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Into the red

Most of my Rome food tours end with our group ordering a cheese and cured meat plate with red wine, since my clients tend to prefer it. To kick off a dinner, I often recommend light-bodied reds with moderate acidity. These wines pair well with appetizers but can also accompany an entire meal. They’re light in alcohol, lively, and approachable by nature.

Softly perfumed aromas and delicate flavors characterize most light reds. They also have firm acidity. For flavor, they lean heavily on red fruits such as strawberries and raspberries. Keep your eyes peeled for wines made from the ancient Grignolino grape variety. Cascina Tavijn Grignolino D’Asti 2014 [1] (€10) is a great choice. Light in alcohol with tangy acidity, the wine goes well with a hunk of Parmesan, local salumi or a simple plate of fried fish.

Medium-bodied reds are what I’d call dependable friends. Despite their diverse personalities, they go remarkably well with a range of dishes. Sangiovese, Barbera, and Montepulciano are a few medium-bodied classics.

A few years ago, while perusing the shelves at my favorite Rome wine shop, I asked the owner for a recommendation. I wanted a wine that I hadn’t tasted before (not hard to do given Italy’s rumored 1,500 grape varieties). He pointed me toward Tuscan reds, which I generally avoid. I’ve had too many boring and overly oaked Sangiovese wines in my lifetime.

But he convinced me I’d like Podere Le Boncie 5 – 2013 (€23). He was right. A blend of Sangiovese, Colorino, Mammolo and Foglia Tonda, it is vibrant and succinct with a splash of red cherry and plum intertwined with herbs and spices. It’s a wine that goes well with any number of dishes — chicken, pizza, sausages and anything with tomato sauce.

Now it’s on to Sicily. I recently broke into my sadly dwindling stash of Bruno Ferraro Sardo bottles [2] for a special occasion. Bruno makes only one wine, ‘nzemmula Etna Rosso DOC, from the Nerrello Mascalese grape variety. Both the 2012 and 2013 vintages are now available in local wine stores. I’ve tasted both at different times over the last year and I’d go for the 2013 (€25). Bright ruby in color with fresh aromas of cherries, citrus, flowers and spices, serve it with simple sautéed chicken, lamb, game birds or mushrooms.

A client once asked me for a wine that would remind him of a dusty, old library. That kind of request makes you turn to full-bodied reds. These are big, bold and age-worthy wines. They usually have dark fruit flavors like blackberry, black cherry, and black plum. They also have more tannin and a higher alcohol level that tend to pair well with bold-flavored food.

Wines made with Aglianico, Nebbiolo and Sagrantino are good full-bodied starting points. Aglianico is grown almost entirely in the southern regions of Campania and Basilicata. All three are dark burgundy in color, rich and tannic.

Campania’s Cantina Giardino Nude Aglianico D’Irpinia IGT 2007 [3] (€27) is a rich, earthy and complex wine with flavors of black fruit, herbs and smoky edge. I’d serve it with lamb stew, meatballs or aged cheese (a Provolone del Monaco DOP would be quite nice).

My final nod goes to Umbria, and Sagrantino, a word thought to derive from sacro, or sacred. The Sagrantino grape variety has ruled Umbrian fields for centuries.

When I think of Paolo Bea [4]‘s Rosso di Veo, Umbria IGT Sagrantino 2006 (€40) I see an opera stage. It’s a wine that’s like a great aria: big, beautifully sung, heartfelt and moving. Juicy with red and black fruit, traces of tobacco and deep earthiness, I recommend serving it with salumi, wild boar and hearty stews. Don’t miss it.

This is a last in a series about the character of wine.