Some folks attach a quirky connotation to the term "offbeat," whether it's defined as a musical rhythm that doesn't land quite where you expect it to, or a slightly eccentric individual whose march to the beat of a different drummer takes him down the less beaten path.
Without over-beating this theme until it collapses, let's just say that in my personal dictionary, "offbeat" is a complimentary term; and that goes double when I'm drinking John Given's Italian wines.
I've praised Given and his small wine-import business before (June 24, 2005 <i>Wine Advisor</i>
) for its unusual, not to say eccentric, all-Italian portfolio of artisanal wines from regions and grape varieties that can only be described as offbeat. He was back in town last week with a box full of recent arrivals, and I was fortunate to be able to catch up with him at a fine Italian eatery (Volare
, 2300 Frankfort Ave., Louisville) to taste through them.
As usual, this idiosyncratic selection reflects John's tastes for earthy, rustic Italian country wines, made the old-fashioned way. This is not a wine style calculated to win high scores from the 100-point-scale guys, but it rings my chimes, and I'll be buying quite a few of them when they reach local retail. Let's devote the rest of today's column to a quick look at a dozen of Given's goodies.
Four of the new wines were made by <b>Strade Vigne del Sole</b>, a most unusual winery in Lazio (near Rome), that I don't believe have been exported heretofore. Producer Antonio Cugini, with his son Alessandro and his daughter Mariagrazia are deeply dedicated to re-discovering and restoring vineyards planted in Lazio's native grapes, and they've returned 30 of them to active production, with eight more varieties to go. (For more information, see the winery Website, http://www.stradevignedelsole.com
. Although artfully designed in both Italian and English, it's unfortunately presented in one of the most evil Flash implementations I've ever seen. It's almost worth it, though, to work your way down to the content, particularly the section on the grapes.)
Here are the Vigne del Sole wines tasted:
<table border="0" align="right" width="104"><tr><td><img src="http://www.wineloverspage.com/graphics1/kadrai.jpg" border="1" align="right"></td></tr></table>Strade Vigne del Sole 2005 "Kadrai" Lazio
A combination of 50 percent each Malvasia Rossa and Albana dei Castelli Romani grapes, this is a clear, rich gold-color wine, with intriguing aromas of honey and chestnuts leading into white fruit and butterscotch flavors, soft at first but drying out to clean acidity in the finish. Oxidative in a positive sense, it's oddly reminiscent of a fine old White Burgundy.
Strade Vigne del Sole 2004 Alba Rosa Lazio
The grape variety is disclosed only as "pink," but it's a serious rosé wine, salmon to red-brick in color, with crisp and intense aromas and flavors of red berries accented with fennel.
<table border="0" align="left" width="90"><tr><td><img src="http://www.wineloverspage.com/graphics1/varrone.jpg" border="1" align="right"></td></tr></table>Strade Vigne del Sole 2000 Varrone Lazio
This deep reddish-purple wine blends 40 percent of the indigenous Tor di Passeri grape in with Sangiovese. Intense, perfumed and grapey, its overall impact focuses on mixed warm spices. Freaky, bizarre ... and delicious.
Strade Vigne del Sole Niveo
This wine is so off-the-beaten-path that it's not even mentioned on the winery Website. Clear gold in color, its initial aroma impact is floral and herbaceous, perfumed aromatics and a whiff of damp hay, with an elusive note in the background; then, suddenly, you recognize that back note as <i>bananas</i>, right off the bunch, true and exact and very, very strange. Soft and luscious flavors are gently sweet, although it's closer to a rich <i>moelleux</i> style than a true dessert wine.
These wines were literally "on the boat" from Italy last week and will be a while moving into retail channels, Given said. The rest of the wines tasted are recent arrivals but currently available.
Bellenda non-vintage "Col di Luna" Rosé Di Valmonte
This fizzy pink wine from one of Given's top Prosecco producers is a fine, dry aperitif with its pale rose color, light strawberry aromas and crisp, fresh and dry flavor.
<table border="0" align="right" width="145"><tr><td><img src="http://www.wineloverspage.com/graphics1/albarossa.jpg" border="1" align="right"></td></tr></table>Palama 2003 "Albarossa" Salice Salentino Rosso
Most wine lovers know Puglia's Salice Salentino almost entirely through the popular bottling from Taurino, an old value favorite. This one from a much less-known competitor is a revelation, boasting the fresh, clean fruit and earth flavors that we remember from a decade or two back, before so many Southern Italian producers turned to a more "international" style. Clear garnet in color, it shows fresh black cherries and subtle earth on the nose and palate, winding up with a lovely, gently bitter peach-pit finish.
Campoperi 2005 Selva del Moro Toscano
Fresh and bright, this blend of 60 percent Sangiovese with 20 percent each Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon is a rare "Super Tuscan" style wine for less than $20. Youthful and fruit-focused, it's made with no barrique aging; fresh but structured, tart cherries and snappy Tuscan acidity.
Scilio Di Valle Galfina 2003 "Rubè" Sicilia Rosso
A blend of half-and-half Nero d'Avola and the indigenous Nerello Mascalese, this is a very dark reddish-purple wine, breathing scents of berries and a green, sappy herbaceousness that seems to work. There's lots of berry fruit on the palate, nicely structured with tangy acidity.
Cantine Fina 2004 Sicilia Nero d'Avola
I sneered when John put this Nero d'Avola on the table, anticipating a "Parkerized" Shiraz-style fruit bomb as is so sadly typical from Sicily's Nero d'Avola producers nowadays. Given just smiled and let me taste. Well, I'll be dagnabbed. Plums and cherries and a touch of anise, discreet clay-like minerality on a firm acidic structure.
<table border="0" align="right" width="170"><tr><td><img src="http://www.wineloverspage.com/graphics1/fina.jpg" border="1" align="right"></td></tr></table>Cantine Fina 2003 Sicilia Syrah
Another from Fina, a varietal Syrah from Sicily, this one's a bit more "international" in style, but retains a strong sense of its Sicilian roots. Dark purple in color; plum and black cherry aromas and flavors are big and structured, tannic but very fine.
Michele Laluce 2003 "Zimberno" Aglianico del Vulture
Another "Wow!" wine, it's dark garnet in color, full dark fruit and anise, subtle and complex, refined. "A tapestry of flavors," John says. I might have mistaken it for a very fine Piemontese red; wherever it's from, it's a delight.
Cantina Castiadas 2002 "Rei" Cannonau di Sardegna
Wrapping it up with a wine from Sardinia, this one's a glowing ruby color with an amazing presence of spice, a lovely potpourri of warm brown spices and red fruit on the nose and palate.
<B>FIND THESE WINES ONLINE:</B>
John Given's wine portfolio is distributed in 19 states of the U.S. For information about his wines and distributors, see his Website
Elsewhere in the U.S. and around the world, try searching for individual wines by producer name on Wine-Searcher.com