Never pass up an opportunity to sample new and interesting wines. Enjoying a trade/media tasting in San Diego was my highlight for the month of June.

Let’s face it, in our age bracket most of us are seeking contentment in our lives. We’ve worked hard in our careers, many have raised a family while doing so and now in retirement we want to kick back, put our feet up and enjoy. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of people who strive to take a few strokes off their golf game, make improvements in tennis, travel or learn new activities and artistic forms. I suppose it all boils down to personal preferences; we now have the luxury to pursue our interests. In wine as in all other aspects of our lives we can, and I suggest that we should, look for opportunities to try something different.

While I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to various regions in Italy a number of times, making sure to stop at as many wineries as Michelle would tolerate, I came across an opportunity back in June to sample a few uncommon Italian grape varieties. Unfortunately it required a seven-hour drive to San Diego to do so. But since the weather forecast in Southern California predicted 30 degree cooler temps than in Tucson I figured it was worth the drive.

The Vini D’Italia was a four-city tour of 32 Italian wineries, limited to members of the media and industry professionals, it showcased more than 100 wines and was hosted by Gambero Rosso, a publisher that focuses on reviewing Italian-made food and wine, producing in-depth topical guidebooks in multiple languages which are updated annually.

During the four-hour event I sampled several varieties that I’ve only had limited experience tasting and even a few that I’ve just read about. Available to sample were uncommon wines such as Pecorino; Rosso Piceno; Lacrima Nera; Aglianico and Sagrantino. (More than 500 wine grape varieties are grown in Italy!) Wineries from 13 of Italy’s wine producing regions were represented including Tenuta Il Palagio; owned by Sting and his wife Trudy. My favorite wines from the event were: Casale Del Gigio’s 2017 Cesanese; a 2018 Lambrusco Grasparossa from Cleto Chiarli and the 2016 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (Ferzo) from Codice Citra, a large cooperative in Abruzzo. Overall, most of the wines fell into either the very good to exceptional categories, while providing excellent value for the money. The bad news is that we’ll be hard pressed to find the majority of them in the Tucson market.

The takeaway for my readers is twofold. First, if you have an interest in Italian wine or culinary experiences I would highly recommend picking up one of Gambero Rosso’s guidebooks. There is a fascinating and comprehensive text dedicated to wine, another on Italian restaurants throughout the world and a third that focuses on food products and beverages. All are available on Amazon.com. Second, when in the San Diego area I highly recommend making reservations for dinner at Solare (solarelounge.com). Located in Liberty Station, Solare was recently recognized as the top Italian restaurant in the City by both Gambero Rosso and San Diego Magazine. The restaurant has an extensive wine list and prices are reasonable. I thoroughly enjoyed my meal; the Risotto with Scallops was flavor filled with a perfect texture. For desert I ordered the Tiramisu; arriving baked inside a clay pot and served with a cafe latte - it topped off the evening.

My wine challenge of the month may be a bit of an undertaking, but hey it’s August, what else do you have to do? The grape variety is Greco: in Italy it is grown primarily in the south, mostly in Campania and Calabria. Technically, Greco is a group of a dozen unrelated varieties. I suggest looking for a Greco di Tufo DOCG from Campania. Typically these will be medium to full bodied white wines possessing aromas of citrus and stone fruit with distinct herbal notes. The producer Donnachiara offers a reliable Greco which can be found for around $20. Exceptional examples for a few dollars more are produced by Feudi di San Gregorio, Montevetrano and Cantine di Marzo.

Just because we can be content in our lives doesn’t mean that we should be content in our wine choices. Skip the house Chardonnay; pass by your favorite red in the supermarket and look for new and exciting wine opportunities. You’ll be glad you did.

Salute’

Tom Oetinger holds an advanced certification in wine & spirits from the WSET in London, England. He is available to assist you with your wine events or answer your wine questions at tjo1913@gmail.com