Buying Italian wine can be a bit of a crapshoot: The grape varietals usually aren’t indicated, there’s a bewildering array of regions and subregions, and the styles often don’t have any parallels with American wine. My advice for predicting if a wine is any good? Buy from a quality importer. My favorite from Italy is a company called Dalla Terra. There’s much to say about their business model, which directly imports wine from individual estates, thereby lowering prices. What’s most appealing to me, however, is the individuality and expressiveness of their wines. Whether the wine is from a famous region such as Tuscany or a simple country wine, Dalla Terra’s producers fashion vibrant wines full of personality and verve. Here are just a couple of my faves.
Marco Felluga Friulano, Collio, 2008 $20
Friulano combines the perfume and suede-like texture of Viognier with the stone fruit and acidity of a fine, dry Riesling. This 2008 is true to form, with a tanginess well suited to rich, white-fleshed fish.
Masseria Li Veli Askos Susumaniello, Puglia, 2010 $20
With vineyards located on Italy’s heel, the Masseria Li Veli winery dedicates itself to preserving indigenous grapes. Their Susumaniello is suave and bright, with a mouthful suggestive of Pinot Noir, but completely Mediterranean flavors of sappy fruit and herbs.
Poliziano Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Tuscany $29
This may change the way you think about the Sangiovese grape. While it maintains the bright acidity and slightly bitter cherry notes characteristic of the grape, the texture is more luxurious, with a sophisticated veneer that complements leg of lamb and other braised dishes.
Available at Madison’s finer wine stores. If unavailable, most purveyors will special order from their wholesalers if requested.
Michael Kwas is wine director at L’Etoile restaurant. He writes this column monthly.
Read more Off the Vine columns .