intriguing italian Wines from off the beaten track
Italy is a complicated wine country with a rich and varied wine culture. Every one of Italy’s twenty regions grows grapes and the country can lay claim to hundreds of different grape varieties.
The vast array of wines produced can be bewildering to American consumers trying to better understand and appreciate Italian wines let alone simply purchase a bottle of vino for that special-occasion dinner. Intimidated by the variety of choices available and the sometimes impenetrable wine labels, many wine consumers simply opt-out of the tough choices and stay with their tried-and-true favorites, old reliables like Chianti, Valpolicella and Pinot Grigio. And most wine shops facilitate this choice pattern by cramming their shelves with large selections of the most popular varieties. And if they do carry some wines made from lesser-known varieties, they are usually relegated to the hard-to-reach bottom shelves.
If you fall in this category it may be time for a change in drinking habits. Make 2016 the year you expand your wine horizons. Be adventurous. Drink outside your comfort zone. There is little downside to experimenting from time to time with wines from lesser-known appellations, regions and producers. And there is plenty of upside - you may find yourself pleasantly surprised and even intrigued by the new flavors and pleasures encountered. You may even alter your wine-buying habits.
The two wines reviewed below are both made from little-known or unusual Italian varieties. They are intriguing, delicious wines and while hard to find are certainly worth the effort.
Statti, Gaglioppo, 2014 (about $15)
Gaglioppo is a not-well-known variety that flourishes in the not-well-known region of Calabria in the southern-most part of mainland Italy. It is the most widely planted variety in Calabria and is a major component of every one of Calabria’s red DOC wines.
Gaglioppo (gahl yolp’ poh) is a hardy, thick-skinned, late-ripening variety that is ideally suited for Calabria’s hot and dry environment, capable of withstanding the extreme heat without producing stewed or jammy fruit. Rather, Gaglioppo wines tend to have crisp acidity, spicy flavors, low tannins and an earthy edge that will appeal to those that favor wines with a distinctive sense of place.
This Gaglioppo wine from the Statti winery in Lamezia Terme in the Catanzara wine region is a good example of what can be achieved with Gaglioppo. While Gaglioppo is often blended with other varieties like Nerello Cappuccio, Malvasia Nera and Greco Nero, Statti’s Gaglioppo is made entirely of Gaglioppo. The grapes undergo fermentation at controlled temperatures with maceration on the skins for a week. The wine is then aged in stainless steel tanks for 3 months before release.
The 2014 Gaglioppo from Statti has the light, almost translucent garnet color typical of Gaglioppo wines. While the Gaglioppo grape is thick-skinned variety, it has a light-colored pulp and hence generally produces light-colored wines. But if you expect a light-tasting and thinly-structured wine because of its light color, the first sip will bring some surprises.
It has plush, cherry, strawberry and some spicy, herbal flavors. While the tannins are modest its generous fruit flavors give the wine some structure and depth while lively acidity adds a taut and crisp dimension to the wine. It realizes all the flavorful, lip-smacking pleasures for which the Gaglioppo variety is known. It also is quite affordable as well.
This is a food-friendly wine that pairs perfectly with vegetable soups, rich seafood dishes, aged cheeses and grilled lamb, pork and fish dishes.
Marotti Campi, “Orgiolo” Lacrima di Morro d’Alba Superiore DOC 2011 (about $22)
Lacrima is a dark-skinned grape variety that once grew vigorously throughout southern Italy but now grows almost exclusively in a relatively small area in and around the town of Morro d’Alba in Italy’s Marche region.
The word Lacrima translates as “teardrop” in Italian which may refer to this variety’s teardrop-shaped grape clusters. A more colorful version attributes the name to the variety’s proclivity to secrete “teardrops” of juice when the ripe grapes are bruised or scratched. Who knows? The real derivation of the name of this variety is lost in history.
Lacrima-based wines received official recognition in 1985 when the Lacrima di Morro d’Alba DOC appellation was created. Although the majority of Lacrima wines are made entirely of Lacrima grapes, the addition of up to 15 percent of other select grape varieties to the total blend is permitted.The DOC regulations also permit the addition of dried grapes during the fermentation process which imparts additional body, character and personality to the wine.
The Marotti winery dates back to the mid-1800’s when the Marotti family purchased land in Sant’Amico, a hamlet of Morro d’Alba, then built a villa and planted vineyards. The family-run operation currently has about 155 acres of vineyards where they grow primarily Lacrima and Verdicchio grapes but have in recent years added limited amounts of other varieties like Montepulciano and Petit Verdot.
Their 2011 “Orgiolo” Lacrima di Morro d’Alba consists entirely of Lacrima grapes from the estate’s vineyards. The grapes are harvested in late September and undergo maceration on the skins for about 2 weeks. After the first racking, dried grapes are added to the wine. Following fermentation in temperature-controlled steel tanks, the wine spends 12 months ageing in small oak barrels and an additional 6 months in the bottle prior to release.
This wine exhibits all the best characteristics of the variety and it is a real treat. It opens with intense floral and dark berry aromas with a touch of cumin and other kitchen spices. It is full-bodied with considerable texture and depth attributable to the addition of the dried grapes as well as the wood-ageing of the wine. There is a fetching earthy undertone to the wine that interacts nicely with the sheer richness of its exotic dark fruit and spice flavors in a yin-yang sort of way. A long, persistent and smooth finish completes the deal.
This is a very expressive and enjoyable wine for a very modest price.
February 6, 2016
To view other wine of the month selections, see Monthly Wine Reviews
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