It was a typical weekday evening, with a couple of boxes of wine waiting as I arrived home. I had just been thinking about "big" wines versus "lean" wines, and how my tastes are increasingly leaning toward wines that are modest in size, which doesn't necessarily mean that they are small in stature. In wine, it's all about what you like.
In one box was a Chianti made from organically grown grapes with an alcohol level of 12.5 percent. I was intrigued. In the other box was a red wine from California that had an alcohol level of — get ready for this — a staggering 16 percent! I have yet to try either of these wines, but it’s not hard to anticipate which one I will prefer.
A lot of this has to do with growing conditions, especially heat. The hotter the climate, the higher the sugar level in the grapes, which, during fermentation, is converted to alcohol. Cooler climates, such as those of France and northern Italy, generally produce wines that are lower in alcohol than many from California and Australia, for example, with their hotter climates.
My point here is that it doesn't have to be big and brawny to be delicious and satisfying. This is the kind of wine that I want to sip a little at a time, think about, and then pour a little more. Call it a wine for thought. Another wine like this is the 2004 "Mazane" from the Costaripa estate in Lombardy in northern Italy. This wine is made from the charming marzemino, a local grape that is overshadowed by more familiar Italian and "international" varieties but deserves greater recognition. (The owner and winemaker, Mattia Vezzola, emphasizes native grapes.)
Don't look for anything here resembling, let's say, generic merlot or cabernet sauvignon. Costaripa's marzemino, with a modest 12.5 percent alcohol, is relatively light and lean but intensely flavored. It reminded me of pinot noir but is a little more earthy and rustic.
Highly fragrant, it suggests strawberry preserves, cherry, violets and mint. The fruit is ample but reserved, the antithesis of high-octane, New World reds. The net effect of such wines, as I suggested earlier, is that one savors them, sipping and contemplating them in small amounts at a time. The marzemino, which sells for a reasonable $13.50, is highly versatile with foods and will complement everything from roasts to light pasta sauces with or without tomato and with or without meat.
It’s imported by Empson USA and is available in many markets. For more information you can contact Empson at email@example.com < mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org >. This is a great example of a rewarding and affordable wine that is slightly off the beaten track. So tonight, why not try something new — a marzemino or another wine you haven’t heard of? Chances are you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Edward Deitch's wine column appears Wednesdays. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him atEdwardDeitch@hotmail.com.