When I set out to do a walking tour through the Whitehorse Yukon Liquor Corporation (YLC) store, I imagined I could make it through the wine aisles and be onto a new subject by the New Year.
Instead, a trip begun last November has taken me through to Easter, and beyond. We may finally finish as the snow melts.
I hope that you have learned a few things, and perhaps tried a few new selections over the course of these articles. If you have had a tasting experience, or have a comment or question, please feel free to e-mail me at[email protected]. I’d enjoy hearing from you.
Now, on to the last few countries.
My last article touched on wines of Germany, on the third row of the YLC, on the side facing the registers. The rest of that aisle is home to some of my personal wine favourites… those of Italy.
From the strong, dark and robust wines of Sicily, the island off the toe of Italy’s “boot”, to the dry and refreshing Champagne-style prosecco from around Venice, the top back of the thigh… if we continue that visual metaphor, Italy contains a wealth of wine regions and options I can’t imagine growing tired of.
It was almost 10 years ago this month that I fell in love with Italian wine.
I had the chance to visit my father, who had rented an apartment in Florence, in the heart of the Chianti wine region.
Each day was filled with walking the neighbourhoods of that fine city, and each lunch and dinner was accompanied by a glass or two (sometimes more) as we tasted the miracle that is the matching of Italian foods with their regional wine accompaniments.
Even during the mere 10 days of my visit, seasonal delicacies would appear on the menu, thendisappear five days later until the following year.
Each restaurant owner seemed to compete with his neighbour to offer the most flavourful house wine—unlike in North America, where “house wine” seems to refer to the cheapest wine a restaurant can get away with serving.
In Florence, every restaurant would try to outdo the next to offer a house wine that was enormously good, exquisitely regional, and unavailable anywhere else.
Often it might be made by an uncle or other relative who, aside from selling it to one favoured relation, kept all the rest for personal consumption!
Not surprisingly, the region is at the heart of the “slow food” movement, which is partially a reaction to the generic, trans-national nature of “fast food”, offering instead something unique, available nowhere else, and certainly a candidate for the “100-mile diet”.
As far as tasting what’s on offer at the YLC, there’s a pretty good selection.
Newly emerging on the export scene are the wines of southern Italy, particularly Sicily. The rich, dark nerod’Avola grape from Sicily produces an intense, dark, peppery-flavoured red wine that I think goes well with grilled red meats or lamb.
The YLC carries several of these moderately priced reds, including the Carlo Pellegrino Nero D’Avola Cent’Are, priced at $11.85 and the Firriato Branciforti Nero D’Avola at $16.30. Both are worth a try.
To my mind, central Italy is where the soul of Italian wine lives.
Don’t be put off by the old image of Chianti wines, with their straw-covered bottles. The cheap spaghetti accompaniment of a quarter century ago has given way to a range of superb food wines, all originating from central Tuscany.
The primary grape used in making Chianti is the sangiovese (translating from Italian as the “blood of Jove”, the Roman god also known as Jupiter).
This grape is mixed with up to a half dozen other varietals to produce this superb wine. If aged for two years or more, it’s upgraded to a Chianti Classico, or Reserva. Spending the extra bucks on the Reserva is well worth it, from my perspective.
The YLC lists six Chiantis on its list, ranging in price from $16.00 to $21.00. I’m not a huge fan of the basicCecchi ($16.30), but for another couple of bucks, the Ruffino is well worth it.
Serve with pasta and red sauce, or pizza, or upgrade to roast or grilled meats. It’s a great food wine.
Also from the same region in central Italy are my other favourite wines, the magnificent Brunellos. They tend to appear and disappear on the YLC shelves, and are generally pretty pricey, running at least $45, at the low end.
Made from a clone of the sangiovese grape mentioned above, I think about it as the more serious big brother of Chianti.
Aged for 50 to 62 months, these wines are rich, dark intense, and amazing. If you are over in Alaska, look for a bottle at American prices, as you might find a few in the high 20s, and a decent selection for under $45.
This is a wine to be savoured, as a special treat. My favourite match is with Bistecca alla Fiorentina, a T-bone or porterhouse steak, grilled over high heat (ideally at least 700F).
I slather mine in a paste of anchovies, coarse sea salt and olive oil, let it rest under tinfoil for 10 minutes, cut it into strips on the diagonal, and then squeeze fresh lemon juice over it!
With a Brunello, it’s fabulous.
I won’t torture you by prolonging this mouthwatering discourse, but I recommend you also look for proseccos(dry, Champagne-style wines from Venetto), as well as Barolos and Barabarescos from Piedmont (unfortunately priced like Brunellos), Amarone della Valpolicella and Ripassos.
Also, the designation IGT (Indicazione geografica tipica) on an Italian wine refers to a classification that recognizes the unusually high quality of wines blending traditional Italian grapes with French-origin merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and other non-Italian grapes. All well worth a try!
That’s all for this time, but I should be able to finish off the tour with my next article.