I’ve been giving much consideration lately to the wines of Italy. Perhaps it’s because I’ve immersed myself in The Godfather trilogy in advance of digging into Mark Winegardner’s new book, The Godfather Returns. But regardless of the reason to explore them, Italian wines get better and better every year and can still be good values, especially when compared to more sought-after wines from France and California.
Over the past year or so, three Italian offerings have secured a solid place in my memory banks. One is a recent discovery while the other two are old friends I like to revisit from time to time. They are each luscious wines that I like to think of as my three sexy Italians.
At a recent Deer Valley restaurant menu tasting, my colleagues and I were treated to a lovely Italian white wine, served up by two of DV’s longtime wine pros, Kris Anderson and Clint Strohl. Clint was especially exuberant about this wine, called Argiolas Costamolino Vermentino di Sardinia ($12.95). At Deer Valley, the Argiolas Costamolino was served with rich and buttery crawfish bisque and plates of handmade squid ink pasta with tiger shrimp and crawfish.
But, as Clint suggested, this crisp wine made from Italian Vermentino grapes would be a fantastic match for raw oysters on the half shell, and it’s versatile enough to pair up with a wide array of seafood and fish dishes. The Vermentino grapes are 100 percent fermented in stainless steel tanks (no oak) and the wine exudes apple and citrus scents, with a hint of almond detectable. I taste lots of tropical fruit on the palate, especially pineapple, and this medium-bodied wine has a finish that seems to go on forever. I sort of think of Argiolas Costamolino Vermentino di Sardinia as drinkable perfume.
I can’t say that I’m a big fan of Italian Chardonnay. But there is at least one notable exception, and it’s called Coppo Costebianche. A year or so ago, I brought a bottle of Coppo Costebianche Chardonnay ($16.95) to a restaurant where one of my favorite French chefs works and offered him a glass without telling him what wine he was drinking. The proud Frenchman swore up and down that he was sipping France’s white Burgundy and was red-faced when I told him he was drinking Italian Chardonnay.
Everything about this wine is Burgundian except the label. It’s 100 percent Chardonnay aged in stainless steel with a secondary fermentation in barrique barrels. Partial malolactic fermentation lends a luscious but subtle vanilla bouquet and just the right amount of toasted oak and butter on the palate to this wine, one that tastes like it should be priced three or four times higher.
It’s not often that I can spend upwards of $50 on Italian wine or, for that matter, on any wine. But Falesco Montiano ($56.95) is a wine I don’t mind splurging on, because even at nearly $60, it’s a tremendous bargain. For those of us who can’t afford to drink Chateau Petrus (and I don’t know many people who can), Riccardo Cotarella’s flagship Lazio wine Falesco Montiano might be as close as we’ll ever come.
It’s made from 100 percent Merlot grapes and aged in new French oak. Montiano is a rich, dark-purple color with a rich nose of leather, cocoa and blackberry jam, with a smidgeon of licorice thrown in. The taste is superb: concentrated and very fruitful with soft, balanced tannins and good acidity. The wine’s finish is long and luxurious. This is a killer food wine and one I think would be a slam-dunk with a wintry osso buco. I’m not sure I know of a better wine for the price of Falesco Montiano. I’d love to foist some Falesco on anyone who claims not to like Merlot.