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updated: 5/23/2013 11:53 AM

Good wine: Don't discount reds when dining al fresco

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  • Enjoy Mazzoni Barbera with lightly sauced pasta or grilled burgers and brats.

    Enjoy Mazzoni Barbera with lightly sauced pasta or grilled burgers and brats.


Editor's note: This has been updated with the correct price for the Brunello di Montalcino, Il Poggione.

Because the window of opportunity may be slim, suburbanites take every opportunity to enjoy warm weather and outdoor dining.

To add international flavor to a casual picnic, backyard barbecue or any outdoor meal, dub it "dining al fresco" and pair Italian (or Italian-esque) dishes with Italian wine.

Pinot Grigio is the perfect beginning to all warm weather gatherings. Currently America's second most popular white grape, Italian-grown Pinot Grigio is a light, dry-ish complement to light dishes and finger foods. Since my Pinot Grigio column that ran earlier this spring, producers have treated me to better and better examples, including:

Pinot Grigio, Mazzoni: Grown in relatively warm Tuscany, Mazzoni offers the pleasing roundness of just-ripe stone and citrus fruit (rather than the lemony minerality from cooler vineyards to the north). Its citrus peel accents and bright acidity frame light-bodied but richly flavored antipasti including prosciutto (or cold cuts) and the Tuscan classic -- crostini di cegatini di pollo (chopped chicken liver on toast). ($16.99)

Red wine lovers may take a cue from European counterparts by opting for lower-tannin/alcohol wines that pair with the widest range of dishes and accept the refreshing chill of a few minutes in the ice chest or lake.

Rosso di Montalcino, Il Poggione: Medium-bodied with red berry flavors that slip down the throat on silky tannins. Montalcino's wine law requires six months maturation in oak, then in bottle, for one year total aging before release. Il Poggione matures this Rosso a year in French oak, then eight months in bottle for enhanced softness and complexity, balancing richness in dishes such as risotto ai funghi (mushroom risotto), soups and stews including pappa al pomodoro (Tuscan tomato and bread soup) and Chicago-style chili. ($24.99)

In Italy, heralded for its vineyards for two millennia, Montalcino is home to a tony new wine -- Brunello di Montalcino. Brunello is the local name for Sangiovese, more famously grown about 75 miles north in Chianti. Until recently, however Chianti's wine law required a blend of grapes; Montalcino uses only its "little brown one" -- Brunello. In 1980, Brunello di Montalcino was officially recognized with Italy's first Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) designation and today is one of Italy's most highly-regarded wines.

Brunello di Montalcino, Il Poggione: The 2008 vintage is firm and graceful with dried cherry and strawberry fruit, leather and sweet spice accents. ($84.99).

Il Poggione's proprietors, the Franceschi family, have farmed these vineyards since 1890 and helped develop Brunello's quality standards, such as long-term aging in cask. The DOCG requires two years in oak and at least 4 months in a bottle, to enhance Sangiovese's power while relaxing its taut tannic acid. Il Poggione ages three years in French oak, one year in bottle.

Fabrizio Bindocci is his family's fourth generation of winemakers at Il Poggione and maintains the traditions of hand-farming established by his great-great grandfather. "Our farmers are our treasure," says Bindocci. "Most have been with the estate for over 30 years."

Serve Brunello with the finest meats, including Tuscan specialties costata all fiorentina, (filet grilled over coal and wood, seasoned simply with oil salt and pepper) or arista all fiorentina (roast pork.)

Or, if the weather turns unseasonably cool, serve Brunello with hard cheese at the end of the meal and contemplate the warm weather sure to come.

• Advanced Sommelier and Certified Wine Educator Mary Ross writes Good Wine. Write to her at

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