Wednesday, February 12, 2014

FIFTEEN GREAT ITALIAN REDS….FROM THE EAST COAST

 
with apologies to Matt and Charles....
 
I love Italian wine. I don’t know about it as well as I do other regions, as much as I would like to. It can be complicated. Thank goodness there are people like Charles Scicolone and Matt Kramer, real Italian wine aficionados, out there who can simplify it for the rest of us. Both easily cut, in the Italian parlance, la bella figura, or a beautiful figure. And of course, a great Italian wine has bella figura.
 
Matt Kramer is a Wine Spectator columnist and has written numerable books all of which have received incredible reviews. He is also a popular speaker. Matt Kramer puts it best, writing that you have to think Italian, writing, “What Italians will do not merely to create a bella figura, strikes outsiders as preposterous. A person who can barely afford his monthly car payment will insist on paying for the entire table at a restaurant, never mind that everybody present knows he really  can’t afford it. It would be a brutta figura (ugly figure) to have others think that you are a down-at-the-heels sponger.” Think La Dolce Vita!
 
Charles Scicolone is an Italian wine expert, and has been involved with creating Italian wine lists in New York City for almost forty years. He has been published in Eating Well, Sante, House Beautiful, Gourmet, McCall’s, Beverage Media and Wine Enthusiast. With his wife, highly acclaimed cookbook writer Michele Scicolone, the couple also hosts wine, food and cultural tours of Sicily, Naples, Emilia-Romagna, Piedmont, and Puglia several times a year. Charles once wrote, as he approached a tasting, “I am always interested to see what happens when the next generation takes over an Italian winery that makes wines that I enjoy.  Will they follow the traditional methods or will they go to what I call “the dark side” and make modern international style wines?” This is Charles’ mantra. He continued in another essay, “It is my opinion that a red wine which is not on the “dark side”, is well made, and has good acidity can go with almost any type of food.”
And so, any time I taste an Italian wine, I keep these two men in mind. They are the Italian angels on my shoulder, like having two Obe-Wan Kenobi’s…“don’t go to the dark side, Luke.”
Now, recently, I was thinking of these two gentlemen, when I noticed an interesting pattern beginning to develop in my wine cellar – I have been collecting East Coast wines for twenty years now, and suddenly I realized, that a little band of Italian varietals had snuck over from one side of my cellar to another and had migrated to the east coast section. What was that all about? And I suddenly realized something…there are tons of great Italian varietals made right here on the east coast.
The trend also is a comment about how many people of Italian heritage are making wines in the style of the country from which they came, bringing a whole new face to east coast wine. Italians and Italian American have been making wine throughout the US for years. But these varietals are relatively new to the marketplace, and have grown into good varietal wines that best exemplify the grapes and traditions from whence they come. And the wines seem to come from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia – regions that get more sun than say New York or Connecticut.
Now, this is as much about cool climate style as it is about good wine. I love Italian wines. And the more medium bodied, the better….except for Amarone (come on, let’s not kid ourselves…love the stuff. No one comes close.) But for medium-bodied wines, that cut la bella figure and have not gone over to “the dark side”, these wines stand up and should be tried. These are some of my absolute favorites!
So go local…and go Italian! And cut your own bella figura without going over to “the dark side”.

 

Barboursville
Barboursville is owned by the Italian wine family Zonin. Winemaker Luca Paschina is also Italian. And the wines he makes at Barboursville are superb. His Nebbiolo and his Sangiovese are fantastic!!
Barbera Reserve 2012 - Barboursville's Barbera - a Monticello Cup and numerous Gold Medals, has become a strong favorite on their list. It has a classic Piedmontese profile, with medium-bodied fruit, nice acidity and good balance.
Sangiovese Reserve 2011 - They blend 75% or more Sangiovese with up to 25 percent Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and/or Petit Verdot. The wine is medium in body, with plum and light red raspberry and cherry, nice acidity and good balance throughout.



Hopewell Valley Vineyards
Sergio Neri is an Italian who came to this country and has set up shop in central New Jersey. His wines have been profiled in numerous magazines. I have been a fan since he first opened his doors, and his wines have continued to climb in stature. Amazing wines!!!
Barbera 2008 – This medium-bodied red has a big ruby color, and cherries and raspberries come through as promised. The wine has been aged in oak, and has a nice balanced approach with beautiful fruit up front, and a easy but enjoyable complexity that lasts a while.
Sangiovese 2009 – A big, garnet colored wine, has a red fruity splash that comes across on the nose and the palate, featuring ripe cherries, bright blackberries, and minerals as promised. A beautiful medium-bodied wine in the best Tuscan style. Well balanced and easy to drink.
 
 
Turdo Vineyards
Sal and Sarah Turdo are among my favorite wine owners in New Jersey (located not far from Cape May). I love what they do. They are Italian transplants, and cut their own bella figure. Sal has tended his five acres like no one I know, and turns out hand crafted wines with absolute care and focus. He would have made great wine in any region. Easily one of my favorite wineries on the east coast.
Nero D’Avola – This is Turdo’s signature wine. The indigenous grape of Sicily, going back 3,000 years, named after the small city of Avola. Plum, raspberry, bright cherry, and even a little fig comes across on the nose and the palate. A nice dose of vanilla and lovely soft tannins make this wine eminently drinkable. Elegant, rich, and complex. Beautifully balanced.
Nebbiolo – In the best tradition of the Piedmonte, home of great wines like Barolo and Barbaresco, Turdo’s Nebbiolo is a stand out. 100% estate grown shows hints of dried cherries and ripe raspberries, with hints of caramel, cedar, and a hint of rose petal. Full bodied and complex. Aged in French Oak for three-and-a-half years (traditional barrel aging time for a true Barolo produced in Piemonte). A wonderful, wonderful wine!!!
Sangiovese – The ame grape used to make Chianti. Ripe and black cherry come across as well as hints of blueberry and blackberry come across as promised. There’s also some very nice spice. A good balance between bright acidity and lovely tannins makes this a beautifully balanced wine. Gorgeous.
Barbera – Big, eye-popping bright cherries and bright raspberries explode out of the glass. Lots of fresh fruit on the nose as well as a hint of vanilla and spice. Fantastic wine.
 
Va La Vineyards
I am afraid people are going to think me mad, since I have written about Anthony Vietri so often these last few months. I have fallen in love with his wines all over again. Like Sal Turdo, Anthony is absolutely obsessed with his plot of Pennsylvania land and the plants in it. His attention to detail is incredible. And the final wines show through. While Anthony doesn’t do single varietals (which I think is a smart thing to do on the east coast), his blends do feature numerous grapes of Italian origin. It would be a travesty to leave him off such a list.
Silk - A dry rosato is a blend of Corvina Veronese, Barbera, Nebbiolo, Carmine, and Petit Verdot. The wine is beautiful! A lovely, light, light red wine. The color of a light re wine. Purple and red, but translucent. Big deep flavors of dark raspberry and plum. Wonderful acidity kept it bright and lively on the palate. A great lunch wine or a great way to start the dinner.
Mahagony – This beautiful red wine is a blend of Malvasia Nero, Barbera, Sagrantino, Carmine, Lagrein, Charbono, Teroldego, and Petit Verdot. Easily one of my favorite red wine son the eastern seaboard.  Medium bodied fruit up front, with cherries, raspberries, a hint of red currant, and beautiful complexity, this is a sophisticated blend of mostly Italian grapes. Fantastic!
Cedar – The beautiful, medium bodied wine is produced from a blend of five clones of Nebbiolo Lampia and Michet, and Corvina Veronese. A luxurious wine. A perfect wine for a dinner of rich foods and roasted meats such as chicken, pork, and veal. Absolutely lovely. 
 
Slack Winery
This is an exciting new find for me, in the foothills of Maryland. I tasted a Slack wine for the first time at the Grand Tasting on the second day of the DLW 2013 conference at Camden Yards. Slack wines have won over two dozen medals in state, national and international competitions. Winemaker Tucker Grube-O’Brien is assisted by Anna Ferguson. Both are relatively young – O’Brien 30 or 31, and Ferguson is 23 or 24. They have proven to be a particularly clever pair with natural instincts of good taste.
Barbera – Barbera 2010 was a serious bottle of red wine. The Slack Barbera 2010 is 100% estate grown Maryland Barbera. Black cherries and black berries came through as promised across the nose and across the palate. Hints of earth, spice, and layers of dried fruit like dried cherry and dark raspberry also came through. This was an extremely sophisticated red wine, complex and filled with subtle sub-textures. Beautiful!!!
Glass House Winery
This is a Virginia winery that is making some lovely wines, blends and varietals. And the winemaking is thorough and consistent.
Barbera - 100% Barbera grapes estate grown. The wine is made using the same techniques when making the Italian favorite, Amarone, where the grapes are tried toward the stages of raisining, giving the wine a much more intense flavor and water evaporates form the grape living highly concentrated sugars and flavors. The wine is a dark color, with big fruit flavor up front of tart blackberry and cassis. There's also a smoky overtone to the wine with hints of leather and cedar. Nicely balanced, with medium acids, and low tannins. Very, very nice, sophisticated dry red wine, with nice lingering flavors. Another nice surprise.
 
Fabioli Cellars
Doug Fabioli is one of the most visible of Virginia’s winemakers. He’s been making wine since he was a kid, helping his grandfather make wine. Doug was employed in the wine cellar at Buena Vista Winery in the Carneros district. Over the ten years of his employment, Doug had a chance to work with many fine winemakers including the legendary Andre Tchelicheff. He continued his education in both enology and viticulture at U.C. Davis and Santa Rosa Junior College. He’s been making wine in Virginia since 1997.
2011 Sangiovese – A light-to-medium bodied dry red with notes of plum, bright cherry, and strawberry. Lovely nose also has hints of vanilla and other spices. Also, a hint of smoke comes through as promised. Soft tannins. A great drinking wine. Absolutely lovely!


 
 
Fiore Vineyards
Mike Fiore is one of the grand old men of Maryland wine. This Italian transplant goes all the way back to the days of Ham Mowbray and Robert Wagner. He was a big, young man then, with a mane of big, black curly hair. Today he is no less robust, always with a story and a glad hand. It kills him to stay quiet. But Mike and his wife, Rose, have built a long lasting business. I’ve known Mike now for a long time, and I always look for him every trade show I go to. He grew up making wine, and left Italy to escape the hard work waiting for him in his family’s vineyards (which he detested), only to ironically start his own here in America.
Sangiovese - This medium bodied red is 100% estate grown. Ruby color is accompanied by a nose of ripe cherries and spice. Bright and lovely across the palate, with good acidity and lovely complexity. Well balanced. 2010 Maryland Governor’s Cup Award Winner–Best in Show

Others of note: Hutton Vineyards Barbera and Sangiovese (NC); Greendance Vineyards Barbera (PA); Woodhall Vineyards Golden Run Barbera (VA); Alba Barbera (NJ); Working Dog Winery (formerly Silver Decoy) Sangiovese (NJ); Running Hare Sangiovese; Pugliese Vineyards Sangiovese (NY); and Breaux Vineyards Nebbiolo (VA) among others.
Enjoy!