Raimondo Boggia helped import Italy's mozzarella-devoted string of Italian restaurants Obicà Mozzarella Bar to the U.S., and as both managing partner and beverage director, he heads up wine at all four domestic outposts. Naturally, bottles hail from Italy, with a focus on organic and sustainably-produced juice and lesser-known varietals native to the country. Below, Boggia talks through less tanic Italian wines.
Q: My personal experience with Italian wines is that the reds are very frequently acidic, with harsh tannins that leave my mouth feeling dry. Why is this the case? And could you recommend some styles/bottles under $20 that do not demonstrate these characteristics?
Boggia: For me, generalizing about all Italian wines is like generalizing people. You’ll need to try different wines—similar to meeting all types of people—to realize they are all very different.
However, if we do speak generally, it is fair to say that Italian wines, together with the French—the so-called Old World wines—can be more tannic and crisp (acidic) than Californians, Australians, Chileans—the so-called New World wines. Reasons for this are linked to both nature and manmade choices, more specifically terroir (the synthesis of grape, soil and micro-climate of the piece of land where the grape grows) and winemaking (the choices by which these grapes become wine).
The terroir of the more internationally renowned Italian wines, such as Barolo and Barbaresco and Chianti and Brunello, naturally yield wines with high tannins and crispness.
The terroir of the more internationally renowned Italian wines, such as Barolo and Barbaresco (from the Nebbiolo grape) and Chianti and Brunello (from the Sangiovese grape), naturally yield wines with high tannins and crispness. The winemakers manage and support these qualities because they allow the wine to age much better than low acid, low tannin grape/wines. So it’s advisable to drink them very well aged, when their muscles (tannins) begin to get softer. The age factor in wine is historically important, since in Italy, wine is embedded in family traditions, where wines are supposed to age and last for years to come. With similar importance, you will find that traditional Italian food from these regions often requires structured, acidic and tannic wines to compensate their high-fat succulent cuisine.
Since these wines are the most common image of Italian wines for the prestige they hold, they are the reason why most (rightly) assume that Italian wines are tannic and crisp.
The Italy we know today is the land of diversity: more than 1,000 documented grapes grow in this unique land. Before unity, it was many lands dominated by different cultures: from Austro-Hungarians to Spanish, from Arabs to Greeks. In other words, Italy is home to many different grapes, wines and winemaking styles that result in a broad spectrum of qualities. Here is a guide to Italian wines with less tannins and where acidity doesn’t prevail.
Wines from Italy’s southern region are usually smoother than northern wines, so we will start with Sicily. FiàNobile Cerasuolo di Vittoria ($16), grown in a warm climate, makes an excellent light-colored, interesting wine, combining the plum and graphite note of the Nero d’Avola with the cherry finish of Frappato.
Another not to be missed in Sicily is Terrazze dell’Etna "Carusu" ($27). Ruby with garnet hues, cherry and floral notes prevail at the nose but on the palate a symphony of wild raspberries and semi-sapid cherries melt together with the smokiness from the lava soil.
In Sardinia we find a great surprise with the indigenous Monica, a grape variety found exclusively on the island off the west coast of Italy. Pala Monica di Sardegna ($15) is intense ruby red color with light violet streaks. Licorice and vegetal notes at the nose, it is dry and smooth, with cassis and sweet chocolate at the palate.
Another smooth wine from Sardinia—excellent with red meat—is Cantina Mesa Buio ($15). A very interesting grape, with an almost ink-black color (hence the name "buio" means dark), blackberry notes and balsamic and black pepper notes at the finish.
Wines from Italy’s southern region are usually smoother than northern wines ...
In the northern region of Italy grows a famous international grape from the sub region of Lombardy: Oltrepò Pavese. Here you can find one excellent example of Pinot Noir, Tenuta Mazzolino NOIR ($31). Pinot Noir is a grape with a backbone of acidity, but is usually low in tannins. The wine is smooth and crisp, although less dense than a typical Pinot Noir from California.
Moving more east in Italy, we arrive to one of the most famous wines of Italy, for sure less acidic due to its specific winemaking process: Amarone. Amarone wines are made from little-known grapes, mainly Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara. The winemaking process of Amarone (drying grapes on straw mats after harvest) reduces the perception of acidity and increase the fruitiness in grapes that are not very tannic in nature. Farina Amarone della Valpolicella Classico ($36) has a very fragrant nose with ripe wild red berries, raspberries in particular, and carnation floral notes. The very smooth, rich and silky palate shows ripe berries, vanilla, dry rose and wood-floor finish.
A final surprise to splurge over… a very smooth Nebbiolo: Travaglini Il Sogno ($91). Owner and winemaker Cinzia Travaglini lets her Nebbiolo grapes rest on mats (similar to the Amarone technique) and the result is … "Il Sogno" (The Dream)!