Fine Italian Wines for valentine's day

Wine for february - Under $25

Michele Chiarlo, Moscato d’Asti “Nivole” 2008 (about $14 for half bottle)

While Champagne or other sparkling wines are often the wines of choice for festive occasions like Valentine’s Day, my personal preference runs to sweeter wines for imbibing after those special-occasion luncheons or dinners with - or in place of - dessert.

Unfortunately, many people steer clear of the sparkling and dessert wine aisles in wine shops because they're not familiar with these wines or they find the choice of wines and styles daunting and don’t know what to buy.

Light and fragrant Italian dessert wines like Moscato d’Asti make this process easy. Moscato d’Asti is an elegant, fragrant and sublime dessert wine that adds a coda to that perfect meal. With its exuberant fruit flavors, sprightliness and low alcohol (usually 5 – 6 percent) it may well be the consummate wine to accompany that not-too-sweet dessert. But the wine is light, its sweetness not too prominent and its finish clean and crisp so it can also serve as an aperitivo.

Michele Chiarlo is one of the brightest stars in northern Italy’s wine constellation. Although the estate was founded in 1956 and so is not that old by Italian standards, it has a well-established reputation for producing well-made, long-lived wines. Michele Chiarlo’s Barolo “Cannubi” is one of the best available and a consistent Tre Bicchieri winner. The estate also produces some highly-regarded Barbera d’Asti, Barbaresco, Nebbiolo and Gavi wines.

2008 Michele Chiarlo, "Nivole" Moscato d'AstiChiarlo’s Moscato d’Asti “Nivole” is a great addition to its lineup of wines and is one of the best dessert wines on the market. The wine is produced entirely from hand-selected Moscato Bianco grapes from the Chiarlo vineyards in the rolling hills outside the commune of Canelli in the Piedmont. With a brightly-colored, fetching label, engaging aromas and slightly sparkling, sweet taste, the Nivole (which means “clouds” in the local Piemontese dialect) is an indulgent pleasure.

The Nivole is a fragrant, aromatic wine with notes of peaches and apricots. Straw-yellow in color, it has a slight sparkle and superfine mousse and the first sip is like tasting a frothy meringue with a fruit bowl of peach and pear flavors. The sweet flavors resulting from the natural residual sugars of the Moscato grape are complimented by a crisp acidity that make it light and refreshing.

This wine would be overpowered if served with a rich chocolate cake but would be delightful with not-too-sweet desserts such as fresh fruits, tarts and pastries, especially almond cookies.  In the summer I especially enjoy splashing some over a bowl of strawberries or fresh, sliced peaches – a truly cosmic match that always induces a raised-eyebrow response from guests. Alternatively, it could also be served as a refreshing aperitivo. In any event, it should always be served chilled.

Wine for february – $25 and over

Giovanni Allegrini, Recioto della Valpolicella Classico 2005 (about $58 for 500 ml bottle)

Recioto della Valpolicella, or Recioto (ree chow’ toh) as its popularly known, is created in the Veneto region of Italy and is a first cousin of Amarone della Valpolicella, one of Italy’s greatest red wines. Both wines are made from essentially the same grapes and both are made by the traditional appassimento method, where the grapes are dried on racks in cool, airy rooms for up to four months which concentrates the sugars and flavors in the grapes. But it is during the vinification process that the similarities between the two wines end. If during fermentation the fermentation is stopped either naturally or by human intervention, the wine is left with residual sugar and becomes a Recioto. If the fermentation continues until all the sugar has been converted to alcohol, then the dry wine becomes an Amarone.

So despite some similarities, Recioto della Valpolicella and Amarone della Valpolicella are two entirely different wines. Recioto is a sumptuous, sweet dessert wine while Amarone is a dry, red wine of great substance.

The Allegrini family has been in the wine business since the 16th century. Today the Allegrini estate comprises over 180 acres of vineyards in Fumane di Valpolicella, which is just north of Verona in northeastern Italy. Giovanni Allegrini was one of the most prominent and influential vintners in the Valpolicella region in the past century. He experimented with new winemaking techniques as well as upgraded basic accepted winemaking procedures, all with an eye towards improving overall quality of wines in the Valpolicella region. He was a strong advocate for making quality cru wines under the Valpolicella DOC, that is wines produced from local varieties grown in single designated vineyards.

Allegrini’s Giovanni Recioto is comprised of 80 percent Veronese, 12005 Allegrini, Giovanni Recioto della Valpolicella Classico5 percent Rondinella and 5 percent Oseleta grapes, all from Allegrini’s vineyards in the hills of the Valpolicella Classico area. The grapes are dried naturally on racks for about 120 days where they lose about 50 percent of their weight. The grapes are then pressed in late February. After fermentation in stainless steel tanks the wine is transferred to small French oak barriques where it is aged for 14 months. It then spends an additional 12 months in the bottle prior to release for sale.

The Giovanni Recioto is named after Giovanni Allegrini described above who enthusiastically endorsed this wine as his favorite. It has a deep ruby red color with a purple tinge on the edge. It has vivacious aromas of black current, dark fruit, licorice and a hint of cedar. The intoxicating aromas coalesce into waves of flavor with tongue-coating, concentrated flavors of black cherries, cassis and coffee accented with kitchen spices. It is full bodied and nicely structured with concentrated fruit flavors balanced by good acidity, fine tannins and a touch of sweetness in the aromatic, lingering finish. It is a heady and sensual experience that borders on the spiritual.

Recioto goes best with end-of-meal foods such as baked pastries, fruits, nuts, mild to medium-aged cheeses, particularly mild gorgonzola, and sweet desserts, including chocolate cake. However, Recioto is a warm and contemplative wine that I prefer to serve by itself while reposed in a comfortable chair or with family and friends after a hearty holiday meal or, perhaps best of all, shared with that special someone after a Valentine’s Day dinner.

The Recioto should be opened at least an hour before serving at room temperature.

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
February 12, 2010

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