I Love Italian Wine and Food - a 2007 Vino Novello (new Wine)

By: Levi Reiss

It's been quite some time since we have written about Italian wines. Make no mistake, we still love them. But we ran through all twenty regions of Italy (not literally) and reviewed at least one wine from each region with two exceptions. Then we proceeded to review French and German wines. There are scads of Italian wines to taste and review, but we have to give other wine countries a chance. Here we review a very timely wine, a Vino Novello. Each year, starting in early November, Italy releases Vino Novello, pleasing some people and disappointing many others. Will you be delighted or disappointed with the 2007 offering? When you finish reading this article, rush out to your favorite wine store and sample the wine. Whether you are delighted or not, you probably will have fun. Traditionalists consume roasted chestnuts and fresh figs with such wines.

New wines are produced by a special method known as carbonic maceration in which whole grapes ferment in stainless steel tanks, often reaching a temperature of 25 to 30 degrees Centigrade (77 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit). This process continues for some 5 to 20 days, and may be followed by crushing the grapes, which then undergo traditional fermentation for a few days. The exact procedure varies from one winemaker to another, but the ensuing wine is virtually tannin free. The lack of tannins implies a short shelf life. While you don't have to drink the wine immediately, most people finish the season by Easter. According to the Italian winemakers, perhaps not the most impartial of groups, the 2007 harvest was the earliest and leanest wine harvest in thirty years. Is this yet another proof of global warming?

New wines are usually colored bright red or violet. They tend to be fruity, tasting of cherry, strawberry, raspberry, banana, and freshly squeezed grapes, depending on the grape variety used, the production method, and the area in which the grapes are grown. Detractors talk about bubble gum, lollipops, nail polish, and jello. Many people claim that new wine tastes of grape juice with alcohol. You can be sure that if you don't like a given new wine, you will gain nothing by storing it for two years. It won't improve with time.

Italy is a major player in the new wine game, producing about 18 million bottles a year. Appoximately one third of the production is exported to Germany. The most important Italian new wine regions are Veneto and Tuscany, followed by Piedmont and Trentino-Alto Adige. Let's take a closer look at one new wine.

Wine Reviewed Novello del Veneto IGT 12% about $9.50

I bought this bottle in mid-November, shortly after its release. The Novello del Veneto wine, with a designer label, is made from Corvina and Rondinella grapes native to the Veneto region in northeastern Italy. Interestingly enough, the Corvina grape is quite tannic, but you would never guess from tasting the final product. You may be familiar with these two grape varieties; they are the major components of Valpolicella and other well-known wines from Veneto. I'll spare you the marketing materials that supposedly described this wine.

I first tasted these wines with a slow-cooked beef stew with potatoes and Romanian style smoky eggplant. The wine was dark but thin. I tasted some tobacco and the combination was quite pleasant but perhaps the meat's spice, harissa a pungent North African condiment, was too much for the wine. When I tasted the wine with chunks of spiceless meat, the Novello del Veneto was a bit more forceful.

The next pairing involved kubbe, alternate spelling kube, mideastern ground rice balls with a beef stuffing in a spicy tomato sauce. And they are excellent. The wine was fruit forward, it didn't seem like a new wine. This is a complement. The wine balanced well the pepper in the tomato sauce. On the downside it was grapey.

The final meal was a broiled rib steak that was briefly marinated in a ketchup, mustard, onion, and garlic sauce. The wine was fruity, but frankly not up to the steak. Do I taste bubble gum? As this description, the wine wasn't very long.

My German Emmenthaler (Swiss-type) cheese has become quite old and hard. The wine was moderately acidic and fruity, with some black cherry. Perhaps its presence was because the cheese has become rather tasteless. The French goat cheese's ammonia overwhelmed the wine.

Final verdict. Faith tells me that one day there will be a new wine that meets my not very rigorous standards. Reason tells me that this will not happen; the rush to market makes for inadequate processing of the grapes. In this case reason triumphed and the wine did not. On the other hand, what do you want for $9.50?

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