and coffee-like earthy flavors that are oh-so Italy. The capper was a 2001 Feudi San Gregorio di Aglianico Taurasi, a 94 point Robert Parker favorite. It retails for about $56.
Over to Wine Street in Carlsbad for their Italian Harvest of offerings, the two best bets from 2006 were a Nero D’Avola from Chiaramonte, a delicious red from Sicily and a Taste of Wine previous Top Ten Taste ( $16.99); and a Romitorio Morelllino di Scansano ($19.99). Both are now selling at Wine Street.
Ten of the top 100 wines in the world, as named by the influential Wine Spectator are from Italy. The highest rated was Pio Casare Barola, 2004 ( $62).
Journey through Temecula holiday wine country
Christmas and New Year’s Eve wine dinners, a light festival, hay rides, wine gift shops and much more will make Temecula Wine Country a must-enjoy for the holidays. Now through Dec. 29, Keyways Winery has a holiday light festival from 6 to 9 p.m. daily with hayrides and other activities. As with Ponte Winery, which has theirs until Dec. 23, you can marvel at more than 200,000 LED lights that stretch over vineyards and rooftops. It’s family style fun and entertainment.
For more at Keyways call (951) 302-7888. For Ponte, call (951) 694-8855.
New Year’s Eve is memorable as many wineries host special events. South Coast Winery has its elegant dinner, dance and celebration at Vineyard Rose. You can also stay in one of the luxury vineyard villas. Reserve by calling (951) 587-9463, ext. 7230. Wiens Family Cellars has “Jungle Boogie” with dinner, live music, dancing and animals from the Wild Animal Park. Call to RSVP at (951) 694-9892. Keyways has an all-star music concert with its dinner and dancing, including Ambrosia. Details are available by calling (951) 302-7888. Wilson Creek Winery has a “Sail Into the New Year” extravaganza at their new events center. Call (951) 699-9463 for details. Thornton Winery will have its gala including dinner, dancing and balloon drop. Get the full story by calling (951) 699-0099. A good way to see all the Wine Country fun is by Going Grape and its holiday transportation tour packages. They are local and know the winemakers personally. For reservations, call (951) 852-1923.
Wine Bytes
— The Fallbrook Visitors Bureau is presenting a Wine & A Bite Holiday Walk through the historic downtown area, 4 to 7 p.m. Dec. 13. Sip wine, indulge in great food and shop the distinctive stores. Ten restaurants and Fallbrook Winery are providing nice food and drink. The cost is $10 per person, $15 at the door. Call for RSVPs at (760) 451-3282.
— Big Bold Reds is the theme of the wine tasting at Vino 100 in San Marcos from 5 to 9 p.m. Dec. 12 and Dec. 13. Cost is $15 per person. For more, contact Vino 100 at (760) 591-9113.
— Holiday wine tasting is sure to please at the 3rd Corner Wine Shop and Bistro in Encinitas from 2 to 5 p.m. Dec. 13. Tasting fee is $10. RSVP requested at (760) 942-2104.
— San Diego Wine Company on Miramar Road has its annual top 10 values to taste on Dec. 13 during business hours for $10 or just $1 with an unwrapped toy or gift card to benefit a children’s fund. More information is available by calling (858) 586-9463.