Wines of the Week

Let's go, Teroldego

It’s no secret that Americans love Italian wines.  Since we spend so much time in Italian restaurants, and since we love the cuisine, it’s only natural that we usually reach for a bottle of Chianti or something similar to complement our meals.

And it’s also no secret that Chianti and the surrounding regions are the wine regions best known to most of us.  There, and perhaps the Piedmont area where those tasty Barolos and Barberas come from.

Okay, and maybe we’ll be surprised by a bottle of some yummy red like Corvina from the Veneto, the area west and north of Venice.  Well, it’s time to expand our Italian horizons…just a little bit.

First, as I may have mentioned in the past, Italy is the only country in the world where wine is made in every single region.  There are between 17 and 18 regions (depending how you count them) which means that places like Sicily, Apulia, and even Sardinia deserve some attention.  There are discoveries to be made.

A recent revelation is a red wine called Teroldego, which is mainly grown in the Dolomites, the mountains due north of Venice by about 150 miles.  In fact, the region is closer to Austria than to Italy.

Anyway, this is a charming medium-bodied red with soft tannins and flavors of dark berry fruits, like wild cherry, cassis, and blueberry.  In a way it’s a bit like a Shiraz that doesn’t smack you in the face.  It’s softer, rounder, and much more subtle.  One of the new standouts among Teroldego winemakers is Elisabetta Foradori, so look for that name on the label.  It’s a new favorite at our house.

Like most forms of life, grapes can become extinct.  People stop cultivating them and they just sort of go away.  One of those is a red called Piculit Neri, but it’s making a comeback thanks to one single dedicated (obsessed?) winemaker named Emilio Bulfon.  He rediscovered this ancient varietal, and I’m glad he did.  He has also revived other varietals and is actively promoting them.  The wine has flavors of wild berries, with hints of smoke and vanilla.  You might also sense some herbaceous notes.  It’s a bit tannic, which makes it an excellent match for meat dishes and some poultry.

Back to the Teroldego.  Here’s our recommendation, along with some other favorites.

Foradori Teroldego Vignetti Delle Dolomite 2014 ($24)
The deep garnet color in the glass promises richness on the palate with an unmistakably Italian nose of sweet black fruit, red flowers, and hints of earth.  The wine is very round and soft on the palate, with no clinging tannins.  There is warm dark cherry, and a persistent finish that goes on and on.  We bought a case of it.  WW 94

Chateau Montelena Zinfandel Calistoga 2015 ($39) – While this winery is best known for its Chardonnay, the Zin is definitely worth a try.  Very true to type, with smoke, bramble, chocolate and wood notes nicely balanced by bold black fruit flavors.  WW 90

Bruno Paillard Champagne NV $50 – A premiere example of what Champagne is supposed to be.  Drinks above its price point. Fine mousse, with tangy notes of minerals and lemon  We finished the whole bottle.  WW 94

Lucas & Lewellen Hidden Asset Red Blend Santa Barbara 2016 ($29) -- An interesting mélange of Malbec, Merlot, Syrah and a few other varietals, the 16 months of oak aging imparts complex flavors of red and black raspberry, spice, and currant.  Tannins are lush and rounded, for a lingering finish.  WW 92

Exciting new food and wine pairings

    How About Some Champagne – and Pasta?

   Every year, as the holidays approach, I’m always asked what kind of wines to pair with festive dinners.  Thanksgiving is a special puzzle, because the traditional dishes are all over the place in terms of flavors, textures, and sweetness.  The green bean casserole has cream and mushrooms, the cranberry sauce is tart, the sweet potatoes are…well, you know.  So my answer is generally Champagne or other sparkling wines because they seem to go with just about every type of food and flavor.

Recently, I received a suggestion about pairing Champagne with…pasta.  While I have a bit of a fevered imagination, this is a combination I never would have thought of.  When we eat pasta, we’re generally reaching for a big Italian red.  But the best thing about the world of wine is that it’s full of discoveries.  This is one.

Rachael Lowe, the Beverage Director of the famous Spaggia restaurant in Chicago, is apparently a big proponent of the pasta-and-Champagne combination.  She says, “When pairing Champagne and pasta, the texture and flavor profile of the dish’s sauce is your indicator. It’s the sauce that you’re matching not the pasta shape, so consider that first when looking for the perfect pair.”

This makes sense, though the shape of the pasta is important to Italian chefs because different shapes hold the sauce in different ways.  Anyway, she points out that different ingredients pair with various Champagne styles, which makes perfect sense.

Suggestion Number One:  Cacio e Pepe, which is like a minimalist mac and cheese.  The dish consists of spaghetti adorned with butter and black pepper, then sprinkled liberally with Parmesan and Pecorino cheeses.  This is best paired with a minerally, fresh sparkler (see our suggestions below).

A favorite around our house is a seafood-based pasta, like Tortellini with clams.  Since there’s shellfish on the plate, and several different textures, a lighter wine with citrus notes will go very well together.

Then we get to the really hearty dishes, like pasta carbonara.  This type of preparation has bold spice notes and herbs like rosemary and parsley, plus salty Pecorino cheese and either bacon or pancetta, so we use the “opposites attract” approach to pairing.  Heavy food, light wine. 

Below are some suggestions presented in the order of the dishes above.  Next time you’re making pasta, maybe you’ll leave the Chianti on the shelf just once and discover a new approach to complement your food with wine. 

Champagne Henriot Blanc de Blancs ($59) – While many Champagnes (and sparkling wines made by the Champagne method) are a blend of several grapes, a “blanc de blanc” is made from only Chardonnay.  This example has a fresh minerality and notes of honey that will set off the cheese and saltiness of the Cacio y Pepe pasta preparation.  WW 92

Champagne Henriot Brut Souverain ($45) – As mentioned above, seafood works best with wines that have pronounced acidity and citrus notes.  The flavors of this Champagne include lemon zest and a pronounced core of acid that pair perfectly with the “vongole” (clams). WW 91

Champagne Henriot Brut Vintage 2006 ($99) – Most Champagnes are non-vintage, unless the estate manager declares a “vintage year,” when the growing conditions and harvest are especially noteworthy.  For a treat, this sparkler has a bright acidity that balances and moderates the spices in the richly-flavored Carbonara sauce.  WW 94

Laurent-Perrier Brut NV ($45) – This is a very traditional style, blending all three heritage grapes:  Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier.  Since it’s almost half Chardonnay, the citrus and flower notes are very pronounced, and very pure.  This would go well with any type of seafood pasta.  WW 90

Is there life after Chianti?

The Other Italy

If you’ve ever eaten a pizza or ordered a plate of pasta in an Italian restaurant, chances are you know at least a little bit about Italian wine.  We’ve all encountered Chianti on the wine list, and probably Brunello and Barolo, too.

But even though Italian wines are wildly popular in the US, and even though we’ve all quaffed a carafe of Sangiovese at one time or another, there’s so much more to enjoy.  Let’s go a bit off the well-worn track, away from the Chianti region, away from Piedmont, and see where it takes us.

First stop – the Marches.  This area is just west of the port of Ancona, on Italy’s east coast about 230 miles south of Venice.  The most famous wine of the region is Verdicchio, a white wine with a lemony flavor profile and zippy acidity.  An extremely ancient varietal, it’s mentioned in Roman writing as far back as 400AD.  Aside from being a great pairing with seafood, you’ve probably seen the famous bottle, which is made in the shape of a fish.  Fun stuff.

Inzolia is a golden white wine grown in Sutera, on the south coast of Sicily. It has honey and melon aromas, and often contains flavors of bitter orange and grapefruit.  Many times, it’s left to oxidize, when it gains a deep golden color and nutlike qualities.  Interesting, and worth the search.

In Umbria, the wine to look for is Sagrantino di Montefalco.  The area borders Tuscany and the Marches, but the main varietal is the Sagrantino grape.  It’s deeply colored and quite tannic, so it’s often blended with Merlot, which makes it a bit softer.  Since it contains a high proportion of tannin, it ages well, and winemakers often leave it in oak barrels for over two years.  Flavors include black cherries, ripe blackberry, and some spice and earth.  Since it is so highly structured, it pairs especially well with steak, truffle dishes, venison, hard cheese, and even wild boar.

While you might not go out of your way to find wines from Sardinia, you probably should.  This island is the second largest in the Mediterranean, off the west coast of Italy, just south of Corsica.  Here, they make a killer Grenache, which they call Cannonau.  It’s a bit rustic, so it pairs well with strongly flavored red sauces and spicy pasta dishes, but the flavors of ripe plums, blackberries, and violets, accented by a slight bitterness on the finish, make it a great food wine.

There’s so much more to enjoy with Italian wines, so make a New Year’s resolution to explore some of the less familiar areas.  Meanwhile, here are some other Italian recommendations to start the year off right.

Citra Caroso Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva 2010 ($22) – It’s easy to get confused between Montepulciano, which is the name of a grape, and Vino Nobile from the district of Montpulciano.  Hint:  look for the word “Abruzzo.”  The almost-black color in the glass promises a full-bodied experience, with flavors of raisins, licorice and complex fruit.  According to the tasting notes that accompanied this sample, the flavors are “elegante e potente,” because the whole thing was in Italian.  Enjoy this wine with food, and decant it first.  WW 92

Frescobaldi Nipozzano Vecchie Viti Chianti Rufina Riserva 2012 ($27) – This classic blend from the Rufina area of Tuscany follows the traditional recipe of Sangiovese, with a percentage of Colorino, Malvasia Nera, and Canaiolo.  A nose of warm earth, tobacco, and a burst of dark fruit is followed by a medium-bodied mouthfeel, and a mix of dark plum and cherry, and soft tannins.  This is a very typical “true to type” Chianti.  As a Riserva, it was aged for 24 months in oak and an additional three months in the bottle before release.  WW 88

Tenuta Valleselle Aureum Acinum Amarone della Valpolicella 2012 ($40) – This traditional blend of Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara grapes is on the sweet side, which we expect from an Amarone, with heady flavors of smoke, raisins, and dried black cherries.  Try it with more aromatic cheeses such as French Camembert, and other strongly-flavored foods.  WW 91-92


The Wine of the Year

My latest Wine Whisperer Wednesday podcast for Direct Cellars is called "What's a WOTY?" Hint; It stands for Wine Of The Year. Give a listen and find out more at

Varietals You Should Know -- And Love

As we’ve noted before in this space, the world of wine is vast and extensive.  There are many countries where wine is made (including China, and much of the wine is better than you’d think) and over 200 varieties of grapes to make it from.  The wall chart in my office lists 184 varietals, and that’s probably not all of them.  In fact, I’ve been a wine geek for over 20 years, and people will still pull out a bottle of something I’ve never heard of.  That’s what makes this all so much fun.

Recently, I received a bottle of Bombino Bianco, which was a bit of a surprise, because we’ve sipped our way all over Italy, from Sicily to Milan, and had never encountered it.  This was a light refreshing white from the “heel” of Italy’s boot, and we’ll be looking for more of it.

Many wine grapes are obscure, or unknown for many reasons.  First is that some are used in wines that never leave their area of production.  In the far eastern reaches of France near the Alps, for instance, they make a wine called vin jaune, or “yellow wine.”  It’s produced from a grape called Savagnin, which grows only in that region.  While the wine is available from several online retailers, I have never seen it on a wine store shelf.  And there are many other varietals and regions just like that.

Teroldego makes a really interesting Italian red.  And Touriga Nacional is a major component of red table wines from Portugal.  The situation is complicated even further by the fact that in the Old World, the wines are known by their place names, and not the name of the grape.  So you’d never know that Sherry, which is a place name (in Spanish it’s Jerez) is made from a grape called Palomino.

Also, many varietals are grown specifically to be used in blends, and are rarely, if ever, bottled all by themselves.  Here, good examples would be Petit Verdot, a significant component of the Bordeaux blend, and Tannat, which comes primarily from Southwestern France, but is also grown very successfully in Uruguay (of all places).  They can be delicious on their own, but finding them is a bit of a chore.

But when you come right down to it, this is all part of the real enjoyment of discovering wine.  There are always new regions, new varietals, and new sensations.  So sample widely, and enjoy some of this week’s recommendations.

Contrade Malvasia/Chardonnay Puglia 2016 ($10) – This wine is 90% Malvasia, with a bit of Chardonnay blended in for body.  It’s a light straw color with white flowers on the nose.  It’s slightly sweet, and refreshing, offering flavors of white flowers, and white peach.  Our tasting panel says it’s a perfect “boat wine.”  WW 86

Damilano Barolo Lecinquevigne 2010 ($30) – I’m convinced that the Nebbiolo winemakers up in northern Italy are pushing a lighter style, because most Barolos in the past have been huge, extracted wines.  This is a much lighter version, with earth aromas, light tannins, and well balanced dark fruit flavors.  WW 89-90

Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap 2014 ($78) – Gorgeous.  Deep inky black color with nose of black currant.  Rich mouthfeel and abundant complex flavors of dark currant, blackberry, cassis, and chocolate.  Decant it, or give it some time.  Your wait will be rewarded.  Sensational.  WW 95

Salentin Malbec Primum 2013 ($65) – We all liked this one.  Dark ruby color, cherry, smoke, brown leather, all kinds of flavors going on in the glass.  A bit tannic, so it will need some time.  WW 91

This Week's Wine Discoveries


Salentin Malbec Reserve Valle de Uco 2014 ($19) - Smooth and quite approachable for a full-bodied wine. Bright fruit, minerality with notes of plum and dark cherry. WW 88

Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé 2016 ($13) - This wine will go with just about any food you like. Pronounced leather and cedar on the nose, with a firm spine of strawberry and watermelon flavor. Since it's 100% Cabernet, it tastes just like the big red version, only much lighter - and pinker. WW 88

Contrade Negroamaro Puglia 2015 ($10) - The Negroamaro grape is characteristic in Puglia, which is the heel of the Italian boot. Deep ruby color offering a nose of dark flowers and honey. Interesting flavors of warm cherry, blueberry, and cocoa. Just a bit on the sweet side. WW 89

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