Monday, July 12, 2021

Dan Berger: Italian Red Grapes

 Italy's greatest contribution to all of Europe's wine culture starts with the fact that wine wasn't much of a tradition there until Roman legions planted vine cuttings they brought with them in the northern parts of the continent 23 centuries ago.

    What's odd about this is that, of all the most popular grapes that took root and prospered in France, Germany, Austria, Spain, Portugal and elsewhere, almost none were among Italy's most popular! 

    Today France is best known for its cabernet sauvignon (Bordeaux) as well as chardonnay and pinot noir (Burgundy), Spain for tempranillo and garnacha, and Portugal for touriga nacional.

    By contrast, Italy's top red grapes (sangiovese, barbera and nebbiolo) grow almost nowhere else in Europe. 

    No one disputes the excellence of the finest Bordeaux and red Burgundies. The same goes for Italy's reds, which now include several other grapes. But the styles of wines they produce are often radically different from one another, with the Italian grapes leaning more on naturally high acidity, thus calling for being paired with food.

    At their best, all of these wines command high prices. Cabernet, a most versatile variety that grows in a multiplicity of soils and climes, now can be found reasonably priced from more than a dozen counties.

    But the top red of Italy, Barolo, is grown almost nowhere else and only two other Italian grapes have made any sort of a mark in the United States.

    However, within the last two decades, both sangiovese and barbera have established important beachheads in this country and now offer consumers reasonably priced domestic versions that represent not only good value, but a chance to see how they can deliver real character as they age.

    One key to recent interest in both barbera and sangiovese here is that they usually offer more tartness to go with lemon and tomato-based foods, and are less astringent than are many of the cabernet varieties.

     U.S. wineries that specialize in Italian varieties almost all say roughly the same things: there's an enticing quality about them when they're made right, which means keeping their alcohol levels to a moderate level. Part of that is related to how it responds to the soils in which it grows. 

    Among the wineries that make both grapes into wine, two contrasting styles include the more opulent wines of Eberle in Paso Robles and the slightly leaner versions from the new Prima Materia of Lake County.

    Gary Eberle, the grape pioneer of Paso Robles, makes both wines with a lushness rare among such wines. They are both stylishly rich in fruit and still retain the superb acids needed to work with meat-based, tomato-y foods.

    Pietro Buttitta, owner of Prima Materia, farms a small (12 acre) vineyard on the volcanic Kelsey Bench of Lake County, at 1,450 feet in altitude.

    That cooler site yields a more Italianate style of wine, one that goes best with tomato-sauced dishes with more vegetables and spices.

    Of the four wines from the two wineries, I lean slightly more toward the two barberas because of a little more food-friendly nature they offer and how both tend to open up after being decanted.

    Both wineries market these wines for just over $30 a bottle, and both are superb examples.

    Prima Materia, a relatively new brand, is one to watch because Buttitta is a former chef who is well aware of how important structure and balance are in all wines, and he makes harvest decisions to ensure that his wines will always be better with a meal.

    Wine of the Week: 2019 "R" Jeff Runquist Barbera, Amador County ($27): Bright red cherry and fresh tomato aromas and a note of oak lead to a crisp, structured wine with amazing versatility. 

    To find out more about Dan Berger and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at



Anonymous said...

The reason that the Italian varieties mentioned are mostly grown in Italy is because of the rich volcanic soil.

I lived in southern Italy for seven years.

Kingfish said...

Stop the dumb muscadine jokes. I'm not approving them.

Anonymous said...

My wife and I love Italian wines. There are no better values; we can get a case of supertuscans better than most CA cabs for 1/3 of the price. Shame that we have to get them shipped to TN.

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Trollfest '09

Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).

Meet KIM Waaaaaade at the Entergy Tent. For five pesos, Kim will sell you a chance to win a deed to a crack house on Ridgeway Street stuffed in the Howard Industries pinata. Don't worry if the pinata is beaten to shreds, as Mr. Wade has Jose, Emmanuel, and Carlos, all illegal immigrants, available as replacements for the it. Upon leaving the Entergy tent, fig leaves will be available in case Entergy literally takes everything you have as part of its Trollfest ticket price adjustment charge.

Donna Ladd of The Jackson Free Press will give several classes on learning how to write. Smearing, writing without factchecking, and reporting only one side of a story will be covered. A donation to pay their taxes will be accepted and she will be signing copies of their former federal tax liens. Ms. Ladd will give a dramatic reading of her two award-winning essays (They received The Jackson Free Press "Best Of" awards.) "Why everything is always about me" and "Why I cover murders better than anyone else in Jackson".

In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.

In order to help clean up the legal profession, Adam Kilgore of the Mississippi Bar will be giving away free, round-trip plane tickets to the North Pole where they keep their bar complaint forms (which are NOT available online). If you don't want to go to the North Pole, you can enjoy Brant Brantley's (of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance) free guided tours of the quicksand field over by High Street where all complaints against judges disappear. If for some reason you are unable to control yourself, never fear; Judge Houston Patton will operate his jail where no lawyers are needed or allowed as you just sit there for minutes... hours.... months...years until he decides he is tired of you sitting in his jail. Do not think Judge Patton is a bad judge however as he plans to serve free Mad Dog 20/20 to all inmates.

Trollfest '09 is a pet-friendly event as well. Feel free to bring your dog with you and do not worry if your pet gets hungry, as employees of the Jackson Zoo will be on hand to provide some of their animals as food when it gets to be feeding time for your little loved one.

Relax at the Fox News Tent. Since there are only three blonde reporters in Jackson (being blonde is a requirement for working at Fox News), Megan and Kathryn from WAPT and Wendy from WLBT will be on loan to Fox. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both and a torn-up Obama yard sign will entitle you to free drinks served by Megan, Wendy, and Kathryn. Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required. Just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '09 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

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Trollfest '07

Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

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