It’s a bit early in the season for a drive through northern Italy’s wine country – with nighttime temperatures still in the 30s.
Let’s not wait. Let’s take a virtual tasting tour of the wine-intensive area’s very real vineyards. Let’s do it in our virtual Maserati GranTurismo (it’s $126,000 in real life, but it doesn’t cost anything when it’s virtual).
Let’s start in Florence with a good night’s sleep at my favorite hotel, Albergo Botticelli. We get up just early enough to make the 10 a.m. breakfast cutoff and depart in our 460-horsepower car.
From here it’s a 90-mile drive south, much of it along the Mediterranean coast, to Maremma, the up-and-coming Tuscan wine region nestled between the Uccellina Mountains and the blue sea.
The locals call the area “Tuscany’s Wild West” – complete with horses and cowboys. And really good grapes – growers say the nearby sea lends a salty, minerally tang to their wines.
Here a wine estate called Brancaia makes “Super Tuscan” wines – using the traditional sangiovese grape, but also international grapes such as cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc.
• 2010 Brancaia Ilatraia Rosso, Maremma Toscana IGT (40 percent cabernet sauvignon, 40 percent petit verdot, 20 percent cabernet franc): hearty and intense, with aromas and flavors of anise and black raspberries; $60.
Nearby, within sight of the sea, Azienda Agricola Poliziano makes wines based mostly on Tuscan’s traditional sangiovese grapes.
• 2010 “Lohsa,” Red Wine, by Azienda Agricola Poliziano, Morellino di Scansano DOC (85 percent sangiovese, 15 percent ciliegiolo): soft and rich, with black cherry and savory herbal and mineral flavors; $15.
Now let’s head back and on to eastern Tuscany. Here, we speed through the shimmering sunlight and rolling hills, to the town of Rufina, home to Marchesi de Frescobaldi, which makes an Italian-style chardonnay.
• 2012 Castello di Pomino Chadonnay, by Marchesi de Frescobaldi, Tuscany: deep yellow hue, aromas and flavors of camellias, white peaches and minerals; $15.
Next we drive 250 miles northwest from Florence via Italy’s modern Autostrada. We turn off just short of Torino and cruise into the foothills of the Alps to the Piemonte town of Alba.
Here, in sight of snow-covered mountains, the Vietti family winery makes its red and white wines.
• 2012 Vietti Roero Arneis, DOCG Piemonte: pale white color, aromas and flavors of ripe pears, light and crisp; $23.
• 2010 Vietti Nebbiolo Perbacco, DOC Piedmont: deep dark hue, aromas and flavors of violets and tar, full-bodied, lusher and softer than its brother Barolos; $25.
Almost 150 miles east of Alba, not far from Italy’s fashion capital of Milano in Lombardy, also in the foothills of the Alps, lies Italy’s important sparkling wine area called Franciacorta.
• Nonvintage Antica Fratta “Essence” Brut, DOCG Franciacorta (90 percent chardonnay, 10 percent pinot noir): persistent tiny bubbles, ripe lemon-lime aromas and flavors, full-bodied; $32.
As a sendoff, let’s have dinner at my favorite Florence restaurant, Quattro Leoni, with my favorite dish, pasta with cream sauce and white truffle shavings. Oh, and a bottle of that tasty Vietti Arneis we’ve just discovered.