Winebow’s Vini d’Italia Tour comes to Nashville

Winebow's Vini d'Italia tour comes to Nashville

Winebow’s Vini d’Italia tour comes to Nashville

Vini d’Italia 2013 rolled through Music City this week. Presented by the Italian import company, Winebow, the event travels through four U.S. cities (Orlando, Nashville, Phoenix and San Francisco) to showcase its outstanding portfolio of wineries along with the opportunity to talk with several winery owners, esteemed winemakers and even Winebow front man, Leonardo Locascio.

I was able to meet up and tour taste through the line-up with my Nashville connection and old colleague, Russ Wright, as well as one of my clients, Chef Shannon Ritzhaupt of Café Roma in Cleveland, TN.

The Nashville leg of Vini d’Italia was hosted at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center and featured hundreds of fine Italian wines, grappa and a few spirits. Keeping in mind that events like these are a marathon and not a sprint, we tasted through some old favorites from the forty plus wineries that were represented on the tour, including Castellare, Allegrini, Montevetrano, Ceretto, Tiefenbrunner, Di Majo Norante and the list goes on.

Winebow has a strong portfolio so it’s never easy choosing which wine or wines were showing the best. Getting through the tasting in a limited amount of time can be daunting enough, but a consensus for which wines were “Best of Show” winners did arise.

Valle Reale Although there wasn’t as much competition in the rosé wine category, we did try one that blew the socks off any other rosé we’ve had this year. The 2012 Valle Reale Vigne Nuove Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo was magic in a bottle and our pick for “Best of Show – Rosé Wine.” I had first discovered this wine about six years ago doing a review for the Knoxville News Sentinel and the 2012 vintage is proof that the vintners at Valle Reale have nearly mastered rosé vinification.

Rich flavors of extra-ripe strawberries and a lengthy finish are remarkable for a rose made from 100% Montepulciano grapes. The watermelon aroma is a wonderful surprise as well. Located in the central Italian region of the Abruzzo, Valle Reale and the Pizzolo family have done an impressive job of mastering Montepulciano especially when you consider that the winery was started just thirteen years ago.

Competition was a little fiercer when it came to “Best of Show – White Wine” Category with a wine from Piemonte edging out great whites from the Veneto, Alto Adige and a neighboring competitor. The 2012 Monchiero Carbone Recit Roero Arneis reminded us just how special the Arneis grape is.

Arneis at its best

Arneis at its best

The uniqueness of the Recit Arneis is in being both a well-structured, beautiful wine and concurrently a simple and approachable one. Its layer upon layer of stone fruit flavors and peculiarly alluring bouquet, make this 100% Arneis wine charming, interesting and repetitively drinkable.

The “Best of Show – New Wine” in the Winebow collection comes from the Lake Garda area. Winebow’s long time partner – Zenato (and more specifically in this case, Nadia Zenato and her mother Carla Prospero) have a relatively newer venture called Sansonina.

The lovely Nadia Zenato with Sansonina Lugana

The lovely Nadia Zenato with Sansonina Lugana

The release of the 2010 Sansonina Lugana shows you just how far Trebbiano wines have evolved. This golden bottling of one of Italy’s most taken-for-granted grapes simultaneously shows off orchard-fresh fruit flavors and a well-balanced mineral complexion. Let’s hope these last two white wines come to market and soon.

Trying to select a “Best of Show – Red Wine” from any Italian portfolio, let alone those selections of Leonardo Locascio, is like to trying to pick a winner from an international beauty pageant. I must say that the Barolo Zonchera from Ceretto was beyond impressive and the Castellare I Sodi di San Niccolo out of Toscana made one wonder if cuisine could actually come in liquid form.

Gaetano Saccoccio presents the Il Bosco Syrah Cortona

Gaetano Saccoccio presents the Il Bosco Syrah Cortona

However, we kept coming back to an un-traditional find from a winery located in Southern Tuscany, near the Umbrian border. My Nashville connection referred to the 2009 Il Bosco Syrah Cortona as a stunner – “this wine exemplifies a new level of terroir-focused plantings combined with a modern styling and structure. The result is a complex yet refined bottling that can rival the best Syrah offerings from around the world.” I couldn’t agree more; this wine from the Tenimenti Luigi d’Alessandro winery is like grafting a historically Cote Rotie vineyard to that fine Siena style.

And finally if you’re looking for a mega-value (and safe case purchase) then you have to lay your hands on a box of the 2012 Di Majo Norante Sangiovese. At $9 a bottle you’ll have an inexpensive wine to both serve and impress your guests with at the next big cookout.

What a little wine can do …

Ottella Le Creete

Ottella Le Creete

Journey back in time, some 500 years ago, and you’ll become astonished at how history can (uncannily) repeat itself.

Envision an old Italian vineyard. The farmstead lies quietly, just off the banks of Lake Garda, in the northeast region of the Veneto. The manicure of the Roman Empire has long since been windswept. The land here is flatter, but a jaunt up the coast reveals a lake nearly encapsulated by the southern arms of the rugged and mountainous Italian Alps. Arguably, Lake Garda is the birthplace of the Violin, the love poem and poignantly (on this ancient farm) the original Octomom.

It seems wine, music and poetry span timeless generations. Probably due, in no small part, to the notion that when properly mixed they lead one generation to make the next. And so it was with the original, nameless Octomom of lore. The winery, now named Ottella in honor of the multiple birth folktale, was the Renaissance era birthplace of eight (otto in Italian) little bambinos.

And what greater way to honor a woman that has probably just labored for the better part of a week, than to name a winery after her legend? She’s probably going to need a drink or two and it sure beats giving her a “movie” gig.

Pasta Primavera

Pasta Primavera

The Ottella Winery has been home to my favorite Italian white wine since a visit to Lake Garda seven years ago. Subsequently, I’ve made sure when Spring rolls around to order a six-bottle case of their turbo-charged Trebbiano wine, the Ottella Le Creete. A refreshing minerality and snappy citrus essence are what distinguishes Le Creete from other Trebbiano wines that tend to be flat or one dimensional in nature.

Paired with orecchiette pasta, cherry tomatoes, zucchini and Parmigiano-Reggiano, the Ottella Le Creete makes for an agreeable evening outdoors, perhaps overlooking you’re favorite new bluff view, the cool water below and a kaleidoscope-like spring sunset.

And speaking of birds-eye water views, perhaps an aerial map of Lake Garda might explain all that fertility.

Basil Risotto & New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc

basil risotto

walnutblockI had to start this post with a small pic of the Risotto! Creamy with gobs of bright basil freshness, the risotto created a better mind frame than any rodent, err groundhog could manage to deliver. Delicate nutty flavors from the parmesano and pine nuts brought balance to the minty, pepperiness of the basil.

Normally I’m a purist when it comes to something like risotto and would be looking for an Arneis or Trebbiano to pair it up with. But tonight, I found myself enthralled by a 2012 New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc called Walnut Block. Bright and pleasantly acidic, with crisp citrus flavors of lemon and grapefruit, the Walnut Block has a herbaceous bouquet that went toe-to-toe with the basil risotto. With aromas like green pepper, asparagus and lemongrass, the Walnut Block (and the basil risotto) are a much needed and early prelude to the vine of spring.

The lure of wine at Lake Garda

A visit to Lake Garda in northeast Italy will quickly have any traveler falling in love with the food, the scenery, and especially the wine. Nestled between Brescia and Verona in the Italian province known as the Veneto, Lake Garda is mistakenly a second choice for many to the very touristy Lake District of Lombardy that entails several more famous lakes, including Como and Lugano.

Accessing Lake Garda from Verona will bring wine lovers past road signs that bear familiar names like Valpolicella, Bardolino and Peschiera. Known historically (and across American wine shelves) for producing approachable red wines, these areas also make some very distinct and delightful white wines.

Most notable of these are those made from the Trebbiano grape. Today’s winemakers are turning Trebbiano into an elegant dinner wine without the lofty price tag that comes from other European white wine regions. Case in point is the wine that first gave me notice of Trebbiano’s potential, the Ottella Le Creete.

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