Expert Advice on Italian Wines

I have a confession to make: Wine aisles are a source of unrest for me. Anytime we have a dinner party and I'm responsible for picking up a bottle of wine, I cry a little on the inside. Fortunately, I had a chance to sit down with Joseph Kemble of Spec's for some of his expert advice on Italian wines.

"Picking a great Italian wine really starts with the cuisine," says Kemble. This is because so much of Italy's wines are crafted specifically to accompany the local menu. This tradition stems from Italy's immense variety of indigenous grapes and regional cuisines. Kemble suggests that to properly pair an Italian with an Italian, one should first look into the origins of a particular dish and then choose a wine from the same region of Italy.

To help me and other fellow Houstonians better navigate the Italian wine aisle, Kemble made the following wine recommendations. The idea was to help a wine-label illiterate, a.k.a. me, plan an Italian-themed dinner party. For each dish, Kemble suggested budget (less than $15), average ($15-$25), and splurge (more than $25) wines.

  • Pasta with a tomato-base sauce
  • Budget: Morellino di Scansano Average: Barbera d'Alba Splurge: Valpolicella Classico

  • Pasta with a cream-base sauce
  • Budget: Nero d'Avola Average: Soave Splurge: a Pinot Grigio from Alto Adige

  • Chicken
  • Budget: Nero d'Avola or Orvieto Average: Lagrein Splurge: Chardonnay from Fruliano

  • Beef
  • Budget: Aglianico Average: Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Splurge: Brunello di Montalcino or Barolo, also referred to as "Wine of kings, and king of wines"

  • Pork
  • Budget: Sangiovese Average: Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Splurge: Sagrantino di Montefalco

  • Fish
  • Budget: Vermentino Average: Soave Splurge: Gavi d'Gavi

  • Dessert
  • Budget: Moscato d'Asti Average: Vin Santo (try dipping orange-flavored biscotti in this...yum!) Splurge: Cagnina di Romagna

    Kemble has been passionate about Italian wines for 18 years and is currently Spec's Italian wine buyer. He has traveled to Italy more than 30 times and visited every major Italian wine region. He will share more of his expertise at this year's Houston Italian Expo, which returns May 21 through 23 at the George R. Brown Convention Center. For details, visit www.italianexpo.us.

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