Good wine makes good blood - so the Italian proverb goes. Every ‘nonno’ in Italy will swear that a glass of wine with dinner helps keep you healthy. For me personally, Italy is a special place; a country I have frequented many times and return to whenever I’m craving a slightly slower pace of life. As a matter of fact, it was in a little bar in Venice that I first drank a glass of wine that knocked me off my feet.
Every wine lover has a story about the first glass that started it all for them. For me it was in this backstreet wine bar, with bottles covering the walls and with an Einstein-looking owner that I drank a glass of wine that just made my heart skip a beat. I have searched high and low for that wine ever since, but never have been able to get my hands on it. Besides, perhaps it was the night and the place that intensified the experience. Isn’t that, after all, what makes wine special? Yes, it’s the quality of the glass, and yes it’s the journey the wine undertakes from production to consumption, but above all it’s the memories, the setting, the stories that wine facilitates that make it really special. That bottle of Sangiovese will stay with me for a long time, and is perhaps what first sparked my endless curiosity.
Before we travel to Italy for our reds this week, we will make a quick pitstop in Portugal, another place I hold near and dear.
This refreshing white comes to us from the sometimes overlooked wine region of Lisbon, Portugal. There are countless varietals and regions in Portugal offering incredible value, but Lisbon often lies in the shadow of more famous wine regions such as the Douro, Daō and Vinho Verde. Lisbon is known for many other things, so perhaps its wine prowess gets lost by the wayside. When we sampled it, this wine surprised us - in the best way possible. The cooling influence from the Atlantic Ocean creates a lovely lift in the wine and ensures its fresh acidity is retained. Meanwhile the gentle slopes with southerly exposure on which these vines are planted, promote healthy ripening and the development of complex flavors. The minerality is what makes this wine truly special - subtle notes of flint (almost as if a match was struck in the glass), combine effortlessly with green apple, anise, wet stone and lovely citrus fruits. This wine is shy at first, so be sure to give it some time in the glass to open up. Its flavors are rich enough to pair with a variety of foods, but parchment-roasted halibut with thyme and lemon flesh is always a great place to start.
On to our next wines. Sangiovese the grape and Italy the region.
This is the new vintage of a wine we featured last year from Emilia-Romagna, a large region stretching across Italy, just north of Florence. This is also the region that brings us the familiar favorite Parmigiano-Reggiano, a slice of which will pair very well with this lovely wine. Chiara Condello farms her 10 acres of Sangiovese grapes organically on the foothills of the Apennine Mountains. After working with her father on his winemaking estate, Chiara eventually felt called to start her own project and has since expanded to produce a variety of wines. Her Predappio Sangiovese 2019 features intense, perfumed notes of blackberries and red cherries, violets, with wild herbs and cranberries in the finish, and a great earthiness. The wine is highly structured but approachable, with refined tannins and a warming quality about it. Pair this with a deconstructed bolognese - seared flank steak with garlic and rosemary, caramelized tomatoes and pasta.
Down to Montalcino, Tuscany we go, to the south and west of Romagna. While many Brunello di Montalcino wines are famous the world over, this region is also home to several small estates that produce wines of great value and incredible quality. San Carlo is a small producer located on the southwest side of Montalcino. This is where Fulvio Marcucci purchased some 25 acres of land back in the 1960s. Today, Fulvio’s granddaughter, Gemma, crafts stunning wines in this amphitheater of land surrounded by wild forests. Most of the family’s 25 acres are dedicated to olive trees and forests, while vineyards comprise only 7 acres of the property. We count ourselves lucky to get our hands on a limited number of bottles. This wine is full of ripe plums, concentrated red fruits, smoke, tobacco and leather and has a very long finish. Complex and elegant, this is my kind of wine and I could savor the bottle for days...