Bold Italian red wines like Chiantis and Nero d’Avolas need no introductions — they’ve earned a prestigious reputation on their own. But according to Shelley Lindgren, sommelier at San Francisco restaurants A16 and SPQR, there are other rosso grapes that don’t get the attention they deserve.
Lindgren shared with me her favorite picks for Italian reds, explaining there’s something for everyone in Italy’s cellars.
For Pinot Noir drinkers, Lindgren recommends the Sicilian grape Nerello Mascalese. “These wines are becoming as sought-after as Burgundies,” says Lindgren. “They’re drier and lighter with very bright red fruit characteristics.”
Pair with: bitter greens, pasta, seafood, lamb
After having been brought from Spain in the 14th century, the Cannonau has adapted well to the dry climate of Sardinia. Lindgren recommends this red, which is related to Garnaccia/Grenache, to sip with a meal. “This grape has a sun-ripened depth of fruit but not a heavy weight,” she says.
Pair with: sharp cheeses, braised chicken, shellfish
Grown in the Abruzzo and Le Marche regions, Montepulciano is a rich, smooth, velvety wine. “These wines have bold fruit and a sharp anise, chocolaty character to them — perfect for barbecue!” says Lindgren.
Pair with: baked pasta, grilled steaks
Barbera and Barolo
Barbera is meant to be consumed when young, so it has less tannins than heavier grapes, such as Nebbiolo (the standout grape in Barolo). These wines generally aren’t aged for a long time but have a terrific bouquet and juicy quality right away. “If you live in Piemonte, you’re probably drinking Barbera every day and Barolo on special occasions,” says Lindgren.
Pair with: pork chops, lamb, slow-cooked and grilled dishes
About the author: Olivia Terenzio grew up in Mississippi, where she cultivated a love of sweet potatoes, crawfish and cloth napkins at a young age. A passion for sharing food with friends and family led her into the kitchen and later to culinary school, where she learned how to roast a chicken and decorate a cake like a pro. As a Williams-Sonoma blog editor, she’s lucky enough to be talking, writing and thinking about food all day.