That's Italian 

Italian cuisine is more than just pasta, pizza and Chianti. On the culinary side, it presents a diverse landscape of regional recipes. On the wine side, different grapes and styles are produced in each region to match the culinary diversity. In order to explore that variety, the criteria for this tasting were that the wines be Italian, red, and to keep things on the frugal side, around 10 bucks. To be honest, the results were a little disappointing. With just a few exceptions, the wines, while sound, lacked character. And two of the top three wines hailed from Tuscany, the region that produces Chianti. Here are the top picks:

2003 Coltibuono Cancelli, $8.99

An unusual blend of Sangiovese and Syrah makes for interesting variation on the typical Tuscan theme. Big, bold aromas of sweet cherry and blueberry are backed by pepper and spice with a nice earthy touch of mushroom. There's no oak to interfere with the soft plum and berry fruit flavors, while light, well-integrated tannins and vibrant acidity add depth and structure. Definitely at its best when paired with food.

2005 Ercolino Montepulciano D'Abruzzo, MEMO, $8.49

The only wine of the top three not from Tuscany is a real standout in terms of price and quality. Lovely floral aromas with just a hint of sweet oak highlighted by bright strawberry, cherry, white pepper, mocha and licorice. Just as lively in the mouth with nice cherry and dark berry fruit playing against nuanced layers of leather and chocolate in an impeccably well-balanced wine. A clear favorite among all on the panel.

2004 Tiziano Chianti, $8.49

Opens with dark cherry fruit on the nose along with pepper, anise, mint and a light, pleasant earthiness. Offers soft red berry fruit flavors on the palate with smooth tannins and good acid balance. A great buy on a nice Chianti made primarily from the traditional Sangiovese grape. And yes, it should go great with pizza and pasta.

This week's panel: Fawn Caveney, Tastevin; Dave Faulk, Porterhouse Meats; David Kirkpatrick; Cindy Limber, Bardenay; Kevin Settles, Bardenay.

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