Italy’s Sardinia

I admit it – I love all things Italian. From the ancient history to modern dolce vita; from mountaintop perched villages to the bustle of Roma; from sumptuous foods to lip smacking wines, I am completely besotted. And I never tire of sharing that passion so buckle up for more. Let’s venture to a lesser known wine area floating in the blue of the Mediterranean – Sardinia (in the Italian it’s Sardegna). This is a pretty big island, second only to Sicily in the Mediterranean and it’s got an old winemaking culture.

First let me say that there is not a lot wine from Sardinia out there on the retail shelves, but I like to try to be ahead of the game when it comes to sharing the undiscovered wine regions and the unique wines they offer.  The two most popular and available wines from Sardinia are Cannonau di Sardegna and Vermentino, a red and a white respectively.

The interesting thing about Cannonau is that it is the Sardinian name for Grenache or Garnacha, and there remains a debate as to whether it is the place of origin for that grape, as opposed to Spain.  Not that I really care, but if you’re from there you do!  So right away we can expect some old vine Grenache in the bottle.

This is a hot Mediterranean climate so the wines are ripe and offer red berry fruitiness – think raspberry and strawberry, much like Pinot Noir. There’s good acidity and they tend to be medium bodied with just a little kick of white pepper or spice when you sip. Often they’re a bit higher alcohol too. Cannonau is a good food wine because of that acidity. It’s not a very “sophisticated” wine and tends to the simpler side which is why I think it’s just right with a burger on the grill or pizza, or just about anything you might like paired with Pinot Noir. In some ways it is like a more rustic version of Pinot, without the nuance and subtlety of that more finicky and classy grape. But it’s also less expensive when you can find it – I picked up a bottle today for $15 at my local wine store. So let you fingers do the walking online or just ask your retailer to get you some.

Then there is Vermentino. Vermentino is a widely planted white grape in Sardinia.  This is good wine for the warm days of summer. Sardinia is known for great beaches and I can’t think of a nicer afternoon than gazing at the sea under the shade of an umbrella as you lunch on a chilled seafood salad.  Get the picture?  Since it’s not likely we’ll be in Sardinia itself anytime soon, I plan on keeping that picture in mind when I pop one open!  Pale, straw colored, light bodied, soft and fruity, Vermentino has a fragrant nose and often an apple-like flavor. Like many Italian whites this is easy sipping wine, especially since it’s less that $15 a bottle.

Cannonau and Vermentino aren’t the only wines of Sardinia, but it’s likely that they’re the ones you’ll see. The other most produced one is Carignano, which is Carignan. Carignan is found widely in Spain and southern France, so again there is that shared Mediterranean heritage.

This evening I am grilling some chicken kabobs – and I think my wine choice is pretty obvious – I’ll be sipping some Cannonau di Sardegna!

Ciao!

P.S. If you’re following along with my New Year Resolution then we just made good on May – “we drink a lot of Italian wine at our place but there’s still a lot of Italy to sip into.  So let’s hop over to the island of Sardinia and see what we find.”

Ever Day Sip
2012 Sella E Mosca Riserva Cannonau di Sardegna $15
2014 Contini Pariglia Vermentino di Sardegna $14

Wine Memories – Sipping Special Places

Let’s do some traveling together.  We just returned from a vacation overseas and we captured the memories in pictures and videos as well as locking special moments into the memory bank. Isn’t savoring new experiences and building the memories why we travel? We have been blessed with many opportunities to fill the memory bank with special times involving wine so I thought it would be fun to highlight some of them, especially since they also offer insight into wine with food and wine with different places. In a way this is wine pairing at the source! Cue the traveling music please…

  • New Zealand may be known for lamb but did you know about the green lipped mussels? These are large, tender and flavorful mussels you can enjoy either hot or chilled. I like ‘em chilled and there’s nothing better than sitting around the table like we did in Blenheim – drinking some Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc and sharing a heap of green lipped mussels. The tart and herbaceous Sauvignon Blanc is an ideal match to the soft texture and slight taste of the sea. In the memory bank.
  • More seafood? The most enjoyable bottle of Pinot Grigio I can remember was sipped with a bucket of steamed “pisser” clams on a dock in Nantucket. The small clams, steamed in white wine, served in a bucket under the summer sun with the swish of the Atlantic waves under the dock, screamed for chilled, somewhat fruity yet bone dry Pinot Grigio. With a crusty loaf to dunk in the juice it was the perfect summer lunch and Nantucket memory.
  • Barcelona is an amazing city filled with the fantastical art of Gaudi and museums devoted to Picasso and Miro, but there is also art at the La Boqueria market where the variety of foods and tastes is almost overwhelming. IMG_4776So pull up a stool, order a bottle of wine from the Priorate and start noshing. The wine of Priorate is primarily Grenache and there is nothing like ordering up an array of tapas amid the bustle of the market, especially with a bowl of squid and beans as part of the choice, and sharing the bottle with good friends. It is a highlight memory of what Barcelona is all about… art, food and life.
  • Then there is my favorite bottle of Chianti, which we sipped with grilled-to- perfection sliced Chianina beef in a little trattoria called La Grotta della Rana (the courtyard is pictured above) in the small village of San Sano in Tuscany. The San Felice Il Grigio Chianti Classico Riserva is not the most famous or priciest of the area, but it was perfect – the vineyard is just a few kilometers away in the rolling countryside near Giaole. It’s pairing food and wine from the place – the easiest pairing rule you can remember for sure! And doesn’t the wine always seem to taste better when you’re in the special place of its origin? Sure does for me.
  • We’ll always have Paris – and the memory of dining at Alain Ducasse. The tasting menu was outrageously enjoyable as were our dinner companions, Parisian friends who know their way around a wine list!  This was one of the best splurges ever, complete with a bottle of the famed Chateau Haut Brion. Haut Brion is one of the 1st Growth Bordeaux estates and the wines are exceptional (both in taste and price!). Typically a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot the wine is an amazing experience, with layers of tastes that punctuate it as a memorable sipping experience. This night was the epitome of French fine dining. I saved the bottle.

I could go on and on – but will spare you! The amazing thing about wine is that its experience can last well beyond the empty glass or bottle.  And sometimes those most amazing experiences are right at home too. For Cris’ last birthday we grilled a steak, sat on the deck and opened a bottle of 1994 Silver Oak Napa Cabernet Sauvignon.  We not only celebrated her birthday but were reminded of trips to Napa and Sonoma and all of the magical moments that wine has brought to life for us.

And that’s what Sips, and wine memories, are all about.

Twelve Wines for Holiday Times

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house not a creature was stirring… except me – the wine cellar mouse! Yes it’s that time of year and I thought I’d share some thoughts for a Christmas case of wine with some rhyme. So here is my own version of the twelve days of Christmas!

Try one from the Left Bank meant to rest and to age (1)
and one from the West with notes of berry and sage (2).

Then pick a wine from new lands (3)
and one from the boot of old (4);
While making another choice from the hands of Oz (5)
and a bright green bottle from out of the cold (6).

Now you need some sparkle that glints, shines and dances in the light (7)
and a glass filled with ruby red to savor late into the night (8).

No holiday is complete unless there is fame (9) and a jaunty sipper to enjoy with the game (10).
And we’ll end with a bottle of artful delight (11) and one to celebrate the gift of this night (12).

This is a case for all to enjoy any day of the year
but especially now at this time of friends and good cheer!

Merry Christmas to all and Happy Hanukkah too – these are my sips of best wishes for you!
And if you’re still following here are some wines to fill your wishes too.

1 – 2010 Chateau d’Issan Margaux $80 “A complete, medium to full-bodied, exquisite Margaux from this medieval, moat-encircled, compellingly beautiful estate in the southern Medoc, D’Issan’s 2010 is a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot – a dense, purple-colored wine with beautiful aromatics of spring flowers, blueberries and black raspberries as well as hints of cassis, tar and charcoal. The wine is gorgeously pure, well-balanced, and soft enough to be approached in 4-5 years or cellared for 25-30.” -Robert Parker Reviewed by: The Wine Advocate – 95 pts

2 – 2012 Chateau Ste Michelle Cabernet Sauvignon Canoe Ridge $28 “This wine is aromatically reserved with notes of milk chocolate, char, berry, barrel spices and high-toned herbs. It’s silky and polished in feel, with richness and elegance to the coffee flavors.” – Sean Sullivan, 11/1/2015  Reviewed by: The Wine Enthusiast – 90 pts

3 – 2012 Norton Malbec Reserva $16 “Offers a fruity aroma, with red and dark fruit flavors that are complex and woven together with fine tannins. Minerally midpalate, presenting some inviting peppery notes. Finishes with a flush of spice and brambly details. Drink now through 2018.” – Kim Marcus, Dec 31, 2014 Reviewed by: Wine Spectator – 90 pts

4 – 2012 San Felice Chianti Classico Riserva il Grigio $22 “A cool, sleek style of Il Grigio with mint, lavender and black-cherry aromas and flavors. Sweet tobacco as well. Full body with firm, fine tannins and a long, fresh finish. A wine with lovely texture and tension. Drink now.” – October 29th, 2015 Reviewed by: James Suckling – 92 pts

5 – 2014 Two Hands Shiraz Angel’s Share $30 “While there are no half measures with the weight or shape of this wine, it has a touch of elegance running alongside its blackberry, blood plum and dark chocolate fruit; the tannins wait until the last moment to join forces with the oak to speak clearly of the long future ahead. Great value.” -James Halliday – 94 pts

6 – 2012 J J Prum Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett $28 “Prum wines are among the most exciting and delicious Rieslings of the middle Mosel. Slow-to-develop and long-lived, these wines are full of pure stone fruits with a slate-mineral driven finish.”

7 – 2012 Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs $35 “The 2012 Blanc de Noirs expresses generous aromas of yellow peach, fresh orange zest, cantaloupe, and citrus blossom, which gradually layers with fragrances of warm apple dumpling and creme anglaise. Lush flavors coat the palate with tangerine, Santa Rosa plum, candied ginger and a hint of French flan. This sparkling wine delivers a clean, lingering finish with crisp mouthwatering.”

8 – 2009 Graham’s Late Bottled Vintage Port $24 “This is a smooth and rich wine, with generous fruit alongside spice and ripe, black plum fruit accents. Ready to drink, it shows surprising balance between a perfumed character and an unctuous palate.” – Roger Voss, 8/1/2015  Reviewed by: The Wine Enthusiast – 90 pts

9 – 2012 Opus One $235 “Glorious purity of fruit here with black currants, blueberries, dark chocolate, fresh herbs and forest floor. Hints of mint too, plus hazelnut and chocolate. Full body with seamless tannins and balance. Tight and compacted tannins with beautiful fruit and great length. Goes on for minutes. One of the best Opus’ in years. Hard not to drink now but better in 2018. October 2015 release. This is 79% cabernet sauvignon, 7% cabernet franc, 6% merlot, 6% petit verdot and 2% malbec.” – July 28th, 2015  Reviewed by: James Suckling – 97 pts

10 – 2013 Klinker Brick Zinfandel Old Vine $16 “2013 Old Vine Zinfandel is a blend of 16 different vineyard blocks of old vine zinfandel vineyards with an average age of 85 years. With berries and spice on the nose, dark, sweet fruit fills the palate with just a hint of black pepper. This wine has a long, lingering finish.”

11 – 2012 Hess Collection Cabernet Sauvignon $50 “With 20% Malbec, this wine is layered in refined complexity, swaying from juicy blueberry to herbaceous cherry and currant. Restrained in oak, with the slightest notion of vanilla on the palate, it finishes in mouthwatering dark chocolate, the tannins firm and structured.” – Virginie Boone, 9/1/2015  Reviewed by: The Wine Enthusiast – 93 pts

12 – 2014 St. Rose Pinot Noir Nunes Vineyard 777 $48 “Perfumed aromatics of youthful cherry and dusty tannins mingle with traces of lavender and white  floral notes. A bright entry offers a blend of red fruit— raspberry, cranberry, dark cherry and rhubarb—that is integrated with softening tannins and hints of oak. A ripe blackberry and vanilla essence appears near the  finish, adding another dimension as the  flavors linger on the palate.

Italy Part 3 – The Veneto

I just returned from Italy and the last stop on the itinerary was Venice. And while I didn’t have time to go wandering through the vineyards of the Veneto that didn’t stop me from enjoying some of the local wines!  If you’re not familiar with the wines get ready for some really tasty every day reds, whites that are crispy and refreshingly perfect for summer, some bubbly to tickle your fancy and that big bomb of intense and chewy wine called Amarone.  So let’s get started.

The Veneto is the major Italian wine region of the Northeast of Italy.  The most significant areas within it cluster near Verona and are influenced by Lake Garda to the west with the sparkling wine, Prosecco, from the growing areas north of Venice.  One of the unique things about the region is the ancient process called appassimento used to create the signature red wine of the Veneto – Amarone della Valpolicella.  But more on that in a bit.

Prosecco is a delightful sparkling wine that is just plain fun to sip.  Its lower alcohol makes it the perfect aperitif and many of the little restaurants you’ll encounter in Venice, Verona and throughout the region will greet you with a glass as you settle in. It’s made from a grape called Glera, but is also known as Prosecco. The light bubbles carry aromas of citrus and fresh flowers and the taste often reminds me of green apples.  It’s a terrific sparkler to use for those mimosas at brunch, a refreshing Bellini in the afternoon or all by itself.  And here’s the best part – you’ll find it for less that $15 a bottle so stock up.

Soave is the most well known white wine of the area and I think it is often overlooked, especially during the warmer months. Pear, citrus, stony mineralty with refreshingly crisp acidity – this is a wonderful salad wine and a nice match with fish dishes.  The classic grilled Bronzino (sea bass) of Venice paired with soave will transport you to dining next to a canal with gondolas passing by if you close your eyes!

Let’s get to the reds.

Valpolicella and Bardolino are the everyday choices and they are blends primarily of Covina and Rondinella.  These are really pretty simple wines – that’s not meant as criticism but just that they can fit a lot of sipping occasions, are rBertanieady to drink when you buy them and are every day priced.  You’ll taste bright red fruit like cherry with soft tannins.  These are pizza and lighter  pasta dish wines. For a more layered and deeper flavor experience look for Valpolicella Ripasso.  Ripasso  literally means “repassed.”  The winemaker takes the fermented Valpolicella then puts it with the skins and leftovers from the production of Amarone so the wine is re-passed and there is a second fermentation -which adds depth of flavor along with higher alcohol.  Many folks call the Ripasso wines “baby Amarone.”  But you wont’ pay an Amarone price!

What’s the big deal about Amarone?  Amarone is one of the unique wines in the world.  Same grape blend as Valpolicella but it’s made in a time-tested distinctive way.  When the grapes are picked at harvest they aren’t pressed right away to make wine – they’re set aside to dry first.  This drying is done in slotted boxes or straw mats, or the bunches are even hung from the ceiling. They’re dried that way for a few months.  The drying evaporates the water in the grapes and concentrates the sugars.  These partially raisined grapes are then pressed and the juice is fermented into a pretty high in alcohol, deeply flavored and intense red wine. This is the appassimento process. As you’d expect, the extra time and care that goes into to making these means it costs more – but I love Amarone!

Dark plum, black cherry, licorice, woody, brambly, coffee, sun dried tomato, and. of course raisiny – these are just some of the descriptors which try to capture the sip.  The bottom line – this is a big wine. It’s also velvety smooth and terrific with hearty meat dishes.  My favorite pairings are osso buco, grilled lamb chops or just about any braised beef dish like short ribs – yum!

Time to Sip the Veneto so here’s a sampler!

Every Day Sips
Zardetto Brut Prosecco $14. Crispy fresh pear.

2014 Gini Soave Classico $14. Lemony and zesty.

2014 Allegrini Valpolicella $15. Classic taste profile

2013 Zenato Valpolicella Superiore $14. Red berries.

2011 Allegrini Palazzo della Torre $18.  This is a go-to wine for me – I love it and buy it frequently. Dried fruit flavor. Really drinkable and versatile .

2013 Bertani Valpolicella Ripasso Villa Novare $18. Had to include this – just had a bottle in Venice! Kind of tough to find at retail.

Guest Sips
Zenato Ripassa Superiore 2012 $26. Rich coffee bean.

2010 Masi Brolo di Campofiorin $28. A lush and big ripassa

2011 Masi Amarone Costasera $50. Bold with dried fruit. Raisiny with coffee along with dark plum.

Splurge Sips

2010 Allegrini Amarone $70. Amarone elegance. Confession: I am partial to Allegrini wines and this wine always says “Amarone” to me.

What is a “Reserve” Wine?

You see it on the label all the time – the word  Reserve, Reserva or Riserva.  At least on the surface that must mean there’s something a bit more special about the wine, right?  And that’s usually reinforced by the price, which is more than a non-reserve wine from the same producer.  The answer is not as simple as it may appear at first glance.

As with many things about wine there is a lot of “it depends” in that answer. In the New World wine countries – the US, Australia/New Zealand and South America, Reserve is not a regulated designation.  In the Old World there is broad European Union regulation of labeling which is then customized in each country. In Italy and Spain there is specific meaning to the term Riserva or Reserva based on the aging of the wine before it is released for sale. It is time focused.  Therefore, here’s a short guided walk through the meaning of those words on the label.

United States:  The term “Reserve” or other iterations of it on the label has no legal or regulatory meaning. It does not automatically mean higher quality. That’s right, it’s a labeling that is completely up to the winery to use in whatever way they chose.  I think that’s called marketing!

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t believe this is meant to be misleading, rather, wineries typically use “reserve” to indicate they have somehow treated the wine with more special care –  and most will also tell you why it’s more special.  They may have made it from selected vineyards or plots or from a blend of specific barrels or types of oak.  Whatever the case, the Reserve is meant to stand out, fill in their brand offering and generate more selective sales – and, according to the winery, give you a more special sip. The key is to know what you’re buying – so read the back label, check the winery website or rely on a good wine store to help you decide.  And here’s an earlier post on reading the label in general that you may find useful too.

Italy: There is no country wide rule for the use of Riserva but it’s definitive within the different Italian appellations.  Wine from the Chianti zone has different requirements than the Piedmont or Montalcino or the Veneto.  However the general rule is that Riserva have to be aged longer before being released. In Chianti that means a Riserva has been aged at least 2 years and has slightly higher alcohol, for a Brunello it’s 5 years with at least 2 in wood and 6 months in the bottle, and for Barolo the minimum aging is 5 years while Barbaresco is 4 years. These are all meant to be higher quality than non-reserve wines and they are “reserved” or held back for you by the winery while they age and develop. Further Italian wine basics can be found here.

Spain: Thankfully Spain is really straight forward and has specific aging designations.  For quality red wines Reserva is 3 years with 1 in the barrel and Gran Reserva means 5 years with 18 months in the barrel. For white and Rose’ it is 2 years/6 months for Reserva and 4 years/6 months for Gran Reserva.  So for Spanish wines it’s very clear that wine has been treated to extended cellaring before it’s ready for you to sip. And here’s a link to more about Spainsh Reds.

You won’t typically see Reserve designations for French wine (although it’s not precluded) since there is defined labeling based on the classification systems within the appellations and these are highly focused on the place and producer.  For more see earlier posts on Bordeaux and Burgundy.

So next time you’re in the wine shop, or looking over the list at the restaurant, and the word Reserve pops out you have this little sip of label knowledge to guide you!

Enjoy your reserved and unreserved sips!

Italian Wine Part 2 – The Piedmont

In Part 1 on Italian wine I shared some thoughts on Sangiovese, the blockbuster grape of Italy and star of Chianti and Tuscany.  During a visit to the Piedmont (Piemonte in the Italian) I spent some time at Pio Cesare and at Marchesi di Barolo (which first gave the Barolo name to wine) tasting through their wines and further developed a fondness for the wines of the region while wandering villages like Serralunga, Barolo (pictured above), La Morra, Alba and more.  I want to share that fondness with you.

Serralunga
Serralunga and the vineyards of the Piedmont

The Piedmont region in the Northwest of Italy is perhaps where the most age-worthy and renowned grape of the country hangs on the vines – Nebbiolo.  And it is also there where we get delightfully drinkable Barbera, Dolcetto, Gavi, Arneis and the fresh tingly sparking wines of Asti as well.

The village of Barolo is the capital of the Piedmont – not politically or geographically, but spiritually – because Barolo is where Nebbiolo finds its greatest expression, and Nebbiolo is to the Piedmont what Cabernet is to Napa, its face to the wider world of wine.  What makes Nebbiolo such a terrific Sip? It starts with the aroma.  When you take a sniff of Nebbiolo it’s like walking into a room with a dozen Valentine roses on the table, along with the woody smell of greens surrounding them. And then when you take a Sip there’s an abundance of red berry flavor, but typically with a richer, more intense taste reminding you of cloves or cinnamon.  In fact, the experience of drinking Nebbiolo is very similar to Pinot Noir, especially because the wines have very good, food friendly acidity as their backbone. The difference with Nebbiolo is the astringency and tannin due to the cool growing conditions and its late ripening – The Piedmont is in the shadow of the Alps and is composed of high plains and hill towns. Nebbiolo wines need time to soften which is why there are strict aging requirements for Barolo and Barbaresco in particular since they must offer 100% Nebbiolo wines.  Other areas of the Piedmont producing Nebbiolo wines are Gattinara, Ghemme and the Langhe hills, which can typically be drunk younger and appear at lower prices.

Tasting at Marchesi
Tasting at Marchesi di Barolo

Barbera may be one of my favorite, easy to drink, ready any night of the week wines.  It is the workhorse of the Piedmont along with Dolcetto.  Barbara is at home with a burger or a pizza, and I love the blackberry and spice of it.  The same goes for Dolcetto with its more full bodied texture. My appreciation for these wines was elevated on that visit and I regularly buy them now.

The best white wines of the Piedmont are Gavi (the grape is Cortese) and Arneis.  These are floral and crisp and I especially love them as summertime and salad wines, and they are just awesome with lingini and clam sauce.  I find them a bit richer and more complex than Pinot Grigio as a go-to Italian white.

And finally there is Asti.  Asti is a village known for its Asti Spumante, the sparking wine that is an inexpensive and fruity fizzy and for Moscato d’Asti, a slightly fizzy (called frizzante) wine with some residual sugar that makes it pleasant to Sip along with some cookies for desert.  But don’t be confused, you will also see both Barbera and Dolcetto d’Asti, which are reds we noted above.

The Piedmont wine culture is just as strong, but perhaps not quite as well known as Tuscany – yet it’s a quick drive from Milan.  What more of an excuse do you need for exploring more of Italy!

Cesare Cellar 2
In the cellar at Pio Cesare

Let’s Sip!

Everyday Sips
2012 Michele Chiarlo Barbera d’Asti Le Orme $14
2014 Vietti Dolcetto d’Alba $20
2013 Damilano Nebbiolo d’Alba $20

Guest Sips
2009 Travaglini Gattinara $30
2011 Ceretto Barolo $45
2012 Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco $30
2008 Marchesi di Barolo Antiche Cantine Barolo $50
2009 Pio Cesare Barolo $60

Splurge Sips
2009 Vietti Barolo Brunate $135
2011 Gaja Barbaresco $190

On the Road – Puglia

I love jet lag.  Really, I do – because it means I’ve just arrived somewhere that will add to my experiences, or I’ve jut returned, chock full of memories.  So check my grammar because I’m jet lagged from the past week cruising the ancient land of Puglia.

Puglia (or as the Italians know it, Apulia) is the ankle and heel of the Italian boot and it is a land that oozes a passion for the food and wine of their homeland.  From the bounty of the Adriatic or Ionian Seas there is octopus,  sardines, anchovies, sea bream and bronzino as well as the large scampi, delicate clams and sweet mussels.

Grilled octopus in Bari
Grilled octopus in Bari

Of course there is meat too – like lamb, rabbit, veal, beef, pork and even, yes, horse meat. But this region’s typical cuisine relies on the vibrant vegetables and unique styles of homemade pasta to really give you a taste of the land, because these were the staples of the people in this historically less than prosperous and oft invaded territory.  From the stylish Bari to the Baroque beauty of Lecce, or from the sun drenched white- washed walls of seaside villages like Monopoli, or the rocky cove of Poliagno a Mare, to the ancient trulli clustered in Alberobello and which dapple the Valle d’Itria, much of this is undiscovered Italy to many Americans.

Trulli in Alberobello
Trulli in Alberobello

But let’s get to the wine.

Historically, Puglia was the high production, lower quality supplier of Italian bulk wine, but that’s changed.  It is in Puglia that Zinfandel has a cousin – Primitivo.  While they share the same DNA, there is a characteristic difference in heritage, taste and style. I love the fruit forward jammy-ness of Zin, but I really got into the denser, more rustic style of the Primitivo. I found the fruit darker and the spiciness more like black than white pepper.  IMG_6103Let me explain – with Zin I often think of red licorice and boysenberry, but with Primitivo it’s more like blackberry and toffee. So it was a similar yet decidedly different drinking experience.  It’s a wine perfect for the orechiette with fresh tomato sauce that is a Pugliese staple, and I think its perfect for an everyday sip as well.  There is now more availability on the shelves and most of it is quite reasonably priced so you should give it a try.  The Layer Cake label is offering a Primitivo and I’ve also noted a few below.

Orechietti
Orechietti

Then there is Negroamaro.  This is a deeply colored, rich red wine. I like the explanation of the name from Lecce chef and cooking instructor Anna Maria Chirone Arno – that it derives from a dialect word “niuru maru” from the 7th century BC describing the very dark color and bitter taste.  And it is very dark, but today, not bitter. Often some Malvasia or Montepulciano is blended in to it. Negroamaro has good structure and tannin, but even the young ones I sampled were tasty and pretty smooth.  I enjoyed a 2006 that was as good as any Cab/Merlot blend, with flavors of blueberry and cassis along with a little tobacco and a lush finish.  We were sharing entrees of sliced steak and braised rabbit and it was an great match.  (We also enjoyed one that was 70% Negroamaro and 30% Primitivo). And in the spirit of “drink what you like” a bottle of Negroamaro, with the classic dish of potatoes, zucchini, onions and mussels called “Tajedda,” or even served with stuffed and baked calamari, was the way to go.

Tajedda
Tajedda

So by all means, Negroamaro can be enjoyed as an expression of the typical cuisine of the heel of Italy.  You can  even enjoy it simply as another deep, dense and drinkable, well-priced priced bottle of red.

It’s difficult to give you a Sip because the distribution of any one label is rather limited.  But also look for Salice Salentino.  This is Negroamaro with some (typically)  added Malvasia and it is from the Italian DOC, designated wine area, of that name.

One final point – these aren’t sophisticated or high end wines.  They’re simply wines to drink and enjoy with food and friends.  But, jet lagged or not, to me it doesn’t get much better than that.

Everyday Sip:
Layer Cake Primitivo 2011 IGT $14
Sourced from Puglia old vine Primitivo.

Cantele Salice Salentino Riserva 2011 $15

2012 Tormaresca “Neprica” Puglia $10
Mostly Negroamaro with some Primitivo and Cabernet.  Tormaresca has decent national distribution.

2012 Masseria Surani Primitivo Heracles $14

2012 Tormaresca Torcicoda Primitivo Salento $18

2012 Tenute Rubino Primitivo di Salento $18
Italian award winner described as an intense wine that likes food.

Guest Sip
Tormaresca Negroamaro Masseria Maime 2006 $33
Nicely aged and full bodied.