'Tis the season for the taste of Italy

Here is its the last week in August, the beginning of the end of summer. The backyard birch tree is shedding its leaves and the dogwood is signalng a color change that makes me realize I’m a year older too. Depressed? Not really.

I arrived home from Saratoga to find the September issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine on my desk.

The lead headline gave me a new thrill after watching my horses fade in the stretch: “140 reviews of 2009 Barbaresco and 2008 Barolo.”

Ah, Italian wines. Just the thought of them takes me back to my childhood growing up in Providence where la famiglia bought grapes at the open-air market in the downtown and crushed them in the basement “wine cellar.” Uncle Frankie, who weighed over 300 pounds, had the best feet in the business for slamming juice out of the grape skins. He was also an experimenter. He’d mix and match the grapes just like the garigistas do today.

As for the wine, I guess it was OK. I was too young to drink it — except for a taste at Sunday dinner — but everyone seemed to enjoy it, judging from the laughter that ensued when Uncle Louie, reaching his two glass limit, swooned and swayed to my parents’ bedroom and just plopped down for a nap.

Uncle Frankie died 45 years ago in the prime of his life. He was a big bear of a man with a big heart. If he had lived, he’d probably look a lot like Francis Ford Coppola, the director of one of the greatest movies ever made, The Godfather. Coppola is the owner of the Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Napa Valley and producer of some very good wines. His picture is on the WE’s cover.

So what does this have to do with wine?

The new wines arriving from Sicily are particularly intriguing, inexpensive and mouth-watering. I’ve tried two that stand out: 2010 Stemmari Pinot Noir and Stemmari Nero D’Avola.

The Stemmari Pinot Noir is lighter colored in the glass than most others I’ve tried.

Normally, I look for a heavier pinot, like the Kathy Hall Talbott Pinot Noir or Cambria Vineyards, both from the West Coast. I like it with veal and burgers off the grill or a nice blackened salmon dish. I was ecstatic to find the Sicilian pinot to be filled with delightful cherry and strawberry flavors. There was also a hint of orange on the palate, which seems to be a Stemmari soil trademark. I picked up two bottles for $15.98 total, or $7.99 each.

You can find the Stemmari brand in most local wine stores.

My second good buy is the Stemmari Nero D’Avola, also selling for $7.99 a bottle. The Nero D’Avola grape is bold, with a big, dry, berry taste. You can sense the old world minerality in the warmness on the tongue. It is pleasant and pairs well with pasta, pizza and meat sauces.

Three other Italian wines that were purchased but I’ve yet to uncork are: Corvo Red from Sicily, a nice table wine; Villa Pozzi Nero D’Avola from Sicily; and a Veneto Pinot Noir by Angelini. They all were on sale in the $10-$13 range.

It’s always good to try a few bottles of something new. If you like them, you should stock up these everyday drinking wines. You’ll save a lot of money in the long run and surprise dinner guests with a splendid taste of Italy.

Ah, Italian wines. Just the thought of them takes me back to my childhood growing up in Providence where la famiglia bought grapes at the open-air market in the downtown and crushed them in the basement “wine cellar.”

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