By the authority in my vest pocket I declare October 2016 “Italian Wine Heritage Month.” From its boot tip in the Mediterranean north to the Alps, Italy has many different terroirs, therefore different grape varieties, and therefore different wines.
We are no doubt most familiar with Sangiovese. By Italian law, wine marketed as Chianti must be primarily Sangiovese. By international agreement, only wine made in that area can be marketed as Chianti unless the manufacturer established the name before the agreement. Until recently, Gallo’s Carlo Rossi Chianti was available in a gallon screw top jug, but it’s disappeared from the website and I couldn’t find it in my local fine food store. Safeway also did not have any of the woven reed fiascos I formerly found near the white zin.
Sangiovese is as sunny as Tuscan. It has a tart cherry aroma and flavor and is a gentle wine perfect for those who think they don’t like wine. I always like mentioning that the name is derived from the Latin, sanguis Jovis, “The blood of Jove.” It’s different than many varieties as it has no long history in making its way to California. It can vary from sweet to dry, and the food pairings quite naturally tend to favor Italian food.
Several valley wineries make sangiovese. Here are two samples:
2011 Garré Sangiovese Livermore Valley ($26). I edged my sniffer over the rim for aromas of tart berries and some others juicy berries. It has the right amount of sweetness to balance the damp earthy aromas. Oh mia mio, son-of-a gun how I had fun at Café Garre where I introduced this sangio to a Jambalaya of prawns, andouille sausage, chicken, sweet peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes, green onions, spicy tomato sauce and long grain rice nicely served by sweet Rose..
2009 el Sol Sangiovese San Francisco Bay ($26). I enjoyed its jammy tastes in my PJs with a takeout order from Patxi’s Pizza of a braised meatball in tomato sauce, basil, and parmigiana. I ordered one meatball, and tried to get the waiter to call, “One meatball, one meatball, this here gent wants one meatball!!” Ordering a piece of focaccia with it asked him to shout, “You gets no focaccia with one meatball!” He shook his head, over which the allusion flew.
Robust Barbera originated in Northern Italy, in the Piemonte appellation. It was brought to America by a wave of Italian immigrants around 1900. The familiar polysaccharides picked up from oak barrels increases its richness. Goes well with tomato-sauce Italian foods and hearty cheeses. As with Sangiovese, several valley wineries produce Barbera. Here are two samples:
2008 el Sol Barbera Livermore Valley ($28). I wanted to dive into the deep garnet color. It’s full-bodied with a trace of gage plums, cherries right off the tree, and oh currant. I was enjoying it at the winery’s outdoor tasting patio, when I thought I heard a horse whinny, but twas the wind and nothing more. A man appeared at my elbow, possibly a host from the tasting room. He offered me some Manchego cheese, and stared at the wind turbines on the Altamont. The cheese and the el Sol Barbera made for a fine trip.
2012 Longevity Barbera Livermore Valley ($28 ). This jewel of a barbera has a profoundly deep ruby color and I wanted to know its secrets. Those included aromas of dark red cherries, satsuma plums, and some earthy smokiness from the oak. (And not over-oaked, I might add, and just did.) The hearty tannins walk the balance beam with its broad shoulders bearing vibrant acidity. The finish gives you those moments to remember. Cue the barbecue for veal.
The Puglia area of Italy is famous for Primitivo. Both it and Zinfandel are DNA relatives of the familiar Croation grape Crljenak. Both have intense flavors and tend to be high in alcohol. The two are somewhat similar, but certainly not twins.
2009 Garré Primitivo Livermore Valley ($24). It emits aromas of licorice and fennel with a whisper of green pepper. The mouth rollaround gives you pomegranate, blueberry, spice and more that’s nice. It leaves longingly leaving you to dream of more. It and pasta with Bolognese sauce fell for each other.
Italian blends are complex and intriguing. Here’s one.
2013 Rodrigue Molyneux il Bello Vino Red Wine Livermore Valley ($28). Composed of 50% Sangiovese, and 25% Nebbiolo and Cabernet Sauvginon. The color is a stunning garnet, the aroma is a candy-like juicy raspberry and bing cherry. Soft tannins are bolstered by the cab. It sounds some soft floral notes. The mouth feel verifies the aromas. It goes down smoothly then whispers “ciao.”
I thank food and wine wizard Ghislaine Mouliné for the above. She would pair it with pizza with guanciale, which are pig jowls.