Raisins are nature’s candy. The dried, sugary essence of a grape, concentrated into one little morsel. It seems hard to imagine a wine made from such a thing, but there are actually many. The most famous ones are from Italy, specifically the majestic Amarone, a blend of grapes used to make the very light and delicious Valpolicella wines and Vin Santo, the sweet, luscious desert wine the Italians eat with little biscotti called “cantucci.”
There are other wines made from shriveled grapes – mostly those affected by “noble rot” or botrytis and some “icewine,” made after the water has frozen in the grape so that you when you cold-press the grapes, you just get the sugars and acids and none of the frozen liquid. Excellent examples of these techniques come from Bordeaux in the form of Sauternes or Barsac and Germany, with their Trockenbeerenauslese (dry-berry harvest), but also in the Finger Lakes and the Niagara area where the grapes hang until they freeze before harvesting. I have an on-going love affair with all raisinated, botrytized and frozen wines, but they are all “special occasion” wines, so not on the regular rotation of every day wines.
But this wine is something new, that maybe you could drink more regularly. It is a raisinated wine from the Montepulciano grape, famous for the light, bright, fruity wines of Abruzzo. Most Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wines are meant for drinking casually, a cheerful blend of plums and cherries, with high acidity and low tannins that also “cleanse” the palate when you have it with pasta in a rich sauce. But when you dry the grapes and then press that precious, concentrated liquid into juice that ferments slowly and carefully, you get a deeply colored, deeply flavored wine that will stand up to heavy sauces and red meats and spice! This is a wine that has the intensity of a California Cabernet with all the mouth-filling aromas of fruit and some herbs, but has the acid brightness of wild cherries and summer plum, like a much lighter wine. It is a wonderful, unusual combination that will have you taking just one more sip, just to see if it really does have all that complexity. And the texture will have keep you sipping once you are used to the unusual mix of flavors, it is smooth and viscous. At $14.99, it will give that Amarone you’ve been saving for a special occasion a definite run for its money.
We had it last night with roasted leg of lamb and a wonderful mint sauce – definitely a regular from now on!