Make Mine Italian: Wines From Tuscany And Piedmont

A modern renaissance of wine-making in Italy is making wine lovers and critics stand up and take notice. In the 20th century, wine in Italy frequently meant low-cost, low quality and high volume-think straw covered bottles-with little to get excited about. However, things have changed in past 25 years and thanks to new laws further regulating Italian vintners, the standard of winemakers in that country is reaching new levels of excellence.

Today, Italy is seen as one of the most prolific and versatile wine regions in the world-with over 100 official vitis vinifera vines- and thousands of grape varieties. Italian wines are food friendly and affordable, with many of the wines available in specialty retail stores. Italian red varietals offer a nice alternative to California cabernets and merlots. Sangiovese is the grape of Chianti Classico that hails from the hills of Tuscany in Northern Italy, and in the hands of a talented wine maker, this red wine can be absolutely elegant. Look no farther than the cuisine of Italy to find the perfect match for Chianti. Try pasta pomodoro (or any red sauce), pizza and roast lamb with this lovely red.

The great Barolo, made from the Nebbiolo grape grown in Piedmont, is the King of red wines in Italy. And though Barolos are rare and pricey, these big-gun reds are prize cellar candidates, with at least 5 (if not 15) years of patience required before the wines mature to a divine richness. Boutique wine retailer www.personalcellar.com has only a limited supply of the 1999 Cordero di Montemezolo Barolo, priced under ($40). This is a great value from one of the best vintages of the last decade. If pasta and pizza are on your menu this week, try the 2000 Il Mandorlo Chianti Classico ($25) from another great vintage. It is blended with a little cabernet and merlot, to create a lush, mouth-filling wine with just the right acidity to balance tomato sauces- and not break the bank while still impressing your guests.

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