Vermentino comes from exquisite Liguria
This is the second Blog paying tribute to Italy during its struggle with COVID-19. Today’s article will discuss three grapes that are popular in Italy but relatively unknown to most Americans. Because of their obscurity, however, they all are great values. Two are red wines and one is white. Two are from Sicily, the other is from northern Italy. All of them should definitely be on your radar screen for spring and summer wines as they are quite quaffable during warmer weather and pair well with foods typical of these two seasons.
First, let’s begin with Vermentino, the northern varietal and one of my personal favorites in all of Italy. This way under-rated grape is grown primarily on the Ligurian coastline south of Genoa (e.g. Cinque Terre, Portofino and Santa Margherita), and the island of Sardinia also produces excellent Vermentino. Think Sauvignon Blanc without the grass, but with some compelling added elements. Vermentino offers luscious citrus mixed often with pear and white peach, mineral notes, floral scents, and almond nuances.
Gnocchi & Vermentino: a magical pairing in a magical country
Vermentino is magnifico both as an aperitivo as well as a wine to drink with dinner. Its high acid structure allows it to work well with many foods. My favorites are scallops in a caper/lemon sauce or plain grilled salmon, but a brined-then-grilled pork chop also works. The wine also has enough structure to pair with beloved Italian vegetables such as artichokes and arugula.
Like Vermentino, Frappato is another bargain due to its undiscovered status in the USA. Grown mainly in Sicily’s volcanic soils, this varietal offers an exciting opportunity to try a wine you don’t know. Frapatto’s flavor profile is strawberries but there are also tastes of pomegranates and cloves.
Frapatto is only one of Sicily's many charms
A low to moderate bodied red wine, Frapatto is an ideal choice for the lighter foods of spring and summer due to its muted tannin structure. This wine is all about freshness, not power. It’s an ideal red wine aperitif, but can pair equally well with tomato-sauced pastas, as well as grilled chicken or fish.
Nero d’Avola is another red from Italy’s far south, Sicily. If you love full-bodied reds like Syrah or Cabernet, this varietal is for you. Nero d’Avola is a powerhouse that delivers big gobs of black cherries with other flavors like licorice and even cigar-box hints. Expect robust tannins and good levels of acidity. Because of this, I would not suggest that it be served as an aperitif.
Italy: the world is praying for you
A bold wine, Nero d’Avola needs matched with equally bold food. A grilled burger or steak would work beautifully, as would a pasta of Portobello mushrooms. A pizza topped with spicy pork sausage, funghi porcini, grilled eggplant or roasted red peppers would be my nirvana for my pairing.
I have a big amore for these three varietals. I think you will, too. All are available
in the US.