Italian wines at any price point

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      What a long, long trip it’s been from the days of the straw-clad fiascos of Chianti to the current rash of $500 Nebbiolos. In the old days, those Chiantis cost, what, $3.99? Today, they run the spread from $13.99 to $59.90—and no straw, either.

      These days, we have so many Italian specialties available—seven pages’ worth, all laid out according to region and type in the B.C. Liquor Stores’ guide. That’s second only to France, at 14 pages.

      Today, a random sampling: a couple of the many sparklers that have begun crowding the shelves—over 20—a handful of whites, and a couple of best-buy reds.

      Prosecco is Italy’s “welcome wine”, as much a social phenomenon as anything. It’s the wine for which the ubiquitous Italian toast “Cin cin” was made: fresh, easy bubbles; clean finish; let’s have another. Does yeoperson’s duty with any and all food too.

      Mionetto Pergolo Prosecco n/v ($14.99)
      Great value for everyday toasting and the mid-week dinner table. Bracing, bright, fresh, and bursting with flavour; definitely the one for celebrations where you need a case or two.

      Primo V Prosecco (Mevushal Kosher) n/v ($22.99)
      As far as I can determine, this is the single kosher sparkler in the system at the moment. It’s been a flavour favourite since we popped the first cork, and it continues to fuel dinners and parties in my neighbourhood. Full flavour, fragrant aromas, tiny bubbles. But you may have to hunt for it—it’s of “limited availability”.

      Casal Thaulero Osco Pinot Grigio 2008 ($11.99)
      Versatile, all-around apéritif wine that loves rich risotto with asparagus and chanterelles, creamy pasta, vitello tonnato if you can find someone who serves it (try CinCin on Robson), goat cheese with red onion and tomato, squash soups, even artichokes. The price is the best part, and one can only hope they can hold it where it is.

      Inycon Fiano Bianco Sicilia 2009 ($13.99)
      More Sicilian wines of both official colours are finding their way into our market, which is just fine for my dinner table. This one is fresh and full, welcomes a good chill, and then does handy duty with fennel-jicama salad and chicken livers seared with fresh sage and lemon, maybe a splash of Marsala. A nice new discovery.

      Bersano Piemonte Cortese 2008 ($15.99)
      Very dry, making it the perfect foil for rich pastas featuring fish, quiches and frittatas, those lovely lunchtime fontina cheese and black truffle pizzas at MARKET in the Shangri-La, risotto with prawns, deep-fried sage leaves with anchovies, or a good muffuletta sandwich. Light and sippable. Don’t serve it too cold, or you’ll bruise the delicacy of the fruit.

      MASI Masianco Pinot Grigio & Verduzzo 2008 ($17.99)
      The label identifies it as a “Super Venetian” (echoing the wealth of Super Tuscans now on the market) and goes on to call it “the most ”˜up to date’ Italian wine”, whatever that means. Not finished kvetching yet—the wretched white plastic cork should be consigned to the scrap heap; from this innovator, couldn’t we expect a more user-friendly screw cap? That being said, this is a truly brilliant blend and a fantastic food wine—chicken, fish, appies, veggies, anything. Green-fresh, big fruit, virtually no sweetness, a totally integrated, harmonious white blend that tops the list. If they could ever see their way clear to putting it on sale, a few bucks lower, I’d be getting my case at once.

      Marotti Campi Luzano Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi 2008 ($19.99)
      Straw-coloured and quite robust, I’d pour this as an apéritif wine. Good weight and balance, a rich finish, mellow on the palate.

      Bastianich Sauvignon B 2009 ($19.99) This Friulian is a bit more viscous than most of the kiwis, which isn’t a bad thing: fuller, broader, and richer, resulting in a very nice, versatile Sauvignon that has all the harsh edges polished off. Another one for solo sipping as well as a vast variety of food.

      Trentacinquesimo Parallelo Primitivo del Salento 2009 ($9.99)
      This was one of last year’s best buys—and it still is. Slightly renamed, you’ll doubtless recognize the label. Yes, you can have a $10 table wine that smacks the lips and fuels the dinner. And if you don’t want to wrestle with trentacinquesimo parallelo, it simply means 35th Parallel. What a treat: soft, cherry-fruited, full and undemanding, sure is fine for the price—as before, it may well be the best red wine buy in B.C. Pizza, ribs, burgers, spaghetti and meatballs, you know what you want with this.

      Ciao Organic Sangiovese n/v ($14.99 for a one-litre Tetra Pak)
      First came Si, now Ciao. What next—Prego and Grazie? They probably already exist. The claim here is that this is the only certified-organic Tetra Pak in B.C.; I can find no evidence to disprove it. Soft and full, maybe a little pruney, it fills the bill for hearty food and travels so well—in the backpack, on the boat, wherever, whenever. Versatile and friendly any time of the day.