What To Drink Now: Toasting Italians

Tiefenbrunner Hofstatt Vineyard in Alto Adige

Portions of this story appeared in West Hawaii Today, August 20, 2019

Italian wines are diverse, unique, and intriguing. Throughout the country, Italians cultivate little known and international varieties to pair with regional cuisines, each telling a distinct story of the land. From still to sparkling, whites to reds, these are wines you should be drinking now.

In the foothills of the Dolomites, in Northeast Italy, Alto Adige’s Pinot Grigio wines have an energy that is unlike any other. A fruit-forward palate is present, but high elevation vineyards with cool nights lock in the fruit’s acidity, ensuring freshness, making these wines hard not to adore. Peter Zemmer “Giatl” Pinot Grigio Riserva ($38), aged two years before release, is complex and structural, with a creamy, slightly savory palate showcasing the quality of the fruit and the region. Aromatic and vibrant, Tiefenbrunner Merus Pinot Grigio ($20) melds candied lemon and dried mango with orchard fruits for a refreshing, seafood friendly wine.

From fruit grown throughout the Dolomiti, Alois Lageder Terra Alpina Pinot Grigio ($16) delivers a spicy, earthy wine with a palate of ripe pear and apple. Millions of years ago coral reefs flourished in what is now the Italian Alps. When the oceans became mountains, thousands of fossils were left behind. Within these former reefs, vineyards now thrive, producing mineral-intense wines like Riff Pinot Grigio ($10) layering golden peach, pear, and wet stone.

South of Alto Adige, the Veneto shines as one of Italy’s premier wine and food destinations. Local dishes, like potato gnocchi, ravioli, and Amarone infused risotto create a hearty regional cuisine. To pair, wines of the region need tannin and acidity to cut through the richness of their traditional dishes. Thankfully, Veneto delivers with their Prosecco, Soave, and Valpolicella wines.

Cartizze, Prosecco Superiore DOCG

Veneto’s premier sparkling wine area, Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG, just received their UNESCO World Heritage recognition after a ten-year pursuit. The recognition finally came due to the unique terroir of the steeply terraced region producing luscious, fruit-filled sparkling wines, like those of Adami, Ruggeri, and Mionetto, particularly Mionetto “Rive” Brut ($20).

Quite the opposite, textured Amarone della Valpolicella is an intensely concentrated, textured wine perfect for pairing with braised meat dishes. Zenato Amarone della Valpolicella Classico ($67) reveals dried cherry, woody herb, and truffle. Famiglia Pasqua Amarone Della Valpolicella ($50) is inky, dense, and beautifully-structured. With a fresh, youthful approach, Tenuta Sant’Antonio Monti Garbi Valpolicella Ripasso ($20) layers cherry liqueur, baking spice, and balsamic.

Sipping Barolo or Barbaresco every day would make my life complete. The king and queen of Italian wine, produced from the Nebbiolo variety in the Northwest Italian region of Piedmont, Barolo and Barbaresco deliver the power you expect from nobility. Full-bodied Vietti Barolo Castiglione ($52) opens with a highly structured palate, melding tannin and acid, offering dried tobacco, rose, dried plum. For a slightly more approachable, and affordable, Vietti Perbacco Nebbiolo Langhe DOC ($26), the regional wine from DOC vineyards that express similar floral and earthy tar notes, with softer tannin.

Chianti Classico

Tuscany is known for Sangiovese, like the food-friendly wines of Chianti Classico including Frescobaldi Tenuta Perano ($30), Badia A Coltibono ($20), and Checchi ($20), and show-stopping Brunello di Montalcino, like the offerings from Banfi ($70), Argriano ($65), and Casanova di Neri ($75). With a rural yet approachable feel, Casanova di Neri crafts IrRosso ($22). An everyday-style table wine, best enjoyed in its youth, IrRosso is from the same quality vineyards that produce their higher-end selections.

Along the Tuscan coast, salty breezes off the Tyrrhenian Sea influence Bolgheri and Maremma vineyards. From the Alegrini family, Poggio al Tesoro Solosole Vermentino ($20) leaps from the glass with exuberant vibrancy, layering white flowers, white peach, and briny crushed stone. From nearby Maremma, La Mora Vermentino ($19) highlights tropical fruit, with a delicious bitter saltiness on the finish. Aia Vecchia Vermentino ($15) shines with grassy, soft herbal notes melding with lemon-lime and saline notes.

Fattoria La Valentina Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo ($14) benefits from high elevation pergola-trained, clay-filled vineyards creating quality wines that shine with a modern approach while respecting the traditions of the past. Peppery and earthy, with inviting aromas and bright tannin, the wine is perfect for simple pairings like roast chicken, roasted pork belly, and salumi. Garofoli Rosso Conero Piancarda Montepulciano ($15) is aromatic and persistent with sweet spice, plum, and cherry jam.

Sun-drenched Sicilian hillsides reveal fruit-forward red selections, like Regaleali Nero d’Avola ($15). Soft, supple, aromatic, and balanced, the wine layers red berry, white pepper, and sweet herbs. Slightly more austere, Regaleali “Guarnaccio” Perricone ($20) brings the history of Sicily to the forefront, as the indigenous variety is often only used for blending. However, with Regaleali Perricone, the Tasca family aims to showcase the high acid, high tannin variety, revealing black pepper, red fruit, and savory botanicals. Some wineries produce their Rose wine as an option to tame robust varieties. Regaleali Le Rose throws this to the wind with their high acid, 100% Nerello Mascalese Rose. Red-fruit-forward, with subtle hints of rose water, the summer-friendly wine is perfect for seafood or pasta pairings.