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Ultimate pasta reds from southern Italy

TODAY wine columnist Edward Deitch reviews two wonderful wines from Sicily and Puglia  — and they're organic to "boot."
/ Source: TODAY

I don’t know about you, but I never seem to have enough interesting, moderately priced Italian wines on hand, wines that I can enjoy with the hearty pasta dishes I love to cook, especially at this time of year.

One is made with my own version of a basic tomato sauce. I sauté some chopped garlic, add in some good Italian plum tomatoes and, after cooking for a half hour or so, add fresh basil and parsley. I like to take it one step further. In a cast-iron skillet, I toss the sauce with cooked pasta, top it with some roughly chopped mozzarella cheese, then place it under the broiler for a few minutes so the cheese and the top layer of pasta get slightly browned and crusty finish. The Italians have a name for this, but it escapes me.

I enjoyed the dish again the other night with just the right wine, a hearty nero d’avola from Sicily. If you haven’t yet tried nero d’avola, there are plenty of them out there as the wine has become a star of southern Italy in recent years. They are fruity and exotic, made for food, and the best of them have a charming brightness.

That was the case with Gulfi’s 2007 “Rossojbleo” Nero d’Avola. It’s made from grapes grown organically in limestone-rich soils. The vineyards in southeast Sicily are dry-farmed, meaning they are not irrigated, and the wine is fermented with indigenous yeasts that are in the air and settle on the wine naturally, as opposed to artificial yeasts that are inoculated into the wine to give it certain characteristics. The result is a wine that has undergone little manipulation in the winery and is a true expression of the grapes and where they are grown.

Gulfi’s Rossojbleo is also a bargain at about $14. Made without oak, it offers a delightful mix of dark berry and exotic spices, especially cardomon, when you breathe it in from your glass. Not only did it provide a refreshing counterpoint to our tomato sauce, but I think this one would match nicely with spicy and aromatic Indian dishes as well. (Imported by Selected Estates of Europe, Mamaroneck, N.Y.)

One of my other favorite pasta dishes is one I’ve mentioned here before. It’s so simple that you can make it in about 20 minutes or so. You sauté until browned some Italian sausage meat (I like a combination of sweet and hot), add a little garlic and throw in a chopped-up bunch of broccoli rabe. Cook until the broccoli is tender, then toss with a pasta like penne or fusilli.

We enjoyed this dish recently with another young red, this one from the Salento area of Puglia in the heel of Italy’s boot. Perrini’s 2007 Negroamaro, which I bought for $15, is a wonderful example of this native variety. This one is also made from organic grapes, grown in an old limstone quarry, and is wonderfully complex, with refreshing acidity and great fruit. Black cherry and cassis are accented by clove and a touch of black licorice. Earthy and softly tannic, the overall impression is delicate and fresh. (Imported by Louis/Dressner Selections, New York.)

Wines from these areas can be hot and unwieldy. These two show a more refined side, demonstrating the quality and value that can be found these days and why southern Italy  is among the most exciting areas in the wine world.

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