Many of the holidays of December — Hannukah, Advent, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year’s Eve (and maybe others) — have historical, cultural or religious meaning and associated rituals. They all have traditional foods and celebrations ... and accompanying wine. This year, for the wine, I am looking to Italy for some of its food friendly and good value wines.
Known for its delightful fizziness, touch of sweetness, and low alcohol content (about 6% ABV), Moscato is an incredibly versatile crowd pleaser. It is enjoyed as an aperitif, paired with spicy food, and enhances desserts. Piedmont’s Moscato d’Asti is the best. Taste what I mean with the peach and apricot of the 2019 Vietti ($16) and the honeyed 2019 Marchesi di Grésy “La Serra” ($17). Even less expensive, the juicy citrus of the 2020 Centorri Moscato di Pavia ($10) from grapes sourced in the Lombardy region, not far from Asti.
In the Veneto, the indigenous corvina variety (often combined with small amounts of local grapes rondinella, corvinone and molinara) is used to make Valpolicella, a light, easy drink. Try it chilled. I recently enjoyed these from two benchmark Veneto producers. The 2017 Zenato Classico Superiore ($17) is soft and supple, bright and refreshing. The 2019 Tenuta Sant’ Antonio “Nanfrè” ($15) is a lighter, more vibrant style with lively cherry fruit.
A small, little known subregion in the Tuscan Maremma, Montecucco is a leader in sustainable viticulture and a good alternative to Chianti. Most grapes (predominantly sangiovese) are certified organic, as with the 2018 Le Pianore “Tiniatus” ($18), which is pleasantly dry and persistent with fresh tannins.
The most well-known wine produced in Abruzzo, Montepuciano d’Abruzzo is an ideal everyday wine and good value. The montepulciano grape is planted throughout central Italy but is most prominent in Abruzzo. It tends to be robust, with ripe fruit, powerful tannins, and hints of spice, pepper and earth.
Of the wines in my tasting, I preferred the 2018 Illuminati “Riparosso” ($18) single vineyard for its juicy red fruits, savory notes and elegant structure. The 2018 La Valentina ($15) was fruitful and spicy with a solid backbone. The 2016 Valori “Bio” ($17) nicely displayed its organically grown grapes with earthy freshness. The 2016 Feuduccio Santa Maria d’Orni “Fonte Venna” ($16) offered darker fruit and a softer palate.
Like wines made with zinfandel? Did you know it is a relative of primitivo from Puglia in Italy’s heel? The grape was brought to Southern Italy from Croatia in the 1700s and has thrived in the warm vineyards of Salento ever since. The Masseria Li Veli “Orion” (2019, $15) is exuberant and lightly spicy and one of my favorites.