Those Italians across the pond sure do have a handle on romance. Their beautiful, rolling hills of vineyards, relaxed way of life and fabulous wines reflect the natural dedication Italians have to amore. And, hey, chicks dig Italian stuff. It starts with the cool names ... like Valpolicella (val po lee CHEHL la). Can't you just hear that word rolling off Tony Soprano's tongue? Although hailing far from Tony's southern Italy roots, this red wine from the northeastern Veneto region still has enough umph to garner attention. Italians drink Valpolicella by the gallon, with lunch, snacks and dinner since it goes down gentle and easy. But if you spot "Amarone della Valpolicella" on the label, the wine in the bottle is another animal. Amarone is made from the same grapes as the regular Valpolicella, but the fruit is dried on mats for several hours before heading to the fermentation tanks, concentrating the flavors and sugars. The end result is a heady, silky, potent (up to 16 percent alcohol) wine that is best sipped rather than slammed.
Dolcetto (dol CHETT o), a red darling from the Piedmont region also bearing a singsong name, is perfect for fans of fruity, soft, fun wines. If you like Beaujolais from France, then you'll really dig the better prices and availability of Dolcetto.
Ah, Tuscany. Friendly little bars and family restaurants dot the auburn countryside bursting at the seams with grape vines. Soft breezes blow and the sun gently matures the fruit to perfection. The resulting wines epitomize the love Italian winemakers put into their craft, with the Sangiovese grape reigning in the bottle. The main grape in Italy's famous Chianti, Sangiovese also graces the heavier Brunello di Montalcino wines. "Di Montalcino" refers to the town where the grapes are grown. Earning the highest quality distinction in Italy, Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) — translated as "regulated and guaranteed place" — Brunello is considered in some circles to be the best aging wine on earth. In other words, the wine is big, tannic and often undrinkable under 15-20 years of age. It's also pretty pricey, retailing at more than $30 per bottle.
To enjoy the romance of Tuscany today, you might explore Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, a light, DOCG red wine suitable for everyday drinking. A blend of both Sangiovese and other red and white Italian varieties, it presents a fragrant, fruity wine. There are also cheaper yet still tasty versions called Rosso di Montepulciano and Montepulciano d'Abruzzo.
In northeastern Italy, a deliciously charming trend is flirting its way into our hearts: excellent white wines. Praised heartily for its award- winning reds, Italy sports some whites so acidic they'd eat through a Coke can. But the Pinot Grigios from the Trentino-Alto Adige are redefining Italian whites. They're smooth, fragrant, affordable and absolutely delicious.
Remember this year, as you travel down the primrose path to Valentine's Day: enjoy dreams of Italy and reap the rewards of romance.
MASO CANALI 2001 PINOT GRIGIO: Drips with grapefruit and lemon flavors, with very little acid hitting you in the face. This single vineyard wine hails from the south of Trentino. $15 $$$1/2
VILLA DIANA MONTEPULCIANO D'ABRUZZO 2001: Good sippin' and bursting with a bath of cherry fruitiness on the tongue. A wine for enjoying, not discussing. Nice price tag too. $7 $$$
ZENI 1999 VALPOLICELLA: Strawberry jam without the toast. Absolutely great stuff, especially with hard cheeses and a big hunk of Italian salami. $9 $$$$
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