With a history that goes back to the Bronze Age, wine often seems like the most traditional of beverages; and the marketing gurus who sell the stuff take full advantage of this, boasting about wine cultures that go back to the ancient Greeks (Southern Italy), the early Romans (the Rhone), Charlemagne (Germany) and Eleanor of Acquitaine (Bordeaux).
Even the familiar wine cork has managed to retain some of its luster as the most romantic, if not the most effective, bottle closure, one of the few consumer products in the world that has remained in daily use with little technical improvement since the 17th century.
But the world of wine is constantly changing, too. Today, let's follow up on Monday's Columbus-inspired essay with a look at another Italian wine ... this one representing a historic piece of ground that has been designated as a legal wine region (Denominazione di Origine Controllata or DOC) only since 1994.
This newish wine region, the Carmignano hills just west of Florence, incorporates Barco Reale, the royal hunting reserve of the Medici, the region's notorious ruling family of the Renaissance era. The DOC wines of the region are cousins to nearby Chianti, consisting of at least 50 percent Sangiovese and up to 30 percent of the other traditional Chianti grapes - Canaiolo, Grebbiano and Malvasia. Adding a modern twist, however, Carmignano - like Chianti's "Super Tuscans" - adds 10 to 20 percent of the decidedly non-traditional Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc.
The top wine of the region, Carmignano, adds the "G" (for "garantita" or "guaranteed") to the DOC. Today's wine, Barco Reale di Carmignano, is usually made in a lighter, early-drinking style, with a price to match. Often found in the $10 range, it can be a wine of real value, sharing with its Tuscan cousins an exceptional food-friendliness, and capable of at least short-term cellaring.
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Ambra 2002 Barco Reale di Carmignano ($9.99)
This is a dark-ruby wine, showing the bright reddish-orange glints that are often typical of Sangiovese. Plums and black cherry aromas add markedly spicy notes; concentrated, dried-cherry fruit on the palate is shaped by lemony acidity and a slightly bitter edge, with a somewhat vegetal "green bean" note, likely attributable to the Cabernet, adding background complexity. U.S. importer: Vintner Select, Marion, Ohio, and other regional importers; a Marc de Grazia Selection. (Oct. 7, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: Crisp and food-friendly, it finds its classic match in red meat or tomato-sauced pasta dishes; it went very well, too, in a less traditional pairing, Jacques Pepin's tuna-stuffed tomatoes.
VALUE: Good value at the $10 point.
WHEN TO DRINK: Ready to drink, safe to cellar for up to five years under cool temperatures.
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: Check prices for Ambra Barco Reale on Wine-Searcher.com:
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Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2004