Wine is much more than something to sip, an accompaniment to a meal, or a gateway to an evening of merriment.
Great wine can transport you to places you’ve been – that enchanting pasta you can’t get out of your head or the calming view from the terrace of your favorite hotel – and places you want to be – that villa rental you’ve had your eye on or that bistecca fiorentina you can’t wait to sink your teeth into.
That’s why we like to keep a stock of excellent, hand-picked bottles of wine on hand. But if you’re anything like us, your stock may be hurting after the holidays. Over Christmas, we drained one of our favorites, a double magnum of Fanti’s Brunello di Montalcino, and can’t wait to stock up on some more.
With the new year come so many new reasons to celebrate, from the friendly rowdiness of a super bowl gathering (we’ve found that Italian wines work surprising well with chicken wings!) to the alluring calm of an evening together for Valentine’s day.
So here are seven amazing wines to top your table and fill your cellar, wine fridge, and belly:
Giulio Ferrari – Extra Brut
Though you’re not allowed to call it champagne outside France (in Italy it’s just metodo classico) Giulio Ferrari’s dry, crisp Extra Brut is our favorite Italian champagne. And it’s built to last! You can cellar this Extra Brut for up to twenty years. The highly flavored Extra Brut can range from brioche to chocolate to almond to cherries and cream depending on the year. As an added bonus, you don’t have to go to Trentino to try the whole Ferrari product line. The Lunelli family, owners of the Ferrari brand, recently started producing Montefalco wines just outside of Bevagna in Umbria and their sparkling wines are available for tasting.
Arnoldo Caprai Grecante Grechetto
When a renowned red wine producer in a primarily red-wine-producing appellation puts out a white wine, it’s worth a second glance. Grechetto has been grown in Italy since ancient times, but this Umbrian specialty is now regarded as one of Italy’s top white wine grapes. This excellent (and affordable) Grechetto bursts with fruit flavors and has a touch of sweetness that is well balanced by zesty crispness.
Antinori Cervaro della Sala
Antinori is literally a legend. The family has made wine for nearly 900 years and helped pioneer the Super-Tuscan revolution. But their Cervaro della Sala is, quite simply, one of the great white wines of Italy (perfect for cheering up a friend or brightening any occasion). Made in Umbria from 90% Chardonnay and 10% Grechetto grapes, the Cervaro seems light, but it’s built to age as well.
Ca Lojera Lugana
We first became acquainted with Ca Lojera because their owner is a huge opera fan whose stand at Vinitaly is decorated with a giant photo of Maria Callas, but we’ve put their Lugana into regular rotation during the summer because it’s a good everyday white. Produced on the southern shores of Lake Garda from 100% Trebbiano di Lugana grapes, the Lugana’s floral and fruity nose makes it a perfect pairing for a subtle pasta primo, such as the goat cheese and pumpkin ravioli we served it with for our first expat Thanksgiving dinner.
Podere la Cappella Corbezzolo
We also popped open a 2003 Corbezzolo for our first expat Thanksgiving, but unlike the light, crisp Lugana, this wine is meant for hearty food. We served it with mashed and roasted root vegetables that night. Podere la Cappella is a small vineyard that makes Chianti Classico in the bad years and standout Super Tuscans in the good years. Our clients love visiting this estate because it is the absolute embodiment of a hidden gem.
Allegrini Palazzo della Torre
We discovered this wine in 2006 on a visit to Verona in a simple osteria. (Where, by the way, Maria was a bit put off by the sheer amount of horse meat on the menu.) A blend of Corvina Veronese, Rondinella, and Sangiovese, the Palazzo della Torre stands out because 30% of its grapes are harvested late. This unusual technique lends a surprising sweetness to this red. You can find it readily in the U.S. It saved our dinner in Verona for Maria.
Fongoli Rosso di Montefalco Riserva
Image: © Concierge in Umbria
The Fongoli family is among our oldest friends in Italy. They are also one of the oldest commercial producers in Montefalco and we’ve spent many holidays and special occasions with them. It doesn’t hurt that they produce stellar wines. Their Rosso di Montefalco Riserva combines the best characteristics of Montepulciano, Merlot, and Sangiovese grapes, with depth and richness from Umbria’s darling, the Sagrantino grape, that has catapulted the region’s wines to global status.
Hard to Find, But Worth a Look
Castel del Monte Rosso Vigna Pedale Riserva 2008 – Torrevento
Some of our favorite dining experiences in Italy have been spent at our dear friend Salvatore Denaro’s highly-acclaimed, but now-shuttered Il Bacco Felice. While Denaro maintains close relations with many local wineries, the 2008 Castel del Monte Rosso Vigna Pedale Riserva Torrevento he served remains one of our favorite reds. This wine comes from Puglia, is affordable and was a staple at many a dinner party when we lived in Germany. It might not be available in the U.S., but grab it if you find it.
And if you’d like to visit vineyards, vintners, and their vintages in person to select you own house wine, let us know. Italy has so many hard-to-find-in-the-U.S. wines that can make your cellar stand out. And we know many of Italy’s most prestigious wine makers personally. It’s our pleasure (and theirs) to share these wines with you.