As temperatures drop we begin to embrace heartier cuisines to keep us warm. Pasta Bolognese, lasagna, and stews are among our winter dining selections. When selecting a wine to pair with these winter comfort foods what better place to look then to northern Italy.
Northern Italian wine regions produce bold red grapes such as Corvina, Molinara, Rondinella, Nebbiolo, Sagrantino, and Sangiovese. These grapes are crafted into lush, rich, red wines that pair perfectly with a variety of hearty cuisines for perfect winter enjoyment.
Amarone: This wine comes from the Valpolicella region of Veneto in northeast Italy. The wine is crafted from a blend of grapes (Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella, and Monlinara) that have been hand picked, then dried in crates for 3-4 months till they are half their weight. This processes gives Amarone distinctive notes of dried, raisin type fruit that is concentrated. The rest of the wine making process provides the rustic, earthy notes characteristic of the wine. The finished product is a rich, bold, concentrated, red wine with big tannins. In keeping with DOCG specifications, Amarone is aged in large oak casks, then additionally in bottle, for many years before release. The aging process assists in blending the flavors and calming the tannins; however, Amarone has great aging potential; proper cellaring after purchase for additional aging will continue to improve this very special wine.
2012 Gerardo Cesari Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOCG Veneto Italy ($41): Dark scarlet with ruby hues; concentrated notes of dried plum, black cherries, blackberry jam, round warm baking spices, a hint of orange peel, and leather; palate is warm and robust with hearty tannins, full-body, mouth-coating, lingering finish. Pair this wine with braised beef short ribs for an excellent winter meal.
Barolo: This wine comes from the Piemonte region of northern Italy bordering France and Switzerland, at the foot of the alps. Barolo is crafted from the Nebbiolo grape and is often considered Italy’s finest wine. One thing that makes Barolo cool is its appearance and aromas are deceptive, it offers notes of soft red fruits, red floral notes, spice, and often chocolate. However, the palate packs a punch; big tannins, penetrating acidity, both soften and integrate with time and proper cellaring.
2010 Tony Sasa TOR Barolo DOCG Serralunga d’Alba Italy ($60): Deep scarlet; bright notes of red and black cherries, pomegranate, cranberries, and red raspberries were met with dried rose potpourri, warm baking spices, dusty cocoa, and a lingering tart dried tobacco; as expected palate big and bold, a bit tart with more tobacco and cocoa than flowers and fruit; full body, mouth-coating, balanced tannins and acidity but both penetrating; decant this wine for best immediate drinking results and pair with a wild boar gnocchi for a dazzling meal on a cold winter’s night.
Brunello: This wine comes from a small Medieval hill town in Tuscany known as Montalcino. It is beautiful region that produces arguably my favorite Italian wine. Brunello is made of 100% Sangiovese, a versatile grape also used to make Chianti and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, three unique wines. Brunello and Barolo are frequently pitted against each other for Italian red wine supremacy; however, the two wines are quite different. Brunello typically offers notes of red and black fruit but is recognized for its herbaceous notes and deeper earthy notes. It is slightly less robust and tannic, yet still benefits from proper aging.
2010 Tenute di Collosorbo Brunello di Montalcino DOCG Tuscany Italy ($80): 2010 was an epic vintage of Brunello and this wine ranked number four of all 2010 Brunellos on the Wine Spectator Top 100 wines of 2016; deep garnet; rich notes of black cherries, blackberries and plums, both fresh and dried, savory herbal notes, baking spices highlighted by cinnamon, damp tobacco leaves, and a beautiful lingering vanilla on the back of the palate; balanced and smooth, silky mouth-feel, rich and round, full-body, warm, lingering finish; one of the best Brunellos I have ever had. Give a good hour or two decant for fullest expression, pair with pasta Bolognese for a stellar winter meal; invite guests, this is a wine to share.
Chianti Classico: This wine comes from a large region in central Tuscany. As previously mentioned, Chianti is also produced from Sangiovese. Between Chianti Classico and Brunello the expressions of terroir and winemaking styles highlight the differences in these two wines. Chianti Classico’s warm climate and clay based soils produce a distinct wine known throughout the world. Chianti Classico wine is known for its notes of tart fruit, bitter herbs, smokiness, and earthy notes of tobacco and coffee. Chianti does not require as much aging as the previous wines but will certainly benefit from it. Beware of cheap Chianti that is most likely crafted of bulk wine. To fully explore the beauty of Chianti Classico look for bottles $20 or more.
2012 Felsina Berardenga Chianti Classico DOCG Tuscany Italy ($23): ruby; concentrated notes of cherries and blackberries, savory herbal notes highlighted by mint and thyme, touch of dried red floral notes, and black pepper, all resting on a bed of minerality; rich and elegant on the palate, supple tannins that open with a good decanting, powerful, mouth-coating, full-body wine, great structure, drinking well now and at the price a great weeknight winter warmer paired with pizza or a beef ragu.
Sagrantino: This wine comes from a small Medieval hill town of Montefalco, located within Umbria. It is an often overlooked wine by those unfamiliar with it. Overlook it no longer! Sagrantino is believed to contain the highest levels of antioxidants of all red wines. It is also quite delicious. It is a bold red wine known for its notes of concentrated red and black fruit, cocoa, herbaceous notes, floral notes, and minerality. A well-cellared Sagrantino can age 30+ years. It is a full body wine with penetrating tannins and acidity, but perfect with food and winter.
2010 Tenute del Cerro ‘Colpetrone’ Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG Umbria Italy ($26): deep ruby; notes of blackberries, black cherries and plums were met with savory herbal notes, eucalyptus, tobacco, and chocolate covered espresso beans; silky rich mouth-feel, full-body, round structure with more integrated tannins than expected; well-balanced with a beautifully long, pleasing finish. This wine is ready to drink now and pairs elegantly with lamb chops or steak for a great weeknight or weekend winter meal.
I love big Italian red wines. Each of these wines were lovely and I would gladly enjoy again any day. Because of their tannic structure they do pair best with hearty meals, preferably with red meat because tannins love fat. And since they are Italian wines you know they were crafted to be paired with food, friends and great music!
What is your favorite winter food and wine pairing?
My Song Selection: If its going to be big and Italian it must be the Three Tenors!
Get your own bottle of big Italian red wine and let me know what song you pair with it. Cheers!