Babbo’s ever-evolving wine list (up to ten pages change daily!), wine director Alec Steidl needs to stay on top of Italy’s thousands of grape varieties. Fresh off a tasting trip to Piedmont and Tuscany, the expert shared his favorite Italian wines – and hearty winter food pairings.To keep up with
Common misconceptions about Italian wines
“People look at Italy and they think of one country. Italy’s not like that. It’s 20 little countries. Each one has its own cuisine and its own wine styles,” says Steidl. Instead of focusing on the grape, he recommends drinkers explore Italy by region. Italians tend to drink locally, and it’s rare for restaurants to serve wines from outside the region they’re in.
“Gateway” Italian wine regions for novices
Steidl recommends that those new to Italian wines start in Tuscany (the region uses many international grape varieties) and Sicily, which offers an “approachable style of wine.” Piedmont, Steidl’s favorite Italian wine region, will delight Burgundy fans, as Barolo and Barbaresco have similarities.
Wines to try: Conti Costanti Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, 2007; Sherry-Lehmann Wine & Spirits, $70 (pairs well with pheasant or wildfowl). Tenuta delle Terre Nere Rosso Etna, 2011; Millesima, $17 (pairs well with rich seafoods in cream sauce). Marcarini Barolo La Serra, 2004; The Wine Cellarage, $45 (pairs well with braised beef or simple pasta with white truffles).
Hot and happening Italian wine regions
For those Italian winos who are looking for something new, Steidl points to Campania and Umbria. He specifically likes Campania’s Taurasi (a local grape done in the same style as Barolo) and Umbria’s Sagrantino, citing its big richness, bite and dry finish. “It’s a great food wine, even though it’s relatively full bodied.”
Wines to try: Taurasi Cinque Querce Molettieri, 2004; Flatiron Wines & Spirits, $45 (pairs well with Steak Florentine). Arnaldo Caprai Sagrantino di Montefalco, 2005; Winfield-Flynn, Ltd., $35 (pairs well with game dishes, such as wild boar or venison).
Recommended wine pairings for favorite Italian dishes
Steidl recommends a light, fresh white from Friuli, “the place to go for white wine in Italy.” Producer Vie di Romans uses French oak, which subtly gives more backbone without adding buttery flatness.
Wines to Try: Vie di Romans Dessimis Pinot Grigio Friuli Isonzo, 2010; Mister Wright Fine Wines & Spirits; $35.
One of the few wines Steidl likes with pizza is Lambrusco. His ultimate pick is Paolo Palumbo Lettere from Campania. “It’s similar to Lambrusco, with a little bit of sparkle and kind of fizzy.” The winemaker bottles the red four times a year, meaning every three months you’re getting the freshest product possible. “There’s a bit of earthiness, a bit of richness, a bit of juiciness.”
Wines to Try: Paolo Palumbo Lettere, 2011; Vino Fine Wine & Spirits, $18.
Red Sauce Pasta
For a high-acid tomato sauce, Steidl recommends something simple, like a Barbera from Piedmont. “You want a wine that isn’t over the top and full bodied, but will complement really well and just roll into that dish.”
Wines to Try: Vietti Tre Vigne Barbera d'Alba, 2009; Astor Wines & Spirits, $25.
Orange wines are white wines treated like red wine. During the winemaking process, skins are briefly left on (usually removed for white wines), adding color, earthiness and tannins, making the white richer and fuller bodied without adding oak. “You’re not trying to make a big, massive, buttery white wine. This is not a flabby wine,” Steidl says.
Wines to Try: Stanislao Radikon Pinot Grigio Venezia Giulia IGT, 2009; Chambers Street Wines, $43 (500ml).