couple of years ago two friends, David and Greg, threw down the gauntlet. “We drink Burgundy and Bordeaux wines,” they told me. “Can you convince us to start drinking Italian instead?” I love a challenge so every time I go back to the States, I go to their hip, loft-style apartment in Brooklyn Heights armed with a few bottles of my favorite Italian wines. We typically open a bottle for an aperitivo in their flat and then walk down a flight of stairs to dinner at an Italian restaurant where the owner allows them bring their own wine.
At first, I brought them northern Italian wines made with Chardonnay (the main white grape of Burgundy) and Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir, the principal Burgundy red grape). Next, I chose the “Super Tuscan” wines of Bolgheri that are made with Bordeaux varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Merlot). Good strategy. They were happy. I was making progress.
Then, at the end of last summer, I got what seemed almost like an unfair bonus. David and Greg were invited by wine-loving friends to stay in a villa in Tuscany near Montalcino. As soon as they got back to New York, they asked me to send them a mixed case of Brunello and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, the most famous wines of that area. I threw in a few bottles of Chianto Classico for good measure. All was well received.
On my most recent New York trip, I stopped by their apartment with a few less familiar wines. Before we tasted, they showed me the new wine storage unit they’d installed. We organized their bottles according to those ready to drink and those that needed more time in the new “cellar” (the Brunello, for example).
Over the course of the evening, we tried each of the four wines I’ve listed below. All are made with “native grapes.” None are well-known in the States. Greg and David’s favorite was Quintarelli Il Primafiore. They asked me to send them a case. It’s fun to see that the quirkiness and the beauty of this kind of terroir wine can seduce even the most dedicated Francophiles.
Now my challenge, pian piano, is to fill their new “cellar” with Italian wine. And that’s just the kind of challenge I like.
Enosi IGT 2009/Baron di Pauli We drank this wine as an aperitivo. Enosi means “bringing together” in Greek. This lovely dry, white wine is made from a mixture of Riesling (50 percent), Sauvignon Blanc (40 percent) and Pinot Bianco (10 percent). It’s clean but complex and nicely structured (13.5%) with minerality and a light citrus flavor, not the aromatic fruitiness of a pure Sauvignon Blanc.
The Baron Di Pauli family has been making wine for 300 years and once owned all of Lake Kaltern in Alto Adige (Sud Tirol). Before the region transferred from Austria to Italy, the family supplied wine to the Imperial Court of Austria. (€15).
Etna Rosso DOC 2009/Graci This wine paired perfectly with the pizza we shared as a restaurant antipasto. It has nice, clean acidity and is balanced (no heavy tannins) but structured (13.5%) to pair well with almost any food. Alberto Graci has amazing vineyards located 700-to-1,000 meters up the slope of Mount Etna planted with all native grapes. The Etna Rosso is made with 100 percent nerello mascalese grapes, no herbicides, no barriques, as little intervention as possible.
Graci is proud of the fact that the wine truly varies from year to year, which he makes no attempt to mitigate. The volcanic soil gives a distinctive minerality to his wines. (€16-20).
Carteria Valtellina Superiore DOCG 2007/Sandro Fay We had this wine with a light vegetable and pasta dish. It is made from nebbiolo grapes, called chiavannesca in the Valtellina, a long, precipitously steep hillside in northern Lombardy that tucks in almost under the Swiss border and San Moritz. Compared to the nebbiolo wines of Piedmont, the wine produced is far less tannic and lighter (13.5%) but still quite elegant and good for pairing with almost any dish.
Sandro Fay has turned over most of the winery’s operations to his daughter, Elena, and son, Marco. Instead of labeling the wine Valtellina subzones, the Fays make all “cru” wines from specific vineyards at various altitudes between 300 and 600 meters. (€35).
Il Primafiore IGT 2006/Quintarelli As with most Quintarelli wine, it is so perfectly balanced that it can be enjoyed on its own or with food. We had it with a pasta and sausage dish. Giuseppe Quintarelli makes legendary Amarone using the most traditional and artisanal methods. He is more alchemist than winemaker.
Primafiore is made from the second press of all of Quintarelli’s grapes: a blend of the Amarone grape varietals (corvine, corvinone) along with some cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc. It is a dark, rich ruby red with elegant dark fruit flavors like plum and black currants. It is definitely not as rich, complex or structured (12.5%) as the Valpolicella or Amarone, but is still pure Quintarelli. (€40).