Whereas chances are you’ve heard of Barolo from the north, the promotional machine for the wines of Southern Italy and her islands of Sicily and Sardinia is not as well-oiled, denying them the international acclaim they’re due.
Your bravery when pursuing these wines will be rewarded by finding gems at rhinestone prices.
King Of Campania.
The Aglianico grape could be thought of as the Nebbiolo of the south. This thick-skinned red variety produces wines that are tannic, inky-black, and bold. Built to age, examples from the Taurasi DOCG are amongst Italy’s finest. But many striking, affordable examples can be enjoyed with hearty meals this weekend, from the Aglianico del Vulture DOC in Baslilcata, and the Aglianico del Taburno and Irpinia denominations of Campania.
You should easily find:
2008 Antonio Caggiano Tari, Aglianico Irpinia ($15)
2007 Bisceglia Terra di Vulcano, Aglianico del Vulture ($12)
Dig Your Heels Into Puglia.
Puglia, Italy’s “heel,” is home to the niftiest red wine bargains in all of Europe. Relatively unexplored in the U.S. market until now, Puglia’s wines are made from a dynamic duo of indigenous varieties. Primitivo, for one, has been identified as being a relative of California’s Zinfandel, and like its American cousin, can be brambly, spicy, and a touch higher in alcohol, and often cost less than ten bucks. Negroamaro, one of the oldest known grapes of Italy, has a softer touch, and sports an herbal and roasted fruit personality. When you see a wine designated Salice Salentino, for example, you’re drinkin’ Negroamaro. Try a sassy Puglian varietal or blend the next time you indulge in braised meat for dinner.
Do not miss:
2007 Pervini Archidamo, Primitivo di Manduria ($13)
2008 Li Veli Negroamaro Passamante, Salice Salentino ($13)
Southern Whites: The Holy Trinity.
Three white grapes stand out in the south, particularly from Campania. Ironically, they couldn’t be more different from one another. While Greco is weighty and dramatic, resembling winter fruits in aroma and flavor, Fiano can be delicate and distinctively floral. Lean and sexy, Falanghina shouts mineral, and is most notable as the vehicle delivering the unique flavors of the volcanic soils around Mt Vesuvius.
You’ll be glad you tried:
2009 Terradora Dipaolo Falanghina, Irpinia ($13)
2009 Cantine Terranera, Greco di Tufo ($12)
Island Juice: Discovering Sicily And Sardinia.
These two large and beautiful islands are geographically diverse, and are certainly up-and-coming as wine lovers’ hot spots. Sicily’s Nero d’Avola is the indigenous forerunner here and results in a red that is rich with fruit, and substantive in structure. Although this is certainly the lead grape, you may want to investigate Nerello Mascalese, as grown on the active volcano Mount Etna. The wines are smoky and highly soil-influenced, with delicate fruit at the center. By contrast, Sardinian viticulture doesn’t follow Italian grape traditions, but has adopted Spain’s varietal history. Garnacha, renamed Cannonau on the island, has historically been the driving force. But now that Sardinia is positioning itself in the wine world, Carignano (or Carignan) is another horse to bet on. The lean and racy white Vermentino is usually one’s first encounter with Sardinian wine, and can be exquisitely mineral-laden. Take some time to explore these values, and be among the first to spread the word to your wine-loving friends. Ciao!
Some personal favorites are:
2009 Tenuta della Terre Nere, Etna Rosso ($15)
2008 Santadi Grotta Rossa, Carignano di Sulcis ($13)