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Bartender Enthusiasm
When a bartender gets excited about a wine, it’s time to listen. When a bartender starts giving tastes of his homeade limoncello and gushing about a new wine he just got in, it’s time to order that wine.

Best. Photo. Available.
Vermentino, the wine that the bartender loved, is an Italian wine. Typically. They also make some in the southeastern part of France next to Italy where they call it Rollé and really don’t export it much. Principally, that’s why the bartender was so excited – you don’t find this Vermentino every day! He’s correct – looking online, the vineyard has no website, there’s almost nobody who’s mentioned this wine and there are exactly zero photos of it. Apologies for the photo – it’s literally the best on the web.

Arc of History
Vermentino, despite its Italian ascendancy, has hovered around that Spanish-French-Italian arc of the Mediterranean for at least 700 years. Nobody’s quite sure where it originated on that arc but today it’s most firmly established in Liguria, Sardinia and Piedmont – the parts of Italy closest to France. Provence, Corsica and (increasingly) Languedoc-Roussillon – the parts of France closest to Italy are producing quite a bit of Rollé as well, and even the US in the 1990s started planting some due to its easy growing. While pretty unknown at present, if bartenders keep talking up this wine with such energetic aplomb, expect to be seeing much more of this grape on the menu in future years.

Lots of flavor – mostly apple, smells sweet but isn’t really – surprisingly, it’s tart with lots of acid.

Detail Up!
2009 L’Alycastre Vermentino by Domaine De La Courtade in Provence, France

Google Randoms:
* Vermentino has the best nickname, which Piedmont people use to describe it – “Favorita”
* Sounds like Australia’s hip to the Vermentino scene – they know it can grow in regions too hot for most whites.
* Mario Batali’s restaurant recommends this wine. Liked this place even before finding out about Batali’s Traverse City connection

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Southern Italy’s Pinot Grigio
Falanghina might be Southern Italy’s answer to Pinot Grigio. Of all the white grapes in Italy, Pinot Grigio is the one that has taken the world by storm over the last decade. It consistently ranks in the Top 10 wines sold and people love to drink it, despite wine pros telling them it’s terrible and they should love less popular wines. Think of them it as the the Yankees, both for its popularity and for the hatred it stirs up among those who root for well, ANY other team.

Mets to the North’s Yankees
Falanghina really fits the Mets role perfectly. It’s from the south of Italy (like Queens to the Yankee’s Bronx), has huge acidity just like Pinot Grigio, and keeps getting talked about like it’s going to be a serious contender THIS season.

As far back as 2002 (pretty much the stone age of blogs), people on the wino-world were talking about what an amazing and breakout wine Falanghina was going to be. “Eat it with fish! Taste that acidity! You like Naples, right? It comes from Campagna – that’s where Naples is!” Sadly, like the Mets, it never quite materializes and those in Queens head home early to their beer gardens while the Yankees go on to win Championship #27.

Rediscovered. Again.
People keep rediscovering this grape and for good reason. Some of us really love extra-acidic wines where you could bleach your hair with a glass of the good stuff sitting out in the summer sun. Falanghina allows that to happen and when paired up with fish, you’re talking immediate ceviche that even the Chileans admit is delicious.

Horace Hair
Others of us love all kinds of history nonsense where we can think Horace and Pliny sat around with a glass of Falanghina and bleached their hair at the beach just like us. Whatever the attraction, keep rooting for Falanghina to make its big break-out this season and maybe this year will be the year. It’s not like it’s the Cubs.

Detail Up!
Feudi di San Gregorio Falanghina 2009 from Campagna, Italy (h/t for the image)

Minerality, green apples, acidic – light body. Mostly lemon in that acidic binge.

Google Randoms:
* In 700 BC you could have asked for a glass of “Falanghina” and your bartender would have known what you meant. That’s how little the word “Falanghina” has changed.
* Italian lawyers, much maligned for being lawyers Italian, proved instrumental in bringing Falanghina back to glory. Grazie Lawyer Avallone!
* Fah-lahn-GEE-nah is best pronounced as a Welsh Christmas carol. “Fa la la la la, la la la la.”

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Confusion over Corvina
Corvina just doesn’t sound like a wine grape. Walk into a grocery store and the only “corvina” you’ll be finding will be over in the fishy-smelling section where your local fishmonger will instantly know it’s a Chilean Sea Bass you’re looking for (what was called, in another era, the Patagonian Toothfish – understandably, they changed it). Walk into a Portuguese restaurant and ask for the “corvina” and your waitress (possibly named “Corvina”) will instantly bring you Corvina on a platter. Just don’t ask for a bottle of Corvina – everyone will be very confused.

Veneto, Land of Ancient Wines and Feuds
Only in an Italian restaurant that specializes in food from Veneto, the northeastern part of Italy, will your order of “a Bottle of Corvina” bring smiles and appreciative hand gestures. In Veneto (and not many other places even in Italy), people cherish the Corvina and make all kinds of magic with it in wines. This is a region with a long history of wine-making dating back to the Romans (one of its valleys literally means “Valley of Many Cellars”) but most people know it as the site of Verona – home to Romeo & Juliet, the Montagues and the Capulets, Mercutio and Benvolio, the Nurse and the Friar, (the Corvina and the Rondinella?).

Famous Amarone
Veneto is one of the early adopters of the “straw wine” process, although not the first, and the Venetians have been winning crazy praise for the last 50 years with their big Amarone dessert wine. Amarone, despite its noodle-sounding name, is probably the most famous dessert wine from Italy, and Corvina features as its largest grape contributor in that final, raisin-y blend.

Detail Up!
Corvina 2009 “Torre del Falasco” by Valpantena Winery in Veneto, Italy (h/t for the image)

Really dark red color, fruity (i thought blackberry but others said cherry) with medium body with a little licorice finish and medium-strength tannins.

Google Randoms:
* Valpolicella, an affordable ($12-18) wine also from Veneto, counts Corvina among its majority shareholders (often in the 70% range)
* Corvina performs best in volcanic soil that resists the cold well – thinking there are parts out west in the US where this could work post-volcanic wonders
* Corvinione, once thought to be Corvina until scientists discovered that they’re actually two separate grapes, wasn’t discovered until 1993. Kinda exciting.

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Sparkling Red Wine
Lambrusco is a wine that I should like but don’t. It’s red, it’s bubbly and it’s just different. It’s the original red bubbly. Australia has started churning out full-on bubbly red in recent years (as opposed to the Italian semi-bubbly frizzante of Lambrusco), but finding a bubbly red is still very rare. Hence, the appeal of wine shops recommended Lambrusco even when it’s bad.

Styles, according to me
Lambrusco comes in two styles – sickly sweet and drinkable – both of which have some basic characteristics. They’re red wine served chilled, slightly bubbly in that frizzante Italian way, and the alcohol’s on the lighter side (8-11%). Every Lambrusco I’d had until yesterday fit into that mawkish first category of sickly sweet, where the wine was often mistaken for a fizzy liquid lollipop. Apparently, this style caught on during the 1970s, right at the time of the Bee Gees and disco. Clearly a lost decade.

The second style – drinkable – is becoming more popular and includes yesterday’s wine above. Dry, still fruity (but not egotistically so) and actually drinkable, it’s a wine for cold cuts, movie pizza and rainy Sunday afternoons. Thanks to its low alcohol content, any scintillating film critiques you share with your rainy-day couch companion will be understood in real-time.

Lambrusco is a grape and not a grape. It’s the von Trapp family of wine. There’s a whole lot of individuals but nobody outside the family can distinguish very well between all those kids in the middle so they go by the collective “von Trapp” name. Same thing for Lambrusco. Ampelographers (wiki word of the day) know of at least 60 varieties of Lambrusco and yet “Lambrusco” is what you’ll find on the bottle.

Italy has Lambrusco stamped all over its boot, and this applies historically as well as geographically. Cato the Elder enjoyed this wine back in the Roman days and (despite his puissant name) he wasn’t the first. The Etruscans were drinking Lambrusco long before Romulus found his wolf teat and started building all roads to Rome.

Taste of Lambrusco
Pretty dry but still good middle-of-the-road fruit (strawberry?), enough fizz, and a slightly bitter finish. Better than any Lambrusco I’ve had (low benchmark) and actually worth having in the fridge.

Detail Up!
2009 Francesco Vezzelli Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro Rive Dei Ciliegi

Google Randoms
* Sickly Sweet Lambrusco Wine provided by Riunite – “top of the list of the 25 most influential italian wines of the last 25 years”
* Lambrusco’s 6 principal von Trapp family members discussed by WSJ’s Lettie Teague
* Balsamic Vinegar comes from the same town as the Lambrusco stronghold in Emilia-Romagna.

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Moscato d’Asti is a semi-fizzy dessert wine if wine shops and their 15% off sales on “dessert wines” are to be believed. In my opinion, it barely qualifies as either. The wine is barely fizzy, although it has a few bubbles that sneak to the top of the glass like rogue spies. Perhaps they call it a dessert wine since it’s a sweet wine, and yes, it is sweet. But when I think of dessert wines, I think of high levels of alcohol to kick the night into full gear and well out of second gear. This wine, clocking in at 5.5% alcohol, puts that pre-gaming rush into the pitstop. This should be a pre-dinner wine for chocolate and sweet lovers who are easing into their meal, not the last stop before $1 pizza cravings kick in.

Even with my gripe on the misnomer, this wine delivers in all kinds of ways. There’s the bit of fizz that’s barely noticeable in the deadly flirty way that hands touch hands in movie theaters, and there’s the taste of moderate, refined flavors. Peach, rose and pear sprout in the nose, then there’s a whole lychee swimming pool that shows up in your mouth and some sage and herbs sprout after the lychee lagoon drains away. None are too overpowering, they’re just really different flavors that somehow pull together into a wine that defines its “dessert wine” label.

Think of Moscato (or Muscat) as the Abraham of wines. Pretty much all wines started with Abraham and then branched off from there (Ur being Piedmont, apparently) into all kinds of crazy Muscat-type wines. This particular wine is Moscato d’Asti (Muscat from Asti, up in Piedmont), which is made from the grape Moscato Bianco (“White Muscat”). I’m confused myself with all these Muscat names, but looking at the color of this wine (white) and where it’s from (Asti), the names are starting to make sense. Anyway, there are all kinds of wines that come from this Jacob-branch of the family, even other sparkling wines made from Moscato Bianco like Asti Spumante. Plenty of other Muscats exist on the Esau-side of the vini-family tree but it’s best to leave them for another day. Today’s all about Jacob and his Moscato Bianco.

Detail Up!
Moscato d’Asti 2009 Vigna Senza Nome

Random Googles
* “Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains” is French for “Moscato Bianco.” It goes by at least 10 other names, the best of which is “Muskateller.”
* Moscato Bianco is the oldest grape in Piedmont (that hambone chunk in the NW that bumps into France and Switzerland).
* Moscato d’Asti – first made by a wine-loving jeweler in the 1500s. Fact.

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