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The Brecciaro cuvée from Bussoletti plays on a different characteristic of Ciliegiolo than many other wines made with the grape, emphasizing the grape’s particular soft texture. Ciliegiolo never yields a tannic wine but it also is never faint or airy on the palate. Brecciaro is fermented in steel and then aged for a year, about 70% in stainless steel on the fine lees and 30% in old French oak botti. The wine is then blended and held in bottle for another six months. The nose is redolent of roses, cherries, and ripe strawberries but it is the texture of the wine, silky with delicate acidity and whispery tannins, that is really appealing. It is certainly a more sultry expression of the grape. I paired the wine with braised pork shoulder but it would be excellent with risotto, creamy polenta dishes, duck breast, or sweet potatoes. Andy Paynter
Bussoletti’s Ciliegiolo di Narni “0535” is a fresh, easygoing red wine from central Umbria and shows exactly why I have fallen in love with the grape. Produced from a four hectare plot of younger vines planted facing north to encourage elegance over ripeness, the wine is fermented with ambient yeast in steel tank and bottled after resting for six months. The nose is rich with fresh red cherries and rose floral notes with delicate tones of black pepper. Juicy on the palate with restrained acidity and very little tannin, it shows more strawberry and raspberry fruit. This is a wine that can lift through richer foods: try it as a foil to creamy or cheesy pasta dishes, as a pairing for charcuterie, or enjoy it on its own. The lion on the label is a reference to C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia which were inspired by images of the medieval castle in Narni (also pictured). Andy Paynter
High atop the Murge Plateau in Puglia, Cantine Carpentiere is a small family-owned winery that produces two indigenous Puglian grape varieties: Nero di Troia and Bombino Nero. Made from 70-year-old Bombino Nero vines, this is the only rosato in Southern Italy that has DOCG status. At 450 meters above sea level, the vineyards are rich in limestone and surrounded by stone walls originally built to protect local flocks of sheep. Tannins from the maceration process make this a great food wine, but it retains its freshness and acidity from the 5-6% of white grapes that are naturally included in each cluster of Bombino Nero. Ripe watermelon and wild strawberries with hints of pepper, try pairing it with a salmon salad, orecchiette with broccoli rabe or even a juicy burger. Christine Manula
High atop the Murge Plateau, Cantine Carpentiere is a small family-owned winery that produces two indigenous Puglian grape varieties: Nero di Troia and Bombino Nero. Uva di Troia is an ancient grape apparently named after the Puglian town of Troia, which was founded after the siege of ancient Troy. Carpentiere’s Nero di Troia is on the lighter side of some of their neighbors, with raspberry, cranberry and a hint of spice and vanilla on the nose. It starts off quite floral and develops into a more rustic wine as it opens, with touches of cranberry, rose petals, spice and smoky cloves. I think this is a great summer red and perfect for barbecuing ribs, burgers or a hanger steak. Christine Manula
Dry Lambrusco rosato still seems to be a bit of a rarity, which is baffling when examples like Corte Paglieri’s rosato are available. A deep bronze-hued ruby, the aromas of the wine practically jump out of the glass showing rhubarb, tart cherries, citrus zest with a deep violet floral tone. The palate is crisp, almost searingly so with out food, with a very delicate bubble and very low tannin, and notes of peaches and juicy strawberries. While not suited to the richest foods, this would be a perfect match for soft cheese, bitter veggies like fiddle head ferns, fatty fish, roast chicken, or pork chops with rhubarb compote. Andy Paynter
Named after Natalino’s wife Anne, this Negroamaro is from 30-60 year old vines grown on clay and chalk. At harvest, Natalino destems and presses the grapes 2 -3 times, puts it in cement tanks for five days of skin contact, racks the wine and then leaves it in cement from September to March. Before bottling, he puts the wine in stainless steel for a few weeks to refine and then adds a very low dose of sulfur at bottling. The result is a medium bodied wine with good tannins that tastes of dark cherries and cocoa, with a hint of nuts and pepper. Try pairing it with a traditional Pugliese dish like pasta with chickpeas and anchovies, slow cooked lamb with potatoes, or just throw a tuna steak on the grill. Christine Manula
“Nataly” is named after Natalino himself. The wine is fermented and aged in concrete tanks and underground concrete vats, with a very low dose of sulfur at bottling. It’s bit fuller in body than the Negroamaro with meatier tannins, juicy dark plums, violets, anise and a hint of pepper on the finish. Try pairing Primitivo with Spaghetti Puttanesca, Seafood Jambalaya, Short Ribs or hard cheeses like Edam or Smoked Gouda. Christine Manula
Pitch-perfect weeknight Nero d’Avola: light on its feet, with a vibrant acidity and ripe berry and juicy plum fruits. The bright, playful palate is balanced by just the right hint of dried herbs and spices to underscore any red sauce, pie or pasta. The Rossojbleo is dry farmed from about ten hectares of head-trained bush vines without the use of any chemicals or machines. Gulfi’s commitment to a manual harvest, along with organic practices in the vineyard and vinification using native yeasts, makes for a seriously satisfying young wine. And while this definitely holds up on day two, it’s pretty hard to resist finishing the bottle!
Il Fortunato aced it with their Rosato Spumante; another lively sparkler produced from organic vineyards with only a minimal addition of sulfur. The nose is playful with a mix of bright berry fruits and fresh red cherries cut by tart apple skins. On the palate, a delicate mousse lifts the wine showing some weight, great acidity, and just touch of sugar. Absolutely lovely! Pair with charcuterie, simple pasta, or simply drink on its own. Andy Paynter
Drogone comes from a small parcel of vines planted in 1964. The wine is aged for two years in older, large tonneau of French oak, and then for years in bottle — the 2007 is the current release. A wine of great depth and considerable density, it shares the elegance and finesse of all Madonna delle Grazie wines. It's very cool to taste the highest quality Aglianico that has some age; we're happy that it's still available at such a fair price. John Rankin and Jamie Wolff
One of our favorite Italian winemakers is actually American. Michael Schmelzer moved to Italy in 2003 with his family and purchased 10 hectares of organic vineyards in the "belly button of Chianti Classico" at Monte Bernardi. Since that time he has branched out and started making wines from Sicilian grapes as well. This spring he introduced his Tetra Pak Rosato which is made from 100% Nero d'Avola grapes. Don't let the vibrant pink carton fool you. It's more subtle on the inside - fresh and energetic with great acidity and a slight grip. Raspberry, strawberry, and fresh watermelon fruit make this the perfect beach or picnic wine. An added bonus is that Tetra Pak cartons use 54% less energy, create 80% less greenhouse gasses, and produce 60% less solid waste volume than a 750ml glass wine bottle. So you can celebrate summer and save the environment. Christine Manula
Pranzegg 2016 Vino Rosso Leggero From our charming friends in the Alto Aldige, this is a blend of Lagrein and Schavia. A unique note to this wine is its fermentation on white grapes skins. Truly a light red (“Rosso Leggero”) wine, this fresh and vibrant wine captures the spirit of the European vin de soif, meant to quench our thirst while bringing us great happiness.
Saetti is wine that shows how deeply appealing natural wine can be when made with care; vinified completely without additives including SO2 it is not the least bit funky. It has a deep ruby color with a nose redolent of brambly red berries, dried violets, delicate hints of sweet spices, and a slight meaty tone. The wine is more frothy than it is fully sparkling, with a velvety texture cut by bright acidity with a slight tannic bite. On its own, it shows more overtly floral and quite juicy but, as a good Lambrusco should, it shines with food. Try it with charcuterie, pasta bolognese, pepperoni pizza, or as a match to any rich dish (burgers!). Andy Paynter
Tasting Vinica’s Tintilia makes me wonder how this grape ever fell out of favor in Molise in the first place. It seems particularly well adapted to the high altitude vineyards of the region, showing a balance between ripe fruit and fresh acidity. The grapes are crushed at low pressure and allowed to ferment naturally in open top vessels before being held in steel tanks for two years. There is no temperature control at any point, which allows malolactic fermentation to occur naturally over time. The wine has a pleasant herbal tone of green pepper that peaks out on the nose over tart berry fruit, red roses, and moist earth. The palate is quite fresh and marked by bright acidity and soft tannins with a pleasant, earthy finish. This may not be a wine to cellar for ten years but it is a wine that casually conveys a sense of joy and is a carefree food pairing choice. Give it a try with rich pasta dishes, roast pork, stuffed mushrooms or open it at your next summer barbeque. Andy Paynter