Italian Whites Make a Comeback

You might not know it yet, but Italian whites are making a serious comeback.  No longer limited to bland Pinot Grigio and insipid Soave made from overcropped grapes, the landscape of Italian white wine is now peppered with fascinating indigenous varietals and unique takes on classic grapes, all for very reasonable prices.  Since it’s seafood, salad, and al fresco dining season, what better time to take advantage?

20 years ago, most white wine imported from Italy to this country was inexpensive and not very interesting.  The Italians themselves seemed to feel the job of white and sparkling wines was to be clean, crisp and refreshing, but merely a prelude to the ‘real’ (read: red) wines to follow.  This has all changed, thanks to better vineyard practices and an increased interest in native grape varietals.  This article does a fantastic job of analyzing the cause of white wine’s comeback in Italy.

Vineyards in the stunning wine region of Alto Adige

Vineyards in the stunning wine region of Alto Adige

Inspired by their pairing feature at the end using Italian whites and some rather ambitious-sounding dishes, here are a few ideas for some of our favorite Italian whites and some more realistic suggestions for what to serve with them:

With De Angelis’ Falerio from the Marche region, something with shrimp or other shellfish and a healthy dose of garlic and herbs is in order.  This pasta recipe looks perfect for a weeknight meal, since shrimp and pasta are both quick and easy to cook.  This mid-weight white also makes a perfect aperitif.

Throw out everything you know about Soave before trying La Formica’s!  This healthy and delicious farro and zucchini recipe would be the perfect, earthy foil to this sophisticated white.

Rich, delicious crab is an ideal foil for this Pinot Bianco from Alto Adige’s Kellerei Kaltern, and this recipe with plenty of fresh herbs and a garlicky aioli looks especially wonderful.  Scallops would be great with this wine as well.

You may never have heard of Erbaluce, but once you taste this unique white from Piemonte, you’ll wonder where it’s been all your life.  Move over, Arneis, now we have a new grape no one’s quite sure how to pronounce!  A bit richer than Pinot Grigio, with intriguing herbaceous notes that call to mind chammomile tea, it’s refreshing, but has the weight to stand up to flavorful food.  Serve it with something like these polenta cakes with goat cheese, caramelized onions and honey for an innovative first course or light lunch.

Now you’re armed and ready for Italian white wines to make their big comeback – Salute!

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Peas, Mint, and the Importance of Sniffing Your Glass

Some groups of coworkers discuss their fantasy football teams, the latest episode of Dance Moms, the weather, or each other.  We tend to talk almost exclusively about food – what restaurant we went to or plan on going to, what we served to our friends on Saturday night and what we drank with it, what we drank with nachos while watching the new Arrested Development episodes – it’s all fair game.

Before he left Saturday afternoon, Randy said that he was in the mood for Chablis.  Though rose is often our default wine this time of year, Dom Louis Michel’s delicious, unoaked Chablis sounded perfect for the warm summer evening we were about to have.

Farmers-Market-Snap-Peas

He chose an unexpected, but very seasonally appropriate accompaniment: farmers’ market peas with mint and spring onions in a cream sauce.  The peas and spring onions were braised until just tender, with heavy cream, mint and lemon zest added at the last minute.  It’s a combination that hits all the wine pairing high notes.  The rich cream sauce is cut by the tart, flinty wine – a wonderful contrast of textures and flavors.  At the same time, the bright, clean flavors of all that fresh produce are complemented by the bracing citrus flavors in the wine.  Chablis can also have a wonderful mossy, almost vegetal aroma and flavor on the finish, so pairing it with green vegetables makes perfect sense.

One thing you’ll often notice wine geeks doing is sniffing their empty glass after tasting.  The scent left behind by a wine can give you yet another dimension of its aromas.  In great Burgundy, that ghost of an aroma often smells like the soft herbs we love so much in summer: tarragon or mint.  The mint in this dish did a great job of pulling out that quality in the Chablis.  Though Dom Louis Michel’s 2011 village Chablis was a great pairing with this dish, Dom Vincent Dampt’s slightly rounder style would be great with a farmers’ market meal like this as well.

So, how about you?  What are you pairing with summers’ bounty?

Beating the Heat

It’s that time of year again, when our thoughts all turn to how to keep wine safe during summer heat waves.  Here are answers to some common questions about helping your wine beat the heat:

Can I ship wine?  We recommend you avoid shipping wine during the hottest months of the summer.  If you do ship, especially if you’re shipping UPS Ground, try to have the package go out on a Monday to avoid having the wine sit in a UPS warehouse with uncertain temperature control over the weekend.  This feature from the National Weather Service is a handy, graphical way to see what the temperatures will be like in the parts of the country where your wine is going to make its journey.

What if I leave wine in the trunk on a hot day?  If the wine was only exposed to high temperatures for a short time, like a few hours, it’s probably OK.  Check to make sure that the corks haven’t pushed out.  This is a common consequence of overheated wine that can bring on the companion problem of oxidation since the cork is no longer fully sealing the bottle.  What we’ve found is that short-term heat damage takes some time to show itself.  It can affect the long-term aging potential of a wine, but it seems to not affect its short-term drinkability very much.  In short, if you’ve left a case of moderately priced Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio in the trunk for a few hours on a hot Thursday for a party you’re going to throw on Friday or Saturday night and the corks are intact, you’re most likely fine.  If it’s Barolo you’re planning on aging for 10 years or more and you like to drink wine at the mature end of its window, we’d recommend exercising caution and opening those bottles a little sooner than you might otherwise.

Is my wine storage too warm?  A temperature-controlled storage space isn’t an option for everyone, but even if you don’t have a custom wine cellar, there are some steps you can take to make sure you don’t end up with heat-damaged wine.  In addition to finding the coolest spot in your house that you can, your wine storage area should also be dark and free of vibration.  So, your kitchen, boiler room or laundry room aren’t great candidates.  Your best bet is a corner of a basement or a closet – anywhere relatively cool, without a lot of light streaming in from a window.  The ideal temperature range is 45 – 65 degrees Farenheit, but if your wine storage area is a few degrees warmer than that, it’s not the end of the world.  Almost as important as the actual temperature is having it hold steady – rapid swings in temperature cause the liquid inside the bottle to expand and contract, which can cause those pushed-out corks we’re trying to avoid.  And remember, capsules that don’t spin or stickiness on the neck of the bottle are telltale signs of leakage, which means the cork that has either been pushed out or was damaged in some way.  If wine can get out, air can get in, and oxidation from too much air exposure is just as bad as heat damage!

What does heat damage taste/smell like?  Heat damage can present as prune-y aromas and flavors, or as very strong, almost flamboyant fruit aromas that fade into nothing on the palate.  Wine that is heat damaged can also take on Madeira-like aromas and flavors, since Madeira is a style of wine that is created by intentional heat damage.

We hope this helps ease your wine-related worries!  Tips or heat damage horror stories to share?  Let us know!