A Sommelier Spotlight on Italy
The award-winning sommelier Olivier Flosse reveals his 15 favorite wines from lesser-known Italian regions to purchase on restaurant wine lists now.
As the corporate wine and beverage director for the Marlon Abela Restaurant Corporation (MARC) U.S. and the man behind the much-lauded wine collection at A Voce Madison and A Voce Columbus in New York City, Sommelier Olivier Flosse knows a thing or two about vino.
“If guests tell me that they’re looking for a great Italian wine at a value, I always suggest they explore wines from the other 18 regions of Italy,” says Flosse. “Diners can find beautiful, value-driven wines for between $8 and $13 per glass on most restaurant wine lists if they look to emerging wine regions.”
That’s why Wine Enthusiast tapped Flosse for his top picks that explore the beautiful, value-driven wines from Italy’s lesser-known regions.
Sicily and Sardinia
Because Sicily and Sardinia are both islands in the Mediterranean Sea—Sicily is the largest and Sardinia, the second largest—they share similar winemaking histories. “In both regions, vermouth was more well-known than wine until about 20 years ago or so,” says Flosse. “High-end producers from northern Italy finally invested in wine vineyards on these islands over the last two decades. Today, there are many outstanding local grape varieties and producers to keep your eye on.”
Local white grapes like Grillo, Inzolia, Catarratto and Grecanico are used to create dry white table wines—either as varietals or blended with international varieties such as Chardonnay.
“Nero d’Avola (also known as Calabrese), one of the most important indigenous red grapes in Sicily, is a hearty variety used in some of Sicily’s most popular wines such as its Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG,” says Flosse. “Primitivo is another traditional red variety, and is genetically linked to Zinfandel.”
Flosse’s top Sicilian picks:
Planeta 2008 Chardonnay
Tasca d’Almerita 2009 Regaleali Bianco
Donnafugata 2009 Lighea
Cusumano 2010 Insolia
Local white grapes include Malvasia and Vermentino. Vermentino is more widely planted in Corsica and southern France. Muscat, another variety, has grown ubiquitous in many warm-climate regions outside of Sardinia.
Common red grapes used to produce Sardinian red wines include Cannonau, a clone of Grenache, Carignano (called Carignan in the U.S. and France), Cabernet Sauvignon and Bobal.
Flosse’s Top Sardinian picks:
Argiolas 2009 Costamolino (Vermentino di Sardegna)
Cantina di Santadi 2009 Cala Silente (Vermentino di Sardenga)
Sella & Mosca 2010 La Cala (Vermentino di Sardenga)
Giuseppe Gabbas 2009 Lillove (Cannonau di Sardegna)
Puglia and Basilicata
Puglia and Basilicata are neighboring regions in southern Italy that both touch bodies of water—Puglia borders the Adriatic Sea, and a small section of Basilicata borders the Tyrrhenian and Ionian Seas. “They are hot regions, but their proximity to water allows them to cool down during the evening, a great climate for winemaking,” says Flosse.
“White wine grapes surrender to the supporting role in Puglia,” says Flosse. “Bombino is the most planted variety and is thought to be similar to Trebbiano. There is some impressive Fiano now beginning to emerge.”
Negroamaro, Pulgia’s local red grape, “is considered king, resulting in robust reds and fragrant rosés,” asserts Flosse. Primitivo is “arguably the most recognized grape, thanks to its close genetic twin, the Zinfandel of California. Nero di Troia is another of the big Puglian red wine varieties, with pockets of Aglianico—much more popular in the neighboring Campania and Basilicata provinces.”
Flosse’s top Puligan picks:
Tormaresca 2009 Roycello Fiano (Salento)
Rasciatano 2010 Rosé (Puglia)
Polvanera 2009 Auva (Puglia)
Leone de Astris 2009 Messapia Verdeca (Salento)
Notable local white varieties include Moscato and Malvasia, “the best of which comes from the Vulture zone and the eastern Bradano Valley,” says Flosse.
“While Aglianico is the celebrity red variety of the region, Basilicata’s other prominent red grapes include Primitivo, Sangiovese, Montepulciano and Bombino Nero. The Aglianico grape is the star of Aglianico del Vulture.”
Flosse’s top Basilicata picks:
Cantina di Venosa 2009 Vignali (Aglianico del Vulture)
Paternoster 2009 Biancorte Fiano (Basilicata)
Bisceglia 2009 Armille Syrah (Basilicata)