Italian nights

above Ali Essman samples the Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso Italian wine at Bellini’s.

The acid levels are there to cut through fatty foods, rich sauces and spicy meats. Like the French, the Italians intended their red wines to be part of a meal, not just a sipper. Drink one with food, and a whole new world opens up.

Mark Moody recently assumed the position of house manager at Bellini’s Ristorante & Grill, 6305 Waterford Blvd., a restaurant that can rightly be called an Oklahoma City mainstay for the past two decades. The business has seen some changes lately, but the team of ownership and management is using the time to refocus on what they believe has always made Bellini’s one of the metro’s favorite destinations: food, wine and people.

“We’re refocusing what we do, especially with our wine list,” Moody said. “We’re calling it an ‘Italiandriven’ list.”

Moody knows that Italian wines aren’t an easy sell, even for an Italian restaurant. The new list contains about a page of Italian wines and four pages of bottles from around the world, although the list relies heavily on California, Oregon and Washington.

As part of its refocused efforts, Bellini’s is declaring 2011 a year of “Italian Nights.”

“The idea of ‘Italian Nights’ is to discover the romance of food, Italian wines and people,” Moody said, “and how the three blend perfectly together. Italian wines have gotten a bad rap, but I challenge you to come in and explore the joy of pairing Italian wines and food, and enjoying people.”

From his list of 21 wines by the glass, Moody recommends Lonardi Ripasso Valpolicella Classico. Ripasso is a wine-making style that involves intensely concentrated juice from dried fruit. It creates incredible fruit structure and density. The Lonardi is very affordable — and for the Italian skeptics, very approachable — with flavors of blackberry, black cherry and licorice.

Moody also recommends a bottle of Bolla Amarone della Valpolicella. The Amarone is a red blend made in a very similar fashion to a ripasso, but relying more on the concentrated juice. The Bolla is almost dessertstyle in its intensity: fig, cedar, pomegranate and cassis flavors are the most noticeable.

Another popular Amarone, Sartori, has been a fixture at Flip’s Wine Bar & Trattoria, 5801 N. Western, for many years, and also appears on Moody’s bottle list.

Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate said of the Sartori: “…very pretty, accessible Amarone with good definition in its aromas and flavors. Dark fruit, spices and herbs are all woven together nicely. This is an excellent choice for drinking over the next few years.”

Chianti is perhaps the best known of the Italian wines, thanks in part to Hannibal Lecter, no doubt. Moody included four

I challenge you to explore the joy of pairing Italian wines and food.

—Mark Moody

on his list, including one, Banfi Chianti Classico, by the glass.

Banfi
is one of Italy’s most respected houses, and its Brunello di Montalcino
(also on the list) regularly garners scores in the mid-90s. The Chianti
Classico is a blend that is predominantly Sangiovese (75 percent is the
minimum for Chianti), with cherry, floral and plum flavors. It’s an
excellent, affordable introduction to Chianti.

Red
blends have taken off in recent years, thanks in part to Wine Spectator
best buys like Monte Antico, a delicious Super Tuscan widely available
for less than $15. The new Bellini’s list includes a couple of Super
Tuscans, including Petra Zingari, a house known as much for its wine as
for the beautiful facility designed by Swiss architect Mario Botta (of
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art fame).

The
Petra Zingari is a blend of Syrah, Petit Verdot, Sangiovese and Merlot.
It is fermented and aged in stainless steel, so the result is blue and
black fruit and spice, with no oak to weigh it down. It’s also available
at Edmond Wine Shop, 1520 S. Boulevard in Edmond, Spirit Shop, 1117
Garver in Norman, and Beau’s Wine Bin, 2810 W. Country Club Drive.

Greg Horton

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