An Italian Vacation

An Italian Vacation

by Westgarth Wines September 27, 2022

"is Italy love? Or is Italy, as some say, art? Like the Italian scene, art, too, can be intoxicating, can transform people, can transport them far from themselves, can be delightfully aphrodisiac." - Luigi Barzini, The Italians

You could apply the above quote to wine and have it carry the same weight. For these September picks, we've scoured up and down the Italian Peninsula. Something you may not know about me is that I spent a whole year of my life in Italy. For an American kid growing up in the suburbs, it felt like a huge deal to spend my 21st year living in a place where not that many people spoke English. I had to learn a whole new way of communicating, including a good deal of hand gestures, both vulgar and polite. It was also the place that first taught me about wine. While I am often a Francophile when it comes to the wines I choose (I'm literally drinking Muscadet as I write), Italy was my first introduction to the world of wine. It's the place where I saw cooking, eating, socializing and drinking practiced in tandem, which is something that us Americans are still learning. I've chosen several compelling options from our offerings – some wines that spoke to me back then, and some that are recent discoveries. Feel free to peruse the following:

Jackson's Somm Picks

There was a time when the Bolgheri region was a backwater, literally. Being close to the coast and quite swampy, much of Toscana Marritima was considered malarial and dangerous in the summer seasons. But in the 20th century, this once-forgotten region was thrust into international fame when wines like Sassicaia and Ornellaia strolled proudly onto the world stage with non-Italian grapes made in a powerful fashion on Italian soil. Since Sassicaia's first vintage in 1978, it's remained one of the most famous and sought-after Super Tuscan wines, and for good reason. Sassicaia always balances power and elegance, and could be mistaken for great Bordeaux due to its maritime climate and Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant blend. The 2009 vintage was ripe, rich, and silky, and is ready to begin drinking now.

I've not featured the wines of Cantina Terlano before in my columns here. It feels like maybe letting a secret out, and sometimes I just want to keep it to myself. But if you don't know, now you know. Cantina Terlano is a "super co-op" in northern Italy's Alto-Adige region. I mean that to say that it's an advanced version of what a co-op can be. Instead of thousands of growers dumping their grapes into a common bin and hoping to make a quick buck, this is a small group of dedicated growers in an already quality-minded region. The Grande Cuvée is only made in certain choice years, when the harvest of Pinot Bianco (Pinot Blanc) and Chardonnay produce concentrated and lush grapes with structure and balance. This is such a year, and if you don't think Italy produces serious, world-class white wines, let this be your mind-changing wine.

I wanted to put an aged Barolo in this lineup, but one that was quite approachable. Scavino is one of those producers that always delivers wonderful wines with character and personality, without them needing to be cellared for decades. There's an inherent charm and affable nature to these wines, even though they carry the serious title of Barolo. But that doesn't mean they need to be backwards and tannic for the first twenty years of their life. Interestingly enough, Monvigliero tends to be one of the darker and more brooding of Scavino's single-vineyard cuvées, but this 2010 is still more ready to drink than the angular wines of other houses. Give it a two-hour decant and notice how the fruit and herbal notes stay intact, while the tannins soften and broaden out before you enjoy it with some slow-braised ragù or shortribs...or shortrib ragù.

Generally I'm not a fan of wine scores, but when things score over 96, sometimes it behooves us to take notice. Clocking in at 99 points from one of central Italy's best tasters, James Suckling, this Brunello is in prime form. I personally love the 2010 Brunellos – having followed the powerful 2009s, to then be bookended by the ripe but sometimes flabby 2011s, I enjoy the 2010s for their balance. These wines have finely-etched tannins, firm weight, and compact, serious finishes.

From James Suckling's site: "The lack of any climatic excesses combined with an extended growing season resulted in a wine that, while packing power and opulence, is elegant with each of its elements – alcohol, sugar concentration and acidity – in perfect harmony. For Vincenzo, the combination of these different qualities makes it one of greatest Brunellos ever made."

Are you a fan of Port or Madeira? Or do you at least enjoy wines with extremely long finishes? Then let me introduce you to Recioto, an oft-overlooked corner of the sweet wine world. The Italians would call this a "Vino da Meditazione," or simply a wine for sipping by itself while you get inspired. Grown in the same region and with the same grapes as the best Amarones, this Recioto is a richer, stronger and sweeter style of the former. Made by the masterful hands of Beppe (Giuseppe Quintarelli himself, before he passed) this is a nod to the wines that made the Valpolicella region famous. Even the Romans would fuel up on dried-grape wines on their way to fight the Gauls and Visigoths – a stronger wine meant you needed to carry less of it in your wineskin on the march in order to get the same effect. It's hard to argue with this plummy, chewy wine when sitting by the fireside and doing no marching whatsoever. We only have tiny quantities available.


This is but a quick jaunt into the territory of a wine making country that has limitless diversity of styles and expressions, but we hope that something here catches your interest. We're always on hand to discuss and help you consider options.
 
Thank you and happy sipping!
 
- Jackson
 

View more of Jackson’s hand-picked wine selections here:






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