I just came back from the Wine Bloggers Conference that took place in the Finger Lakes in New York. In my last article, I had already written about some of the pretty Rieslings that were sent to me before the conference. I was even more pleasantly surprised with not only their other Riesling wines during my trip, but I discovered that the Finger Lakes have some good rosé and red wines as well.
But even with the breath taking views of the Finger Lakes, the heart warming smiles of the producers and the surprisingly high quality of some of the local wines, there were still wine bloggers singing the praises of the Italian wines at the conference.
There were other public relation companies and organizations that came to the conference to promote the wines they represented from other regions around the world. There were wines from Alsace, wines from South Africa, wines from Brazil, etc. But the wines that seemed to draw the biggest crowds were the Italian wines.
As Americans, Italian wines are in our blood. Our first sip of "serious" wine was usually Italian, and as we have become more sophisticated in our drinking we find ourselves trying other Italian wines outside of Tuscany.
As a wine professional and New Yorker I pride myself on knowing (and tasting) many different wines from around the world, but it is always exciting to discover new wines. It makes me feel like a kid again.
That is what happened at the Wine Bloggers Conference. I saw wines from Montefalco, Umbria and my heart skipped a beat. Even though I have tasted many wines from Umbria, I have not had a Sagrantino from Montefalco. In some ways I felt bad for tasting Italian wines at a conference for Finger Lakes’ wines. But it is difficult for me to pass up Italian wines, especially if it is a variety that I haven’t tried.
Drinking that Sagrantino reminded me of those precious moments I have had in New York City where I discovered a new street. When I think I have this city figured out and that I have seen it all, I then stumble onto a block that is a little piece of undiscovered heaven.
And there is something special about discovering a new Italian wine, because we discover different sensations, colors, tastes and shapes within a framework that is familiar.
It is an epiphany to discover such a wine. It is similar to realizing a different aspect of a loved one, discovering that our father or mother for instance has character traits other than the ones we knew about when we were younger. Later in our life we realize we do not completely know them, and we discover that they are more complicated than we once thought.
The same can be said about Italian wines. We know them, but we don’t know them. They will always surprise us, keep us guessing.
I have lots of warm memories of my earlier experiences in New York City with people who were of Italian heritage. Yes, being Italian American is different than being born and raised in Italy, just like being from Sicily is different than being from Tuscany. But there is a common thread among Italian people to live life to the fullest, to drink, to eat, to laugh and embrace those around you like they are family.
Many Americans, especially New Yorkers, feel a connection to Italy – whether they have any of their ancestors from there or not. New York City is proud of our past and present Italian citizens and all of us feel a little Italian as well. Or maybe we just want to be Italian and the Italians are kind enough to let us share in their culture and heritage.
Either way, we can always drink a glass of Italian wine and dream a dream of Italy.
Everyday Drinking Wine (less than $15)
2013 Fox Run Vineyards Lemberger Rosé, Finger Lakes, New York ($13.60): Yes, it is still rosé season! And here’s an interesting one from the Finger Lakes, Lemberger. What is Lemberger? No, it is not a stinky cheese. It is a red grape variety mainly found in Austria and Germany. The Finger Lakes like growing it due to its high resistance to cold winters. It also goes by the name of Blaufränkisch, but Americans find Lemberger easier to pronounce. It has the classic black pepper note on the nose and zingy redcurrant flavors that one expects when drinking Blaufränkisch.
Special Occasion Wine (from $15 to $50)
2007 Antonelli Sagrantino di Montefalco, Umbria, Italy ($35): Made with 100% Sagrantino. This Italian red grape variety has high amounts of tannins that have typically made wines that were grippy with an austere bitter finish. But Antonelli does a nice job in balancing these tannins. The tannins were well integrated creating a good structure that is perfect when paired with roasted and grilled meats. The nose evoked flavors of stewed cherries with hints of porchetta and dried porcini. If you are not hungry before you have this wine then you will be after you drink it!
Fantasy Wine (over $50)
2010 Benanti Etna Bianco Pietramarina, Sicily, Italy ($54): This wine is made from 80 year old Carricante bush vines grown in the volcanic soils of Etna at high altitudes. Etna reds have made a great name for themselves in New York City, and their whites are just starting to make a name for themselves among Italian wine connoisseurs. Pronounced minerality could not even begin to describe this wine on the nose. There was a smoky quality that had sweet undertones such as the smell of a crème brûlée being torched. The aromas swam around in my head for several minutes. Then the lovely surprises seemed to never end with the palate having a great energy with lively kumquat flavors.