Shelley Lindgren's Guide to Southern Italian Wines
There's so much great quality and value from Italy, but often Italian sommeliers have to think in reverse when talking about Italian substitutes for French grapes grown in California and other parts of the world. At A16, often we'll talk with our guests and listen to what they feel like drinking on a particular evening and find a similar styled wine to what they might normally enjoy. Here's a basic guide, and remember: Have fun!
Instead of Pinot Grigio, Falanghina: A nectarine, mineral light and crisp white that was once worth more than gold in the Roman empire.
Instead of Sauvignon Blanc, Greco di Tufo: Often a go-to white wine for asparagus, seafood (especially shellfish), artichokes, and dishes with vinegar or acid because it has great verve, chalky minerality, and a lemon-lime characteristic. It's not as grassy as some Sauvignon Blancs are characteristically, but it definitely compares as a refreshing, crisp white.
Instead of Chardonnay, Fiano di Avellino: The honeydew, macintosh apple of Fiano can hold up to a Chardonnay-lover's tastes—especially since the trend of California Chardonnay continues toward the lean, food-friendly side and not quite as rich and buttery. When Fiano di Avellino is aged in oak, it can also be a rich, tropical style. One of the most highly revered Fiano di Avellino producers, Clelia Romano, once told me that Chardonnay and Fiano grapes looked similar physically.
Instead of Pinot Noir, Nerello Mascalese/Nerello Cappucio blend from Mt. Etna: Nebbiolo and Burgundy lovers have been quickly expanding their taste buds to the volcanic soils of the largest volcano of Europe, Mt. Etna. It's medium bodied fruit, minerality, and beautiful cranberry, red plum, and herbal aromatics can be versatile and elegant with any meal.
Instead of Syrah, Nero d'Avola: The blueberry, chocolate covered cherry aromas can pair perfectly with everything from bitter greens like kale and dandelion to earthy mushrooms and a variety of meats. Surprisingly, it also happens to be my go-to for Margherita Pizza. You can find great Nero d'Avola from $10 to $100 per bottle. Traditionally, it leans more to medium weight and earthy to fuller, and has a natural depth of fruit from the Sicilian sunshine.
Instead of Bordeaux blend, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo: Another widely available grape that will be a great go-to for California Cabernet lovers used to drinking a generous wines. The black currant, Bing cherry, leather, and black licorice components of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo can also be a great value. We always have one by the glass at A16 and it is historically a well received wine for those newly venturing into the vast world of southern Italian wine.
Instead of Cabernet Sauvignon, Aglianico