Two fine italian wines for the month of december

Wine for december – Under $25

Cesari, Due Torri Pinot Noir 2007 (About $10)

The Pinot Noir varietal has always had a loyal following. Devotees of red Burgundy, for example, are legion. However, the 2004 indie film production “Sideways”, where the talented and beautiful Pinot Noir had a starring role, made this varietal even more popular – and more expensive - in just a matter of months.

In addition to the historic Burgundy vineyards in France, Pinot Noir has also been grown successfully in Australia, New Zealand and California and Oregon in the U.S.  Italy also produces some Pinot Noir, or Pinot Nero, as it’s known locally. Although Pinot Noir has been growing in Italy since Roman times, it is only in recent years that this varietal has received any serious attention and been grown in any appreciable quantities in Italy. While some producers in Tuscany and elsewhere in central Italy have experimented with Pinot Noir plantings, this sun-sensitive and early-maturing varietal does best in the cooler northern climates such as northeastern Italy, Lombardia and Val d’Aosta in northwestern Italy.

One of the best inexpensive expressions of Italian Pinot Noir is Due Torri Pinot Noir by Cesari. Cesari is a respected producer who started operations in 1936 in the province of Verona in the Veneto.

Cesari Due Torri Pinot NoirAlthough probably most well known for its outstanding Amarone, the Cesari winery produces a full range of classic Veneto wines that includes not only Amarone but Soave, Valpolicella and Bardolino. In recent years the Cesari winery has also started producing wines from popular international varietals such as Pinot Noir.

Cesari’s Pinot Noir is a somewhat bigger and less delicate wine than it’s cousins from Burgundy and Oregon state. It is ruby red in color with concentrated aromas of ripe, spicy cherry and raspberry. The dark, ripe fruit flavors are rich and concentrated with lively acidity and a clean, long fruity finish. This is a big Pinot Noir. And at approximately $10 a bottle, this is an exceptional wine on a price-to-value basis.

This is not a wine to lay away in your cellar. Enjoy it now or over the next few years. Since it is not as delicate as a Burgundy or an Oregon Pinot Noir, a Cesari Due Torri Pinot Noir can accompany a wide range of somewhat heartier dishes. Try it with mushroom risotto, beef stew or braised lamb shanks with caramelized onions and shallots.

Where can I buy this wine? Available at Rodman’s Discount Gourmet shops and Cork and Fork (Bethesda).

Wine for december – $25 and over

Bellavista, Franciacorta Cuvee Brut NV (about $40)

While the word “Champagne” glides across the tongue with an easy familiarity and brings smiles of recognition from most Americans, the word “Franciacorta” will probably just elicit blank stares or stammering despite the fact that Franciacorta is Italy’s best sparkling wine and is in many respects, Champagne’s equal.

Franciacorta, like Champagne, identifies both a territory and a sparkling wine. The Franciacorta appellation is located in the Lombardy region in north-central Italy and extends from the southern shore of Lake d’Iseo southeastward a short distance toward the city of Brescia. Franciacorta wines are dry, complex, elegant, sparkling wines that in 1995 were awarded the coveted DOCG (Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin) appellation. The best vintage Franciacorta sparkling wines can hold their own against some of the best Champagnes.

Bellavista Franciatorta Cuvee Brut NVThe sparkling Franciacorta wines are produced by the classic method of Champagne called “methode champenoise” in which a second fermentation takes place in the individual bottles. The bottles are turned upside down and stored at an angle for long periods of time and periodically rotated so as to separate the yeasts from the wine in each bottle. After the yeast cells are disgorged, the wines are then aged in the bottle for an additional 18 to 30 months or longer before being released for sale.

The Bellavista winery was founded in 1976 by Vittorio Moretti who owned a successful construction company before diversifying into winemaking. With the assistance of the talented winemaker Mattia Vezzola (who was the recipient of Gambero Rosso’s 2008 Winemaker of the Year award) they turn out a range of quality sparkling Franciacorta wines, from the basic non-vintage (“NV”) Cuvee Brut to the premium Gran Cuvee Brut Vittorio Moretti, which retails north of $150 a bottle - when you can find it.

The estate’s flagship Franciacorta Cuvee Brut consists of 90 percent Chardonnay and 10 percent Pinot Bianco and Pinot Nero. Both wooden barrels and stainless steel tanks are utilized for fermentation with the steel tanks providing freshness and fruit to the wine while the wooden barrels stabilize the wine’s color and add body.  From 15 to 25 percent of the Cuvee Brut wine is fermented in barrels.

The Bellavista Cuvee Brut NV is a true pleasure to drink and is perfect for the festive holiday season. The straw-colored bubbly has a crisp, ample and elegant bouquet of pears, apricots and ripe apples with persistent, vivacious, miniscule bubbles. It has a creamy, silky texture with notes of vanilla and a long, tingly finish. How can you take a sip and not smile?

Bellavista’s sparkling wines come in stylishly stubby bottles that are in the best Italian tradition of craftsmanship and style. Wine shop retailers, however, are generally less than impressed by the design because the stout base of the bottle doesn’t fit traditional wine racks which makes them difficult to properly display and store.

Where can I buy this wine? Available at Total Wine and More, Calvert Woodley and by special order from MacArthur Beverages..

Note – prices indicated are generally the lowest available and will vary from store to store. While in stock at time of writing, stores may sell out of the selections so availability is not guaranteed. Call to check on price and availability before making the trip.

©Richard Marcis
December 8, 2008




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