By Rick Riozza

For a California wine column coming out of the West Coast, we surely have covered and reviewed a lot of European vino these past eight years or so.  We’ve done our fair share of French, special vintages from Spain, proper dessert wines from Portugal, and especially some ideal Italian wines from the motherland of all vineyards.

In the midst of one of the most anxious years on record, if there is anything we can rely on—gastronomically speaking, it’s the quality of Italian wine to match a meal.  And it’s an easy one to recommend to an appreciative crowd.  It’s not the case where I have to plead with folks to try Italian these days. (By the way—in a couple of weeks I’ll be reviewing Chilean wines; I may have to be a bit more convincing on those bottles.)

Even though we’ve been quarantined for many months now, the holidays are here upon us—as odd as everything feels.  Wine wise, we’ll probably be drinking California, Oregon, Washington, French and German . . . and—oh! Italian! As the title suggests!

So Italian it is. We’ll talk about a delicious Pinot Grigio from Friuli—Venezia Giulia, and then on to probably your favorite Italian destination: Tuscany.

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There are so many Pinot Grigio lovers in this valley that, at Ralphs Market, I have to order over 100 labels to keep the shelves filled each and every week. Although I don’t generally reach a pinot grige—too many are one-note quaffs, especially the cheap domestics, a bona fide Italian from Friuli is a wine all vino lovers must try i.e., it’s a bucket list region for enthusiasts.

And since there’s so many of you out there, allow me to recommend Attems Pinot Grigio ($17). If you haven’t heard already, the Friuli DOC region, in the most northern-eastern of Italy, produces the most crisp, lean, and aromatic of the Italian white wines.  It’s the limestone/soils in the hills, temperature fluctuation of the region, and that particular sunlight that gives its terroir especial uniqueness.  Indeed the rest of Italy—and the world, try to emulate such distinct dynamics in a wine.

Attems is the classic Friuli pinot grige: The wine’s bouquet is marked by fresh aromas of white peach and citrus peel, with wildflowers, scents of sap, thyme and toasted bread.    The palate shows fresh pears and green melon with shades of white pepper, avocado, and nuts. Nice minerality and a touch of bitter lemon on the finish. Quality-wise, it has great weight & viscosity, it’s tangy & lively.  How about that for a bottle of pinot!

You know—this bottle would be such a great surprise at the holiday table: nay-sayers will be converted and grige lovers will be enthralled!  Also, it’s a very thoughtful holiday gift for the Pinot Grigio fan in your family circle.

Apart from turkey and all the fixins’, another great food pairing could see pan-seared salmon fillets served over a bed of fennel, fronds and orange segments that have been gently tossed in a citrus vinaigrette.  All of those fine flavors would match magically with the wine! Unfortunately, it’s not sold all over—so look for it on-line and get some sent to you & yours asap!

What can one say about the wines of Tuscany?  That area alone in central Italy draws millions of visitors to immerse themselves in the region’s alluring lifestyle, food & vino.    How fortunate I’ve been to travel to Italy for the last two years.  This year we’re all feeling the lack of travel anywhere!

Well—at least we can all drink like the toscani! Of course, there is so much great, good & tasty red wine from Tuscany, all we can do is pick out some to speak of:

Many of you true vino cognoscenti know that a “Rosso” on a DOC or DOCG Italian label tells you that one can get a great deal on a red wine from classic region. No need to pay the high prices when you wish for a table wine to meet expectations reflecting the fame vineyard area.

Attenzione! Montecucco, is a rising star in the Tuscan wine game with a “new and different” expression of Sangiovese that comes from an area of the famous Maremma region, nestled between the Brunello di Montalcino and Morellino di Scansano appellations.

Available now is the very good vintage year, 2015 Le Maciarine Montecucco Rosso.  At $20, this is one of the best buys for a quality Sangiovese.  We mentioned the “new and different” expression above—and I guess, it means that this Sangiovese is on deep dark fruits, spice, and is on the softer side: Not predominant on the acidity, with aromas of black cherries, raisins, light chocolate and licorice with a palate of red and black cherries, plums, pencil lead, and chocolate; finishes nicely with a mineral edge.

It’s bigger brother, the 2015 Le Maciarin Montecucco Sangiovese Riserva, around $35, absolutely knocked our socks off!  As soon as we took in the aromas, it brought us back to the times sitting at an Italian restaurant enjoying high-end wine.  And the flavors sealed the deal.  Top quality Sangiovese with deep dark fruits, spices, and perfect food pairing acidity.  I look forward to ordering this wine on-line for the holidays.

And finally, let’s go back a wine brand that we’ve covered and reviewed before. La Vite Lucente 2017 Tenuta Luce Toscana ($30) Tenuta Luce is based in Montalcino, the famous area of Tuscany.  Lucente is Luce’s second wine. It’s the result of a selection of Sangiovese and Merlot grapes capable of producing a wine with a very contemporary style, i.e., California red blend quaffers like this Italian a lot.

The wine is a beautiful holiday bright red color, the nose opens with intense fruity hints of blackberry, plum and currant, enriched by toasted and vanilla nuances. On the palate it is full and enveloping, soft and elegant, with a nice fruity finish—allora! Saluti!