The Austin Chronicle

Liquid Assets

Value vino from Italy

By Wes Marshall, July 11, 2003, Food

I recently had the opportunity to taste Italian wines with John Givens, an importer from New York. John started life as a journalist covering Japan and Korea for Westinghouse Broadcasting. When he was transferred to Italy (tough job, right?), he fell in love with the wines and people. After 20 years in the news business, he decided to drop out of journalism and into Italian wine importing. A few weeks ago, we had a chance to taste many of his locally available wines and chose five for your consideration.

Santa Maria La Palma's Aragosta ($10.99) is a delightful white wine made from the Vermentino grape in Sardinia. This wine has a lemony aroma with plenty of delicious, bright acidic flavors that would make it a perfect palate cleanser for avocados or a delicate fish with lemon-butter sauce. It is a crowd pleaser as an apéritif, too.

Cantine Sacchetto is a winemaking operation from Trebaseleghe in Veneto, close to Venice. We tried two of their wines, starting with a luscious, fruity Sauvignon Blanc ($10.99). The wine has tropical fruit flavors along with grass and mineral aromas. It is a natural with food or just as an apéritif. I tried it with a pizza margherita with a few thinly sliced grilled shrimp, and the combination was wonderful.

Sacchetto also makes a merlot that is, in my experience, one of the best combinations of price and quality I've ever had in an Italian merlot. It is called La Cortigiana (the Courtesan, $13.99), and I definitely felt courted. Intense, dark berry flavors join with black-pepper aromas. The wine feels just a little lean, more in a French style than a California style, but the flavors are fantastic.

We finished with two wines from Cantine Sant'Agata. Their Ruché di Castagnole falls outside of the bargain range ($21.99) but is still a good value and offers the opportunity to try the Ruché (ru-KAY) grape, a relative newcomer in Italian wines. Grown in Monferrato, just outside of Asti, the grape can occasionally make thin and astringent wines. This wine, which Cantine Sant'Agata calls Na Vota, is rich with strawberry and cherry aromas, peppery flavors, and enough bracing acidity to cut through most any rich Italian dish. The other Cantine Sant'Agata wine was a Barbera d'Asti Superiore called Altea ($13.99). Barbera is the gold standard for wines in Piedmont, but most cost a lot of money. While the Altea is not as rich and full-bodied as some of the more famous wines, at the price, it is a steal. Rich flavors and vibrant acidity make this a good match with slow-cooked meats.

One last wonderful Italian discovery, not one of John Givens' wines, is Mionetto Prosecco ($9.99). This prosecco is fruitier than most versions, and the intense bubbles make it a nice cold drink on a hot day. This also may be your only opportunity to open a premium wine with a church key. That's right, it has a pop top. Impress your friends!

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