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