Two Value-priced Big Italian Red Wines for July 2013

Wine for july - Under $25

Talamonti, “Tre Saggi” Montepulciano d'Abruzzo DOC 2008 (about $16)

The primary red grape of the Abruzzo region, a mountainous area on the Adriatic coast of Italy due east of Rome, is Montepulciano, which is not to be confused with the historic walled city of the same name in Tuscany.  Montepulciano is a native Italian grape of great, oftentimes unrealized, potential that flourishes in the mountainous Abruzzo region and accounts for nearly all of the region’s DOC red wines. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (mon ta pul chee’ ahn no dah broot’ zo) wines have deep colors, soft flavors and gentle tannins. They are very popular in the Abruzzo region but are underappreciated and frequently overlooked by wine enthusiasts.

However, a new generation of inspired Abruzzo winemakers producing rich, complex and extremely food-friendly wines is raising the profile of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wines. These wines are also very reasonably priced. While some highly regarded Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wines carry double-digit price tags, most fall in the under-$25 price category. My experience is that Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wines seldom disappoint and generally represent real value at any price point.

One winery that is raising the profile of the Abruzzo region is the Talamonti winery. Established in 2001 by the Di Tonno family, the Talamonti winery is located about 10 miles from the Adriatic coastline in the small town of Loreto Aprutino. The winery has about 80 acres of vineyards dedicated to growing primarily classic red and white Abruzzo varieties such as Trebbiano d’Abruzzo and Pecorino as well as Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.

2008 Tre Saggi Montepulciano d'Abruzzo wine from the Talamonti wineryTre Saggi is made exclusively of Montepulciano grapes and is Talamonti’s flagship red wine. The wine is aged for a year in small oak barrels (barriques) and then spends an additional year resting in the bottle prior to release for sale.

The name Tre Saggi means “three wise men” in Italian, a tribute to three figures prominently featured in a fresco dating from the 13th century in a church not far from the winery.

The 2008 Tre Saggi is ruby in color with a purple rim and complex aromas of figs, plums and dark berries, features that portend a rich, juicy wine. And the wine doesn’t disappoint. This full-bodied wine is very rich, plush and delicious with black fruit flavors embellished with intricate notes of coffee and kitchen spices. Its sturdy tannins are balanced with good acidity. This warm and inviting wine will be as enjoyable now with grilled or barbequed red meats as it will be when served with hearty stews during the winter months.

Wine for july – $25 and over

La Giaretta, Amarone della Valpolicella DOC 2009 (about $38)

Amarone della Valpolicella (or simply referred to as “Amarone”) is a rich and intensely-flavored dry red wine made in the area south of Lake Garda in the Veneto region of northeastern Italy. The iconic Amarone with its distinctive and rich flavors is one of Italy’s most popular and prestigious red wines.

What gives Amarone its distinctive character is the process whereby the wine grapes are dried prior to pressing and fermentation. This process is known as appassimento (literally, grape-drying). The grapes are traditionally harvested by hand so as to ensure that the ripest grapes that can best withstand the long drying process are selected.

The grape bunches are stored in drying rooms where they rest for anywhere from 3 to 6 months prior to pressing.  The drying rooms are carefully monitored to ensure low temperatures and humidity levels. The drying process causes the grapes to lose water and shrivel up, which increases their sugar content and concentrates the grapes’ flavors.

Sometime in late January or early February the grapes are taken from the drying rooms and gently pressed. The juice from the soft pressing is fermented until the requisite sugar level necessary to achieve the wine’s desired structure is reached, which can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months. The wine is then laid away to age in in either large barrels (called botti) or small barrels (called barriques) or some combination of both for a minimum of two years. The wine also spends a year or more resting in the bottle prior to release for sale. The labor intensive and time-consuming nature of the process helps explain the high price tags these wines carry.

Amarone wines are big, full-bodied, dry red wines that require some patience.  While they can be drunk in their youth they are better served after several years ageing which enables them to better achieve their full potential. They are long-lived wines that will under proper conditions age well for 10 to 20 or even 30 years. Amarone wines are high in alcohol, typically in the range of 15-16 percent alcohol by volume. While Amarone wines go well with hearty dishes and aged or flavorful cheeses, many Amaronistas prefer drinking their Amarone by itself with perhaps only some cheese, as a vino da meditazione (a “meditation” wine).

The La Giaretta winery consists of 25 acres of prime land around the 2009 Amarone della Valpolicella from the La Giaretta winerysmall town of Valgatara in the heart of the Valpolicella Classico zone. The estate grows the classic grape varieties of the region, primarily Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara, and produces a range of classic, highly-rated DOC wines such as Valpolicella, Recioto, Ripasso and Amarone. The winery’s top Amarone is its barrique-aged cru I Quadretti Amarone and the Amarone della Valpolicella DOC is the estate’s less prestigious or “second” Amarone wine..

But being “second” in this case doesn’t mean second-rate. The 2009 Amarone della Valpolicella from La Giaretta is a benchmark quality Amarone wine at an affordable price.

The wine has a dark and intense ruby red color with enticing aromas of raisins, dark fruit and cherries steeped in alcohol. It is full-bodied with a rich and balanced palate of fig, prune and ripe black cherry flavors supported by plush, layered tannins. The rich and complex flavors segue into a smooth finish marked with spice notes and just a hint of sweetness.

Like other Amarone wines it has a distinct alcoholic personality but at 15 percent alcohol by volume, the alcohol is less pronounced and overbearing than other Amarones that clock in at 16 percent - and over - alcohol by volume.

The La Giaretta winery has a well-earned reputation for producing quality wines at modest prices and their 2009 Amarone della Valpolicella is no exception. This is a lot of wine for a relatively modest price.

This Amarone pairs beautifully with hearty meat dishes such as braised lamb, beef or short ribs as well as aged cheeses like Parmigiano-Reggiano, Grana Padano and Pecorino or strongly-flavored cheeses such as Gorgonzola or Stilton. But perhaps the ultimate pairing is with a dish of traditional Osso Bucco made with braised veal shank including bone marrow.

©Richard Marcis
June 24, 2013

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