By Rick Riozza

One of the nicer things I hear from the loyal readers of this column is that we do indeed cover a slew of Italian wines that are rarely reviewed in other publications. And we can’t fault most California wine columnists—for certain, they have a slew of California wine to write about. There’s so much out there that even we make a lot of room for the California Crush!!

But our Italian coverage is definitely food friendly; food and wine in Italy has always been inseparable. And we love it when the Italians talk about “cooking wine”—it’s a wine one cooks with: a glass of wine for the recipe, a glass of wine for the stomach while we cook, then a glass or two for dinner. Saluti!

The 2023 holidays have rushed in—so let’s rush into our Italian holiday dinner wines:


2021 Il Poggione Rosso di Montalcino ($25). Before we get to our Chianti Classico recommendation, let’s see a little Montalcino action. Most of us have heard by now that the Brunello di Montalcino grape is the “Big-Big Brother” of the Chianti wines. But that big wine often comes with a big price tag. Most top quality Brunellos sell between $60 to $120.

But the “Rosso” is always the smart buy anytime. This is the second wine from Montalcino for its reputation, quantity, and quality. It’s only produced inside the municipality of Montalcino with pure Sangiovese. And everybody is happy with the price tag on these babies.

The producer is Tenuta Il Poggione and this 2021 vintage is a winner at the price. The winemaker states it quickly: “Intense ruby red color. Fruity bouquet with red berry notes. Very well structured, yet soft, long-lasting flavor with smooth, velvety tannin.”

The more voluble columnists expand: “A nicely spicy Rosso di Montalcino with cloves, dried flowers, sour cherries and orange peel on the nose. Creamy and medium-to full-bodied, with chalky tannin’s and a ripe, chocolatey finish.” “Robust and structured, its dark cherry flavors, riding on firm, new-leather tannins as the wine gains notes of warm spice and graphite.”

And we like this one: “Dark fruited and flush with sweet floral perfume, the 2021 Rosso Di Montalcino is ripe with boysenberry, black raspberry, pine sap, and balsamic. A bit of varnish on the opening may need some time to settle down. It has a silky and satin-like texture, with black cherry cola, mocha, and purple flowers, and the wine is medium to full-bodied, open, and inviting.” What’s not to like here!

We’re pairing this with holiday pasta with meat sauce, roasted & grilled meats, and medium strength cheeses.

Usually, the wines from Montalcino (Brunello & Rosso) are recommended after the Chianti Classico are presented because the Chianti are lighter bodied—and like at wine tastings, the lighter wines are sampled first and then on to heavier bodied. But we’re into a new brave world of wine where traditional categories are sailing past.

Our Chianti Classico choice is the 2021 Cecchi Chianti Classico Storia Di Famiglia ($25). Do we dare say that this is a Chianti for the California Cab lover? Usually, these folks say Chianti is just too astringent for their palates. But this Chianti seems to satisfy both sides of the pond: fruits and savory.

True to form, the winemaker notes quickly state: “Ruby red tending to garnet. Bright cherry, light chocolate and some floral and citrus undertones. Medium-bodied. It shows lovely depth and a layered texture with ripe, round tannins.”

On the web we found: “The vanilla, bing cherry, and wild mint on the nose recall a cherry pie, rolling into darker cherry on the palate with blood orange and savory licorice elements on the finish. Good length and mouth drying tannins satisfy any Chianti lover’s expectations.”

James Suckling writes, “Rose hips, potpourri, cherries and brambleberries on the nose. Juicy and fruity with a medium body and fine tannins. Crunchy and bright. Wonderful drinkability.”

And would you believe it!! As I am writing this piece, Wine Spectator magazine just came out with their Top 100 Wines of the year, and the 2021 Cecchi Storia Di Famiglia is listed therein.

They write: “Laced with black cherry, black currant and violet aromas and flavors, this red is immediately appealing for its lush fruit. Balanced, fresh, and long, with iron, wild herb and tobacco details. Made with Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon.”

Well—we can tell that we’re going to need a lot more space to include our favorite holiday wines, both domestic and European, so please stay tuned for next week’s column.

But let’s finish here with a “sexy” red Italian wine that’ll go great with holiday fare while showing your vino acumen to boot: 2020 Rubrato Aglianico Feudi di San Gregorio. By the way, “Aglianico” is pronounced “ah-LYAH-nee-koh

From the Campania region (which includes Napoli on the coast) Feudi di San Gregorio’s Rubrato Aglianico is grown between 1,000 – 1,600 ft above sea level in deep soil originally from ash and fallen pumice—Mount Vesuvius is close by.

Winemaker notes include: “Made from 100% Aglianico grapes, the wine is intense and lucid ruby red. On the nose, it offers wild black fruit, licorice and the underbrush. In the mouth, an intense, deep wine with a classic Ganglionic profile of wild black fruits, cherry licorice, earth, dark chocolate, burnt honey, roses, smoke, tar, and spice. Balanced, with soft, well-structured tannins a long finish, reminiscent of fresh fruits and a delicate balsamic note.

Another point of view, James Suckling, at 93 points, “Blackberries, smoke, ash, bark, rosemary and olives in brine. This is full-bodied with lightly stemmy yet smooth tannins and a lot of tension on the finish.”

We’ll cover Aglianico in a full article soon, but for the holiday tasting table, look for some fun discussions on this vino. Saluti!

Rick is your somm-about-town making it to many holiday tastings. He can be reached at