Italian wines can be hard to love. They're unabashedly old world, full of mouthwatering acidity, brazenly tannic, and as terroir-driven as they come. They're also endlessly intriguing. Each of Italy's winemaking regions tells the unique, richly historic tale of its evolution from independent city-state right up to its unification with the rest of country's independent regions in 1861 (happy 150th, Italy!). Let that sink in for a bit. If Italy started making wine sometime around 2000 BC (no, that's not a typo: we are talking Before Christ), that means they've racked up about 4,000 years of winemaking cred. Given the fact that one quarter of the world's wine production is from Italy, which includes over 1,000 different grape varietals, it's high time you got to know at least a few of them, don't you think?
Italy has a bit of a rep for clinging to some fairly random winemaking techniques; in fact, they didn't get around to implementing its DOC wine quality designation system until 1963 (a full 28 years after France rolled out its game-changing AOC system). But in recent years, they've come a long way, baby -- and the results are pretty stellar. So if you're willing to challenge your palate and explore the wines of Italy, you'll quickly see why they're so infinitely delightful. Here are four perfect-for-summer Italian bottles you'll find easy to love.
Conte Leopardi 'Castelverde' Verdicchio 2008 ($17): If you like your white wines bright and über-sassy, verdicchio (rhymes with "radicchio") is about to become your go-to summer sipper. A beautiful greenish-gold hue sets you up for the crisp aromas of green apple and honeyed lemon zest; you'll taste plenty of that same zesty citrus kick along with juicy notes of Asian pear. Trust us on this: You will no longer be interested in drinking pinot grigio after sampling this clean, yet somehow complex wine. The first sip had us immediately fantasizing about ceviche, but any summery, seafood-based dish from lobster rolls to pesto-kissed scallop kebabs will sing when paired with this winner.
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Blason Friuli Cabernet Franc 2009 ($10): A trip to the wine store in search for a simple Italian red to pair with our rainy-night dinner of bake-at-home pizza yielded this astoundingly delicious bottle. While "curious" was the first word that immediately came to mind after perusing the label, "skeptical" was the second. After all, you don't just stumble across Friulian cab franc every day, never mind one that's only ten bucks. Featuring an almost exotic fragrance of dried cherry mixed with spicy caraway seeds, the palate was surprisingly bright; you'll swoon over bushels of tart, fresh cherry balanced with smoky, sexy oak. Summertime serving tip: On an especially sultry evening, chill this one for about fifteen minutes in the 'fridge before serving.
Tommasi Valpolicella Ripasso 2006 ($14): Valpolicella (that place from whence red wines featuring a sultry blend of corvina, rondinella and molinari grape varietals hail) is perhaps one of the most slept-on Italian wine producing regions ever. We've sung its praises before, and this bottle delivered the very lip-smacking goods just we've come to expect. Let's say you were in the mood for a medium-to-full bodied red, with plenty of juicy, dark berry fruit flavors. Be honest: You'd likely find yourself reaching for a shiraz, or maybe even a merlot, right? Pop open this Valpolicella with a platter of rosemary- and honey-glazed lamb ribs, ditch that de rigueur new world bottle, and find yourself resisting the urge to immediately book plane tickets to the Veneto.
Ruffino Ducale Chianti Classico Riserva Gold Label 2006 ($30): This definitely ain't the straw-bottled Chianti your parents used to drink back in the day. A single glass of this wine will make you forget every last one of the boring, basic Chianti you've been guzzling for years (also known by its grape varietal name, sangiovese) -- it's that good. The Ruffino smelled absolutely amazing -- loads of berry fruit laced with hints of fresh violets -- and it tasted even better. Rich flavors of intense prune, dark cherry, and classic baking spices (think nutmeg and clove), reminded us why sometimes you gotta drop a little coin to experience something really fantastic. This wine is worth every penny.