Author mug By The Glass

By Chuck Furuya

When eating Italian
food, try drinking
Italy’s wines

My girlfriend and I recently dined at a Kaimuki restaurant that specializes in Italian fare. We had heard the food was good, but one of the most remarkable revelations was seeing how many diners were enjoying wine with their meals.

Here are my thoughts on wine and Italian food:

With Italian food, try Italian wine. I was in California a few weeks ago with some friends, tasting our way through the finest Italian restaurants in San Francisco, Los Angeles and wine country. One stop, a prominent winery, happened to be featuring one of the country's top Italian chefs that night. We saw how the winery's normally excellent, elegant chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon clashed with the Italian fare. The wine's oak components grew bitter, and the normally well-balanced alcohol levels became stark and glaring.

At another stop, a slightly chilled, seemingly simple Italian "country" wine (Montepulciano d'Abruzzo) worked amazingly well with a diverse cross-section of Italian foods. We found similar experiences at subsequent stops as well.

Be adventurous. Italian barbera does not taste like, nor is it as supple and rounded, as Napa Valley cabernet or merlot. It is normally a wildly rustic, firmly structured, tannic red that seems as un-Napa-like as one could imagine. But try it with a roasted-vegetable pizza or a pasta bolognaise with generous helpings of homemade Italian sausage, and you will see it in a new light!

When in doubt, think pink. Well-made dry rosés work with an assortment of Italian-styled dishes in an amazing and effortless manner.

Try something new. I was flabbergasted when a friend (and former devout merlot/ cabernet drinker) from Molokai told me that she now swears by a moderately priced Italian red called Falesco Vitiano, which she buys from Alan Beard at Molokai Wines & Sprits for less than $12 a bottle. This wine is a delicious, elegant, food-friendly blend of sangiovese, cabernet and merlot from winemaking superstar Riccardo Cotarella in the Umbria region of Italy. It is a sensational value.

Anyway, back to the restaurant in Kaimuki. We struck up a conversation with the diners at the table next to us. They were curious about our wine, a bottle of 1999 Allegrini "La Grola" purchased from R. Field Wine Co. for $20. La Grola is a terrific, very elegant, stylish, well-textured red-wine blend from the Verona area of northeastern Italy.

Their wine, a recognizable label, cost $3 more, yet our wine offered at least 10 times the quality. I don't mention this to criticize their wine selection, but to show how rewarding a little exploration can be.

Many such discoveries are available. You just have to find the right guide. A good wine retailer can always help. And Beard on Molokai, Terry Sullivan at Farmer's Market on Kauai and Nathan Yuen at J n J Food and Beverage in Aiea, among others, have proved that the availability of these adventurous wines is not limited only to Honolulu.

Chuck Furuya is Hawaii’s only master sommelier.

This column is a weekly lesson in wine
pairing written by a rotating panel of wine professionals.
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