VIRTUALLY EVERYONE who drinks serious wines from Italy usually opts for a tough heavyweight from Piedmont such as barolo or barbaresco, or a lighter, fruitier chianti from Tuscany. Undeniably, these are Italy's most famous red wines, and they can provide exceptional tasting experiences. But Italy produces a number of other high-quality red wines that are not terribly well known, and as a result are quite reasonably priced.
The lack of recognition, even credibility, given to some of Italy's other good red wines is partly a result of consumer ignorance and partly because Italy promotes only its most famous products. In alphabetical order, here are some of Italy's least-known high-quality red wines.
Aglianico del vulture (Basilicata) -- This wine is produced in Southern Italy from the aglianico grape, and the result is a fairly fleshy, fruity, full-bodied wine with full intensity flavors and character not unlike a big full California zinfandel. The best example on the market is the 1975 ($6.99) from D'Angelo.
Dolcetto D'Alba -- While barolo and barbaresco receive all the publicity in this region in Northern Italy, it is do lcetto that is drunk most frequently by the people of this lovely, hilly area. Do lcetto is Italy's equivalent of beaujolais; it is an intensively fruity, soft-bodied wine, low in acidity, yet charming and eminently quaffable. In the hands of such producers as Ceretto, Conterno, Dosio and Vietti, it is a lovely, early-maturing, fruity wine, which can even be served chilled. Two of the best examples on the market are the 1979 Dosio ($4.99) and the 1979 Vietti ($5.99).
Ghemme (Piedmont) -- This is another underrated wine, produced in Italy's Piedmont region. It tends to resemble one of the bigger majestic reds like gattinara, yet usually sells at half the price of its more famous neighbor. Full, rich and long-lived, ghemme can offer substantial and interesting drinking. The best example to be found locally is the 1967 Ghemme ($6.95) and the 1974 Ghemme ($7.49) from the Cantina Sociale.
Nebbiolo d'alba (Piedmont) -- This wine is a good introduction for people who want to get a taste and feel of a big barolo. Made from the same grape as barolo, yet not aged nearly as long in wood, nebbiolo d'alba has much of the power, texture and character of a barolo. It is meant to be drunk at a much younger age and, therefore, is best consumed within five to six years of the vintage. The best example of this wine locally is the 1979 Vietti ($6.49) and 1978 Mascarello ($5.99).
Montepulciano d'abruzzo (Abruzzo) -- This wine is from Italy's midlands, and is intensely spicy, very generous, full-bodied, soft, fleshy wine which does not require much aging, yet delivers intense, fat, viscous flavors. The best example locally is an extraordinary wine from one of Montepulciano's most famous producers, Emidio Pepe. His 1974 ($9.99) is a classic, rich, full-bodied wine -- a real treat.
Salice salentino (Apulia) -- A generous, medium-weight wine, this meaty, fruity wine often resembles a fine chianti from Tuscany, although its price is significantly less. It is a wine that should be drunk at an early age, usually within four to five years of the vintage. The current salice salentino on the market is a 1978 ($3.99) from Taurino, a sensational wine value.
Sizzano (Piedmont) -- This fast-maturing wine is also made from the nebbiolo grape, although there are often several other inferior grapes used in its blend. It can be one of Italy's finest red wine values when handled by a good producer. The 1975($4.99) from the Cantina Sociale (the current offering) that is on the market is an excellent value with spicy, earthy, ripe, fruity flavors and a savory, deep texture. It offers a most enticing alternative to barolo and barbaresco at less than half the price.
Teroldego rotaliano (Trentino) -- A difficult name for most Americans to pronounce, the wine deserves far greater attention than it receives. The top producer of this area, Barone de Cles, is represented locally with his 1977 ($5.79), which is a dark, ruby-colored wine with full intensity, plump, fat flavors and aging potential of five to eight years. According to Burton Anderson in his wonderful book, "Vino," the teroldego of Barone de Cles is reminiscent of the great French pomerol, Chateau Petrus. I am not sure that I agree with that comment, but the wine is a very fine value.
Tignanello (Tuscany) -- One of Italy's greatest wines, made from the sangiovese grape, tignanello is fuller-bodied, more tannic and richer than virtually all chiantis. The best example on the market is the 1977 Antinori ($9.95), which is a dense, rich wine with a complex, smooth bouquet of spicy oak, herbal scents and deep, rich fruit. It can age 10 to 15 years.
Venegazzu (Veneto) -- Venegazzu is terribly unknown, given its fine quality. The best representatative of this wine on the market is a wine produced by the Della Casa, a 1976 ($5.79) that is a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc. It is a dark ruby wine with a lovely, moderately intense fruity bouquet and supple, smooth flavors. It is not unlike good bordeaux. It is the wine made for drinking young and offers a lot of character and fruit. Wine Briefs
Congratulations to two local wineries that managed to win awards at the recent East Coast Wine Competition, sponsored by Wineries Unlimited. Byrd Vineyards in Frederick County, Maryland, and Meredyth Vineyards in Middleburg, Virginia, scored impressive triumphs with a number of their wines. Byrd Winery received more awards (eight) than any other East Coast winery in the vinifera and French hybrid categories. Byrd's 1979 and 1980 Cabernet Sauvignons were the only two wines made from that variety to be given awards. Meredyth (five awards) received a first prize (gold medal) for its sweet, late-harvest 1981 Seyval Blanc.