Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Red rover

A tasty tour of the Mediterreanean starts with wines that don't initially come to mind

  • Print

I could follow up last week's column on off-the-beaten-track white grape varieties with a column on reds focused solely on Italy, or Spain or Portugal. These Mediterranean countries have a major focus on indigenous grapes that, to a great extent, have never caught on worldwide the same way Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Syrah/Shiraz have.

Many of the wines from these countries are labelled by region (Chianti, Rioja, Barolo) rather than by the grapes in the bottle (Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Nebbiolo, respectively). Maybe that's part of the reason these grapes aren't household names -- while we've all heard of Chianti (thanks to the kitsch-y wicker-laden bottles and Dr. Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs), for example, the name Sangiovese isn't as familiar.

Here are three red wine adventures for you to take...



FOOD PAIRING: Spaghetti and meatballs, pizza, marinara sauces, sharp cheeses

Barbera has long been one of Italy's big three grape varieties, although it's now outpaced by Sangiovese and Montepulciano by quite a bit. And while Nebbiolo gets much of the love and praise in Piedmont (thanks to big, burly Barolos and Barbarescos), Barbera does lots of the hard work in producing everyday reds that work wonders with Italian fare.

It's one of the rare Italian red grapes whose name appears prominently on the front of the bottle when made into wine: Barbera d'Asti, Barbera d'Alba and Barbera del Monferrato are a few such examples.

There's a lot of great Barbera to be had for under $20 -- if you're looking for that perfect red for Italian fare, look no further.


(Piemonte, Italy -- $17.50, Liquor Marts

and beyond)

Plum, raspberry and blackcurrant notes are fleshed out by leather and spice aromas. The Briccotondo is a full-bodied, chewy red, with plenty of dark berry and raisin flavours as well as hints of leather, tobacco and spice. There's a bit of heat to the finish, and the tannins have grip yet aren't mouth-puckeringly dry. Just the right balance of fruit and acidity for veal parmigiana, spicy pizza or ribs. 90/100



France (Rh¥ne Valley), Spain, Australia

FOOD PAIRING: steak, stews, roast meats

Much like Syrah/Shiraz, what this grape is called depends largely on where it's coming from. Spanish producers tend to call it Garnacha, while most of the rest of the world knows it as Grenache.

One of the red grapes used in France's Rh¥ne Valley reds (the others are Syrah and Mourvedre), the grape has become fairly popular in Australia as well. Rh¥ne-style red blends from Australia are often labelled GSM as a reflection of the grapes used -- Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre).

Grenache is typically inky black in colour, with loads of dark fruit flavours and a chewy texture. There's usually enough tannin on the palate to wrestle with big meat dishes. If you like Malbec, Grenache will be up your alley.


(Cari±ena, Spain -- $12.89, Liquor Marts and beyond)

Intense raisin, plum and blackberry notes on the nose of this inky-black old-vine Spanish red -- 'old' here being 45 years -- have a dense, almost-stewed characteristic. It's a dark, full-bodied and raisiny red, with blueberry skin, plum and light peppery notes on the palate and moderately dry tannin. Try with a big roast. Nice value here. 87/100



Italy (Puglia, Salento), U.S. (California)

FOOD PAIRING: pizza, ribs, burgers

Chances are you've tried a Primitivo and not even known it -- even if you don't drink red wine. That's because it's commonly known in North America as Zinfandel, and is planted extensively in California.

American examples of Primitivo/Zinfandel tend to be big, rich, fruit-driven reds with loads of raisin, spice, and prune/plum notes. They tend to bring relatively higher alcohol levels -- it's not uncommon for a California Zinfandel to be 15 per cent by volume or higher.

Italian versions are less boozy, with an added rustic character and a more acidity that make them well-priced food wines.

And yes, Primitivo/Zinfandel is the grape used in making the ever-popular White Zinfandel, the hugely popular off-dry blush wine. Don't be fooled, however -- red Primitivo/Zinfandel delivers ripe fruit notes, but without the sweetness.


(Salento, Italy -- around $14, private wine stores)

Raisin, red licorice and clove aromas are rounded out by leathery, slightly smoky notes on the nose. A medium-plus bodied red, the Tenute Rubino brings generous black fruit and ripe raspberry flavours as well as dried fruit (cherries, grapes), a pop of acidity and mild, chewy tannins. I picked this up at G.J. Andrews on Academy. 87/100 Twitter: @bensigurdson

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 17, 2013 D14

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Stephen Harper announces increased support for Canadian child protection agencies

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A squirrel enjoys the morning sunshine next to the duck pond in Assiniboine Park Wednesday– June 27, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • An American White Pelican takes flight from the banks of the Red River in Lockport, MB. A group of pelicans is referred to as a ‘pod’ and the American White Pelican is the only pelican species to have a horn on its bill. May 16, 2012. SARAH O. SWENSON / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

View More Gallery Photos


Are you concerned about the number of homicides so far this year?

View Results

Ads by Google