Frescobaldi Nipozzano Chianti Rufina Riserva 2005

First off all, let me say thank you to my in-laws for this bottle; my family has always had an informal gift-giving rule that goes something like this: “if you can’t eat or drink it, don’t give it.” I’ve probably bought no more than a case of Italian wine in my entire life, so this represents a lovely departure from the norm for me.Being totally unfamiliar with Italian wines, I had to cheat and look this up: this is sangiovese (OK, I knew that much), but with a fruit salad of other stuff thrown in and making up 10% of the blend (malvasia nera, colorino, and a couple of others).Being only marginally familiar with sangiovese in general – notably through encounters with Penfolds and Bonny Doon wines labeled as such – I wasn’t really expected this wine to smell like it does. It doesn’t smell like the odd, anchovy-esque fruit bomb I usually associate with this grape; instead, it smells deathly serious, like some movie prop “Italian wine” served by an extra from Goodfellas. It smells like smoked meats drying in a strawberry jam factory, warm wooden floors and sawdust below, hazy springtime air blowing in through a window. Frankly, it smells like it’s spent a fair amount of time in barrel; what fruit there is seems well hidden behind casky support.It’s surprising to taste the wine; yes, it’s every bit as tannic as I (stereotypically) expect from an Italian red – although it’s not rustically so, it is a bit off-putting – but there’s pretty much a totally out of control fruit orgy going on here as well. Oh my. This stuff is far from demure; although there is just a bit of the smoked fish note I usually expect from sangiovese, it’s decidedly overridden by suggestions of plum tartlets and floral honey. The finish last for quite some time; it reminds me of the smell you get when you find a pawn shop humidor that hasn’t been used in a decade: dusty, faintly tobacco, and softly wooden.On the whole, I suppose what you have here is an Old World wine that’s been made New World enough to be acceptable to a non-Italian audience; yes, there are still tannins and wonderful woody notes from barrel age and quality cooperage, but there’s also a heart of very ripe, sunny Tuscan fruit that should win over anyone who’s initially a bit put off by the somewhat severe nose. All in all, this is a delicious drink and a not very subtle remind that I am course missing out on a lot of quality drinking by never, ever remembering to buy Italian wines. Mea maxima culpa, indeed.Marchesi di Frescobaldi
Price: $20
Closure: Cork

Biondi-Santi Rosato di Toscana 2006

Thanks to a good friend, this bottle showed up in my house last night. As it was imported sub rosa, it’s difficult for me to tell what kind of wine this is, who produced it, you name it – the label is confused and resembles a Mexican lottery card more than it does anything else. I gather – thanks to Google – that this is some kind of Brunello di Montalcino, or maybe not: the producer’s Web site seems to indicate that they invented that DOCG or something, but who knows?Anyhow, on to the wine itself. The color’s beautiful – basically somewhere between blood orange and watermelon. Better yet, it doesn’t have the look of a wine that’s been filtered to death; it’s a bit hazy, which is appealing (to me, at least).On the nose there’s a huge whack of sulfuric acid: this positively reeks of the stuff. Ouch. You want the smell of the cold country? Well, there you go. Sadly, it’s nearly impossible to get beyond that sulfur smell – is there a trick to this? Just drink it?As far as drinking it, it doesn’t taste like “wine” at all to me, but rather like some kind of very low alcohol ápertif based on grapefruit rind with a pepper edge to it. Curious! If New World pink wines are all about little red fruits, and if French pink wines are all about strawberries and herbs, then this Italian wine is all about bitter citrus. It was a shock at first, but it’s growing on me.Texturally, the wine is fascinating, exhibiting a kind of creaminess that surprises me. The acidity, present as you’d expect for an Italian wine, is bright and perfectly balanced against the fruit, and it all ends on a long, smooth note of creamy strawberrie and lemon curd with that same bitter edge to it. All in all, a remarkable wine.Franco Biondi Santi
Price: €36
Closure: Cork

Le Rocche del Falletto di Serralunga d' Alba Barolo 1999

This bottle is a celebration: Mark and John, old friends of mine, signed a lease for an apartment in San Diego this afternoon, which means they’ll be leaving their home in Omaha in two weeks and moving in down the block from us. Fans of Italian wines that they are, they gave us this bottle many years ago – and now it’s time to share it back and celebrate their impending move.

First of all, I have no idea if I’ve titled this entry correctly. I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer when it comes to Italian wines, so I don’t know if I should simply say “Falletto Barolo” and leave it at that – or write out everything that’s on the label that doesn’t seem like a legal term. (Google tells me that “Giacosa Barolo Falletto” might be accurate as well.) I’m even so clueless that I had to ask Mark to remind me what grape is used in a Barolo. (Thanks, Mark!)

Anyhow: on to the wine. There was a bloom of fragrance released into the room immediately upon removing the cork (which, of course, was an ultralong, very healthy looking one). In the glass, it’s obviously an older wine at this point, smelling something like Hansen’s organic cola, albeit with notes of molasses, dark chocolate, and dried herbs. There’s also something subtly citrus – it reminds me (almost) of dried orange peel and thyme.

Tannins don’t appear to be fully resolved yet, which is surprising at first, but oh, what a lovely texture this wine has – it’s medium-bodied, smooth, almost slippery, but with a definite undercurrent of heavyweight tannin. The overall effect is very surprising to me: this doesn’t even remotely remind me of anything I’ve encountered before, which is probably not surprising given my limited exposure to Italian wines at all. There’s sort of a dried-cherry note here, but on the whole the fruit flavors, such as they are, are decidedly backgrounded in favor of other things, none of which I feel well equipped to describe. The overall effect is somewhat disorienting: it’s more reminiscent of a Hungarian herbal liqueur than what I know as “wine.” To be honest, the intense texturality of it throws me as well: it’s impossible to drink this wine and note be acutely aware of the tannins present, which suggests to me that it might be better to wait another ten years before having a whack at it.

Meanwhile, Mark’s just reheated some Chicago style pizza from Lefty’s, which might work extremely well with this; the tannins really seem to be demanding some kind of meat to counterbalance them. “Yum,” Mark just said, and I think the look on his face sums it up perfectly. According to Mark, the tannins really complement the meat on the pizza, and the combination is what makes this wine work so well for him.

Sadly, I overindulged at dinner earlier on, so I can’t really manage trying some with the pizza, but I’m finding the style more and more interesting the longer I spend with it. The finish certainly does stick around for a couple of minutes, and it reminds me, oddly enough, of something like a wassail bowl: citrus notes hovering around the edge of something sweetly dark.

If anything, this wine seems to be utterly itself, which is a rare enough thing. I fear I’m not well situated to say much more about it, though, given that I’m not knowledgeable about or experienced with Italian wines – and I’m also far to used to drinking wines on their own (rather than with food) to fully appreciate the style, as it really isn’t at all designed to be drunk on its own. Ultimately, though, the true mark of friendship is sharing things that you enjoy with your mates even if they’re not quite up to the task of appreciating it, and for that I am deeply, deeply grateful.

Welcome to San Diego, Mark and John!

Price: $NA
Closure: Cork

Gunn Estate Pinot Gris 2007

Time for an experiment. I’m not afraid of wine made for the price conscious consumer, perhaps as much out of necessity as anything else. But I tend to stick with tried and true favourites; those acknowledged bargains that, in terms of quality, consistently sit above their price points. I also tend to shop in the $15-20 price range for my everyday wines. Habit can mask new opportunities, so this evening the other half and I decided to visit our local 1st Murphy and purchase one dozen bottles, the total of which was not to exceed $120.

J. Hofstätter Lagrein 2005

The distinct sourness on the nose here is your first indication that this isn’t a New World wine. The smoke and minerals on the nose are appetizing; the wine is a lovely, dark, inky color and offers up somewhat jammy blackberry fruit as well. Somewhat alarmingly, there also appears to be a fair amount of residual sulfur dioxide that sneaks in from time to time; it’s kind of an off note, but it isn’t too prominent and fades into the background easily enough.In the mouth, the wine seems a bit thin… OK, compared to California red wine, it is perhaps a bit thin, but this is more properly described as elegant. There’s a real fullness of fruit here along with a sort of menthol edge, fading out into a gentle finish with hints of pine resin, peppercorn, and cedar. The sourness makes a return as well, but it’s well integrated into the overall line here. The softness of the finish is also a bit surprising, but also apparently quite typical for this grape variety (I had to look it up; this is the first lagrein I’ve ever tasted).Oddly enough, this wine tastes green to me; if most red wines are red, this one is somehow green. It’s not a capsicum/bell pepper green, but rather woodruff or basil. It’s intriguing and a welcome change from your ordinary Friday night bottle of wine.J. HofstätterPrice: US $16.95Closure: CorkDate tasted: April 2008

Prunotto Barbera D'Alba 2005

A New World style from the Old World.

A truly inviting nose of dark berry fruits, bramble/undergrowth, some sweet spices and noticeable vanillin oak. Smooth, quite seamless, not overly complex. The entry and middle palate are again smooth, showing the same mix of flavours within a body of medium weight. There’s no angularity here; no prominent acidity, no premature raspy tannins. Nothing, in fact, to dominate the round, pleasant fruit and oak flavours. Flavours are perhaps a little light on in the intensity stakes, which in a sense is appropriate for the wine’s easy going structure. Finish is soft and of reasonable length. Despite being a bit light on, the wine does have a nice sense of balance.

I had this with pasta and goat ragu and, whilst the wine was generally a good match (the fruit sweetness in particular enhanced the sweet sauce), I would have preferred something with more structure.

Price: $A25
Closure: Cork
Date tasted: November 2007

Kellerei Cantina Terlan Terlaner 2006

This wine is a blend of 60% Pinot Blanc, 15% Sauvignon Blanc and 25% Chardonnay, from the Alto Adige region of Italy. Unusual blend from an Australian perspective. Fermented in stainless steel and left on lees for six months, but with no lees stirring.

I served this a bit cold, so the nose wasn’t really able to express much when first poured. After some time in glass, the wine started to give off attractive, ripe fruit aromas and yeasty notes. The real action, though, is on the palate.

The wine’s entry is immediate and generously delivers bright flavours to the tongue, along with a nice dose of lively acidity. The middle palate sings with tasty fruit — citrus peel and pineapple and an almost overripe muskiness — underpinned and driven by really lovely acidity. Flavours drop off perhaps a little precipitously towards the after palate, but not entirely, so that a subtle echo of the wine’s flavour profile continues to ride the wine’s acid structure for a good amount of time on the finish.

I must say, I’m attracted to this wine very much. It’s not a wine of great sophistication, but it is generous and has a structure that is entirely complimentary to its flavour profile. Recommended.

Kellerei Cantina Terlan
Price: $A29
Closure: Cork
Date tasted: November 2007

Ogio Primitivo 2006

At first smell, this wine offered up sour black cherries and shoe leather, with a very small amount of mousiness (or is that honeysuckle?). Dark, dark purplish red in color, the wine is surprisingly light in the mouth for a Zinfandel, with simple black cherry fruit complicated by that same slightly off-putting animalistic character reminiscent of Brettanomyces (but is it? I can’t really tell). It seems sweeter than most zinfandels I’ve had before and definitely tends towards flabbiness. The finish is surprisingly long, but not particularly complex, ending on a sweet, raspberry Lip Smacker note. There’s a potentially appetizing sourness about this wine that seems distinctly Italian, but on the whole the sameness of every sip quickly grows tiresome.

Ogio (but really fresh&easy)
Price: US $3.99
Closure: Stelvin
Date tasted: November 2007

I was originally going to allow my native Californian out to whinge at great length about the, ahem, chutzpah of importing Italian zinfandel to California of all places given our state’s long history of quality Zinfandel wine production – and then I double-checked my receipt for this wine and dropped the idea. $3.99? Never mind. The best California zinfandel I’ve had in this price range (Three Thieves) ran $10 per liter, so this is a steal. It’s perhaps not correct (in that it’s frankly too sweet), but it has definite potential as an easy drinking party wine. Caution: may result in unintended pregnancy.