great Italian Wines for the new year

Wine for january - Under $25

I Sassi, Basilicata Aglianico del Vulture 2007 (about $12)

I’m a big fan of Aglianico wines, especially those from the Monte Vulture area in the southern Italian region of Basilicata. This rugged, ancient and somewhat secluded region is not particularly well known for wines. While there are several interesting grape varieties that grow in the area’s rich volcanic soil, it is only the Aglianico wines that get any attention. This is not surprising since Aglianico del Vulture is the only DOC-designated wine area in Basilicata.

Aglianico is the name of both the grape variety and the wine made from that variety. Like the Nebbiolo grape from northern Italy, Aglianico is a dark-skinned, late ripening, tannic and acidic grape that typically produces full-bodied, age-worthy wines often referred to as the “Barolos of the south.”

Aglianico del Vulture wines have historically been difficult to find in the U.S. but are gradually becoming more readily available in major American markets. I’m always happy to see them on wine shop shelves and restaurant wine lists. They generally are well structured with tangy acidity and delicious dark fruit flavors and so are excellent compliments to a wide range of meat, vegetable and pasta dishes.

Bottles of I Sassi Aglianico del Vulture from Basilicata“I Sassi” means “the stones” and the wine is named after the homes carved out of the soft canyon rock face, which are called sassi, in the ancient town of Matera in Basilicata. Because the sassi date back thousands of years, Matera has been designated a World Heritage site and is one of southern Italy’s hidden gems awaiting intrepid travelers.

The I Sassi Aglianico del Vulture wines are made exclusively for Siema Wines, a U.S. wine import firm, by the Donato D’Angelo winery, a distinguished wine estate in Rionero in Vulture, Basilicata. This estate has been associated with the Aglianico grape for nearly a century.

The “I Sassi” is made entirely of Aglianico grapes harvested by hand from 40-year-old vines on the estate’s own vineyards. Because it is a slow-ripening variety, the grapes are not picked until late October or early November. After fermentation, the wines are aged for a full year in oak barrels.

The 2007 I Sassi Basilicata Aglianico del Vulture exhibits subtle dark fruit flavors, zesty acidity and tannins, the benchmarks of a well-made Aglianico wine. It is almost black in color with sweet dark cherry and plum aromas and subtle dark fruit flavors. It has considerable depth and concentration with a certain earthiness around the edges that only adds to its appeal. It is a great introduction to Aglianico wines for those unfamiliar with the variety.

This robust wine goes well with hearty meals involving grilled meats, stews, roast lamb or game. It’s delicious and may well be the best value available in Aglianico wines.

Imported by Siema Wines

Wine for january – $25 and over

Planeta, Passito di Noto 2008 (about $39 for 500 ml)

For those of you whose New Year’s resolutions include a pledge to drink only good wine in the New Year, listen up! Here’s a wine that will help you make good on your pledge and give your resolution a nudge. This wonderfully generous, refined unfortified sweet white wine from the Planeta estate in Sicily is always a pleasure to drink.

Planeta is both the name of the winery and the family name of the winery’s owners. While the Planeta family has been landholders in Sicily for hundreds of years, they have only since 1994 started producing wines commercially. Remarkably, within this short period it has risen to the top ranks of Sicilian wine producers.

The Planeta estate has dramatically expanded their winemaking operations in recent years and it now owns approximately 1,000 acres spread over five vineyard sites in different areas of Sicily. Planeta produces a variety of wines from indigenous varieties, such as Nero d’Avola, Moscato, Frappato and Grecanico, as well as “international” varieties such as Chardonnay, Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. The Chardonnay was Planeta’s first wine to receive worldwide critical acclaim and it continues to garner accolades in the wine press and awards today.

The Passito di Noto wine is produced at Planeta’s vineyard estate in Noto in southeastern Sicily, not far from a spur of land that appears to be the southern-most point in Sicily and, hence, Italy. The Planeta winery at Noto is called Cantina Invisible since it was, at great expense, built entirely below ground for aesthetic reasons, so as not to spoil the view of the countryside.

The 2008 Passito di Noto (prior to 2008, it was known as MoPassito di Noto label from Planeta wineryscato di Noto) is made entirely of Moscato Bianco grapes. The grapes are hand harvested in late August when they are plump but not overly ripe and then spend six weeks drying on racks in an open-air facility. This drying process causes the grapes to shrivel and become raiseny, thereby increasing their residual sugar. Afterwards, the grapes are crushed and then put into stainless steel tanks where they undergo a long, slow fermentation process. The wine is then bottled in March of the year after harvest.

Served slightly chilled, the ’08 Passito di Noto has concentrated dried apricot, orange peel and date fragrances that seem to flutter out of the glass. Golden in color and viscous, it is richly textured with peach, apricot and tropical fruit flavors. While full-bodied with a delicate sweetness, it is balanced with a lively acidity that keeps the wine’s natural sweetness from being cloying or bland. A luxurious and lingering finish seals the deal.

This is a wine to enjoy by itself or with some not-too-sweet desserts such as apple, peach or pear tarts and other assorted pastries such as almond biscotti or pignoli cookies. It is also delicious served with fresh fruit. For a truly cosmic experience, splash some over a bowl of fresh strawberries or sliced peaches.

Imported by Palm Bay International

©Richard Marcis
January 8, 2012

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