fine italian Wines for the christmas and new year holidays

It’s that time of year for gift-giving and holiday celebrations. The calendar for December quickly fills up with family and community parties and business receptions despite the plodding economy and sour economic outlook. And in the spirit of the season it is also a time for giving gifts to family, friends and business associates.

Depending on the individual and the circumstances, bottles of wine can make the perfect gifts for the holiday season. If done in a considerate way, chances are the recipients of your gifts will not only enjoy their wines but appreciate your thoughtfulness as well.

While the ground rules for gift-giving are relatively simple, giving wines as gifts can be a little tricky. As with any gift, you want it to to be distinctive, something other than ordinary, to show the recipient that he or she is special and that you’ve given this gift some thought. For example, shy away from wines that are common or well known, even if expensive. Rather, choose wines that are more distinctive, such as from lesser-known producers or varietals, so as to make the gift more personal and thoughtful. But you also don’t want to overdo it by making the gift so distinctive that it is completely obscure or confusing.

Price can also be a ticklish issue.  While you don’t want the gift to be cheap you also don’t want it to be so generous as to be ostentatious.

As is usual for my wine-of-the-the month suggestions, I review two wines – one under $25 a bottle and one over $25. The under-$25 wine is a deliciously sweet wine from the Veneto region that would be the perfect gift for friends and neighbors or those relatives you don’t see that often but you hear are developing an interest in wines.

The over-$25 wine is a super-Tuscan wine by a well-regarded but not especially well-known producer in Tuscany. At approximately $60 a bottle, this wine would be the perfect gift for the boss or a business associate. This 100 percent Sangiovese wine has developed an almost cult-like following among Sangiovese enthusiasts. While it is expensive it is not over-the-top expensive and because it is not always easy to find it evinces some thoughtfulness and care in its selection.

Wine for the Month of december — under $25

La Cappuccina, “Arzimo” Recioto di Soave 2007 (about $22 for 500 ml bottle)                                              

Founded over a century ago, the La Cappuccina estate is located in Costalunga, not far from Verona, in the heart of the Soave DOC production zone. The estate is owned by the Tessari family and takes its name from a small, private 15th century chapel on the estate’s grounds that was formerly home to an order of Capucin monks.

The 86 acres of vineyards surrounding the family estate have been cultivated for generations and, at present, Sisto, Pietro and Elena Tessari along with their father Lorenzo manage the estate. The name “Arzimo” comes from the local Veronese dialect and means a small bunch of grapes, in this case the best bunches of Garganega (white) grapes selected to undergo an expensive and time-consuming drying process. The Arzima is made entirely of Garganega grapes.

After the grapes are hand-selected in late September to early October, they are carefully placed in flat, open wooden crates with one layer of grapes per crate. The crates are then stacked and the grapes left to dry in well ventilated drying rooms.

Over the course of several months the sugar content of the drying grapes increases as La Cappuccina, 2007 "Arzimo" Recioto di Soavethey shrivel and lose water. In mid-February, the now semi-dried grapes are softly pressed, fermented and then left to age in small (60 gallon) oak barrels for 12 to 14 months. Because of the evaporation of the water content and the corresponding increase in sugar content, these grapes will after fermentation produce wines with high alcohol levels and considerable structure. After barrel-ageing, the wine spends an additional year in the bottle prior to release for sale.

The ’07 Arzimo is yellow-gold in color with hints of amber. It has a buttery bouquet with pronounced floral and honey flavors that is the distinctive characteristic of Recioto di Soave wines. Aromas of honey, candied fruit, peach and apricots segue into similar flavor sensations. It is sweet without being sugary and its not-too-high (14 percent) alcohol level is nicely balanced by a spritely vein of acidity. It has a long and full-flavored “honeyed” finish that borders on voluptuous.

This traditional dessert wine goes well with, well, desserts such as butter cookies, shortbreads or Italy’s traditional seasonal sweet bread, panettone. It also pairs well with blue or strong cheeses such as Stilton or Roquefort and Gorgonzola. It can also be paired with high-fat foods like pâtés. For a delicious food experience, try the Arzimo with goose liver pâté. Or try it with something as simple as toasted walnuts – it’s very versatile. The tannin in the walnuts is nicely balanced by the sweetness of the wine. As with all dessert wines, serve slightly chilled.

Where can I buy this wine? – available at various Whole Foods stores, Rodman’s (Randolph Road), (Gaithersburg) and Locke Store (Millwood, VA).

Wine for the Month of december —$25 and Over

San Giusto a Rentennano, “Percarlo” Sangiovese di Toscana, 2003 (about $60)

The San Giusto a Rentennano estate lies northeast of Siena at the southern edge of the Chianti Classico zone. The estate has gone through several incarnations during its long history. It originally served as a religious institution - a monastery for Cistercian nuns – but centuries later was converted into a military fortress by the Florentines. Portions of the original fortifications still exist and the underground vaults have today been put to use as wine storage and ageing cellars.

Enrico Martini di Cigala inherited the property in 1957 and the 400-acre estate is now managed by his children. Approximately 78 acres of the estate are allocated for vineyards and the estate produces about a half-dozen wines. These include a Chianti Classico, Chianti Classico Riserva, a wine (La Ricolma) made from 100 percent Merlot, a Vin Santo and a super-Tuscan, Percarlo, made from 100 percent Sangiovese.  

Percarlo, the estate’s flagship wine, was introduced in 1983. The Percarlo, like all the estate’s wines, has to meet some very exacting self-imposed quality standards. For example, the grapes for Percarlo are carefully hand-selected for optimum maturity from vines that are rigorously pruned for very low yields - less than 1 kg per vine. The net results of this craftsmanship are wines of intense concentration and rich complexity as well as very limited production. Typically, less than 1,600 cases of Percarlo are produced annually. If the vintage isn't up to standard, such as occurred in 2000 and 2002, the grapes are sold off in bulk and no Percarlo is bottled.

The vinification regimen for Percarlo involves an intensive fermentation with maceration on the skins for 13 – 18 days followed by ageing in French oak barriques for 20 to 22 months. The wine is then bottled unfiltered and spends an additional 18 - 24 months in the bottle prior to release for sale.

With the San Giusto estate’s attention to detail, its exclusively organic farming methods as well as its minute production, it’s not difficult to see why this super-Tuscan wine has developed an almost cult-like following.

The ’03 Percarlo has a deep ruby-purple color and prominent arSan Giusto a Rentennano, 2003 "Percarlo" Sangiovese di Toscanaomas of kitchen spices, black currants and other dark fruit. It is very lush, rich and full-bodied and offers a boatload of rich, ripe black cherry and plum fruit flavors that warm from the inside out. It has ample tannins to keep everything in balance and the pronounced, persistent after-taste is a real bonus.

It is an outstanding wine by any measure and while difficult to find it is well worth the effort.

Percarlo wines are a classic match with rib-eye steak or lamb dishes such as baby lamb chops or roasted leg of lamb. They also go well with any meat dish accompanied by mushrooms or truffles such as pork medallions with porcini mushrooms.  Percarlo wines also go well with heavy, creamy cheeses like Gorgonzola as well as strongly flavored cheeses like Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino. However, this wine is excellent by itself, unadorned with any food. Open a bottle to share with good friends or simply drink by yourself when you feel in a meditative mood.

Percarlo wines are long-lived wines. The ’03 Percarlo is fully ready to drink now but there’s no rush – this one will keep for a while.  Percarlo wines are unfiltered and will throw sediment so decant before serving.

Where can I buy this wine? - available at MacArthur Beverages, The Wine Source (Baltimore) and Grand Cru Wine Bar (Arlington). 

Note – prices indicated are averages of retail prices in the local market as of the date of this posting. Individual prices will vary from store to store and some wines may be on sale so prices may be lower than indicated above. 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 10, 2010

For other wine of the month selections see Italian Wine Reviews.



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