Last night LL made a perfect carbonara. Like so many Italian pasta creations, whether classic or contemporary, the thing is utter simplicity: butter, garlic, pancetta, eggs, Parmesan and Romano
cheeses. The whole process takes even less time than it takes the pasta to cook. We didn’t have pancetta — spiced and cured but not smoked pork belly — but applewood smoked bacon made a fine substitute. Nor did we have Romano cheese, so I grated half Parmesan and half Campo de Montalban, a hard cheese made from goat’s, sheep’s and cow’s milks. The ability to improvise, but not compromise, is essential, in cooking and in life, n’est-ce pas?

Anyway, this was a great dish. To accompany it, I opened – with a deft twist of the wrist — a bottle of the Monte Antico 2006, Toscana, a blend of sangiovese (85%), cabernet sauvignon (10%) and merlot (5%). The label is owned by its American importers, Neal and Maria Empson. The wine is made in the Tuscan province of Pisa by Franco Bernabei.

Monte Antico 2006, as befits its broad grounding in the sangiovese grape, is clean and spare yet warm and spicy. Aromas of dried black and red fruit, dried spice and flowers are woven with orange rind and a sort of floral-rooty black tea and hints of tobacco and smoke. The smokiness increases as the black currant and macerated plum flavors take on their freight of dusty tannins, crushed gravel and vibrant acidity. This is sleek, polished and harmonious and will drink nicely through the end of 2010 or into 2011. Very Good+ and a Great Bargain at about $13, though seen on the Internet as low as $10.
Imported by Empson USA, Alexandria, Va.

Notes on other recently tasted red wines from Italy:
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I once heard a winemaker in Australia say that there were no great wines without oak. This point of view ignores many of the great wines of Chablis and Alsace and portions of Germany, but those are white wines, and perhaps he referred only to red. It’s true that the great red wines of the world, from Bordeaux and Burgundy to Tuscany and Piemonte, from Napa Valley to the Barossa Valley, tend to be aged in wood, and they tend to be made from “noble” grapes like cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, sangiovese, nebbiolo and syrah. What then do we make of the Serra de Prete 2007, a deep-dyed, towering blockbuster of a red wine made by the producer Musto Carmelito in the rustic Italian province of Basilicata, a wine made with nary a speck of wood? No, my friends, this staggering wine spends six months in stainless steel tanks, four months in cement vats and two months in bottle before it is unleashed to an unsuspecting world. Now if the definition of a great wine is one that will develop and mature into mellow nuance, refinement and subtlety, as we expect with Bordeaux and Burgundy, then Serra de Prete 2007 doesn’t approach greatness. If however a wine achieves a supreme expression of a single grape variety and vineyard, if it practically shivers with authenticity and integrity, well, that’s a different kind of greatness. The grape in question is aglianico del vulture — “vool-CHUR-ay” — and it provides Serra de Prete 2007 with a color that’s like some nocturnal Lovecraftian deep purple shading into black; with intense and concentrated scents and flavors of licorice/oolong tea/tar-stained black currants; with a dense, supple, chewy texture that draws on the power of fathomless tannins; and a tone somber and brooding but not rustic or truculent. In fact, the blessing of keen acidity keeps the wine unexpectedly vibrant and resonant. Best after 2011 or ’12. Excellent. About $20-$22, Good Value.

Imported by Domenico Selections, N.Y. Available in the Northeast and limited in the rest of the country.

Double disclosure: This wine was sent to me as a review sample, AND I borrowed the image from Benito and modified it.
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In the old days, that is, the 1950s through the 1980s, the grapes that went into Amarone were hung up in the rafters of the wineries or spread out on mats to dry. Now, however, the grapes — corvina and rondinella — are dried in temperature-controlled rooms and carefully monitored. Recioto della Valpolicella Amarone, as the wine used to be called, is the great red wine of the Veneto region, though it must be carefully made to retain freshness and clarity. One that does just that is the Masi “Costasera” Amarone Classico 2005, a dark vigorous, boldly flavorful wine, deeply spicy, dauntlessly dry yet succulent. Aromas of fruit cake and spice cake are twined with dried black and blue fruit and hints of orange rind, toasted almonds and bitter chocolate; nothing raisiny or toffee-ish mars the wine’s sleekness and its profound presence or tone. Paradoxically, this Amarone is dramatic, displaying a flair for overt statement of fruit, structure and acidity, yet at the core, it is calm, generous and, through the finish, austere. Drink now through 2015 to ’18 with hearty stews and braised meat or strong cheeses, or allow it to mature into a wine that encourages contemplation and meditation. Excellent. Prices range ridiculously across the board for this wine, as in from about $35 to $65.

Imported by Folio Fine Wine Partners, Napa, Cal. Tasted at a trade event.
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The Moccagatta Nebbiolo 2007, from Piedmont’s Langhe region, represents the entry level wine for the Minuto family’s Moccagatta estate, founded in 1952. Made from 100 percent nebbiolo grapes (from young vineyards) and aged a scant six months in old barriques, the wine offers the typical nebbiolo aromas of tar, smoke, violets, spiced plums, damp leaves and moss and gravel. Flavors of macerated black currants and blueberries are draped on a spare, taut structure whose bright acidity cuts a swath on the palate. Nothing opulent or easy here; the wine is an eloquent expression of a grape at a level of purity and intensity that’s especially gratifying from vines that are less than a decade old. Dried heather and thyme seep through the bouquet after a few minutes in the glass, as the wine gets increasingly spicy, dry and austere, with touches of old paper and dust. While the Moccagatta Nebbiolo ’07 doesn’t display the dimension or detail of Moccagatta’s more expensive single-vineyard Barbarescos, it’s an admirable statement of a grape variety and winemaking philosophy. Best from 2010 or ’11 through 2015 to ’17. Bring on the pappardelle con coniglio. Excellent. About $25.

Marc de Grazia Imports, Winston-Salem, N.C.
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From the vast sea of wine turned out in Puglia comes this distinctive number, the Masserie Pisari Negroamaro 2005, Salento Rosso. Made from a grape that’s often treated like a bludgeon, the Masserie Pisari ’05 takes rich, deep black currant, blueberry and plum scents and flavors and adds exotic spice and a note of wild cherry. After a few moments in the glass, matters turn tarry, briery and brambly; the wine grows more exotic, wilder and spicier, more roasted and smoky, with an expanding tide of dusty tannins, dried thyme and rosemary and a warm, meadowy aspect, all enlivened by brisk acidity. The wine does sort of hit you over the head, but gently; there’s something almost droll about it. Definitely calls for burgers, pizzas and hearty pasta dishes. Very Good+. About $16, which is what I paid in Memphis, Tenn., but prices on the Internet go as low as $10.
A Marc de Grazia Selection for Vin Divino, Chicago.
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I wish I hadn’t paid $19 for this wine; the national median is about $16. We live and learn (or not). That range in prices isn’t the fault of the wine though. The Marcarini Fontanazza 2008, Dolcetto d’Alba, which we drank on Pizza-and-Movie Night, opens with aromas of black cherries and plums with a background of sour cherry, a tea-like spice and a touch of dried orange rind. In other words, this is classic Piedmontese dolcetto, with that good old dependable northern Italian acid structure, piano-string taut and vibrant, and the requisite black currant-leather-tobacco nature that leans lightly on supple tannins. Here’s another wine that sees no oak and is all the better for it. Very Good+. About (oh, well) $16.
Imported by Empson USA, Alexandria, Va.
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