Tastings: Tastes of summer in Siena

Long before I moved to Pittsburgh in 2001, I spent two months each year in Siena, Italy. I was adopted by the Aquila contrada, or district, and paid my annual contrada dues to support our entry into the famous Palio horse race as well as to care for elderly or ill contrada members. Recently a friend asked me for some Siena tips before leaving to visit Tuscany with her wine-loving son and daughter-in-law. That conversation made me so nostalgic for those days of wine and cheese and pane and soppressata that I went directly from our meeting to the East Liberty Wine and Spirits store to shop for some wines to remind me of those days. This is what I found:

Salviano Orvieto Classico Superiore, 2013, Umbria, Italy

PLCB No. 33346, $9.99 (Chairman’s Selection)

The town of Orvieto is known for its giant Gothic cathedral and as the summer retreat of the popes in the 12th century. Orvieto wines of that period were thick, sweet and sticky. The light and well-balanced white from Orvieto today is totally dry and a perfect summer refreshment. It is made from a blend of 40- to 60-percent Trebbiano grapes with Verdello, Grechetto, Caniola and Malvasia for the remainder. Trebbiano is called Ugni Blanc in France, where it produces the base that is distilled to make cognac. In Orvieto it is cool, clean, simple and delicately aromatic with notes of green apple, pears and melon. It is a light white with crisp acidity that pairs beautifully with seafood and is a perfect match for sushi.

Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Pietrafitta, 2013, Tuscany, Italy

PLCB NO. 7581, $13.99

San Gimignano is one of the most beautiful medieval hilltop villages in Tuscany and Vernaccia is a historic wine produced there since the 13th century. It is said to be Italy’s oldest grape variety but its origins are not clear, with ampelographers disagreeing if it originally came from Eastern Europe or Greece or is indigenous to the Italian peninsula. It is celebrated in literature, including poems by Dante. At its best, Vernaccia should show crisp minerality and have a note of bitter almond on the finish. It is only 11 percent alcohol, which is why I consider it a light-bodied summer wine. DOCG regulations stipulate that the wine be made from 90 percent Vernaccia grapes with up to 10 percent of Chardonnay and/or Vermentino allowed. Drink it with pecorino sheep’s milk cheese and raw fava beans for a purely Tuscan aperitif. Or serve it with pasta and grilled seafood.

Conte d’Attimis Maniago Pinot Grigio, 2012, Friuli-Venezia Guilia, Italy

PLCB No. 32986, $12.99 (Chairman’s Selection)

One of Friuli’s oldest wine-producing properties, this estate has been in the noble d’Attimis family for nearly 500 years. Today the estate is managed by Count Alberto d’Attimis-Maniago, who made this elegant, harmonious and sophisticated Pinot Grigio by maturing the wine, which gives it lovely yeasty hints. Lively on the palate, it shows persistent ripe fruit flavors and a welcome crispness. Drink as an aperitif with hors d’oeuvres or with raw or cooked seafood.

Kris Pinot Grigio, 2012, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy

PLCB No. 3840, $12.99

Pinot Grigios from Friuli are the best in Italy: fuller, rounder, nuttier and more expressive than what that grape produces in other regions. The wines are crisp and aromatic with a flinty minerality. Friuli Pinot Grigio is round and creamy in the mouth, though not assertively aromatic. Because of the added weight, this is a wine that can stand up to such Italian classics as gnocchi or grilled bronzino.

Recit Roero Arneis, 2013, Piemonte, Italy

PLCB No. 33229, $13.99

Arneis has been grown in the Piemonte for four centuries, scattered throughout the Nebbiolo vineyards of the region. Originally, it was blended into the red grapes to soften the Borolos or, some say, to keep birds and bees away from the reds. When local winemakers decided to go with 100 percent Nebbiolo, a number of wineries began bottling Arneis as a single-variety white wine. The grape, often referred to as Borolo Blanc, comes principally from the thickly forested, sandy-soiled Roero zone west of Alba. It produces a fruity wine with honeysuckle and ripe pear aromas, with some notes of white grapefruit mingling with white flowers. Drink this with grilled fish or primavera pasta.

It is an excellent value and a grape variety that deserves your attention.

Poggio Scalette Chianti Classico, 2012, Tuscany, Italy

PLCB No. 33268, $16.99 (Chairman’s Selection)

Made from 100-percent Sangiovese grapes sourced from vineyards in the village of Ruffoli, located in Greve, high on the hills of the Chianti Classico region. There is a lively bouquet of red fruits and blackberries with side notes of red cherries. Silky tannins make this a wine to drink young or to put down for a year or two. It is a great food wine, pairing with anything from lamb to chicken.

Although it is not Italian, I can’t leave the summer wine suggestions without touching on my all-time favorite warm-weather quaff:

Arca Nova Vinho Verde, 2013, Portugal

PLCB No. 43568, $8.99

Arca Nova Vinho Verde is produced by Quintas das Arcas Sociedade Agricola, a small family-run estate. Known as the classic white wine of Portugal, Vinho Verde literally translates as “green wine” and relates to the style of being young, fresh and clean. The Arca Nova Vinho Verde is made using the Loureiro and Pederna grape varieties, and has a gentle sparkle that tingles on the tongue. It is light and filled with citrus aromas and has a crisp body, making the Arca Nova Vinho Verde perfect for tapas or as an aperitif. It must be drunk young. Do not buy anything older than 2013. It should be drunk within a year of harvest. Our state stores are full of older vintages that should not be on the shelves. The best Vinho Verdes have the harvest year on the label. Do not buy a bottle that doesn’t state the vintage. Only 11-percent alcohol means you can enjoy several glasses.

Elizabeth Downer: elizabethdowner@gmail.com.


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