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These Italian wines make you an offer you can't refuse

It’s not too often that I’m surprised by a wine.

I mean really, REALLY surprised.

But I was, just a few weeks ago, when I tried some Italian blends.

Part of the surprise, I guess, came from the fact that I was expecting next to nothing from these wines. I’m not generally a huge fan of Italian wines, although I must confess I’m growing to like them more and more — I’ve had some in the past year or so that have really knocked my socks off (particularly the Aldegheri Il Groto, which we can’t get here anymore), so I’ve attempted to be a little more open-minded.

But partly out of habit, and partly because they were blends, and ESPECIALLY because I knew what the price was. I had steeled myself for what I expected would be a less-than-stellar wine experience.

However, when I opened the bottle and poured a glass, I blinked a few times. The hue of this white wine was just this side of water, with only the slightest, palest hint of straw colour. And while there wasn’t much of an aroma, once I tasted it, the texture was what won me over.

It was light-bodied and not strongly flavoured — a bit of grass, herbs and citrus — but the wine was smooth. It was delicate. And it was not the least bit sweet.

"It’s pretty dry for my taste," was my husband’s comment when I practically forced him to give it a try.

But I liked it. And given a few more sips, so did he. And he warmed to it even more when I told him it was $9.23 — for a one-litre bottle!

Really, the 2011 Citra Trebbiano D’Abruzzo was and is a steal at that price. It’s not splendid, to be sure, but it definitely was pleasant to sip. And I immediately announced, "I’ve found my new cooking wine."

While that might sound detrimental, it’s not. Chefs the world over advise folks not to cook with a wine they wouldn’t drink. Which makes absolute sense. But I’m afraid my prudent nature just won’t allow me to pour a half-bottle of a $20 wine into a sauce. I’m certain the sauce might be better if I did, but I don’t believe my palate is discerning enough to tell the difference once other flavours are mixed in. A sauce made with an expensive wine might taste slightly better, but at four times the cost, I need it to taste a LOT better to justify the increase in investment.

Bottom line is, I WOULD drink this wine. I DID drink this wine. And I plan to do so again.

With the white being such a wonderful surprise — shock, even — I couldn’t wait to try its red partner, the 2010 Citra Montpulchiano D’Abruzzo. So I decided we’d have pizza the next night to see how the red would fare. That’s the first time I can recall picking a food to match a wine instead of the other way around!

Anyway, I got home from work late, having already called and ordered the pizza. With a great sense of anticipation (but a little trepidation because I’m pickier about my reds than I am about my whites), I uncorked the Montpulchiano D’Abruzzo while we waited for our supper to arrive.

I let out a little yip of joy when I opened the bottle. The wine smelled like a cross between Old World and New World — it had faint hints of the earthiness that is so much the hallmark of Old World wines, and the intense fruit and spice I associate with New World products. Its flavour was all Old World, but the texture suggested New World — medium-bodied and smoother.

Again, I was surprised — and (this should be obvious by now) delighted. The red was just OK to sip, but much better when paired with food. It went wonderfully with the pizza, and would be a great pairing, I’m sure, with any Italian dish. For the price, it’s more than worth trying. I’m betting if you give either of the D’Abruzzo wines a shot, you won’t be sorry.

» Diane Nelson is a long-time journalist and former Sun staffer who really likes wine. A lot. Chat with her online at sat tab body copy:How time flies! It was exactly five years ago today — Sept. 29, 2007 — that the first installment of Vine Lines appeared in the Brandon Sun. Two hundred and sixty-two columns later, I’ve barely begun to scratch the surface of what’s available to us in terms of the fermented fruit of the vine. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the column as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it, and I look forward to continuing my wine journey and reporting what I discover to readers in Southwestern Manitoba.

It’s been a pleasure to hear from — and especially to meet — those of you who share my passion for wine. And I’ve also been humbled by the many folks who’ve taken the time to tell me that, while they don’t particularly like wine, they still enjoy the columns.

Thanks to all the people, friends and strangers alike, who’ve been moved to email or seek me out to offer suggestions or comments. I’m so grateful to you for reading, for sharing, for simply caring about what I write in this space each week.

Here’s to the next half-decade!

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 29, 2012

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It’s not too often that I’m surprised by a wine.

I mean really, REALLY surprised.

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It’s not too often that I’m surprised by a wine.

I mean really, REALLY surprised.

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