It’s the holidays which means gifts, massive amounts of eating, toasting, and merriment. Take a look at these 12 Italian wines, delicious and just perfect to have with those holiday feasts and important glass-clinking occasions….because who wants Lords a Leaping and a Partridge in a Pear Tree when you can have wine?!
1. Franciacorta – An elegant Italian sparkling from the Lombardy region is most definitely appropriate for the holidays. Whether you have it at dinner with first courses or for toasting at midnight on New Year’s Eve, this bottle-fermented bubbly is perfect for the occasion and a refreshing change from pricey Champagnes.
2. Valtellina Superiore – An alternative to Piedmont‘s red wine King Barolo, Valtellina Superiore from the Lombardy region is a complex, well structured wine, made almost entirely of the Nebbiolo grape. Valtellina’s characteristics vary by subregion, but in general they are light ruby-turning-garnet in color, red fruits with floral notes and sometimes hazelnut, with gripping tannins that settle with age. They are a great partner with pastas served with savory sauces (ragù or lasagne) and slow-roasted meats or stews, aged cheeses and anything with mushrooms or truffles.
3. Amarone della Valpolicella Ripasso or MASI’s Rosso del Veronese– Fans of big wines with loads of concentration will love the Veneto region‘s Amarone crew. The particular type of Amarone I’m suggesting here is called a “Ripasso”, so-named after the method which involves the skins, stems and pits of raisined grapes being “re-passed” (=re-fermented) into a new wine. The result is super concentration, often tangy, which can almost be confused with a sweetness at first due to the raisined grapes. Masi’s Campofiorin Rosso del Veronese goes through a similar process as a Ripasso (specifically a double-fermentation rather than a “re-pass”) which creates a rich and velvety textured wine. Both of these Veneto wine friends go great with aged cheeses, risotto, stews, gamey meat or savory meat dishes, plates with mushrooms or dried tomatoes, and any savory dish that has got a sweet element like a berry-based sauce!
4. Pecorino – From the Abruzzo region, Pecorino wines can range from light, citrus, and floral to fuller with stone fruit flavors and pine nuts or kernel. It’s a very good value wine, and great for many holiday appetizers, soft or hard cheeses, vegetarian entrées, chicken dishes, or traditional fish and seafood plates.
5. Montefalco Sagrantino – Big and muscular, this Umbrian wine is a great Italian option for fans of premium Californian Cabernet Sauvignons or Left bank Bordeaux. The wine is extremely tannic, chewy, earthy, with dark fruit flavors and aromas. It pairs excellently with heavy meat dishes, wild boar, polenta and meat, wild rabbit and pasta, etc. A less expensive and lighter version of this wine is Montefalco Rosso, featuring mostly Sangiovese and less of the tannic Sagrantino varietal.
6. Roero Arneis – Not just any white wine could keep up with its red wine colleagues in Piedmont! Arneis whites tend to have notes of peach, flowers, apricot, and nuts. They’d go great with appetizers, chicken, vegetable casseroles, seafood (especially sushi), pastas dressed with olive oil and garlic (no red sauce), calamari, etc.
7. Etna Rosso – On the steep slopes of Etna, Sicily‘s active volcano, the grapes for the Etna Rosso wines grow quite happily. Etna Rosso wines tend to be full of pungent minerality, smokey volcanic notes, and dark wild fruits, wild strawberry, plum, and Italian cooking herbs. Pairs well with roasted meats, spicy curries, rosemary chicken, charcuterie, baked pasta dishes, and stuffed bell peppers.
8. Friulano – Formerly known as Tocai Friulano, this northern white grape is a relative of Sauvignon Blanc. The wine is dry, bright, fruity, with lively acidity and notes of almond nuts and mineral. Goes great with cheese and meat appetizers, garlic bread, pasta dishes without red sauce, and baked or roasted chicken.
9. Bardolino Chiaretto – This rosé from the Veneto region is capable – depending on your menu – of being either the first wine of the evening or the sole star of the show. Bardolino Chiarettos tend to be light bodied with a tiny bit of bubble, bright red fruit flavors, and refreshing acidity. You might also find some that are slightly sweet. A great appetizer wine, soft or hard cheeses, milder gorgonzola, salads with fruits and nuts, baked chicken, pastas without red sauce, and Tuscan bean soup.
10. Schiava – If you like the lightness of a Pinot Noir or Pinot Nero, Schiava is a great alternative. Typically found in the northern Italian regions like Alto Adige, this wine is full of bouncy cherry and strawberry fruit and low-key tannins. Potential food partners could be risottos, vegetable dishes, milder cheeses, and even fish!
11. Cesanese – Outside of Italy lucky folks can get their hands on an affordable bottle of Cesanese del Piglio, a red wine from Rome’s home region of Lazio. These wines are medium+ bodied, bright and acidic with red or dark cherry, plummy, cranberry, bitter greens, and toasty flavors. They pair well with anything with tomatoes like pastas or pizza, pasta alla carbonara or all’amatriciana, baked pastas, eggplant parmesan, lentils, roast duck, and meats like wild rabbit or boar.
12. Passito di Pantelleria – a dessert wine made with dried Muscat of Alexandria (locally “Zibibbo”) grapes from the Island of Pantelleria, just off of Sicily. This sweet wine tends to be a golden color, bursting with flavors of dried fruits, figs, baking spices, and honey notes. Perfect companions would be any desserts with dried fruits like traditional Italian panettone, sweets with nuts and honey, custards like creme brulee with caramalized sugar on top or panna cotta with wild berry sauce.
Wishing you all a merry winter break, wherever you may be!