fine italian wines for the holidays

Wine for december - Under $25

Mionetto, Prosecco Brut NV (about $12)

Prosecco, the quintessential Italian sparkling wine, has become much more popular in the U.S. (and also across the globe – see safeguarding prosecco) in recent years thanks to the fact that it’s light, casual, inexpensive and fun to drink.

Prosecco wine is also full of life, character and balanced acidity that just begs to be Mionetto, Prosecco Brut NVserved at festive holiday functions. It is the consummate aperitivo and its cheery effervescence and acidity enliven the taste of holiday appetizers such as vegetables, calamari, shellfish, prosciutto or mild cheeses.  Its zesty, fruity flavors also go well with light first courses of sea foods and risotto or, as is the custom in the Veneto region, it can be enjoyed throughout the entire meal. Prosecco can also be enjoyed as a dessert by itself or served with simple desserts such as cookies, fresh fruit or panettone.

Of course, it’s also a good and affordable option for the congratulatory toasting that accompanies the countdown at New Year’s Eve.

The Mionetto family has been producing Prosecco wine in Valdobbiadene (vahl doh bee ah’ deh nay), the prestigious heart of the Prosecco zone, since 1887 and is one of the Veneto’s leading Prosecco firms. Mionetto makes a full range of types and styles of Prosecco.

Mionetto’s Prosecco Brut is a non-vintage sparkler that is 100 percent Prosecco. It is crisp and refreshing with aromas of apples and melon. It is dry and zesty with exuberant but not overbearing acidity that enable it to pair perfectly with just about anything on your plate. It has a wonderfully long, clean, tart and spritzy finish with hints of white fruit, especially apples and pears.

It is inexpensive and just plain fun to drink. My recommendation is to buy it by the case for all those celebratory occasions when a bubbly would be in order.

Where can I buy this wine? – available at (Gaithersburg), Circle Wine and Spirits, Total Wines and More and other area stores.

Wine for december – $25 and over

Luigi Righetti, Amarone "Capitel de Roari" 2005 (about $40)

Unique to the Valpolicella area in the Veneto region, Amarone is one of Italy’s premier wines. It is a powerful, extracted and complex wine bursting with rich dried fruit and raisiny flavors. If you favor wines with finesse and elegance, you may not find this wine to your liking. It is a full-bodied, dry red wine with pronounced alcohol (a minimum of 14 percent alcohol is required) that pairs well with hearty winter dishes like roasted or grilled meats and winter vegetables. It also goes well with stewed fruit, nuts or aged cheeses or is wonderful served by itself while relaxing with family and friends after a hearty holiday meal.

Amarone is the standard-bearer of a special class of wines made from dried grapes. Amarone uses the same blend of grapes as Valpolicella wines which consist primarily of Veronese and lesser amounts of Rondinella and Molinara. But while grapes picked for most Valpolicella wines are conventionally processed, the grapes picked for Amarone are left to dry naturally for several months in single layers on straw or wooden racks either in open barns with good air circulation, the traditional method, or in a more high-tech environment with special temperature and humidity-controlled drying rooms.

In the process of drying, the grapes become Luigi Righetti, Amarone "Capitel de Roari" 2005partially shriveled and lose a substantial amount of water and their juice becomes concentrated and richly sweet. After drying for about three months, the grapes are destemmed, soft pressed and then fermented for anywhere from three to five weeks. Fermenting these dried grapes with high sugar content into a dry wine ensures that it will be high in alcohol with concentrated flavors.

After fermentation, the wine ages in barriques and large oak barrels for two years and then spends another 12 to 15 months in the bottle prior to release for sale.

Because the harvesting, drying and aging processes for Amarone are labor intensive and require special drying racks and temperature-controlled buildings, Amarone wines tend to be expensive. So it’s a rare treat to find well-made, quality Amarone wines like those of Luigi Righetti that are priced at less than $50 a bottle.

The Luigi Righetti estate is a small family-run winery located in the town of Valgarata in the heart of the Valpolicella Classico area. The Righetti winery has been producing quality wines for a hundred years and the current owners are the fifth generation of the Righetti family to carry on its wine-making tradition.

The Luigi Righetti Amarone “Capitel de Roari” 2005 is a blend of 60 percent Corvina, 30 percent Rondinella and 10 percent Molinara. It has a deep purple, almost black color with engaging aromas of exotic spices, raisins and a hint of almond. Full-bodied and intense as a good Amarone should be, it’s juicy and rich with dark fruit and cassis flavors that coat your tongue and teeth with dark fruit and fine tannins.

Although Amarones are long-lived wines and some require cellaring to achieve their greatest potential, some, like the ’05 Luigi Righetti Amarone, are supple enough to enjoy in their relative youth. But the Righetti Amarone also exhibits sufficient balance between fruit, acidity, tannins and alcohol that will enable it to age well for another decade – that is, if you can resist the temptation to drink it now.

Where can I buy this wine? – available at Chevy Chase Wine and Spirits, Pearson’s and Total Wines and More (’06 vintage).

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
December 9, 2009


To read other wine reviews, see Monthly Wine Reviews

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