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Published: Tuesday, 11/18/2003

Italian wines are worth the research

If Italy produces more table wines than any other country, and if overall Italian prices are very favorable, why don t we put a bottle on the dinner table more often?

Part of the reason is that most American wine customers have never been introduced to Italian wines: to the grapes, the varieties, the characteristics, even the names of makers and importers. Then there are those negative memories to bury, memories of those straw-wrapped bottles and the plonk they contained. Yet, unless we Americans make a point of learning the names and some of the basic types and styles, we will be missing something of a blessing.

For instance, it was an American agency that made sure I knew of the San Francisco Vinitaly or wine fair.

Italian wineries themselves could do more, perhaps by offering tastings and tours to the passing tourist. If you re driving through Tuscany, you can t just drop in at a roadside winery for a tasting and tour, as you would in California. So far as I know an American innovation, “hospitality programs” have more than paid for themselves. Though such programs are costly to operate, even more costly is an inventory that doesn t flow as it should. Not for nothing are French and German wineries gradually putting out welcome mats.

All the same, there are pockets of reliable information - if you know where to look. Is it worth the search?

In California the last two weeks I was introduced to a premium chianti and a premium aglianico, both spectacular, each priced in the $25 to $30 range, far less than what they are worth, and, incidentally, far less than what a West Coast or French winemaker would be asking. In a column after Thanksgiving I ll pass along suggestions on where to start looking.

NOUVEAU BEAUJOLAIS THIS WEEK! It s not too late to reserve a table for what may be the best buy among area nouveau tastings. At the Frog Leg Inn in Erie, Mich., this Thursday, between 5 and 9 p.m., Chef Tad Cousino will prepare a menu of yummy hors d oeuvres to be followed by a French-style dinner and dessert. All this and a bottle of nouveau at your own table will cost $50 a couple plus tax and tip. Reservations (734-848-8580) are a must.

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