EXCITEMENT COMING FROM SOUTHERN ITALY
Southern Italy is the birthplace of Italian wine with a winemaking history going back more than 4000 years. The Greeks introduced many of the ancient grape varieties to these fertile sun-drenched lands, many of which (Greco) are still grown there today.
After WWII, poor economic conditions forced most growers into producing bulk wines which they sold to wealthier northern Italians and markets in France and Germany. But over the last 20 years, with the help of outside investments, winemakers have been able to shift their focus to producing high quality wines from local ancient varieties that are now recognized as some of Italy’s most impressive wines that are full of character, and successfully competing with the acclaimed wines from the north.
We all think of Southern Italy as being hot, with the warm Mediterranean climate as the driving factor in the styles of wines being produced there. But many of the most exciting wines coming out of Southern Italy are influenced more by the soil composition, vineyard location and dramatic temperature shifts from day to night rather than the hot sunny climate.
Some of the most elegant and complex wines come from the cooler, higher elevation vineyards on the rolling hills at the base of the Apennine Mountains, or on the steep volcanic slopes of Mt Etna and Mt Vulture. Those volcanoes produced miles of volcanic soils which add intense minerality, depth and structure to these unique wines.
Pair all these attributes with modern winemaking, and it’s no wonder there are so many new high-quality wines being discovered each year.
Here are wines I’m particularly excited about this summer, and some of my favorites that stun me with their beauty year after year.
Greco is an ancient white grape variety, which as the name implies, is thought to be brought to Italy by the Greeks. Greco di Tufo is the name for Greco wines produced in the hilly inland town of Tufo which is named for its tuff volcanic soils. Greco di Tufo is considered to be one of Southern Italy’s most noble white wines as the cool climate and volcanic soils produce medium bodied Greco wines with intense aromatics, bright acidity and zippy minerality. Benito Ferrara’s Greco di Tufo is often hailed as one of the best white wines in all of Italy. The nose is intense with white flowers and honeysuckle and the medium bodied wine is bold with citrus fruits, white peaches and a hint of green almond. Bright acidity and flinty minerality tame the bold fruit keeping it inviting and refreshing. Light up the grill and get some calamari and shrimp grilling to pair with this beauty!
$31.99 per bottle
What an amazing value this bold wine is! From the volcanic soils of Mt Vulture in Basilicata, Verbo is an opulent and rich red wine with ripe dark red and black fruits with hints of baking spices and cocoa. A great wine for cold winter nights and a nice meat stew or roast.
$18.99 per bottle
The Colosi family produces a large range of great Sicilian wines but this entry level red blend stands out as one of their great value wines. A blend of 70% Syrah and 30% Nerello Mascalese, this medium bodied wine is smooth with black cherry fruits and hints of pepper. It's fresh and easy making it great for most weeknight dinners.
$9.99 per bottle
Barone di Villagrande has some of the oldest vineyards on Mt Etna and is still run by the 10th generation family members. Their 18 hectares of vineyards are surrounded by chestnut trees which they still use, in the traditional way, to barrell age their wines. The estate’s Etna Rosso is a stunning example of the elegant and finissed wines coming from this unique appellation. Light to medium bodied, complex with beautiful aromas of red fruits with hints of earth, on the palate it offers dried fruits, underbrush and notes of smoke from the volcanic soils.
$22.99 per bottle
Frappato is a fun, fruity red wine that is produced in the Vittoria region of southeast Sicily. The Frappato grape produces light bodied, highly aromatic and fresh wines with bright strawberry, raspberry and cherry fruit flavors. Bortolone’s Frappato is pure enjoyment in a bottle. It’s young and fresh with a touch of mild cranberry flavor to balance the ripe berry fruits. Sicilians drink Frappato with seafood but this versatile red wine is great for a wide variety of foods and can be served with a slight chill. Great for picnics!
$18.99 per bottle
Producer notes: Tenuta delle Terre Nere Etna Bianco is a pale yellow color. The nose is floral and reminiscent of linden blooms. The palate is fresh and salty, with a mineral essence. Pair this wine with light pasta dishes, fish, and white meats.
$25.99 per bottle
James Suckling 94pts: The purity of fruit is so impressive here with black cherry and dried strawberry to the ash and black-tea undertones. It’s medium to full body with firm, tight tannins and a crisp finish. Floral and some citrus-zest highlights to this. From organically grown grapes. Drink or hold.
$22.99 per bottle
Gallura is the region at the northern most tip of Sardinia, and is known for producing the best Vermentino grown in granite soils. Piero Mancini delivers exactly that. It’s one of the best Vermentino wines I’ve ever had. It’s bright and refreshing and perfectly balanced with refreshing acidity, fruity richness and the classic herbaceous undertones. This delicious dry white is perfect for seafood but has enough body to handle white meats and aged cheeses.-
$14.99 per bottle
This Cannonau Riserva is bold, dark and rich wine with plenty of earthy undertones and the classic herbal notes that only Sardinian grenache expresses.
$19.99 per bottle