New Englanders recently experienced their first inkling of the cool, rainy raw weather that precedes winter, its gun-metal skies and snowy forecasts. Raking leaves and closing up the garden, I caught a chill from the wind and showers that somehow penetrated my rain gear and knifed right to the bone. Feverish for a few days, I yearned for big, steaming bowls of pasta fagioli and beef stew. It revived memories of childhood days growing up in Providence. My mother used to run the hot water in the bathroom sink, drop in a glob of Vick’s Vapor Rub, and hold us up over the bowl, heads down, breathing in the menthol haze to relieve our sniffles and congestion. It worked then and probably would today. However, at my goldening age, I prefer the savory aromas and tastes of Italian bean soup with crumbled pieces of pancetta and porchetta to clear my head.
Which brings me to several Italian wines of winter that I’m stocking up on to warm my heart and belly from December to March.
Il Borro Toscana IGT 2015, $50 (SRP) – An elegant, highly extracted Super Tuscan blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and syrah to pair with thick, hearty soups, braised short ribs and osso Bucco. Il Borro features a plethora of dried earth spices – clove, sage – red berries, supple tannins, and a zesty, citrus finish. Think fireside dining although one sip can transport a reflective drinker to the verdant vineyards of the Valdarno hills near Arezzo where the grapes are grown. Il Borro estate, once a medieval fortress, dates back to the 11th century. For years it was in ruins until acquired in 1993 by Ferruccio Ferragamo, son of the famous fashion legend. Ferruccio restored the property to its spectacular glory and instituted modern wine-making methods. His son, Salvatore, carries on the work which includes a 100 percent conversion to biodynamic farming. Total Wine is selling Il Borro for $43.99.
Rigoleto Montecucco Rosso DOC 2016, $20 – Maria Iris Bertarelli and Claudio Tipa purchased the Colle Massari farmstead near Mount Amiata in 1998 and produced their first vintage in 2000. Fourteen years later, Gambero Rosso named the winery “Cellar of the Year” for its outstanding rustic wines. Sangiovese (70 percent) dominates the light-bodied blend, which includes Ciliegiolo and Montepulciano. This enticing black cherry, peppery wine picks up traces of thyme and tobacco smoke and is pairs nicely with antipasti, pasta with rich tomato sauces, pizza and grilled fish. Winebow is the importer for this new wine to the New England maket.
Marina Cvetic Montepulciano d’Abuzzo Riserva DOC 2016, $28.99 – This luscious, chewy, deep ruby San Martino Rosso is astonishing in aromas (cinnamon, violets, subtle oak, sweet cherry) and concentrated flavors (black cherry, plum) that never fade. Warm and supple on the palate, the high alcohol (14.5%) never intrudes on the ripe fruit and acidic balance. It’s divine with braised short ribs, beef and/or lamb stew, and Bolognese pasta. If you can’t wait for the new release to arrive, grab the equally fine 2015 on sale in New Hampshire and Greater Boston for $16.99 and $19.99, respectively.
Carpineto Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva 2011, Tuscany, $25.99 – I retrieved a bottle from the cellar to compare with the recently purchased 2015 vintage, and it’s amazing how time can elevate a wine’s character. Not to be confused with the above native grape and wine from Abruzzo, VNM is 70% sangiovese (Prugnolo Gentile clone) and canaiolo. Wine Spectator ranked the 2011 at No. 78 on its Top 100 of 2016 List with a 93-point score. You’ll rarely taste a sleek, polished, powerful and flavor-packed wine like this for the price. While still evolving with smoky, black fruit and cola attributes, it’s ready for big game meats like venison and wild boar (although it’s so smooth I’m considering it for turkey dinner). As for the 2015 vintage ($24.99), it’s a beautiful baby destined to become queen of the prom.
Deal of the Week: Kirkland Signature Tawney Port (10 Years Old) just arrived at Costco stores from Portugal for $15 a bottle. This delicious, sumptuous port is loaded with nutty, caramel and dried orange fruit flavors. Hurry though because deal won’t last.