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Italian wines, cheeses offer a pleasant break from doldrums

Dave DeSimone
| Tuesday, March 11, 2014, 6:33 p.m.

As March's lion grudgingly transforms into April's lamb, enjoying distinctive cheeses paired with wines and crusty bread offers pleasant respite.

Northern Italian cheeses and wines provide a perfect starting point. The cheese- and wine-making traditions stretch to Roman times. As many of the region's cheese and wine names gained fame worldwide, producers outside of Italy began making imitations, often with flavors and ingredients alien to the actual items.

To combat exploitation, in 1955 the Italian government introduced Denominazione di Origine Controllata, or D.O.C, regulations. The laws seek to preserve the various cheese and wine names by ensuring the ingredients' place of origin and the production methods' authenticity. With the D.O.C. initials on the label, you can be assured of purchasing the “real” thing.

Fresh asiago comes from cow's milk produced in the rolling hills and plateaus of the Veneto province in northeastern Italy. Also known as asiago pressato or asiago fresco, the cheese uses whole milk and ages only 40 days before release. This creates a distinctive semi-soft texture, mild aromas and creamy, slightly earthy flavors. The cheese's pleasant tang adds balance.

Fresh asiago matches perfectly with the lovely 2012 Jermann, Pinot Grigio, Venezia-Giulia, Italy (Luxury 32854; Chairman's Selection on sale; $19.99). The vineyards lie northeast of Venice and north of Trieste near the border with Slovenia. Founder Anton Jermann came from Austria in 1881. Today, his great grandson, Silvio, carries on.

The wine's light straw color unfolds enticing citrus and delicate white-flower aromas. Delicious, crisp grapefruit and apple flavors layered in subtle creamy texture are bolstered by zesty acidity and a dry, yet fruity, finish. Also pair this wine with pasta with a mushroom and cream sauce topped with shaved asiago. Highly recommended.

Taleggio cheese comes from Val Taleggio, an Alpine Valley north of Milan in the Lombardy province. In autumn and winter, producers use cow's milk to make cheese rounds stored on wooden shelves in caves. As a “smear ripened” cheese, finishing includes rubbing the rounds with solutions to induce beneficial molds on the exteriors. Alternating seawater washes keep the molds in check.

The resulting cheese offers powerful, earthy aromas leading to a soft texture with delightfully mild and delicious creamy flavors. A fruity tang adds balance.

Pair the Taleggio with the 2012 Blended by Kermit Lynch Selection, Monferrato Rosso, Italy (Luxury 43299; $11.99). With over 40 years working with artisan producers throughout France and Italy, wine importer Kermit Lynch has unparalleled contacts and experience. In this case, he collaborated with producer Alessandro Bodda of Tenuto La Pergola in Piedmont.

They crafted a succulent red blend made from classic Piedmont varieties of barbera, dolcetto, freisa and bonarda. The grapes ferment and age in stainless steel to capture irresistible, unaffected fruitiness.

The light-red color unfolds black-cherry and plum aromas with spice and floral notes. Tart black-cherry and ripe plum flavors balance with bright acidity and elegant, soft tannins. Highly recommended.

Piave cheese comes from cow's milk produced in the Dolomites Mountains in the province of Belluno north of Verona. The Piave River provides the cheese's name.

Young, minimally aged Piave cannot compare with the full-flavored Piave vecchio, which matures over 180 days. The latter comes with a blue label and has a grainy, hard texture without holes. Mildly sweet, intense flavors of tree fruits and slightly bitter almonds layer in the firm, yet rich and smooth texture.

Pair it with the 2010 Azienda Agricola Balter Lagrein, Vallagarina, Italy (Luxury 38499; $17.99), an intensely fruity red wine from the Trentino Province near northernmost Italy. Despite the northerly location's high Alpine mountains, vineyards on the valley floors retain plenty of heat sweeping up the Italian peninsula.

The heat allows lagrain to ripen completely while developing complex, dark-fruit aromas. Winemaker Nicola Balter has, over the last 30 years, helped put lagrein on the international map as a noble competitor to the ever-popular merlot.

The wine's dark-purple color offers spicy dark-fruit aromas. Tasty dark-cherry and raspberry flavors balance with zesty acidity and soft, supple tannins. The wine's ripe dark fruit and modest 12.5-percent alcohol carry effortlessly through the dry finish. Highly recommended.

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

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