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Chairman's Selections offer affordable tour of Italian tastes

| Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Last week, the debate over privatizing the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board heated up.

The Tribune-Review reported a Harrisburg-based consultant will unveil a broad-based coalition of “citizens, businesses and groups” supporting Gov. Tom Corbett's much-anticipated divestiture plan. He cited a recent poll showing 61 percent of Pennsylvanians are in favor of selling the state stores.

Corbett, in turn, confirmed an announcement of a privatization scheme before Feb. 5. He declined to provide details. Coincidentally, the PLCB's current CEO, Joe Conti, announced his retirement effective early February.

Connect the dots. Changes aplenty — undoubtedly some favorable to consumers and others more problematic — appear imminent. Whatever the outcome, the demise of the current PLCB Chairman's Selection program would represent a loss to Commonwealth wine enthusiasts. Program buyer Steve Pollack's perspicacious palate consistently delivers terrific deals on delicious wines.

Consider the current offering of Italian red wines. For less than $100, you can take a veritable tour of Italian vino rosso. So, while Harrisburg insiders and the moneyed interests hash out privatization's politics, enjoy the following:

2011 La Piuma Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, Italy (Luxury 33062; Chairman's Selection, on sale: $8.99): The mountainous Abruzzo region on central Italy's east coast offers ideal grape-growing conditions. The hillsides maximize sun exposure while clay soils laced with limestone give the fruit fresh acidity. Just to the east, the Adriatic Sea's cooling influences and plentiful breezes modulate ripening and ward off diseases.

Success comes by avoiding over-production and then preserving the fruit's freshness through temperature-controlled fermentation. This tasty wine hits the mark.

The dusky, dark ruby color offers plum and dark cherry aromas. Round plum and dark berry flavors balance with fresh acidity and soft tannins through a dry and fruity, albeit short, finish. Pair it with classic red meat sauce and pasta. Recommended.

Italy's northwestern Piedmont region also boasts terrific vineyards. The dazzling array of grapes includes the lovable Barbera d'Asti. The 2007 Guasti Clementa e Figli Barbera d'Asti Superiore, “Boschetto Vecchio,” Italy (Luxury 33106; Chairman's Selection, on sale: $16.99) offers a perfect example.

In the Monferrato hillsides around the village of Nizzi, the estate-grown Barbera from the Boschetto Vecchio vineyard retains fresh fruitiness. The wine ages traditionally in large, neutral-oak barrels — called botti — to round out and soften.

The dark ruby color unfolds rose-petal, black-cherry and earthy notes. Fresh dark-cherry and cranberry flavors with enticing spicy notes balance with fresh acidity. Smooth tannins add structure through the well-balanced, fruity finish. Pair it with roast beef. Highly recommended.

In northeastern Italy near Verona, growers use corvina, rondinella, and molinara grapes to create easy drinking valpolicella red wines. The more concentrated and intensely aromatic amarone wines use the same, thick-skinned grapes, but fermentation occurs only after an air-drying process called appassimento.

Hand-picked, fully ripened grape bunches rest in perforated boxes allowing ventilation. Typically, the boxes stack in airy attics above the winery. Over three months or so, the process slowly evaporates moisture from the grapes and concentrates sugars for fermentation in January.

The 2009 Tedeschi Corasco Appassimento Breve, Vento, Italy (Luxury 33005; Chairman's Selection, on sale: $12.99) uses a shortened drying period to create a hybrid style. Dark-plum and brown-spice aromas open to concentrated black-fruit flavors with hints of vanilla. Elegant, firm tannins and fresh acidity balance the dry, fruity finish. Highly recommended.

Northeast of Naples in the Benevento province, the volcanic, mountainous terrain with rugged, rocky soils holds vines struggling to ripen the fruit. A long growing season with hot days and cool nights, however, allows patient growers to bring in grapes with terrific balance.

The trick comes in preserving balance, both during fermentation and aging, to create enticing wines. The 2007 Rocca Dei Sanniti Aglianico Del Taburno, Italy (Luxury 33096; Chairman's Selection, on sale: $14.99) provides a tasty example.

After harvesting the grapes in late October, maceration prior to fermentation concentrates aromas and flavors. Slow, temperature-controlled fermentation captures the fruit's pure essence.

The ruddy, ruby color offers black-plum, black-pepper and smoky-tar aromas. Concentrated dark-plum and currant flavors meld seamlessly with bright acidity and elegant, smooth tannins. The round and concentrated fruity finish lingers pleasantly. Pair it with roasted lamb loin. Highly recommended.

Dave DeSimone is the wine writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at ddesimone@tribweb.com.

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