Considering the fact that my wife, Michelle is 100 percent Italian it would be imprudent for me not to have a fondness for Italian wine. Regardless of my desire for domestic harmony I have to say in all honesty that I have a strong affinity for the Italian varietals, as well as other international grapes grown on the Italian peninsula and islands. Maybe it’s because I’ve been fortunate enough to travel extensively in Italy or maybe it’s simply that Italian varietals, when grown and vinified with care, make fantastic, food friendly wines. Italian white wines generally trend toward being light bodied and high in acid; crisp and refreshing they are perfect for our hot summers, especially when paired with salads and seafood. The red wines can run the full spectrum, but most have great structure, with tannin levels and acidity that complement a broad variety of cuisines from the various regions throughout Italy, as well as simpler home-style fare like burgers and ribs from the grill.
Many consumers who have become comfortable with the jammy, “value-priced” red blends which seem to dominate the lower levels of store shelves will, on first blush, consider Italian wines somewhat austere. But given the opportunity one can quickly learn to appreciate how delicious and well balanced many Italian wines can be.
While there is no shortage of Italian imports available here in Tucson, there are quite a few domestic wineries scattered throughout the west that specialize in Italian varietals. Here in Arizona, Lightning Ridge Cellars, located in Elgin are focused solely on Italian grapes, while in Wilcox, Zarpara Vineyards’ top selling wine is an excellent Sangiovese. In Carlton Oregon, Cana’s Feast Winery craft some of the best Italian wines in the Pacific Northwest.
I recently had an opportunity to visit the tasting room of Palmina wines in Lompoc, California, a highly regarded producer of Italian varietals in Santa Barbara County. Established in 1995 by winemaker Steve Clifton, Palmina’s philosophy is to produce wines that are essential components of one’s meals: Steve believes that wine should be “an extension of the plate.” The wines produced by Palmina are not mere copycats of those produced in Italy; rather they are expressions of select Italian varieties grown in the unique soil and climate conditions of California’s central coast. California growing conditions deliver a richness to their wines without compromising balance or the essence of the grape. Out of their current releases I especially enjoyed their Vermentino, Dolcetto and Nebbiolo. Sadly, Palmina’s wines are not available in our retail market, but they can be ordered online.
Italian wines should be a regular staple for anyone who enjoys a glass of wine with their meals. Whether you select a Nero D’ Avola from Sicily, a Chianti from Tuscany or a Vermentino from the Central Coast of California, one can easily find an Italian wine suitable for every cuisine, budget and season of the year.
Tom Oetinger holds an advanced certification in wine & spirits from the WSET in London, England and is available to answer your wine questions at firstname.lastname@example.org