Buys $25 and under, Tastings

Italian Wines off the Beaten Path

Our last wine journey to Italy was in the year 2018 BC (Before Covid). We spent a very happy week visiting wineries in Puglia, taking a deep dive into lesser-known [to us] red grapes like Aglianico, Susumaniello, and Negroamara and the white grapes Verdeca and Fiano. So, when the Commonwealth Wine School announced a 90-minute virtual wine tasting with “Italian Wines Off the Beaten Path,” we beat a path to its door.

Click to enlarge map

The six wine regions were Trentino-Alto Adige; Valle D’Aosta; Le Marche; Basilicata; Sardegna; Etna

The fun began when we picked up the tasting kit from Commonwealth Wine School’s digs in Cambridge. The six little bottles nestled in a box at first seemed awfully small for a proper tasting but their size turned out to be just about right for two people to have 3-4 tastes of each wine. Anyone looking to get drunk during this tasting probably took a wrong turn on the way to the wine bar. Led by wine maven Erika Frey (Winestone, Chestnut Hill, MA) we sampled three white wines and three reds, most made from grapes we were unfamiliar with and hailing from Italian wine regions we knew nothing about. Goodbye Tuscany and Umbria, hello Le Marche, Basilicata, and Valle D’Aosta.

Of the six wines we tasted, one made it to VinoDuo’s “We’d buy this” list and two landed on the “Yup, we’d drink this if someone was pouring” list. Sampling wines off the beaten path is always a crap shoot. The fun comes from discovering new regions of Italy, new varietals, alternative names for already familiar grapes and, ideally, new wineries to visit once Covid-19 is a distant memory.

Best in Show: Pala 2018 Cannonau “I Fiori             $24
Grape variety  Cannonau [aka Grenache]
Region             Sardinia

Lisa is not a reliable red wine drinker but her notes on this deep ruby red charmer read, “the most beautiful aroma ever!” It was a mélange of scents, including vanilla, tobacco, and menthol. Sometimes, a beautiful nose leads to a disappointing payoff, but in this case, the taste was quite good; a light, fresh summer red with a smooth finish. Pala is a third-generation family winery in Sardinia, producing more than a dozen wines, including two from the Cannonau grape, which is simply the Sardinian word for Grenache. Dry and fruit-forward, the winemaker suggests pairing it it with pork, chicken and lean red meats and medium-seasoned cheeses.

Grifalco 2017 “Gricos” Aglianico del Vulture            $20
Grape variety  Aglianico
Region             Basilicata/Southwest Italy

Gricos is Grefalco’s everyday ”barbecue wine.” Sourcing Aglianico—one of Gary’s preferred grapes—from four organically farmed vineyards, the wine has a deep, dark black cherry color with floral and some mineral aromas. Made in the more fruit-forward “new world” style, it tastes of crisp red fruit with a hint of pepper. We paired Gricos with savory Pecorino-Romano cheese, which was an excellent match.

Garofoli 2016 Verdicchio del Castelli di Jesi “Podium”                    $25
Grape variety   Verdicchio
Region              Le Marche/Central Italy, along the Adriatic coast

The Garafoli “Podium” was a pleasure to look at, sniff, and enjoy. A beautiful golden color, we picked up citrus, grass, and honey on the nose (sounds awful; tastes great). The taste is soft, almost creamy (but not like those overly buttery California Chardonnays) with plenty of pear and apple flavors. This is not a chug-on-the-beach or “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere” wine. It needs food, and the Garofoli held up well to Gary’s house-made eggplant parm.

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