Wines of the Week Special Edition

The Italians have landed, and they brought wine

We walked through the doors of the meeting room at the W hotel and were greeted with an astonishing sight: 500 premium quality Italian wines with the owners or winemakers sitting there, just waiting to answer our questions and pour samples of their wines.

They were brought over by Winebow, the mega-quality importer, and were in the midst of a four-day trip across the U.S. promoting their wines to restaurant and retail buyers, sommeliers, and the press.

Depending on your feelings about wine, the idea of working your way through that many wines might be the greatest party ever – or pure hell. For those of us that do attend these things on a regular basis, here’s our secret: We swirl it around in our mouth and then spit it out into a cup. It kind of looks like you have a couple hundred wine professionals all carrying around a spit cup for their Copenhagen. Spitting is your only hope. At every one of these gatherings, some restaurant or store staff member gets a chance to try their first major tasting, assuming they can handle it, and positively wipes out a major portion of both their liver and their brain. Pros know better. In any case, after going through a number of wines, I had a few that I would like to recommend to you.

I started with white wines and what better place on earth to try the white wines than Italy’s Alto Adige. Two wineries really stood out in terms of their quality. Tramin is a cooperative winery in Termeno, hard up against the southern boundary of the Alps. Over 270 grape growers give their fruit to winemaker Willi Stürz who crafts uniquely steely wines with bursting acidity and amazing balance. My favorite of the bunch was the Pinot Grigio (~$15, note all prices approximate since each store sets their own price), a wine that is so full and fascinating that it bears little resemblance to most of the Pinot Grigio sold in the U.S. They also have some stunning dry Gewurztraminer (~$21), a grape that was named for their area in Italy. At one time it was German, and in their language, adding an “er” to the end of a word means it is from the area, so, in this case it was originally called Traminer, later changed to Gewurztraminer.

Wolfgang Klotz shows Tramin's Pinot Grigio (photo by Emily Marshall)

Christof Tiefenbrunner was there representing his family winery. He is also from the Alto Adige. I have visited this winery before and have always been impressed with their entire line – and nothing has changed about that. He was pouring a wide range of red and white wines. Their Lagrein (~$23) is a nice version of the grape, with powerful berry flavors and acidity, but for some reason the American public has largely resisted its charms. Their white wines are the big sellers. To my mind, the best of what they were showing was the Sauvignon Kirchleiten (~$27), an ideal representation of what Sauvignon Blanc should taste like.

Christof Tiefenbrunner with the Sauvignon Kirchleiten (photo by Emily Marshall)

Monchiero Carbone was represented by its CEO and owner, Francesco Monchiero. His Roero Arneis Recit (~$18) is ideal and a great wine for fans of the grape with its crispy acidity and floral aroma. For anyone who loves a Piedmont Barbera, you must try their Barbera d’Alba (~$18). It is an unusually elegant wine and perfect for a little Piemontese food. Hint, check the web for recipes with “Alla Piemontese” in the name.

Francesco Monchiero of Monchiero Carbone with Jon Gerber of Winebow (photo by Emily Marshall)

There’s no glut of wines from Sardinia, but lately, they have been attracting the attention of people in the wine industry. Antonio Argiolas represented his namesake winery and poured one of the best Vermentinos I’ve yet come across. On the bottle, it says Costamolino and I was told it has been on the list at the Austin Wine merchant for quite a while. At its $15 price, it is a steal. Ditto for their Isola dei Nuraghi Costera (~$17), a red wine made mostly from the Cannonau di Sardegna grape (aka Grenache), along with Carignano (aka Carignan), and Bovale (aka Graciano). Both of these are also available at Central Market as part of their Passaporto Italia festival going on now through May 13.

Antonio Agriolas (photo by Emily Marshall)

I don't know where all these wines are available locally. What I can tell you is I saw a lot of folks from Twin Liquors, so that’d be a pretty good shot. I also ran into wine geniuses John Roenigk of the Austin Wine Merchant, Jeff Courington of Vino Vino, and Matt Berendt of the Grove Wine Bar & Kitchen, so there’s a good chance you might find some of these wines at those locations. Of course, everything is available on the Internet.

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