Arguably the two most well-known wine regions in Italy are Tuscany and Piedmont. Tuscany is the home base of the popular Chianti and Chianti Classico while in Piedmont you’ll find Barolo, Barbaresco and Barbera among others. Charlie, the owner of E. 48th Street Market was kind enough to keep his quaint little Italian bistro and deli open after hours for a wine tasting devoted to these two spectacular regions. Hosting the event was Quality Wine’s Ryan Mullins who is a freak of nature (I mean that in a good way) when it comes to Italian wines. This guys knows his stuff and bleeds and breathes Italian wine and it showed. Check out his blog, We Study Wine, which is jam-packed with useful wine info and data in which all true wine nerds will want to immerse themselves.
The tasting was set up with 4 flights of 2 wines each which allowed us to compare the wines from age, location and grape variety perspectives. We got a chance to drink Moscato d’Asti, Dolcetto, Sangiovese, Barbera and Nebbiolo throughout the night. It’s interesting to note that Sangiovese is the most widely planted grape in Italy accounting for roughly 10% of the country’s grape production. Sangiovese is also the main grape used in Chianti (at least 75% must be used) and Chianti Classico (at least 85% must be used) and often has the color of brick, with hints of orange or brown and can have aromas of baked earth, sour strawberry, chocolate, orange peel and/or thyme.
Barolo and Barbaresco both will be made from 100% Nebbiolo grapes and will have minimum aging requirements of 3 (2 in cask) and 2 (1 in cask) years, respectively. Nebbiolo may give off “twiggy,” bitter chocolate, truffles, forest floor or even tar aromas and will be much bolder and higher in tannins as it is more highly extracted in these wines.
I won’t list all the wines here (there were 9!), but here are some of my favorites from the evening:
2005 Ciacci Piccolomini Toscano Rosso – Great value! This was on the lower end dollar-wise, but I enjoyed the classic brick hue and earthy nose. It was very smooth on the palate.
2006 Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona Rosso di Montalcino– some horse blanket, barnyard and earth on the nose with a classic sour red fruit notes on the palate and minerality and spice at the end.
2003 (?) Borgogno Barolo– Ryan may need to clarify that vintage for me, but this wine really rocked. It was unfined and unfiltered, which was evident by the copious amounts of sediment in the glass, and showing some age in the color variation. I got some notes of licorice on the nose, great mouthfeel and it was well-balanced.
Charlie was also kind enough to include a nice meat & cheese plate to pair with our wines as well as some pasta toward the end of the night. On the dish in the picture clockwise, starting as 12 o’clock was zucchini, copa, salami, picanti provalone, dried sausage and aged/smoked speck from Alto Adege. In the middle were some olives. Unlike in the U.S. where we have a history of making wines that stand on their own, wines from Italy generally keep in the tradition that wine is meant to be enjoyed with the meal. Of course, to compete with some of those U.S. wines, there is a new category called a Super Tuscan that often blends traditional Italian grapes with Bordeux grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to make them more robust and beefy, but I”ll generally stick with the more romantic, traditional take on Italian wine.