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Savor a taste of some lesser-publicized Italian red gems

Dave DeSimone
| Tuesday, April 30, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
wine for column 5/1/13
JC Schisler | Tribune-Review
wine for column 5/1/13

Modernize: To adapt to modern needs and habits, typically by installing modern equipment or adopting modern ideas or methods.

— Merriam-Webster Dictionary

You walk into a clean, well-stocked retail wine store with hundreds of selections from the world over. The store offers plenty of deeply discounted bottles, too. And to enhance your interest in highlighted items, the staff serves samples of several favorite bottles for tasting and discussion before buying.

Might this be a vision of what Pennsylvania retail stores could become, should the current privatization plan pass into law?

Actually, it describes what already exists at select PLCB stores.

Recent PLCB policy changes enabled Premium Collection Stores to provide samples of featured selections. “Retail wine specialists” conduct the tastings, along with product information, recommended food pairings and answers to consumers' questions.

An intriguing variety of tasting opportunities exists because each store's “retail wine specialists” have leeway in selecting the wines to sample.

Cynics might suggest that such “modernization” comes too late and aims simply to thwart the privatization momentum. They might be correct.

But before summarily dismissing the current reforms, remember this. The ultimate decision whether to privatize the PLCB system will have little or nothing to do with advancing consumer interests directly. Rather, vested interests backed by big money will be served if privatization prevails — or fails.

So, while the larger political drama plays out in Harrisburg, enjoy and appreciate the in-store offerings. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding, or, in this case, the wine-tasting. To find the nearest Premium Collection Store, go to

Try the following recent tasty offerings from the Penn Circle Premium Collection Store's retail wine specialists:

Italy's barolo and barbaresco — known respectively as the King and Queen of Piedmont reds — attract plenty of attention and fetch high prices. But the region also offers plentiful modest, yet delicious, reds made from barbera grapes. The2009 Cascina Vigna Barbera d'Asti, Italy (Luxury 31161; $13.99) is a classic example.

Made from grapes grown on bucolic Monferrato hillsides, the barbera fruit retains ripe fruitiness and bright acidity. Typically, the wines age in large, neutral-oak barrels — called botti — to round out and soften. This avoids masking the lovely fruit with excessive oak traits.

This wine's dark ruby color offers black cherry and light spicy notes with earthy accents. Ripe black cherry and plum flavors balance with soft tannins and fresh acidity. Match it with lamb stew. Highly recommended.

In the “arch” of Italy's famous “boot,” the southern Puglia province offers rugged terrain and warm temperatures providing a hospitable terroir for primitivo vines. The grapes produce dark-hued wines with plenty of flavor. The trick comes in retaining adequate balance.

The 2008 Terre dei Trulli “Pinnacoli” Primitivo di Manduria, Italy (Luxury 38561; $15.99) succeeds nicely. The dark ruby color unfolds forward aromas of ripe plums with light herbal and brown-spice accents. Dark-fruit flavors layer with tasty spicy nuances, fine acidity and smooth tannins. Pair it with pasta with red sauce and meatballs. Highly recommended.

Central Italy's Tuscany region enjoys fame for its tasty Chianti wines made primarily from sangiovese grapes. The Chianti region lies inland from the sea amongst rolling, picturesque hillsides and an often damp climate.

Southwest toward the Tyrrhenian Sea coast, another Tuscan subregion — the Maremma — provides a different terroir. A warmer, drier climate allows international varieties other than Sangiovese to ripen well. “Super-Tuscan” red blends result.

For example, the 2009 Tenuta La Badiola “642,” Maremma Toscano Rosso, Italy (Luxury 38400; $19.99) combines cabernet sauvignon, merlot, petit verdot, syrah, sangiovese and Montepulciano grapes. The vines grow near olive groves overlooking the sea and wild, pristine beaches.

Close proximity to the sea allows ripening to begin in early morning as the sun first peeks over the horizon. Meanwhile, persistent sea breezes throughout the day help to prevent over ripening. The long, steady growing season allows the fruit to develop complexity balanced with vital acidity for freshness.

This wine's blackberry, cassis and peppery aromas meld with vanilla notes. Rich, ripe dark-fruit flavors balance with lively acidity and smooth tannins. Pair it with grilled steaks. Recommended.

Dave DeSimone writer about wine for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at

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