* Everyone I’ve ever met who enjoys wine, started off with one favorite. For me it was cheap Chianti. I’m not talking about basket Chianti cheap: I’m actually talking cheaper. I don’t know where the cheapness came from but the Chianti attraction came from the influence of Italian grandparents who immigrated to the United States at the turn of the last century and accordingly from a love of all things Italian. The cheapness went away but the enjoyment of these Italian wines has stuck like the influence of those Catholic nuns growing up. Cheers to sisters Evelina and Janet. This one’s for you.
2005 Anselmi San Vincenzo ($12)
One of my favorite growing regions in Italy is the Veneto. Located in the northeast of the country, the Veneto is home to Roberto Anselmi, one of Italy’s premier white wine producers. Anselmi’s flagship wine is the San Vincenzo. Although the wine is named after a town, San Vincenzo (or Saint Vincent) was also a third century Spanish deacon responsible for the church’s works of charity and mercy. After catching the ire of the Roman authorities for a little too much preaching, he was arrested, imprisoned, tortured and killed. In return, some years down the road of history, he was canonized and later given the very cool title of Patron Saint of Winemaking.
If ever there were the right name for a great bottle of wine, this is it. The 2005 Anselmi San Vincenzo is a well balanced, round wine with soft citrus fruit. Comprised almost entirely of the noble Italian grape, Gargenega, the San Vincenzo is a great alternative for all those white wine drinkers who are tired of Chardonnay. Clean and crisp with a smooth tropical finish, you really can’t beat this $12 value.
2002 Cantele Salice Salentino ($10)
Great wines can be found throughout Italy, and it’s always good advice to drink what the locals drink. Remember the adage, when in Rome do as the Romans do. So if your travels take you to the heel of the Italian boot, you’ve got to try a Salice Salentino. Although much of the Italian mainland saw an off year in 2002, there are exceptions. Most notably, the 2002 Cantele Salice Salentino is the ultimate exception when it comes to value.
Made from Negroamaro grapes and aged for three years before release, you’d think that all that effort and time would produce an expensive bottle cost. However, for a wine that tastes like a $25 bottle, the Cantele Salice Salentino might more accurately be dubbed the “Ten Buck Chuck” of Italy. Medium to full bodied with deep rich fruit, its nice tannin structure opens up to reveal notes of plums and cherries.
I asked my friend (who is a “recovering chef”) what foods would match up best with this wine. And although he likes to talk a lot regardless if it’s about food or not, he couldn’t stop coming up with great matches. He paired up this wine with everything from grilled pork loin stuffed with black walnuts and figs to a mushroom risotto to anything chocolate.
Chefs like winemakers have their patron saint, too. Saint Lawrence was an archivist in the early days of the church and was martyred for refusing to talk about or reveal some very sought after affluent church members. Unlike the “recovering chef” I know, who never stops talking, Saint Lawrence kept his lips sealed. Unfortunately, in an attempt to make him squeal, Lawrence was paid in kind with a not so nice roasting. The Romans were out of luck though. As legend goes, his last words were, “Turn me over. I am done on this side.” Never a more fitting patron of chefs existed and never a more ideal all purpose red wine exist for multi food pairings.
2005 Terredora Greco di Tufo ($18)
Italy owes a lot of its success and variety in wine to the influence of the Greeks. Their plantings were widespread and included varietals like Aglianico, Falanghina, Fiano and Greco di Tufo. This last grape, the Greco di Tufo has become a mainstay of everyday life in the Italian region of Campania. Known for its beautiful gold color, lemon and lime notes and pleasant acidity, Greco di Tufo is one of those wines that make traveling in Italy all the more special.
But don’t fret if you’ve misplaced your passport and find yourself grounded because it’s not really called “settling for something” when you can get a great import like Terredora. The 2005 Terredora Greco di Tufo delivers the entire much ballyhooed flavor profile plus a nice touch of creaminess. Aged on the lees in stainless steel with no oak influence, the Terredora is a great seafood wine.
So, if work doesn’t find you strolling along the Amalfi Coast, then doctor up a nice grilled tuna steak with some mango and cilantro salsa to go along with this wine. And shout out a big toast to Saint Anthony of Padua who as patron saint of lost objects and travelers just might lead to finding that lost passport and subsequently to a little travel time in the Mediterranean.
2003 Produttori Barbaresco ($29)
In wine as in life there is many an unsung hero. Barbaresco comes from the northwestern region of Piedmont and almost always takes a back seat to the regions other great red wine, Barolo. Similarly, bartenders and wine merchants who often pick out just the right drink or wine for your evening are often overshadowed by the chosen one (chef) or as they hate to be called, the cook.
Ironically, these two worker bees have something else in common, the patronage of one Saint Amand. Besides using his mouth to preach alot, he also used it to sample a few products in various wine and beer making regions. It’s a good thing he didn’t make it to Piedmont because his preaching and self-teaching might have ended with the tasting of just one out-of-this-world Barbaresco.
Like Barolo, Barbaresco is made from the same Nebbiolo grape. And at half the price of a $60 Barolo it is often referred to as the “poor mans” Barolo. Obviously that man isn’t too poor. Barbaresco is also very different from Barolo in that one doesn’t have to wait a million years for the wine to be enjoyed.
Of course trying to find Barbaresco in Knoxville is akin to being lost like a golf ball in high weeds. But they are sometimes available and the 2003 Produttori Barbaresco is a nice example. If you’ve been trying different wines for a while now and are ready to venture out, then this is a good bottle to take to your favorite Italian or French restaurant for dinner.
Although it’s light almost rustic in color, it is loaded with spices and has a long, kicking until the end kind of finish. So don’t be deceived by looks because this ain’t no sipping wine. A buddy of mine compared this to a big breasted mugger hitting you from behind…you just didn’t see her coming.
* A version of this column was publishes in 2007 in the Knoxville News Sentinel