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Wine Tasting 101 - Tuscany - Romance and Warmth
Copyright 2005 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved. Originally printed Oct. 3, 2005. For more information go to

Tuscany. Few place names in the world of wine evoke the same level of romance or the same feeling of warm anticipation as that of this ancient Italian region. Whether you've traveled there in person, read the many books that lavish loving attention on its scenery and lifestyle, or merely enjoyed a taste of Tuscany in your wine glass, it's hard to imagine anyone not being touched by the fantasy of life, well, under the Tuscan sun.

I know I've loved Tuscan wines as far back as I can remember, all the way back to wicker-wrapped Chianti with pizza back in college days at restaurants with red-checked tablecloths, plastic ivy vines and menus that invariably advised, "A meal without wine is like a day without sunshine." And no matter how wide a world my wine journey has opened up for me, I always feel that I'm coming back home when I pull the cork from a Chianti or other Tuscan wine.

This month we're celebrating Tuscany and all of its wines in our Wine Tasting 101 Forum, where forum participant and Italian wine importer Oliver McCrum has kindly consented to serve this month as expert guest host.

To participate in Wine Tasting 101, you're invited to visit the forum to share your opinions on any Tuscan wine, ask questions and participate in online conversations on the subject. If you would like to compare notes with other wine lovers on specific "benchmark" wines, you're invited to taste and comment on three wines that we've selected as good, typical examples of their style:

Ruffino Chianti Classico
Villa Antinori Toscana
Terruzzi & Puthod Vernaccia di San Gimignano

Oliver has prepared a brief introduction to Tuscan wines on the entry page of the Wine Tasting 101 Forum, and he'll be available there all month to share information and respond to comments and questions.

Today's tasting isn't a Tuscan wine but comes from farther South, a simple, inexpensive Italian table wine with a warm, appealing and food-friendly character that reminds me of the role Chianti filled as a companion to pizza and tomato-sauced pasta back in those wicker-basket days. Designated "Vino da Tavola" or "table wine," it's a blend of Sangiovese with regional varieties including Aglianico, Piedirosso and other local grapes from Campania, around Naples. Its name, "VinGiocondo," means "The smiling wine," a moniker that seems to fit.

Ocone 2001 VinGiocondo Vino da Tavola Rosso

Very dark reddish-purple, almost black. Warm and plummy, aromas of black plums and juicy cherries with a distinct hint of raisins. Similar on the palate, warm and seemingly soft, but snappy acidity becomes more evident on the palate, and the wine finishes crisp and dry. A bit short in the finish, but hey ... What do you want for about $7 U.S. importer: Vin DiVino Ltd., Chicago. (Oct. 2, 2005)

FOOD MATCH: As noted, it's a natural match with pizza or tomato-sauced pasta, but its soft, plummy yet appropriate acidity worked very well with a slightly more refined dish, roast pork loin studded with garlic and fresh sage.

VALUE: It's a simple wine, but at this price, what's not to like?

WHEN TO DRINK: Not really a keeper, but it's holding up perfectly well in its fourth year, and there's no reason it shouldn't last another year or two.


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