Among the many gifts my parents bestowed upon me as a kid - unconditional love, gentle discipline, the best food in the world, to name just three - sound investment advice was not one. Even now, I'm uncertain my father could spell RRSP if asked to on a written exam. Their dismal grasp of all things financial began with a penniless departure from Italy in 1956. Certainly, Canada seemed to hold more promise than the misery of a war-scarred country. Yet even as they were setting sail, an economic miracle was brewing.
Historians have since dubbed it "Il boom," a period of blistering economic growth ignited in part by the discovery of methane gas in the Po Valley (my ancestral turf), which fuelled the rebirth of the Italian steel industry. Jobs opened up and people started spending, acquiring their first family cars, Vespas and tractors. Many famous Italian manufacturers, such as Olivetti and Fiat, became global household names.
The wine industry, unfortunately, would remain stuck in a rut until the 1970s and 1980s, when, finally, a wave of cash-flush entrepreneurs began bankrolling technology and better farming practices. The fruits of those labours can be seen all across the Italian spectrum, from the clean, lean, trendy whites of the northeast Friuli region to the fresher reds of Sicily and Puglia in the south.
A new red just released this week in Ontario pays tribute to that boom with a nostalgic label that's designed also to resonate with today's post-recessionary optimism. It's called Mille Lire, after the Italian banknote that epitomized robust spending in the 1960s and 1970s in Italy. The wine, from the Spinelli people known best for a decent $7.35 montepulciano d'Abruzzo, represents a gamble in attempting to nudge recession-weary bargain hunters to trade up from the bargain-basement stuff.
Like most medium-bodied montepulcianos, it's by no means a blockbuster. But thanks to the unusual blends, it's richer than most of the competition. As the label indicates, it hails from the central Abruzzo region, but it contains a legally allowable dollop - just under 15-per-cent - ripasso, the full-bodied, "baby Amarone"-style red from the northern Veneto region. The result is a more velvety wine with a subtle, Amarone-like note of raisin.
And while it's well-priced at $11.95, I've just learned it will drop to a limited-time-offer of $10 in a week or so. I guess boom times aren't yet upon us.
Spinelli Mille Lire Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2009 (Italy)
Price: $11.95 in Ont.
A good value, the wine is medium full-bodied and smooth with cherry, chocolate and violet notes followed by a nuance of raisin. Fitting for braised meats and hard cheeses.
Zaglia Friulano Latisana 2009 (Italy)
Price: $12.95 in Ont.
From the northeast Friuli region, this light, silky white shows a pear-like core and satisfying bitter finish. It's nice on its own or with delicate seafood.
Cervaro Della Sala 2008 (Italy)
Price: $54.95 in Ont.
This full-bodied white based on chardonnay and bitter-edged grechetto offers up rich tropical fruit with hints of spice and herbs. It's deftly balanced, so try it with fuller seafood dishes such as lobster or salmon.
Nichol 9 Mile Red 2008 (British Columbia)
Price: $26.90 in B.C. through www.nicholvineyard.com.
Blended from St. Laurent (an obscure, aromatic relative of pinot noir) with pinot noir, this medium-bodied, crisp red shows bright red berries, fine tannins and an almost salty finish. Try it with salmon or roast chicken.
Tinhorn Creek Merlot 2008, (B. C.)
Price: $17.99 in B.C. through www.tinhorn.com.
This red is full-bodied and juicy, see-sawing from berry to cedar and back again, ending with furry, slightly grippy tannins. A nice match for rare lamb.
Vineland Semi-Dry Riesling 2008 (Ontario)
Price: $13.95 in Ont. through www.vineland.com.
Slightly sweet and low in alcohol (10 per cent), this light white from one of Canada's riesling leaders gets the balance between sugar and acidity just right. Imagine ripe peach squirted with lime juice. Superb effort. Delicious as an aperitif.
Domaine Zumbaum Tomasi Clos Maginiai Pic Saint-Loup 2007 (France)
Price: $18.95 in Ont.
From the southern Languedoc region of France, this full-bodied red delivers dense dark fruit, big peppercorn, dark chocolate, pipe tobacco and herbs. Braised lamb shanks would do it proud.
Alejandro Fernandez Tinto Pesquera Reserva 2006 (Spain)
Price: $41.95 in Ont.
The iconic red from the Ribera del Duero region delivers impressively with this vintage, packed with currant, spice and earth with nicely integrated tannins. Accessible now but could age handsomely for 12 to 15 years. Should pair nicely with rare beef, veal stew, roast poultry or firm sheep or goat cheeses.
Herencia Remondo La Montesa 2007 (Spain)
Price: $18.95 in Ont.
This is a good-value red Rioja from esteemed winemaker Alvaro Palacios, who is famous for one of Spain's iconic reds, l'Ermita. The wine is full-bodied and liqueur-like in depth, with prune character reminiscent of Tawny Port backed up by clove and herbs. Good for herb-flavoured roasts.
James Oatley Tic Tok Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 (Australia)
Price: $15.95 in Ont.; $15.99 in B.C.
A full-bodied red with an almost sweet, maraschino-cherry core, savoury back note and crisp, juicy finish. Good for grilled beef.