April 20, 2008

"Testal" Italian Blend

Rosso de Veronese / Verona Red
$18 to $23 / 2004

I have been very lucky in life when it comes to friendships. I have been blessed with many friends, some better then others, but all wonderful. With wine, there is an important parallel. There are some wines that year in and year out provide great satisfaction and bring a smile to my face.

Last night I went out to see a movie ("The Visitor"), and afterwards went for a late dinner at a new Italian restaurant in DC. While waiting for our table, I perused the wine list to see what was available. It was a short, carefully chosen list, with many of the usual suspects.

When you walk into a crowded room instinctively you scan the room for a familiar face. When you find a friend, you tend to smile and walk towards them to say hello. It is a similar experience when reviewing an unfamiliar wine list. You scan the list and cannot help but find the wines you know. This was the case for me last night. Testal for me is a perennial favorite. It only took a moment for me to decide to catch up with an old friend.

Corvina is the indigenous grape in the Verona region of Italy. Amarone and Ripassa are made with this grape. If you enjoy Amarone, you know that a good bottle can set you back $50 to $100 each. Although one of my favorite Italian wines, the price of Amarone can be prohibitive. Finding a substitute at a more reasonable price has been a continual quest.

I was introduced to Testal 4 years ago. It was a top pick on one of the "Best Value" lists that I review every year. It was described as a "Poor Man's Amarone", which immediately caught my attention. Once I tried a bottle, it has been a perennial favorite. The 2004 vintage is no exception.

This wine is produced using grapes that have been partially dried. The top vines are cut then hung at harvest. The dried grapes are then picked, pressed and placed into large oak casks to age. This drying process concentrates the juice and contributes to the rich character of this wine.

The Corvina is blended with 3% Cabernet and 3% Merlot in the final blend. This has been a consistent formula for this wine from year to year. The Corvina gives the wine great structure and the addition of the Cabernet and Merlot lend a balance to the blend.

The wine pours dark ruby. It has a rich nose of cherry and sweet brier fruit with a bit of vanilla and spice. The red fruit is prominent and the finish is long. Tannins are in balance, but not overabundant. While others in my group thought this wine could age for a bit, I found the tannins in balance with the fruit. This one may lay down for a short while, but why wait? It has been consistently good wine from year to year. Drink it now, and have faith that next year vintage won't disappoint.

I would recommend that you have this wine with food. It is bold, and would be well suited to meats and pasta. Although it was recommended that the wine be opened an hour before serving, I don't feel it is necessary. It may be tough to find this wine at your local supermarket, but is widely distributed and worth the time to find.

Let me know what you think. I suspect that once you try this wine you will like its personality. For me, that is the number one requirement for a new, or old friend.

Nicolis wines

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