Sat 22 Mar 2008
Many of the traditional grapes used to make white wine in Italy don’t take kindly to oak. Occasionally (or too frequently nowadays) one runs upon a wine that has been forced through a barrel regimen and come out like a torturous caricature of itself. You want to call Switzerland and see if somehow the Geneva Convention has been violated. The example of such a sad case is the pinot grigio mentioned below, but first take a look at a roster of completely charming, even intriguing white wines.
What’s intriguing in the bad way are the prices of several of these products. Apparently we’re seeing the reality of the dominant euro, stomping around in shiny black boots and kicking the bejesus out of the poor wimpy dollar, and the rise in the cost of oil for transportation, heating, electricity and so on. So, yeah, the first seven of these wines are terrific, but you pays yer money and you takes yer choice.
These wines are Marc de Grazia Selections, imported by Vin DiVino in Chicago. Visit marcdegrazia.com.
1. The Tavignano Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore 2006 comes from one of Italy’s least-known regions. Marche or The Marches, occupies a long stretch of the coastal calf of Italy’s boot, between Emilia-Romagna to the north and Abruzzi to the south. Verdicchio grapes produce by far the region’s best white wines — Verdiccio dei Castelli de Jesi and Verdicchio Matelica — though that white variety is overshadowed by several reds, especially Rosso Conero, which must contain at least 85 percent montepulciano grapes. In any case, Tavignano’s Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore 2006 is indeed a superior version. The wine is bright and clean and abounds with lemony accents that are spicy and a little roasted and buttery, though the wine balances this touch of lushness with brisk acid, bone-dryness, hints of slightly astringent dried herbs and, on the finish, a penetrating mineral quality. Delightful and versatile for spring and summer drinking. Very Good+. About $16.
2. If your memory of Frascati is of an innocuous and forgettable wine, this one may change your mind. The name is ancient and derives from the hill-town fewer than 20 miles southeast of Rome, the center of the province of Lazio (often called Latium in English). The grapes for Frascati are principally malvasia di candia, malvasia del Lazio and trebbiano bianco, with, for this wine, bombino, ottonese and cacchione; for those trying to join The Century Club of people who have experienced 100 grape varieties, Frascati offers you the chance to encounter some obscure examples.
Since 1981, Piero Costantini has worked to revive the reputation of Frascati. His Massarosso Frascati Superiore 2006 is dry and notably spicy; it’s a spare, crisp white wine, lithe and lively and supple. Scents and flavors of roasted lemon and lemon balm are infused with a strain of some astringent summer flower and touches of dried Mediterranean herbs. The finish offers more spice and layers of limestone. I’ll go Excellent on this one. About $16 and a Great Bargain.
3. The blend of grapes for the Palazzone Terre Vineate Orvieto Classico 2006 — Orvieto is a beautiful and fairly large hill-town in western Umbria — is 50% procanico, 25% grechetto, 15% verdello and 10% malvasia and drupeggio, the latter a local grape so obscure that it doesn’t show up in Oz Clarke’s Encyclopedia of Grapes. This is as pure and intense an Orvieto as I have ever tasted and also the most suave and elegant. It’s a lovely wine, delivering elements of lemon drop and orange rind, almond blossom and camellia, baking spice, hints of dried thyme and tarragon; it’s very crisp, dry and vibrant, yet smooth and slightly steely. It would be great with grilled trout or skate in a classic sauce of brown butter and capers. Excellent. About $18.
4. We go back to The Marches for the Bisci Verdicchio di Matelica 2005, a very dry, spare and sinewy wine that’s quite stony and earthy and briery, with a powerful limestone-damp granite component, scintillating acid and a finish that pulls in lemon peel and grapefruit astringency. A bit more demanding than thoroughly enjoyable, but should be terrific with fresh oysters and mussels. Very good+ About $19.
5. Perhaps the falanghina grape will make the break-through white wines of Campania, the region that extends north, east and south of Naples. Its less frequently seen name, falanghina Greco, may indicate origins in Greece. Cantina del Taburno is a significant association of 300 producers in the province of Benevento, which clusters around the city of that name inland and northeast of Naples. The Taburno Falanghina 2007 is a terrific example of the cantina’s craft. This is a lovely wine, seductive in its accents of jasmine and almond blossom, lemon and toasted almond and hints of dried thyme. In the mouth, the wine balances crispness and liveliness with a moderately lush texture, delicious flavors of roasted lemon, lemon balm and orange rind, all tied with a glint of limestone on the finish. A great bet for matching with grilled shrimp or mussels. Very good+ About $20.
6. The Serramarrocco Grillo del Barone 2006, from Sicily, 100% grillo grapes, is fermented and matured in old-fashioned concrete vats rather than stainless steel. It rated a “wow” as my first note. Shamelessly floral and spicy, the wine bursts from the glass in a welter of white flowers, dried baking spice, roasted lemon and a hint of grapefruit. “Haunting” is not a word I typically use in reviews, but this wine was strangely beguiling and intense, offering a flavor panoply of lemon in all its forms, with a touch of candied fruit, and a texture of pleasing heft and elevating powers, a combination of brisk acid and talc-like softness and a total permeation of chalk and limestone. A Great Effort. Excellent. About $26.
7. I’m sorry, but $29 is a boodle of money for any wine made from the vermentino grape, which normally produces wines that are charming and pleasant and drinkable. The Terenzuola Vermentino Fosso di Corsano 2006, from the Colli di Luna (“hills of the moon”) region of northwest Tuscany, is fermented in concrete vats and aged on the lees in stainless steel for six months, special treatment indeed, and the result is a wine of definite class and breeding. Made from grapes taken from vineyards 1,300 feet above sea-level, the wine is fresh and lively, lemony and spicy, with a sense of long-drawn-out acid and scintillating mineral elements, of balance and integration, that raise it above the usual product of the grape. O.K., it’s probably the best vermentino I’ve ever tasted, and I’d be happy to pay, oh, $18 for it. Excellent. About $29.
8. The Vie di Romans Dessimis Pinot Grigio 2005, Isonzo del Friuli, is a result of trying too hard in the winery to make a grape into what it is not. Even pinot grigio doesn’t deserve to be turned into a ringer for an over-oaked chardonnay, which is the effect this wine had on me. Barrel-fermented and matured seven months in French barrels, the Vie di Romans Dessimis Pinot Grigio 2005 is rich and ripe, glossy and roasted and slightly buttery, massively structured, stridently spicy, quite evidently oaky and overall grotesque. Poor innocent, unsuspecting grapes! I rarely do this, but I pin an “Avoid” rating on this mutant. Which shouldn’t be difficult for you to do, since the suggested retail price is about $44.