fine italian wines for the month of March 2009

Wine for March – Under $25

Colsanto, Umbria Rosso “Ruris” 2006 (about $11)

This is a versatile and engaging but inexpensive wine that won’t require a federal bailout.

Fattoria Colsanto is a 50 acre winery and vineyard located near Bevagna, which is not far from Assisi in the region of Umbria in central Italy. Although the Colsanto winery is relatively new -  the winery’s first release was in 2001 – the winery and its vineyards were recently acquired by Azienda Agricola Livon, a large Italian wine company that has vineyards in Friuli and Tuscany as well as Umbria. Livon wines are generally highly regarded in Italy but are not especially well known in the U.S.

Fattoria Colsanto, Umbria Rosso "Ruris" 2006Colsanto’s Ruris is a blend of several red grape varietals, primarily Sangiovese (70 percent) with smaller amounts of Merlot (20 percent) and Sagrantino (10 percent). After fermentation, 70 percent of the wine is aged in French barriques and 30 percent in steel tanks. After 10 months, the wines are combined and spend some time in the bottle before being released for sale.

Dark ruby-red in color, the Colsanto Ruris has loads of ripe dark fruit aromas. The layers of fruit and spice that dance across your taste buds are backed by lively acidity with soft tannins on the finish. It is a medium- to full-bodied wine that has some of the same characteristics as a good Chianti but with a more muscular structure and rustic, brambly texture, no doubt attributable to the Sagrantino.    

This everyday Sangiovese blend is a versatile wine that will pair well with pastas, sausage  and pork dishes and hearty, traditional Italian fare, especially any dish with tomato sauce.

Where can I buy this wine?  Available at Balducci’s (Bethesda), Curious Grape (Arlington) and Cork and Fork (Bethesda).

Wine for March – $25 and over

Allegrini, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2003 (about $77)

Had too much of the austerity thing and feel the need to splurge on something decadent? A really good Amarone (or Amarone della Valpolicella if you want to be more formal) may be the answer, especially if it is accompanied by a prime cut of steak smothered with black truffles or a braised beef in red wine sauce. Or perhaps, just serving it by itself while you’re ensconced in a comfortable chair and ruminating on the state of things.

Unique to the Valpolicella region in northeastern Italy, Amarone is one of Italy’s premier wines. It is a powerfully extracted and complex wine endowed with plenty of rich dried fruit and raisin character. It is a classic accompaniment to rich, hearty foods like game, roasted or grilled meats and aged cheeses.

The 2003 Allegrini Amarone is a blend of 75 percent Veronese, 20 percent Rondinella and 5 percent Molinara grapes that are harvested by hand in late September. The grapes are then left to dry naturally in single layers on straw or wooden racks in special drying rooms that are carefully monitored for temperature, humidity and ventilation. The drying process is labor intensive and the producer has to ensure even drying of the grape bunches by regularly turning over the bunches and discarding any that show any signs of mould. In the process of drying, the grapes lose a substantial amount of water and become partially shriveled and their juice very concentrated. This ancient process for drying grapes originated in the Valpolicella region and is called appassimento (ah paws si men’ toe).

After drying for approximately three months, the grapes are destemmed, soft pressed and then fermented for 25 to 35 days. The wine is then aged in new French barriques for 18 months followed by an additional 7 months in larger oak casks and 14 months in the bottle before being released for sale.

The end result is a full-bodied, dry wine red with pronounced alcohol (a minimum of 14 percent is required). The wine is intriguing in that initial tastes have hints of sweetness but it has a completely dry, austere finish. It is also a long-lived wine that can take 10 years to mature and will age well for an additional 10 years or longer .

It is a labor-intensive process and a good, inexpensive Amarone is hard to find.

Allegrini’Allegrini, Amarone della Valpolicella 2003.s ’03 Amarone has a deep purple color with engaging aromas of candied fruit, prunes and raisins. It is full-bodied and rich with spicy, dried fruit and raisiny flavors that just explode in your mouth – it’s like a dried fruit compote in a bottle.  It’s juicy and rich with plush tannins and a balanced, lingering finish. While the ’03 is young for an Amarone, it’s fruit, acidity and alcohol are well-balanced and its tannins so plush and well-integrated that it drinks well now while still having good ageing potential

My experience has been that Amarone is not to everybody’s liking. But if you’re like me and appreciate the Port-like grandeur and complexity of a really good Amarone, don’t miss this one. Despite the steep price tag, you may find yourself backtracking on your pledge of fiscal restraint and returning to your wine shop for another bottle or two.

Where can I buy this wine?   Available at Calvert Woodley, Schneiders of Capitol Hill, Wine Specialist and Total Wine and More stores.

Note – prices indicated are averages of generally available retail prices 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.  It is best to call to check on price and availability before making the trip.

©Richard Marcis
March 18, 2009



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