Wines for spring

0410_wineSpring has finally arrived, and we can once again enjoy the deck or patio, or a concert under the stars enhanced by a glass of wine as the sun sets over the trees. Al Fresco is Italian for “in the fresh air,” and that’s where many Italian wines are drunk during much of the year. So what better choice to add to the enjoyment of the return to warm weather?

Vermentino, a grape originally from Spain but no longer grown there, is the signature white grape on the island of Sardinia, where Sella & Mosca was founded over a century ago. The 2008 Sella & Mosca La Cala Vermentino di Sardegna is named after a rocky cove (Cala) at the edge of their estate vineyards, and is particularly suited to being drunk in the open air. If served too cold, i.e., just out of the refrigerator, it has a slightly astringent finish; this vanishes when it’s a bit warmer. It’s made in stainless steel and never exposed to oak. There’s a light fruitiness with a hint of citrus notes and a clean dry finish. It works well with fish or a light chicken salad.
For a more complex white wine, try the 2008 Terredora di Paolo Falanghina Campania from the region (Campania) where grapes have been grown in the volcanic soil beneath Mt. Vesuvius since Roman times. This is also an oak-free wine, enhancing the blend of fruit flavors in the Falanghina grape. The dry finish balances the fruitiness nicely, with the combination giving the wine the assertiveness to stand up against more flavorful fish dishes, such as smoked salmon, to go with the aperitif. Again, don’t serve it too cold.
For a red, I’d suggest a Montepulciano from the Abruzzo region. Here, Montepulciano is a grape, not the town in Tuscany where the “Vino Nobile” is made from Sangiovese. This is one of the typical carafe wines at a trattoria in Rome, is uncomplicated, and goes well with almost all the standard Italian dishes calling for a red wine.   The wine has yet to make a deep impression on the island: stores that may carry a dozen or so Tuscan wines have at most a couple from the Abruzzo.
A word of caution: As is the case for many wine regions where the grapes are relatively inexpensive, the Abruzzo has its share of very high volume producers. The techniques used to process such “industrial wines” can often lead to the well-known red wine headache. The wines below, have, like all the red wines I’ve recommended, passed the “Widnell half bottle headache test.” Not a guarantee to those most susceptible, but better than nothing!
The wine is made in two styles. The first involves fermentation in stainless steel, and no exposure to oak, making the wine lighter and fruitier. For the second, maturation in oak follows the fermentation, making the wines a little more complex. These are most approachable if they spend six months or less in the cask. Try the 2006 Masciarelli Montepulciano d’Abruzzo for a no-oak wine, and the 2005 San Lorenzo for a lightly-oaked style.  Both would sit well on the table of a simple restaurant in Rome.

  • The Vermentino (*RNDC) is $13 at Rollers and on the wine list at Antonio’s and Mezzaluna.
  • The Falanghina (*Carolina Wine Source) is $18-21 at Reilley’s and Rollers and is on the wine list at Charlie’s L’Étoile Verte and Sunset Grille.
  • The Masciarelli Montepulciano (*Aleph) is $10-11 at A Wine and Spirit Shop, Down the Hatch, Fresh Market, Riptide (Baylor Drive) and Rollers, and by the glass at Antonio’s.
  • The San Lorenzo Montepulciano (*Palmetto) is $12-14 at Reilley’s and Rollers.
* Distributors in parenthesis

Christopher Widnell of Hilton Head Wine Consultants writes this column monthly for HHM. He can be reached at