Valentine’s Day strikes many of us as a Hallmark holiday, not that there’s anything wrong with celebrating love.
But here’s something truly, deeply, innately romantic: Italy.
Its physical beauty and dreamy food play major roles in this association. Its lovely language provides the most evocative of words for love, amore.
Somehow, too, its wine brings out amore. So what better way to celebrate the passion of St. Valentine’s than with vino.
Here, then are three grapes — one each from northern, central and southern Italy — that fit perfectly with this mid-February celebration without putting a painful hit on the wallet.
How Italy works: In the Piedmont region, the biggest-deal red wines could be dubbed “the Killer B’s.” Barolo and Barbaresco are places. Barbera is a grape — and a dandy one at that, even though (or maybe especially because) it’s usually a good bit less expensive than its counterparts, rarely exceeding $30 and often (as with the below examples) coming in under $20.
More good news: Barberas tend to resemble pinot noirs in style, lighter in color and texture than most reds, with lip-smacking red-fruit flavors. And they share pinot’s affinity for food.
Some excellent choices include the gentle Cascina Radice San Martino Barbera d’Asti Superiore, the softish Oddero Barbera d’Alba, the persistent Marchesi di Barolo “Maraia” Barbera del Monferrato, the darker-fruited Vinchio-Vaglio Serra “Tre Vescovi” Barbera d’Asti and the cherry-berry delight Rosa Fiore Barbera D’Asti.
Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wines
This is both a grape and a region. It shares part of its name with another appellation in Tuscany, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. But the latter is made with the sangiovese grape, and those wines are much tarter and leaner than the plummy, earthy juice named after both a grape (montepulciano) and its region (Abruzzo).
With soft tannins and lowish acidity, these wines are more approachable than most of their Italian peers. I’m quite fond of the grape-y La Quercia, the ripe but firm Quattro Mani, the crowd-pleasing Belposto, the tart-then-smooth La Fiera (under $10!) and the fuller-bodied, herb-laden Citra.
Think of this grape as the maternal twin of zinfandel, as it has the same mother clone and almost identical DNA. (Thankfully for us, neither Italians nor Californians opted for the original grape’s name, crljenak kaštelanski.)
Primitivo thrives in the region of Puglia on the back of the country’s “boot.”
There’s no better way to compare and contrast the overall styles of Old World (Europe) and New World (the rest of us) than with these two varietals. California iterations tend to be riper, jammier, higher-alcohol, lower-tannin/acid offerings. While some primitivo producers are chasing that result, most of them are content to stay with tradition.
That means darker fruit flavors than zinfandel’s usual red-berry profile, with fewer spicy notes save for some black pepper and a heartier finish. The Italians also have kept the prices friendlier than the $20-plus that so many California wineries now charge.
Among my favorites: Masseria Li Veli Orion Salento, Luccarelli, Matane, Antica Masseria and De Castris II Medaglione.
Bonus points for going really, really well with another staple of the day, dark chocolate. It doesn’t get much more amore than that.
Bill Ward writes at decant-this.com. Follow him on Twitter: @billward4.