Every bottle has a story

I am not a wine expert, but with each bottle I try and share with friends, I learn more. Wine is an exceptional social drink; it is the marijuana of alcoholic beverages because it must be shared. I seek to share with you my thoughts and experiences as I drink the wine in my closet, as well as my enthusiasm for the finds that come my way and the excellent values that I find. I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences too, so please share!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Exploring Italian reds

Not every wine I write about here will come from my closet. On occasion I will share with you an experience with a wine from a restaurant menu because often this is an excellent way to discover new wines and new varietals – that is, if you can be a bit adventuresome. It’s very easy, when dining out, to look for something familiar on the wine list, whether it’s a producer or a particular wine. But if you can allow yourself to try something different, the experience can be delightful. And it helps if you have a server or a sommelier that is knowledgeable to guide you. For that to be successful, you also need to relay some information to your “guide”, such as what wines you like and what are you thinking about in terms of matching a wine with your food.

My friend Curt and I, along with Curt’s friend, Shuji, who was visiting from Japan, went to dinner last night at one of our favorite restaurants in Chicago, anteprima, which is located on North Clark Street in Andersonville. This restaurant has a wonderful wine list that is entirely composed of Italian reds and whites; however, my familiarity with Italian wines is quite limited. With reds, I know the regions Chianti, Brunello, and Barolo, and the grape Sangiovese. And that’s pretty much it. With Italian whites, I am even more limited, with Pinot Grigio being just about the only varietal I can think of. The wine list had these, as well as some familiar varietals by Italian wineries like Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, but even these offered me little comfort because I didn’t know any of the particular wines.

I listened to what Curt and Shuji were planning to order and considered my choice as well. The wild striped bass special caught my eye, and Curt was going to order the pan-seared soft-shell grab, which got me thinking that perhaps a white wine would be nice, but then Shuji indicated he was going to order the grilled ahi tuna. So now I’m thinking a light-bodied red, something like a Pinot Noir. There was a Pinot Noir on the list. We also agreed to split a pasta dish as part of our starters, and the one recommended was the spaghetti cacio e pepe, with toasted pepper, garlic, baby arugula, and pecorino cheese. Oh my, what to do? The only sensible thing to do was to ask our server.

She recommended a Teroldego Rotaliano, about which I knew nothing; but her description of it being somewhat light bodied like a Pinot Noir that wasn’t going to be too heavy-handed and should match well with all our dishes sounded like good advice. However, I can’t take the first suggestion without making sure it’s the right one. So I asked her about the Valpolicella selections on the menu. She expected them to likely be a good match as well, with the Valpolicella having a spicy beam to it. That sounded interesting, but the notion of a wine with a spicy note going with the spicy pasta we were ordering sounded like a clash of flavors. So I ordered the Teroldego.

The wine is a 2006 Teroldego Rotaliano by Foradori. This grape comes from northern Italy and is almost exclusively grown in the Campo Rotaliano in the Adige Valley north of Trento, Italy. Its sole appellation of origin is Teroldigo Rotaliano D.O.C. The grape is genetically related to Syrah, as well as the Marzemino and Lagrein varieties. The grape is cultivated to produce fruity wines low in tannin that are intended to be drunk while young. General retail price appears to be from about $21 to $28. Of course, I didn’t know any of this when I ordered the wine.

When it arrived at the table, it had a delightfully fresh nose to it of light fruit. The color was quite dark, a deep ruby. And the taste was bright, minerally with very subtle tannin that I expected would soften up even more. It held up well with the pasta, cutting through the pecorino. And with the entrees, it was a very good match. With my wild striped bass, served with roast wild mushrooms and baby spinach, the wine’s tannin was very subdued and a hint of cherry came through that went well with the fish. I detected something that I thought was perhaps cinnamon as well, but I can’t be sure.

With Curt’s pan-seared soft-shell crab – served with spring onions, sundried pesto and preserved lemon – the tannins completely disappeared, letting the mineral and fruit flow smoothly about the palate with a luscious finish (the nice thing about dining with friends is getting to taste everyone else’s dish!). The tannins were firmer with Shuji’s grilled pepper-crusted ahi tuna, which was served with baby spinach and sweet and sour onions, but still paired very well with the deliciously tender tuna.

This wine turned out to be another example of why you shouldn’t be afraid to try something new when dining out. And, of course, it always helps when you have knowledgeable personnel at the restaurant to help guide you.

I rate this wine with an 8.5. Take a look at my wine rating scale at the left.

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