5 Intense Italians You Need Now

In preparation for the podcast on an Italian sub-region — stay tuned for which one —  I realized that I neglected to post up fabulous Italians that I tasted and approved for sale on Vinport (from our Shameless Commerce Division — I do get a small cut of the profits, but like everything I do, I’m damn selective about quality so be assured these are great examples of where they are from). 

So here are reviews of 5 kick ass Italians that you need to have with some background on each. We’ve gotten tremendous feedback on the quality of these wines. If you want to purchase them and are in a state where shipping is legal, please go to http://www.vinport.com/wfnp to pick these up:


The Wine: 2011 Monte del Frá Soave Classico DOC
Price: $13.99
Alcohol: 12.5%

Quick Review:

This is a great example of what Soave and the Garganega grape can do when treated nicely! Monte del Fra is a family-operated winery comprised of 118 hectares of property in the hills of Lake Garda, right near Verona. The winery uses indigenous grapes and focuses on terroir, essential in a producer from this area because this poor region’s cred was bashed when seas of flavorless drek was sold en masse in the 70s and 80s under the name “Soave.” But as other bad stuff took over (cheap Pinot Grigio, for example), the region had to rethink its origins and some producers are doing an amazing job in the vineyard and in the cellar. 
This wine is full of honeydew melon, green apple, and floral aromas and flavors. There’s a tiny bit of bitterness that reminds me of an almond and a nice hit of clay-like flavor that gives the wine an earthy note. The vintage was a little warm so this Soave is softer, fruitier, and more mouth-filling than in other years but it is still classic: it has the great acid, fuller flavors and textures that you should expect from this region’s wine.
Food Pairings: 
Risotto, pasta primavera, and grilled white fish or scallops in citrus sauces.


Where it’s From: Asti in the Piedmont region of NE Italy
Alcohol: 5%
Price: $13.99
Quick Review: 

This is the real stuff off which all the seas of cheap, nasty, flaccid, low-quality, barely-wine yuck on the market is based. Italian producers have complained that their wines have barely seen a uptick in sales with this Moscato craze (probably because they are too acidic and too much like wine versus the fruit cocktail syrup of the big wineries) yet after the Moscato trend is long dead they are the ones who will still be around. They’ve been doing this a long time and that’s not going to change.

This is a classic Moscato d’Asti from steep hills of Monferrato in the Piedmont region of northwest Italy. Its beautiful pear color is rich from the sugar content, as alcoholic fermentation is halted by keeping it very cool to leave the wine lightly sweet. It’s full of bubbles that give it a characteristic light spritz. The wine is so decadent and perfect for summer — it smells like ripe nectarines, pear, ripe red apples, juicy peach, and like tangerines. The flavor will surprise you — it’s sweet but it has enough acid and effervescence to lighten it up and keep the finish clean and fresh.

I’m not a sweet drinker without dessert so for me, this HAS to go with its perfect summer counterpart — ripe fruit and fruit-based desserts. If you are a sweet wine lover or are trying to convert someone from cheap Moscato to finer wines, look no further. Once they taste this gem, they’ll be converted and ready to try better and better wines.

Food Pairings

Peaches, pears, nectarines, and any dessert that incorporates fruit and cream or custard. The acid and light effervescence will provide a contrast to the creaminess of the dish and the flavors of the Moscato blend seamlessly with the fruit to make this ideal with summer desserts!
Where it’s From: Valpolicella region near Verona in Northeast Italy (Veneto)
Alcohol: 13.5%
Price: $15.99
Quick Review: I’ll serve it up straight — a lot of Valpolicella is watery cherry juice with no character. Needless to say, it’s rare I’d recommend one. But every now and then you get some magic in the glass and here it is. 
The wine is a little brown around the rim from 5 years of being off the vine but don’t be concerned the flavor has faded. One whiff and you’ll be sold: the dusty, raisined, spearmint, and sweet smoke nature with a little bit of black licorice will get you excited about this wine. The flavors are so layered — cinnamon spice and pepper (there’s a little bite), mint, dark cherry, raisins, and a hit of breadiness (it reminded me of a croissant) against moderate mouth-drying tannins and mouth-watering acidity make this wine a well-balanced, delicious, medium bodied red.
Food Pairings
Hearty soups, anything with truffles or truffle oil, grilled or roasted red meats or hearty vegetables (like squash), eggplant, and hard cheeses will work well with the wines rustic notes and spice.
Where it’s From: Montalcino in Central Tuscany
Alcohol: 13.5%
Price: $17.99

Quick Review:
Since Chianti can be all over the map in terms of quality and flavor, I go for a more reliable version of Sangiovese in Rosso di Montalcino. From one of the most beautiful towns in the world (I want to retire there!), a clone of Sangiovese grows on slopes and foothills, that have hot days and cool nights. That means the wines get a great balance between fruit, acid, and tannins. The finest grapes go into the famed (and much more expensive) Brunello, and Rosso, the younger, fresher, fruitier version is released earlier and for more immediate drinking. 

This Rosso is a great example of the wine. It’s full of sour cherry, red cherry, and dusty earth aromas and flavors with refreshing acidity and mild tannins to make it perfect with tomato-based dishes (including pizza!). This should give you a great sense of what Montalcino has to offer and insight into what a good Brunello may taste like when you have a some spare cash to splurge on it!
Food Pairings
Anything Italian with tomato-based sauces. Pizza, chicken or eggplant Parmesan, or pasta with tomato-based sauces will work well. Lightly seasoned grilled meat would be great too.

The Wine: 2004 Tabarrini Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG
Where it’s From: Montefalco in Umbria, Central Italy
Alcohol: 15%
Price: $36.99 (I know this one is a little more money, but we have a limited quantity and it is SO worth it. It’s a rare gem)

Quick Review
This is a very, very special wine and not one you see on store shelves every day. The Sagrantino grape is mainly grown in the central Italian region of Umbria, in the village of Montefalco. The best is DOCG status (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) and not much of this stuff, which is required to be aged at least 29 months, makes it outside of the region.

This particular version is outstanding, and it’s at the perfect age to drink now. It’s a dark plum color with lots of sediment (get your filter out!) and thick legs from the high alcohol (15%). Looking at the wine gives you a hint of how much flavor you’re about to experience. Imagine being in a dark, cool forest — the decaying leaves, the fresh nature aromas, the scents just after it rains — that’s the main smell and flavor sensation in this wine. With black pepper, orange rind, cigar, tobacco, and red cherry flavors, this wine is so complex and tasty. The acid and tannin have mellowed to a moderate level with time and the bit of bitterness and rusticity in the wine is what makes it truly Italian (I think all Italian wines have this and I love it — it’s a mark of the native grapes and terroir).

Food Pairings
The wine is rich and has a lot going on, so you want simpler food to pair. Roasted meats or grilled hearty vegetables, stews, or eggplant Parmesan would do well.

If you don’t live in a place where you can have these wines shipped to you and they aren’t available in your local stores, just look for the DOCs and DOCGs and you should be able to approximate the flavors I described!

Enjoy and let me know what you think!

  • This is fantastic!