What was that "vino rosso"?
March 9, 2008 3:51 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a red wine like the "house reds" we drank in northern Italy.

I'm not a big wine drinker, but when my husband and I were in Italy (Trieste and Venice) last year, we shared a liter or half-liter of red wine with almost every meal (well, not breakfast!). We just said "vino rosso" and a bottle appeared. We never specified what kind of red wine we wanted, and it was always good. We must have drunk the house red in 20 different restaurants and never got a wine I didn't like. So why can't I find a red wine here in the U.S. that I like? It seemed to me that the wines we drank in Italy were lower in alcoholic content, had no tannin taste, were mild, and generally more "weak" than the reds my husband has been offering me here. I believe they were also served at a colder temperature, and I liked that. Do Mefites have any suggestions for wines to try. I don't want to say price is no object, but I suspect that the wines I'll like will not be terribly expensive.
posted by Joleta to Food & Drink (22 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Italian wines are made with different grapes than the wines you're used to which is made with French grape varietals. Italian tablewines predominantly use the Sangiovese grape which has many of the characteristics you described: milder, less tannic, a bit more fruity, and "round"-tasting. In your supermarket, look for a recent Chianti wine which is a blend of mostly Sangiovese with some Merlot or Cabernet. You may also find a wine that is 100% Sangiovese. A real wine shop can make more sophisticated recommendations based on what they stock.

Since the Italian red table wines are more mild, they hold up well to lower temperatures like rose. I prefer it that way in the summer, in a smal, short milk glass with a grilled steak.
posted by junesix at 4:44 PM on March 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

I can't really answer your question, just support the colder temperature. As I recall, it always seemed like they'd just taken the bottle out of the fridge (!).
posted by muteh at 4:46 PM on March 9, 2008

To be called table wine in the US the alcohol content has to be between 11% and 14%. In Italy it has to be between 8% and 14%. The wines that are consumed the same year in which they are produced have usually a lower alcohol content.

As for the less tannic taste, the Veneto region has some very good wines: you might want to try some Bardolino or some Recioto in reds. My favorite in whites is Prosecco, a slightly sparkly semidry.

As for temperature, caves or underground storages are several degrees lower than room temperature: most trattorias have their underground cantina. I know that I'll be on the receiving end from purists, but if you like colder stick it in the refrigerator: take it out, open it and let it reach the temperature you prefer and enjoy.

Prices: Prosecco is under $20 in in the Midwest as are most years of the others.
posted by francesca too at 4:49 PM on March 9, 2008

Il Bastardo is a cheap (like $8) Sangiovese that you can probably find anywhere. I dunno if it's like what you had in Italy, but for the price, it's well worth a shot.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 5:14 PM on March 9, 2008

Chianti? I was only in italy once, briefly, but it seemed like the house wine was often chianti.
posted by selfmedicating at 5:28 PM on March 9, 2008

Valpolicella is one of my favorite Italian wines from that region. They're usually inexpensive and easy to find here in the US.

I second the comments regarding the lower temperature. A nice mild red can be excellent at about 55 degrees F, like it's just come out of the cellar.
posted by drinkcoffee at 5:32 PM on March 9, 2008

In Italy, the further north you go the cooler it gets, which generally translates into lighter wines. Trieste and Venice are in the far north east of Italy an area not exactly renowned for great reds (their whites are a different matter!) and it's likely your House wines or Vino da Tavola were made locally so this would explain the lack of tannins and weaker taste (tho good ones will still be very elegant) .

It's unlikely you'll get the exactly the same wines you were drinking in the US but your wine could have been Valpolicella or Bardolino, both from Veneto. Look out of for these words on labels back home particularly with the word Classico to ensure a decent one.

As for temperature, probably a cellar thing but I know a lot of Italians who keep a bottle of red in the fridge.
posted by brautigan at 6:16 PM on March 9, 2008

Try the Vitiano Falesco. It's about $10 and consistantly scores very well, and fits your description pretty closely.

Chianti is a regional wine (like Bordeaux, e.g.) and is made of Sangiovese. Many other Italian wines are also made from Sangiovese or primarily Sangiovese blends. You'll probably also like Chainti Classico wines from what you describe. I really like the Fontodi Chianti... its about $30.
posted by jeffamaphone at 6:53 PM on March 9, 2008

Here is an important clue:


this also matches perfectly my idea of what dinner in northern italy is probably like.
posted by momocrome at 6:57 PM on March 9, 2008

I don't know about Italy, but Bully Hill's red is freaking phenomenal.

posted by jenlyn1123 at 7:10 PM on March 9, 2008

Response by poster: Thank you all! I don't know what to mark as a best answer, but I'm going to try some of the recommended wines and will report back here which ones came closest to what I remember. I'm also thinking that another trip to Italy may be required . . .
posted by Joleta at 7:16 PM on March 9, 2008

Chianti is always a nice choice, but you might also want to check out some of the fairly inexpensive Australian Shiraz or Cabernets... nice wines, reasonable price.....

Black Swan is one of my favorites....
posted by HuronBob at 7:36 PM on March 9, 2008

young (under 2 years old) barbera from the piemonte (northwestern) region of italy is a foodies' staple table wine. it's cheap--you shouldn't be paying more than 15 to 20 bucks a bottle--and very versatile, goes great with lots of different types of food because it's midrange with regard to astringency and fruitiness. i love it. learned about it from the amazing david rosengarten in his book taste, and it ever more replaced my go-to table choice of shiraz. joyce goldstein, a restauranteur and expert on mediterranean cuisine, also recommends it over and over again in food-wine pairings in her cookbooks thanks to her sommelier son evan. it's great.
posted by ifjuly at 7:55 PM on March 9, 2008

My lovely fiance, who runs a wine shop, says that you're having difficulty finding Italian reds like the table wines you encountered, because those local table wines are relatively poor quality and would simply never be exported.

She recommends you try Fossi Rosso; it's soft and light without tannins, and very close, according to my her, in "production values" you what you're seeking. She's a real wine snob, and I can tell it pains her to make this recommendation, but she'll be happy if you're happy.

Good luck!
posted by chudmonkey at 8:14 PM on March 9, 2008

I also love the inexpensive northern Italian reds, the kind you take your glass bottle to the local market and fill up for 11000 lire or so. I think it doesn't travel well or no one bothers importing wine of that quality; I've never found simple wines here that I liked so well.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:37 PM on March 9, 2008

Bonny Doon's Ca' del Solo Big House Red [$9.99 - $11.99] -- screw-cap.
posted by ericb at 9:04 PM on March 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seconding chudmonkey's fiancee and ikkyu2: the house wine is usually inexpensive and young, sold directly to restaurants by the demijohn: they're extremely variable but all have the common trait of being a wine that would not age gracefully (there are of course exceptions). Being between Venezia and Trieste you've probably been served various wines from Merlot, Refosco, Cabernet grapes.

Nothing too incredibly complex, not aged (one year, two years max), probably with less than 11% alc. and possibly also a little tannic (cooling masks the tannins a bit, also a bit of tannins make the wine more refreshing). Cannot recommend specific wines, but I have a hunch (and proof in some cases) that most wines differ wildly in quality and taste between the national (italian) version and the export version. Also, little point in recommending a specific wine since most "vino da tavola" or "vino della casa" are usually labeled as such.
posted by _dario at 12:26 AM on March 10, 2008

Brautigan and francesca too both mention it, but just in case you didn't spot it: Bardolino.

I'd bet quite a bit that you were drinking some variety of bardolino--it is pretty much all I have been served when I didn't specify what sort of red I wanted in a Northern Italian restaurant.
posted by yellowcandy at 2:01 AM on March 10, 2008

thirding chudmonkey's fiancee, ikkyu2, and _dario. As for a slightly crappy recommendation, you might try to get your hands on some vino novello, the Italian version of Beaujolais nouveau.

Said reccomendation is crappy since vino novello is seasonal, and we're already past said season (after November 6).
posted by romakimmy at 3:48 AM on March 10, 2008

Response by poster: Okay, so I like poor quality wine! I'm going to try everyone's recommendations over time, starting with the Bardolino and Chianti. But I think the bottom line is that we'll just have to go back to Italy. I can't complain about that. :)
posted by Joleta at 5:30 AM on March 10, 2008

Nothing to be ashamed of Joleta! Some of these wines are cracking. A couple of years ago we stayed in a tiny house in Tuscany and, being a wine geek, I cracked into some seriously pricey but fabulous Chiantis, Barolos, Montepulcianos etc from local vineyards. But the villa owners also stocked us up with local Vino Da Tavola which they bought in huge demijohns from winemakers nearby. It was this stuff that we drank most of in the fashion you describe. The big Super Tuscans are wonderful but there was something nicely rustic about the "poor quality" stuff and it went down a treat.

If you're trying Chianti pick up the bottles with a purple band around the neck.
posted by brautigan at 6:54 AM on March 10, 2008

I had the same experience in Florence. Try the 2006 Aquila d'Oro, found at Trader Joe's for $4 in CA. It has a very light taste and is really good with a variety of foods.
posted by tinamonster at 9:35 PM on March 11, 2008

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