Italian Wine — Exploring the Obscure

Don’t be intimidated! Italian wine can, more often than not, send potential drinkers fleeing in confusion and uncertainty. I am well versed in Italian wine. That being said, there are plenty of wine aisles I encounter that make me long for a pocket translator and a cold beer. There are 20 Italian wine regions, thousands of indigenous Italian varietals, wine labels that require the Rosetta Stone to decipher, and more acronyms than I care to count.

From a distance, Italian wine can appear daunting and unapproachable. The trick, however, is to take a few steps closer and narrow your field of vision. Find one region, select a couple of affordable wines from that region, pop and pour. To begin, find a region that you are unfamiliar with (generally, other people will be unfamiliar with that region too). The benefit here is that you can get great wines at great prices. While Chianti can be quite delicious, you will pay much more for mediocre Chianti than you will pay for a great, be it more obscure, wine from Sicily or Sardinia. An added benefit is when you find that cheap, yet delicious bottle of wine that you’d never heard of–the diamond-in-the-rough. And you did all the legwork and took the time to explore! Let the person who wants to take the easy road buy the over-priced bottle of mediocre wine with the recognizable label.

Many of my favorite wines come from parts of Italy that people rarely acknowledge, and are cheaper because of it. Sardinia is the large Mediterranean island west of Italy’s mainland and they produce what has grown into one of my go-to white wines- Vermentino. It is not tough to find a delicious Vermentino that runs for ten to fifteen dollars. They are typically jam-packed with flavors of tropical fruits, nuts, and sometimes have floral characteristics. Additionally, Sardinia produces a red called Cannonau. This fantastic grape is known as Grenache to the French in the Rhone Valley and as Garnacha to the Spanish. Typically, Cannonau is a medium bodied wine driven by fresh, red fruits and the occasional notes of spice and smokiness.

These wines go amazing with particular foods. My ace up the sleeve wine pairing trick is ‘if it grows together it goes together.’ Historically, livestock and maritime cultures have shaped Sardinia. The twelve-dollar, diamond-in-the-rough Vermentino, coupled with a fresh seafood dinner of sea bass, mussels, etc. will rival most any dining experience. The same can be said for lamb rack paired with a

nice Sardinian Cannonau.

As you explore the world of obscure Italian wine you will undoubtedly find wines that you dislike. Don’t be discouraged! Try to characterize what about the wine isn’t pleasing to you and proceed with that knowledge. This is part of the process that makes the wine journey fun. Next time you find yourself shopping for a bottle of Italian wine, leave your intimidation at the door and take a gamble on a region that you’ve never heard of–you might surprise yourself on what you find. The journey through Italian wine can seem like a lot to swallow, but once you open your mind (and your mouth) to the experience, you will find it is a deliciously intoxicating trip!

Argonaut carries good quality examples of Vermentino and Cannonau.  They both run for about $14 and are produced by Argiolas; a great wine maker from Sardinia. The specs of the two wines are as follows- Vermentino d.o.c. Sardinia, Argiolas “Costamolino” 2012, and  Cannonau i.g.t. Sardinia, Argiolas “Costera” 2009


About Max Koepke

As a Sedona, Arizona native I grew up obsessed with the outdoors and exploring the southwest. I lived in Orvieto, Italy for six months and gained a great appreciation for Italian food and culture, with an emphasis on wine. This appreciation of wine led me to seeking out employment at places with extensive wine lists that placed their focus on Italian wines. I have worked for Lettuce Entertain You in Chicago, Telluride Ski and Golf at their flagship restaurant, Allred's, and their top-o-the-mountain wine bar, Alpino Vino. Currently, I work as the sommelier at the northern Italian restaurant, Il Posto, in Denver. My sommelier courses were taught by Frasca's Bobby Stuckey in Aspen, Colorado. In addition to the pursuit of wine I also have a passion for photography, the outdoors, and Colorado's striking mountains (especially when they're covered in thick blankets of snow).