There used to be a time early in our lives when a plate of spaghetti and meatballs were accompanied by chianti in a fiasco basket. That was often the only chianti available. But today consumers have many more Italian choices to complement their pasta: barbera, dolcetto, nebbiolo, and, yes, even chianti.
Like the wine, pasta has taken on more variety since the days of Chef Boyardee. Sauces and ingredients are far more creative, so the wine needs to step up to the occasion.
Here are several new wines we recently tasted that are great matches to pasta:
Attillio Ghisolfi Langhe Nebbiolo 2015 ($30). A silky, unpretentious wine with bright red fruit flavors and little tannin to keep it fun and quaffable. Long finish and a good price for what you get.
Vietti Dolcetto d’Alba Tre Vigne 2015 ($20). Wow, what a great deal. Very approachable with raspberry and blueberry notes and soft tannins.
Ruffino Il Ducale 2014 ($18). This delicious blend of sangiovese, merlot and syrah puts the soft touch on pasta with tomato-based sauces. Flavors include ripe cherries, plum and vanilla.
Paolo Manzone Dolcetto d'Alba "Magna" 2015 ($18). We have had plenty of insipid dolcettos from Italy that gave us doubt. But this is not one of them. An extraordinary, intense and rich dolcetto, Manzone has knocked a homerun here. Bright red color, floral aromas, and an intense palate of red berries. We're buying more.
Frescobaldi Massovivo Ammiraglia Toscana IGT Vermentino 2016 ($17). Although Tuscany is famous for its red wines made primarily from the sangiovese grape, this stunningly delicious white wine made from the vermentino grape is worthy of consideration. All stainless-steel fermentation and aging has created a wine with mouth filling crisp pear and apple elements with a slight floral note. It would be a great accompaniment to pasta with white sauces.
Citra Caroso Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo Reserve 2010 ($33). This is a big style red wine from Caroso. Made from the montepulciano grape, it is deep, rich with ripe berry fruit flavors, some licorice notes, a smooth delivery with soft tannins. Great with red-sauced Italian dishes.
Fattoria Selvapiana Chianti Rufina Riserva "Bucerchiale 2013 ($35). With some bottle age on this new release, the reserve Selvapiana has a rustic quality to it. Textured and mature red berry fruit.
Diego Cusumano Nero d’Avola 2016 ($12). Is this really just $12? Your fancy napkins cost more than that. From a family estate in Sicily, the wine is chock full of black berry and plum fruit flavors. It’s simple, pure, and quaffable – perfect with pizza.
Frescobaldi Mormoreto Toscana IGT 2012 ($87). Although this wine is a blend of French grape varieties it has a distinctive Italianate sense about it. Mostly cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot with a bit of petite verdot this wine displays medium bodied berry notes with some leather and cedar accents. A baby this wine can go for the long haul.
Here are some interesting merlots we've tasted recently:
Kendall-Jackson Grand Reserve Sonoma County Merlot 2014 ($26). This has a broad spectrum of flavors, mouth-filling blackberry fruit and a hint of chocolate. Forward in style with soft tannins and long finish.
Bonterra California Merlot 2015 ($16). From one of the oldest and most consistent organically and sustainably farmed vineyards, Bonterra makes a delicious, fruit-forward merlot reminiscent of a cherry orchard. Blended with a bit of petite sirah and malbec, it has good dimension and richness with hints of vanilla and spice.
Chelsea Goldschmidt Alexander Valley Merlot 2015 ($20). This concentrated merlot was new to us, but happily discovered. Good balance with cherry and strawberry notes with a dash of clove and cinnamon.
Novelty Hill Merlot 2015 ($23). From Washington's Columbia Valley, this merlot from winemaker Mike Januik has a medium body with generous, jammy raspberry flavors, and a hint of mocha.
Thorn Napa Valley Merlot 2014. Under new management, The Prisoner has leveraged the success of its title wine to produce the Thorn merlot and Cuttings cabernet sauvignon. Like The Prisoner, these two wines have a hedonistic quality with ripe, rich and sweet fruit character. This merlot, blended with malbec and syrah, is round and fleshy with mouth-filling cherry flavors and huge chocolate and vanilla notes.
Grgich Hills Estate Merlot 2013 ($43). This estate takes merlot to a higher level with this complex, layered gem. Strawberry and cherry flavors abound with hints of coffee and herbs.
Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Merlot 2014 ($25). Fruit forward in style, this merlot exudes ripe black cherry and plum fruit with a dash of pepper.
Montes Alpha Carmenere DO Colchaugua Valley Chile 2013 ($25). This excellent example of carmenere offers a lot of complexity and interest. The carmenere presents notes of luscious ripe plum, berry and violets, with a peppery finish. A lot of complexity and enjoyment in this wine.
Matua Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($12). Matua has come with an ingenious method to show on the bottle the proper serving temperature. Called "Chill Check,"a thermographic label changes color with temperature. A snowflake appears when it hits the ideal temperature. A Ta Moko symbol, a tattoo of the face or body, also darkens. The wine is classic New Zealand with pineapple, citrus, and grass notes.