Last week we suggested holiday gift ideas from northern Italy. If you didn’t get to your shopping or couldn’t find anything that fit your gift list last week, here are ideas from the heart of Italy. As with every region in Italy, you’ll find both the familiar and some surprises.
Whether you want to find something that is widely available or you’ve got limited-production wines in your shopping plan, here’s a roadmap to some of what central Italy has to offer.
All prices are suggested and represent averages; all in USD. Actual prices will vary by region/state/country, etc. as well as type of retailer.
No question here. This is where you go to live the adage “what is old is new again.” Lambrusco, the sparkling red, is made in several different subzones and comes in quite a few different styles, from pink and light to deep red and very grapey. To navigate your way through the different styles based on what you might see on a label, here are some descriptions. Lambrusco Grasparossa (di Castelvetro) is full bodied and tannic with ripe black cherry, dark plum, and sometimes almond flavors and is deep purplish-red in color. By contrast, Lambrusco di Sorbara is light bodied and high in acidity with violet aromas and flavors of red currant and delicate strawberry. Midway between the two is Lambrusco Salamino with moderate tannins and violet and rose aromas and concentrated red berry flavors. Expect to pay $18-30 for good-quality bottlings. Medeci Ermete, Cleto Chiarli, Cavicchioli and Tenuta Pederzana are all well exported. Make no mistake, these are great food wines, especially with the sorts of house-cured meats that have been trending for some time now.
If you’ve got a history buff you need to impress, look for something from the Colli Bolognesi Pignoletto DOCG ($15-25). Made from the Grechetto grape, these food-friendly wines are at the beginning of a revival. The sparkling version is incredibly good with cured meats.
Like Piedmont, Tuscany has lots to choose from, and the Sangiovese grape clearly rules the roost here… but there are some standout producers and wines that are widely available. If pedigree is the goal for this gift, choose a well-heeled Brunello di Montalcino ($50-150) or Chianti Classico ($25-60) or, alternatively, one of the highly sought-after red wines from Bolgheri ($60-120 on average; up to $400 for cult bottlings). If you can find one, wines from the Chianti Rufina subzone (not to be confused with the producer Ruffino) offer an elegant style. Many Tuscan producers also make wines—typically labeled “IGT Toscana”—that feature Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot either alone or alongside Sangiovese. Although very good examples of all these wines can be found in a well-stocked supermarket, this is where you want to visit a good wine shop, to have a conversation about the style you want to present, as there are too many producers to name.
The signature grape variety here is Sagrantino and the high-end wine, Montefalco Sagrantino. This is for the person on your list who likes the biggest, boldest red on offer. While some producer’s versions are tamer than others, the general idea is that Sagrantino is a wine to lay down. Caprai, Antonelli, Paolo Bea, and Colpètrone are just a few of the names to seek out; $40-75, on up to $150 for single vineyard or commemorative bottlings.
This is one of the regions you go to for the white wine lover on your list. The Verdicchio grape is the star and is made in different incarnations—sparkling, dry, and even sweet—but choose a dry white from a good producer such as Garofoli, Bucci, or Sartarelli. Typically, the riservas are more for aging and will run around $50, but a nice non-riserva will start closer to $25. The wines are very crisp and can be complex, with flavors of almonds and even a floral note.
Just south of Marche, Abruzzo is the undisputed home of the red Montepulciano grape variety. Here it is made in to both red and rosato (pink) versions, although the rosato often shows a deep, deep pink, mimicking a red in flavor profile but offering the versatility of a rosato. The red goes by the name Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and offers dark red fruits, while the rosato is called Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo. Excellent producers of affordable ($20-40) versions of the red and rosato styles include Tiberio, Cataldi Madonna, Valle Reale, and Torre dei Beati. If you don’t mind breaking the bank, two cult producers to search (hard) for include Valentini ($250 ish) and Emidio Pepe ($75).
The treasures of Italy’s capital city, Rome, are the focus in Lazio more than any wine region, but the once-renowned wines of Lazio are slowly making a comeback. Choose a wine from the little-known variety Cesanese for the romantic on your list and savor the history (legend has it, Roman emperors favored it). Red fruits predominate, but right up there is a full range of sensory offerings including roses juxtaposed with spices like cinnamon and pepper. Well-balanced and fairly priced ($16-25), look for Casale del Giglio, Damiano, or Casale della Ioria. If it must be white from Lazio, look for something made from the Bellone grape for a unique gift.
If you cannot get your shopping in this week, we’ll post some gift ideas from southern Italy next week! At that point, you’ll need to decide…