One of the things that I have been delighted to find, moving from the United States back to Canada, is that a much greater percentage of wine drinkers prefer red wine to white.
And I find myself wondering, like many other observed behaviours, “Is this a Canadian thing or a Northern thing?”
Regardless of the answer, I am delighted as I, too, love the depth and body and concentrated flavours and smells of red wines.
Whites are certainly fine for a summer evening or light fish dinner, but reds are what is needed when the snow falls and the temperatures drop and the winds blow down my lake to bend the trees and shake the cabin door.
While I am a huge fan of bold, “old vine” Zinfandels and Cabernet Sauvignons from California, Oregon Pinot Noirs and a variety of French wines from both Bordeaux and eastern France, it is Italian wines that hold a special place in my heart … and in my glass.
I was fortunate to be introduced to superb Tuscan wines during a 10-day trip to Florence some years ago and the trip changed my outlook on both food and wine.
While I am still just scratching the surface in terms of Italian wine experiences, I was struck by how they were all tasted in the context of being part of a meal.
Since my arrival in Whitehorse three Christmases ago, I have been exploring the Italian wine selection and, in particular, looking for modestly priced red wines that I could use for day-to-day accompaniment for my dinners.
While I love rich Chiantis and Brunellos from the hills of Tuscany, they are a little more pricey than I would like for just day-to-day consumption with a meal. But the Italian province of Abruzzi, which is on the eastern coast of the country, is making increasingly good and (so far) reasonably priced wines.
The primary grape of these regional red wines is the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, though it is sometimes mixed with other regional grapes, including up to 10 per cent of Sangiovese, the same grape that is used as the primary ingredient in Tuscan Chianti wines.
Two very drinkable reds from this region I have found here in the Yukon are Citra Vini’s 2007 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo ($11.80) and Cantina Tollo Rosso’s 2005 Terre Di Chieti Indicaazione Geografica Tipica (or IGT) at $9.60.
Already reasonably priced, they are an especially good buy when you realize that they come in one-litre bottles for that price. So you are actually getting the equivalent of 1? regular-size wine bottles for that price.
And don’t be put off by the screw-top. It may be a virtue to be able to re-seal these bottles as, at least for me, 1? bottle of wine is more than I am usually prepared to consume at a single sitting, even if I’ve used some of it in preparing the meal itself.
OK, so how do they taste? Well, I’ll admit that the bouquet (or smell) is modest, though I think the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo has the edge. And they do seem to improve as they sit in the glass and “breathe”, or interact with the air.
But as a wine to serve with meals, they are both very acceptable. They have as common characteristics red fruit notes (think tart cherries or red currents), a dry finish and soft tannins (little of that raspy sensation on the back of your tongue and throat that can be part of a more tannic wine like a Cabernet Sauvignon, Argentine Malbec or some Bordeaux wines.
Again, I think the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo has the edge on taste … it’s a little more complex and has a little more of a “finish” or taste that lingers on the tongue after you swallow.
I have drunk both of these with everything from burgers and steaks to beef stroganoff and from roasts to hearty pasta dishes. I have also tipped them into pasta sauces as I have cooked them and added them to roasting pans to deglaze and to beef gravies to add a little more “oomph” to the flavour.
Most cooks will have a bottle of red or white that they can add to their cooking and it should be more than just “cooking wine”. If you wouldn’t be prepared to put it in a glass to enjoy while you are cooking, then for goodness sake don’t add it to your recipe.
Food accompaniment is where these wines excel and their true strength emerges. The Italians seem to have a wonderful talent for producing even modestly priced wines that “play well” with foods, and these two have provided a satisfying accompaniment for many dinners in my cabin.
These are not the only modestly priced wines offered at the liquor store and I look forward to exploring more over the coming months, but you might want to give these a try the next time you’re doing a spaghetti dinner or a beef stew.
They’ll go well as an additional ingredient in the recipe and be a nice accompaniment when you sit down to eat.
Stay warm, and enjoy these winter evenings leading up to Christmas.