fine italian wines for Thanksgiving 2009

Wine for november - Under $25

Franco Toros, Collio Pinot Bianco 2006 (about $15)

The Collio is a small, horse-shaped, hilly wine zone in the Friuli region in extreme northeastern Italy that borders Slovenia. While not widely known, it is one of Italy’s premier wine regions and is generally regarded as the home of Italy’s best white wines.

The Toros winery is a relatively small but picturesque 18 acre estate located just a couple of miles from the Slovenian border. Established in the early 1900’s it has gained a well-earned reputation for producing superlative white wines, primarily Pinot Grigio, Tocai Friulano and Pinot Bianco.

In the hands of a dedicated and talented producer the Pinot Bianco varietal can yield top-quality, exceptional wines. While the Pinot Bianco varietal grows well in several areas in Europe and elsewhere (such as France where it is known as Pinot Blanc) it is in the Friuli region in general and the Collio zone in particular that this varietal achieves its ultimate expression. Here it produces an intense and rich wine that is more pronounced than similar wines produced elsewhere in the world.

And here in the Collio, Franco Toros works wonders with Pinot Bianco, consistently producing outstanding Pinot Bianco wines that frequently receive prestigious Tre Bicchieri (“The GFranco Toros, Collio Pinot Bianco 2006 Friulilass”) awards from Gambero Rosso (see, for example, Tre Bicchieri 2010 and Tre Bicchieri 2009). Produced entirely from Pinot Bianco grapes, Toros’s 2006 Pinot Bianco has a brilliant straw-yellow color with subtle but distinctive floral and lemon aromas. It is very nicely textured with a medium body that exhibits good balance between slightly lemony fruit and acidity with just a hint of sweetness on the finish. This is really good stuff!

Pinot Bianco is very food friendly and is a great accompaniment to most Thanksgiving standards such as rice, potato and vegetable dishes and would present especially well with a herb-stuffed roast turkey.

Wine for November – $25 and over

Luciano Sandrone, Barbera d’Alba 2006 (about $36)

Barbera is a native grape of the Piedmont, a cool northern region at the foot of the Italian Alps. As I mentioned in a previous posting (see The Better Barbera), Barbera historically has had to compete for space and attention with the more famous Nebbiolo used in the production of Barolo and Barbaresco wines. Consequently, it hasn’t always gotten the attention it deserves.

Barbera is both the name of the grape variety and the name of the wine made from that variety. Unlike most red wines it is low in tannins but has a sprightly acidity that gives it structure and texture. It’s a very multi-talented, food-friendly wine that goes particularly well with simple tomato-based pastas or pizza as well as most red and white meat dishes and medium-aged cheeses. Since Barberas are generally not expensive, they may well be the smartest choice on a restaurant’s wine list.

While not particularly well known in the United States, Barbera has been gaining in popularity here as producers have devoted more time and attention to the Barbera grape and begun producing more serious, interesting and even age-worthy wines. Most Barbera found in the U. S. carries either the Barbera d’Alba or the Barbera d’Asti label, indicating that the grapes were sourced from vineyards around the towns of Alba or Asti in the Piedmont. Barbera d’Alba is generally given the nod as the more serious wine, perhaps due to the fact that Barbera wines from the Alba area simply have to try harder in order to compete for space and attention with the more highly sought-after Nebbiolo-based Barolo and Barbaresco wines.

Like most good Barbera producers from the Alba area, Luciano Sandrone is better known for his Barolo wines, most notably his award winning Cannubi Boschis and Barolo Le Vigne. He is one of the leading producers of Barolo and has since 1978 produced Barolos of exceptional structure and complexity that make them some of the most sought-after wines of the region.

SanLuciano Sandrone, Barbera d'Alba 2006, Piedmontdrone is a small, family-run estate in the heart of the Barolo district. It has 40 acres of land, all of which is under vine of which approximately 6 acres is allocated to Barbera for production of Barbera d’Alba. Luciano and his winemaker brother Luca, are frequently labeled “modernists” because of their efforts to make Barolos that mature sooner and are more approachable than “traditional” versions.

However, I think a more apt descriptor for Luciano’s approach to wine-making would be that of modern-traditional because he has successfully integrated traditional and modern approaches to making wines. He is respectful of tradition but is willing to incorporate modern winemaking techniques such as shorter fermentation periods, shorter wood aging or use new oak for some part of the aging period when he feels it will enhance the potential of the grapes. The result are wines that are softer and more approachable in their youth but still retain the structure that will enable them to age gracefully.

Luciano Sandrone’s ’06 Barbera d’Alba is a very serious wine, medium- to full-bodied, round and generous with supple fruit flavors. It is well-structured with crisp acidity and a long, lingering finish – a winner by any measure!

Well-made Barberas such as this one with its pronounced fruit flavors, low tannins and sprightly acidity will pair well with almost any dish on the Thanksgiving table with the exception of your Aunt Ethel’s famous cranberry sauce and, of course, dessert. This red wine should satisfy the most discriminating wine enthusiast at your Thanksgiving table.

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
November 8, 2009


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