To complement Francesca’s yummy spaghetti all’amatriciana, I suggest that you pick a medium-bodied red wine with good smoothness, acidity and tannins. My ideas are either a Rosso Piceno from Central Italy or a Lagrein from the North East of Italy. Let’s take a closer look at both.
Rosso Piceno is one of the 15 (as at November 2012) DOC appellations of the Marche region in Italy. The regulations of this DOC require that the wine be made out of 35-70% Montepulciano grapes and 30-50% Sangiovese grapes, provided that the use of other black-berried grapes is permitted up to a maximum of 15%. The regulations also prescribe that it be produced in an area surrounding the towns of Ascoli Piceno, Pesaro-Urbino and Ancona, while the territory for the variant “Rosso Piceno Superiore DOC” is a much smaller area near Ascoli Piceno.
As to the main black-berried grapes that make Rosso Piceno, Montepulciano is a grape that is indigenous to Central Italy and that is extensively cultivated in several Central Italy regions, such as Marche, Abruzzo, Umbria and Lazio to name a few. Due to the ample supply of Montepulciano grapes, the quality levels of the wines that are made out of it unfortunately vary significantly, so buyer beware: you have to do your homework first and pick the best producers if you don’t want to be disappointed.
As to Sangiovese, well, everybody knows Sangiovese, right? It is one of the most renowned Italian grape varieties which is used in the making of several signature Italian wines, from Brunello di Montalcino to Chianti and from Vino Nobile di Montepulciano to Morellino di Scansano. It is also indigenous to Central Italy and is one of the most widely cultivated grape varieties in Italy, especially in the regions of Toscana, Umbria and Emilia Romagna. Varietal wines made out of Sangiovese grapes tend to have fairly aggressive tannins when they are still “young” and are generally best enjoyed after a few years of aging, when time takes care of taming them. Even in this case, given the massive quantities of Sangiovese that are produced, quality levels of the wines made out of such grape variety tend to be inconsistent and knowledge of the various appellations that allow its use and of the specific wineries is important to avoid unsatisfactory experiences.
Moving on to the actual recommendations, in my view these are some of the best Rosso Piceno out there in terms of price/quality ratio: Velenosi, Rosso Piceno Superiore “Brecciarolo Gold” DOC (70% Montepulciano, 30% Sangiovese; with aromas of wild berries, vanilla, pepper, tobacco and nutmeg – as we are used to doing, kudos to the owners of this estate who invested resources and energy to achieve a commendable density of 5,000 vines/HA); De Angelis, Rosso Piceno Superiore DOC (70% Montepulciano, 30% Sangiovese; with scents of cherries, blackberries, plums, blueberries, soil); Bucci, Rosso Piceno “Tenuta Pongelli” DOC (50% Montepulciano, 50% Sangiovese; with aromas of rose, blackberries, raspberries, plums, tobacco and minerals); Le Caniette, Rosso Piceno “Rosso Bello” DOC (45% Montepulciano, 45% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon; with scents of blueberries, redcurrant and minerals – even in this case, we would like to praise the owners for a very good density of 4,500 vines/HA); and Cantine di Castignano, Rosso Piceno Superiore “Destriero” DOC (70% Montepulciano, 30% Sangiovese; with aromas of dried flowers, cherries and minerals).
Now, a few words about Lagrein: this is a black-berried grape variety that is indigenous to the Trentino Alto Adige region of Northeastern Italy. Its use is permitted in several of the eight DOC appellations of the region, among which the appellation “Alto Adige DOC”, whose territory encompasses an area surrounding the town of Bolzano and which requires that Lagrein-based wines be made 85% or more out of Lagrein grapes.
Among the best Lagrein’s for their quality and price point are Manincor, Alto Adige Lagrein “Rubatsch” DOC (with scents of wild cherries, plums, licorice, slightly oaky); Erste + Neue, Alto Adige Lagrein “Puntay” Riserva DOC (with aromas of blueberries, cherries, coffee, slightly toasty); Cantina Bolzano, Alto Adige Lagrein “Perl” DOC (with scents of violets, wild berries, ink); Muri-Gries, Alto Adige Lagrein DOC (with aromas of violet, blackberries, blueberries, chocolate, ink); and Kellerei Kaltern Caldaro, Alto Adige Lagrein “Spigel” DOC (with scents of violets, blueberries, blackberries, wild cherries, cocoa). Note that all the above wines are made out of 100% Lagrein grapes.
As always, if you happen to try out any of these wines or would like to suggest a different pairing, feel free to share it with us by leaving a comment below!