Italian wine intimidates me. Not in the same way Michael Corleone intimidates me, but it’s daunting, nonetheless. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to learn about Italian wine, but it just never seems to jell.
So, I was super excited for the latest #WineStudio series, which focused on Italian wines, specifically those imported by our guest-host, Justin Gallen of Rinascimento Wine Company. Rinascimento means Renaissance in Italian. I speak almost 18 words of Italian, so this was new (and timely) knowledge for me.
Because I could use an Italian wine Renaissance.
For the uninitiated, #WineStudio is a live, 4-week long, wine tasting and education series that takes place each Tuesday evening from 9-10pm EST on Twitter. It’s hosted by Protocol Wine Studio, and usually focuses on a singular theme, but wines and/or wineries change each week. Wine Studio participants are always well-prepared and enthusiastic.
Justin is probably the most down-to-earth wine importer I’ve ever chatted with — not that I chat with just tons of wine importers. Justin has a true passion for wine and the winemaking process. In fact, Justin says, “passion runs the wine business”. Passion, and more than a little moxie. Justin has twelve producers now, and selects them based on two criteria, “they need to be cool and have good wine.” I really, really hope that’s on Justin’s business cards. What did I tell you about the down-to-earth thing?
This is where I repeat one of my personal wine mantras: Every bottle of wine is an opportunity to learn something. Here’s what we tasted . . . and what I learned.
Agricola Cirelli Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo 2013 ⭐⭐⭐/89
This is a dry Rosé, made with 100% Montepulicano. And whoa, the color on this wine — it looks like a sunset! Benjamin Moore should have this color in their paint deck. My husband doesn’t know it yet, but I’m pretty sure we need an accent wall this color! Great texture and heft to this Rosé. So often, people stop drinking Rosé once the calendar says fall, but this Rosé would be a great transition to cooler months. I’m thinking Thanksgiving aperitif. Tart watermelon and cherry flavors — reminds me of a Jolly Rancher. Creamy finish. Changes beautifully in the glass as the temperature warms up. 12.5% ABV.
What did I learn? Montepulicano Rosé and sunsets use the same color palette. Also, summer doesn’t have the monopoly on Rosé.
Musto Carmelitano Aglianico del Vulture DOC “Serra Del Prete” 2010 ⭐⭐⭐/89
100% Aglianico. Definitely a brooder when first opened. SUCH a powerful wine. Protocol Wine Studio for the win: “How bad-ass is this wine?!?” Loads of black licorice, tobacco, smoke and chocolate flavors. And some more smoke. Justin says this wine “tastes like a burnt volcano.” 🌋 File that under Best Wine Descriptions ever. Desperate for decanting, and time in the glass. I was in a fall mood, so I chose a great fall dish — Pasta with Roasted Butternut Squash, Sausage and Fried Sage to pair with this wine. I loved this with the roasted flavor and the hint of anise in the sausage. And the fattiness of the sausage really helped tame the tannins in the wine. Jeff Burrows summed up the Aglianico-food relationship perfectly: “Smoke and leather, but unleash it with food and it is so well behaved. Surprising!”
What did I learn? Burnt volcanoes score a home run with roasted squash and sausage. 😉
G.D. Vajra Barbera D’ Alba DOC 2011 ⭐⭐⭐⭐/91
100% Barbera, aged in new oak. I love Barbera — it’s such a great segue wine. #WineStudio hit the nail on the head with this observation: “Barbera is an excellent transition wine to take people into high end Italian varietals. You gotta work up to the big boys!” Not that there isn’t bigness in Barbera — it’s just different big. This wine is lot more opaque in color than the Barolo — kind of a cloudy garnet. The nose on this wine reminds me of incense. Which made me think about Monty Python’s Life of Brian — “Don’t worry too much about the myrrh next time. All right?” I’m out there, I know. But the nose knows. Flavors of chocolate covered cherries, minerals, and rose petals. Loads of acid, needs food to really start shining. I made Spaghetti Bolognese for dinner — a great paring for this higher acid Barbera. $25ish.
What did I learn? Barbera is the transitions lens of Italian red wine.
G.D. Vajra Barolo Albe DOCG 2009 ⭐⭐⭐⭐/90
100% Nebbiolo. Ahhh, Barolo. Sometimes I think Barolo is actually an anagram for “give it time”. Justin must be on the same wavelength, because he commented, “Barolo at 5 years old can be kind of a crybaby. Open for a day adds 10 years.” And boy if that wasn’t true. This bottle was far more approachable on Day 2. The color on this wine is a little deceiving — it’s a pale ruby color in the glass. An observation that didn’t go unnoticed by many #WineStudio participants. The always articulate, Dezel Quillen, offered, “People generally equate opacity with assertiveness. But when it comes to Barolo, I say don’t let the color fool you!” Jeff Burrows followed up with, “I think Barolo is the ultimate fooler. So much power in that pale color”. Bingo, Dezel and Jeff! The nose on this wine kind of caught me off guard — lavender! It’s almost relaxing just to sit and inhale it. There’s so much going on in this glass — loads of spice, tobacco and tar. Some seriously dense tannins, yet the wine manages to stay focused and elegant. Aged in Slavonian (Croatian) oak. Wine-searcher prices vary from $28-41, but anywhere in that range is a bargain for this Barolo.
What did I learn? Just because you’re pale, doesn’t mean you aren’t powerful.
Thanks again to Justin Gallen of Rinascimento Wine Company for sharing his time and his wines with all of us, and to our tireless organizer, Protocol Wine Studio.
Next month on #WineStudio, we’ll be taking a look at Virginia Hard Cider . . . I can’t wait!!