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Italy’s diversity shows off in these top red wines

TODAY wine columnist Edward Deitch recommends four Italian reds, ranging from the familiar to the relatively obscure. All of them pair well with the fresh tomato sauces that are so much fun to make at this time of year.
/ Source: TODAY

I was reminded in my tastings in recent weeks just why I like the wines of Italy so much. Perhaps more than any other country, Italy’s great diversity offers wine lovers the chance to enjoy the familiar while exploring the relatively obscure, a fact demonstrated by four Italian reds that I think you should consider this fall.

Sometimes, when cooking the fresh tomato sauces I love to make at this time of year, I can think of nothing more appropriate than a slightly chilled bottle of young Chianti from Tuscany. Nothing serious, just an inexpensive, fruity wash-down wine from the sangiovese grape that will hold up to the acids of the tomatoes. One such wine is Melini's 2008 Chianti "Borghi d'Elsa." This is the Chianti equivalent of young Beaujolais and has appealing cherry and black cherry notes. It’s effortless to drink and everyday cheap at $7. Imported by Frederick Wildman and Sons, New York.Lagrein is one of those relatively obscure varieties that don't get much commercial attention but are well worth looking for. Grown in the cool-climate Sudtirol region of Alto Adige in Italy's north, this unique red is distinguished by its mildly spicy and earthy aromas (Indian spices, to my nose). Look for the classy 2007 Lagrein from St. Michael-Eppan, which is restrained in its fruit and softly tannic. It has red-berry and blueberry tastes with secondary notes of cedar and coffee. Enjoy it with chicken, pork, pot roast and even, as I did, with open-faced sandwiches of Cheddar cheese and tomatoes on a baguette. $16. Imported by Martin Scott Wines, Ltd. Lake Success, N.Y.Nebbiolo, the great red variety from Italy's Piedmont region, is best known for its expressions in Barolo and Barbaresco, which typically require years of aging before the wines are truly accessible. It's possible, however, to find more approachable nebbiolos that can show well in their youth. One of them is Renato Ratti's excellent 2007 "Ochetti" Nebbiolo d'Alba. It's only moderately tannic, with notes of dark cherry, earth and cedar. It's also a top nebbiolo value at $20. Imported by Dreyfus Ashby & Co., New York.I am always looking for leaner, elegant pinot noirs, preferring them, in general, to the big-fruit style of California or even Oregon pinots. Give me some earth and minerals combined with nuanced fruit and restrained alcohol levels and I'll be happy. Burgundy, of course, sets the standard when it comes to this style of pinot noir. It can be found as well in Italy, at least in northern Italy, where the grape is also called pinot nero.

A worthy example is Cantina Terlano's 2007 Pinot Noir from Alto Adige. I noted its minerality, earthiness and notes of blackberry, black cherry and raspberry when I brought it to a dinner with friends. Served cool, it went perfectly with tuna steaks accented with tomato and olives and accompanied by spaghetti, cooked perfectly al dente, with garlic and a splash of excellent Balsamic vinegar. This pinot noir, with alcohol at 13 percent, proved to be an excellent food wine, which is, after all, what we are most looking for in wine. It’s $25 and imported by Banville & Jones, New York.

Edward Deitch is the recipient of the 2007 James Beard Foundation Journalism Award for Best Multimedia Writing. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at