A red wine tour of Italy

Scott Greenberg, wtop.com

I have a difficult time keeping Italian wine regions and their varietals straight.

Part of the reason for my confusion is the labyrinth of vineyard designations and the complex regulatory governance that defines and enforces the various levels of quality from each region.

But recently, I had the pleasure of sampling a variety of wines from across Italy. And thanks to Deena of Vias Imports, my personal wine tour guide, I finally started to get a grasp on what goes where.

In the northern edge of Italy is an area carved out by the Adige River where the estate of Teunta San Leonardo has been under the ownership of the Guerrieri Gonzaga family since the mid-eighteenth century. Today, the estate is planted to international varietals that thrive in the various microclimates on the nearly 50 acres. The 2008 Terre di Tenuta San Leonardo Vigneti Delle Dolomiti IGT is an outstanding value. Vinified in cement vats using a blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot, the wine delivers loads of simple-yet-elegant flavors of black fruit, dark plum and wild cherry. The pretty finish shows off just a touch of mocha for good measure. $15

A quarter of the way down the coast is where you’ll find Fattoria del Cerro, the largest private estate producing Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. The star of the show in this region is the Prugnolo Gentile, a clone of the Sangiovese grape. The 2008 Fattoria del Cerro Vino Nobile di Montepulciano spends a good bit of time in Slovenian oak which gives the nose a distinctive toasty oak accent. The smooth palate shows off flavors of black cherries and smoky plum. The mellow tannins offer up hints of vanilla on the easy, medium-bodied finish. $16

In the dead center of the country is the region of Abruzzo where the vineyards of Cataldi Madonna sit in a valley blessed by exceptional exposure to the sun. The 2010 Cataldi Madonna Montepulciano D’Abruzzo DOC is made from 100 percent Montepulciano and exudes richness and depth with every sip. Flavors of dark cherries and black currants dominate on the tongue. Rustic notes of earthy spices add complexity on the medium finish. $17

Founded in 1979 by Gianni Cantele and sons Augusto and Domenico, the vineyard, located in the southern tip of Puglia – in the “heel of the boot” – is home to varietals that include primitivo and negroamaro. Today, Augusto’s son, Gianni Cantele, is the winemaker and is responsible for the wonderfully balanced 2009 Cantele Primitivo Salento IGT. Made exclusively from primitivo, considered by many to be the precursor of zinfandel, it features a toasty oak nose and flavors of succulent red and black fruit on an extremely well-balanced, fat frame. The extra-long finish, with sweet tannins and notes of smoky cedar, belies is price. $11

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