fine italian Wines for april 2011

Wine for the Month of april — under $25

Castello Monaci, “Liante” Salice Salentino 2008 (about $14)

Castello Monaci is not far from the town of Lecce and the sea in southern Puglia, which is located in the “heel” of the “boot” that is geographic Italy. The estate has over 350 acres of vineyards and was recently purchased by Gruppo Italiano Vini, Italy’s largest wine consortium that operates 14 large wineries spread liberally across the length and breadth of Italy. While the acquisition provided the estate with much-needed capital for restructuring and updating facilities, Castello Monaci has not lost its focus or its regional identity and continues to produce a range of classical Puglian red wines from indigenous grape varieties like Primitivo, Malvasia Nera and Negroamaro.

The 2008 “Liante” Salice Salentino is a blend of 80 percent Negroamaro and 20 percent Malvasia Nera. The Negroamaro typically ripens in early September while the Malvasia Nera follows two weeks. Because the two varieties ripen and are harvested at different times, they  are fermented separately. After fermentation, the wines are blended and about half the wine is then aged in barriques and the rest in steel. Liante or “vento di Liante” (wind of the Levant) is a reference to the strong seasonal winds that gust through the Adriatic region and especially Puglia.

The ’08 Liante has intense, complex and vinous aromas of rich, jammy dark berry fruit 2008 Castello Monaci, Liante Salice Salentinoand dried plums with warm balsamic notes. It has a generous, rich and slightly rustic taste that fairly coats the tongue with silky, dark fruit flavors. Rich and concentrated with sweet tannins this big wine just begs to be served with hearty fare like braised or roasted meats. It has a pleasant, generous finish with black fruit and balsamic notes and just a hint of bitter almond. It’s a lot of wine for its price.

If you are not familiar with the wines of Puglia this is a great introduction to these wonderful wines of southern Italy that have quite different flavor profiles from the wines of northern Italy. If you plan on serving the wine at dinner with two or more guests, you probably should have a second bottle handy because shortly after sitting down to dinner you’ll wonder where the wine went.

Where can I buy this wine? – available at Rodman’s and other area wine shops.

Wine for the Month of April — over $25

Brigaldara, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2006 (about $50) 

Amarone della Valpolicella, or Amarone as its more popularly known, is created in the Veneto region in northeastern Italy. Amarone is to the Veneto what Chianti Classico is to Tuscany and Barolo is to Piedmont - that is, it is the iconic wine that is most representive and emblematic of the region.

Amarone is a blended wine made with varying proportions of primarily Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara grapes. Amarone shares some similarities with Port and Champagne in that the process for making it is lengthy and labor intensive. The grapes for Amarone are handpicked in late September. But rather than being pressed and vinified immediately as for most other dry wines, the grapes are left to dry in single layers on straw or wooden drying racks in special temperature-controlled buildings with good air circulation to protect against mold. In the process of drying, the grapes become partially shriveled and lose a substantial amount of water with the result that their juices become concentrated and richly sweet.

After drying for about three months, the grapes are destemmed, soft pressed and then fermented for anywhere from two to five weeks. After fermentation, the wines are aged in barriques and/or large oak barrels for two years and then spend another 12 to 24 months in the bottle prior to release for sale.

Fermenting these dried grapes with high sugar content into a dry wine ensures that it will be high in alcohol (from 15-17 percent) and full-bodied with concentrated flavors. However, it is also a balanced wine packed with rich dried fruit and raisiny flavors with hints of almonds and chocolate and a long velvety finish. The drying method also ensures that Amarone wines will be high in tannins so the wines can be very long-lived. A good drinking age for Amarone is about 10 years but traditionally made Amarones can age gracefully in wine cellars for 30 years or more.

Because the harvesting, drying and aging processes for Amarone are labor intensive and require special drying racks and temperature-controlled facilities, Amarone wines tend to be expensive. Well-made Amarone wines range in price from $70 to well north of $100. Therefore, it’s a rare treat to find a well-made, quality Amarone wine like this from Brigaldara priced at $50 a bottle or less. Remember, this wine won the prestigious Tre Bicchiere or “Three Glasses” award for 2011 from Gambero Rosso.

Brigaldara is a low-key but quality-oriented estate located not far from Verona in the small town of San Floriana in the heart of the Valpolicella Classico area. The 110-acre Brigaldara estate is owned by Stefano Cesari, a dedicated winemaker who is also president of the Valpolicella Region Grower's Association. This organization has about a2006 Brigaldara, Amaraone della Valpolicella Classico dozen prominent winemaker members and is devoted exclusively to improving the quality of the region’s wines through better vineyard management and improved winemaking equipment and techniques.

Despite its relatively inexpensive price tag, the 2007 Brigaldara Amarone della Valpolicella is a class act all the way. It has a deep, rich crimson color with a perfumed bouquet of dried cherries, chocolate and sweet herbs and spices. The wine caresses the mouth and coats the tongue with Amarone’s classic dark fruit flavors that are rich, sensuous and complex.

Despite its generous alcohol, (16.5 percent) it does not come across as heavy or alcoholic. Rather, it is nicely balanced with sweet tannins and plump, generous fruit flavors. While the ’06 is ready to drink now, it would only improve with a few more years of bottle age. This is a wine with gravitas and its smooth, velvety texture makes it perfect to accompany rich meat dishes and aged cheeses. Be sure to open at least 2 hours before serving.

Where can I buy this wine? – available at MacArthur Beverage, Schneider’s of Capitol Hill and Circle Wine and Spirits (’01 vintage).

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
April 4, 2011

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



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