Thirty-something Binny's Wine Consultants crowded into a room in a basement in one of our suburban Binny's locations yesterday afternoon. This was part two in a two part series of classes highlighting the wines of Italy, a subject diverse enough to tie up any wine professional for a while. Italy is, after all, infamous for having multiple wines with the same name, multiple names for the same wine, and not listing varietals on wine labels, except for when they do.

   Jenni Heim, our resident Italian wine nut (admirably!) led us through a tasting of over thirty wines from central and Southern Italy. Though education was buried in her message, the gist of it was enthusiasm. These are delicious and approachable wines! People need to know about them!

   Right NOW!

   Some of her enthusiasm may have rubbed off on me.

   Somehow, I have always held this cynical idea that inexpensive Italian wine is overly acidic and lacking in charm. This was probably a self-fulfilling prophecy; I managed to avoid the good, cheap stuff for years. But yesterday afternoon I tasted all these wines, not a single one over $30, most half that, and discovered all I've been missing.

   Just a few greats you might want to try:


   A central theme to our tasting was that generally, the farther South you look in Italy, the less the wine is focused on acidity, meaning better entry points for the American palatte. This is apparent in the 2007 Aia Vecchia Lagone, a Bordeaux-style blend from Tuscany. Its big nose of cocoa and stewed tomato leads to a fat, modern, ripe red. It's good, but for under fifteen bucks, this should be a slam dunk for anybody searching for a bargain red along the lines of Californian or South American.

   The 2008 Quercia Montepulciano d'Abruzzo shows surprising grace for one ten dollar bill. Light and smoky on the nose, the focus of this wine is in its lightly tannic grip, which supports the light fruit beautifully. Another graceful wine is the 2009 Colosi Nero d'Avola from Sicily, which features bright, lightly sweet strawberry fruit notes and surprisingly tight tannis. The 2008 Costera by Argiolas shows light, easygoing fruit with a distinct note of Black Jack gum in the nose.

   Moreover, these wines all get a big thumbs-up for their texture, grip and value: 2005 Caparzo Brunello di Montalcino, 2006 Poliziano Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, 2007 Arnaldo Caprai Montefalco Rosso.



   I'm used to tasting the whites of Spain, Portugal, New Zealand, so the Italian whites were refreshingly balanced and refined, even the cheap ones. Aromatics are key here.

   The 2008 Botromagno Gravina shows big time lemon creme on the nose with apricot and flowers. Beautiful! The good fruit and herbal cut on the palate are nice, but this is about the nose.  A wine that caused controversy is the 2008 Terredora Fiano di Avelina. What some people described as an off-putting nose of shoe rubber (or even sulfur?) I found more along the lines of heavily-toasted waffle cone and cream. The Fiano shows tart lemon on the palate, leading into brown sugar and toasted vanilla. Wonderful!


   Of course, this list is in no way exhaustive. Be sure to ask for recommendations in the Italian asile the next time you're in the mood for a great value.