By Rick Riozza 

Nice to be back writing regarding our rhetorical red wine truck and all of the vino it’s toting during the desert’s waning winter days.

And as we commented last time, our wine community is applauded for considering perhaps new and different red wines apart from the usual Cabs and Merlots.

It’s been said that the wine Italians love to drink is Montefalco Rosso.  That has our ear.  However, what we don’t have is a plentiful supply of the stuff, because the Italians keep so much of it for themselves. Travelers to Umbria know this already, having enjoyed meals in the region.  And the folks who’ve been there agree that it is a wine that bespeaks the red—“rosso” soul of Italy.

Well—don’t know about all that, a little too dramatic maybe, but the price is right and the wine is fine, indeed very tasty!

Umbria is home to the exquisitely intense, quite popular wines of Montefalco Sagrantino D.O.C.G., a wine we covered last winter. It’s a full flavor red with tannins and grit, having unique characteristics that perhaps bear no similarities with any other grape variety in Italy.

Flying under the regional radar however is a lighter, more approachable (and generally more affordable) alternative: Montefalco Rosso. As with the famed Brunello di Montalcino and its “baby brother”—Rosso di Montalcino, Montefalco Rosso is the more accessible and “starter-wine” for the budget-conscious version of the great red wine of Umbria.

Montefalco Rosso is a blend of Sangiovese and Sagrantino. Sangiovese, as we cover continuously, is the grape of Chianti in Tuscany.  The grape, Sagrantino, is probably less known to this readership; but stay tuned, stay thirsty, and give it a stab as we’ll no doubt discuss it again.

The D.O.C. requires that Montefalco Rosso be comprised of 60-70% Sangiovese, 10-15% Sagrantino, and the remainder from other red grapes (typically Merlot).

Defined by rich deep color, earthy complexity, dusty tannins and concentrated red-black fruits, these wines are ready-to-drink. Rosso’s have some fruity bluster, with its red & black cherries and plums along with earth, herbs, and leather notes. Surely it’s got its tannins and an interesting underlying minerality.   It’s almost difficult to discuss the unique (step-down) flavor of the Rosso, if one hasn’t tried the “big brother” Sangratino—like trying to describe the flavor profile of a loaded cheese burger: one needs to consume it; then, we well know what’s up.

Speaking of burgers, the Rosso would be a fine match—although I’m a bit quirky and partial to pairing hamburgers with Bordeaux!  Keeping it Italian, Rosso can pair with aged cheeses, beef, duck, lamb, pasta, pizza, sausages, stews, black truffles, and wild boar. Buon Appetito!!

My favorite Rosso to recommend is the delicious 2012 Terre de la Custodia Montefalco Rosso DOC, around $22.  A deep purple red wine, medium bodied, with aromas of wild berries, plum, violets, and mint, with a flavor profile of plum, licorice, earth, tobacco, and bitter chocolate. Good acidity, requiring a couple hours of decanting to bring roundness to the wine. That’s right!—let the baby breathe!

Next, please consider the 2013 E. Guigal Crozes-Hermitage, around $22

This wine is also “baby brother” status to the more famous, big, brawny and expensive Hermitage: The north Rhône Syrah that is big on black pepper, dark & plummy fruits, along with bloody, iodine-tinged savors—all in the best imaginable way! This is the wine profile that would pass muster for California diehards—getting their big fruit fix with additional complexities only found in the Syrah of the Rhône

Needless to state, Hermitage is uber-Syrah—one of the most valued and expensive vino in the world.  Its scent and flavor is almost overwhelming, it can age forever, and is like a stellar vintage port without the added brandy. Stunning stuff at stunning prices!   In its shadow, is the Crozes-Hermitage that gets you towards that experience, but much easier on the wallet.

To you wine enthusiasts, the winery, vineyard owner and producer E. Guigal needs no introduction.  You’re quite familiar already that when this winemaker releases a particular wine, it consistently sets the standard and raises the bar when it comes to brilliance.

The 2013 E. Guigal Crozes-Hermitage is medium purple with a dark pitched nose. It carries blackberries and cherries, a little bacon & smoke, flowers and earth on a medium light palate. Silky, smooth and velvety, it’s delicious with meaty foods and comforting stews. What’s not to like in this picture? 

Let’s revisit a ripasso wine that can revitalize a meal. (Although a touch embarrassing for writers and editors, a “correction-alert” from a previous article, is not principally a problem for wine columnists.  We simply get to high-light again a favorite wine pick.)  In this case, in my earlier article on ripasso wines, particularly the 2013 Tommasi, Ripasso Valpolicella, the correct bottle price is around $25 to $30.

Last time I quoted wine critic Jim Suckling’s praise of the wine. This time, let’s hear from the winemaker himself:  “Intense ruby red, the Ripasso has a nose that recalls spicy black pepper and raisin, while the palate is intense and spicy, with lots of sweet red cherry flavors. Pairs with white and red meat, game, and exquisite with a piece of aged Gorgonzola cheese.”

That reminds me: it’s time to do a wine & cheese pairing article. Keeping with our red wine theme for the season, let’s find some fresh, hard, or stinky cheeses for a red vino roundup!  Cheers!