Little Italy 

Memphians have always followed their own path when it comes to wine. We've largely ignored the trends and developed our own palates, and this has worked to our advantage. By pushing the boundaries and finding for ourselves those gems in the wine world, we have essentially created our own identity. That identity has finally been noticed.

Recently, Marc de Grazia Selections brought a group of Italian winemakers to Memphis for a wine tasting for members of the trade. Marc de Grazia and family personally select top-quality wines from across Italy for importing into the U.S. The de Grazias have relationships with some of the most coveted wine-producing families in Italy, such as Paolo Scavino, Pertimali, Cavallotto, and La Spinetta. These names are on the tip of the tongues of Italian wine lovers the world over.

Memphis, a so-called secondary market, was one of the few cities that Marc de Grazia brought his trade tasting to. Walking through Delta Wholesale's warehouse, tasting incredible wine and speaking with winemakers, such as Giuseppe Cavallotto, was surreal. Cavallotto expressed the care, passion, and love it takes to tend to the vines and craft the wine. Cavallotto stressed that he makes wine in the traditional fashion without the influence of too many modern techniques or technologies. "We make wine the way it has been made for centuries in Piemonte," he said.

"We have been distributing Marc de Grazia [wines] for over 12 years now," said Bill Lucchesi of Delta Wholesale. Delta distributes Marc de Grazia selections for importer Vin Divino locally. "We have always attended their shows in Verona, Italy, and in Chicago. We have discussed doing a trade event here with the wine makers for the past three to four years."

Italian wines are not easy to understand. Italy has roughly 1,000 different grapes being grown for wine across the entire country. Most wine drinkers are all too comfortable with Cabernet, Merlot, and Pinot Noir. But the thirst for Italian wine has grown in Memphis to such a degree that the suppliers are taking notice.

"We never were able to hold such a tasting event [before] because we needed to get Memphis to understand Italian wines," Lucchesi said. "After several years of promoting Italian wines and seeing the growth explode, we knew we were ready for a big tasting."

What Italy offers in wine runs the gamut of price and quality. "Over the past several years, Italy has been producing more and more affordable and approachable wines," Lucchesi said. "It's not just Chianti and Barolos anymore."

What the winemakers poured at Delta's warehouse was a beautiful cross-section of what the entire country is capable of. There were crisp whites from the Frascati region, sensual red Brunello di Montalcino, and uniquely expressive Nerello Mascalese produced from 100-year-old vines.

"I think this has had a tremendous impact in Memphis," Lucchesi said. "It's not just Italian restaurants selling Italian wines anymore. Wine consumers need the restaurants and wine retail stores to help them with their selections, and I see every day less consumer intimidation."

It's true that currently many restaurants across the city have Italian wines on their lists, much more so than in even the recent past. Retail shops are giving more space to Italian selections, but not all yet understand these wines, so choose wisely and ask questions.

"We are a bit tired of going to New York, Tokyo, etc.," explained Iano de Grazia, co-directed of Marc de Grazia Selections. "We saw Memphis as an adventure and opportunity. Our group of winemakers didn't really remember Seattle or New York on this trip, but everyone remembers Memphis."

click to enlarge p._42_wine_1.jpg

Recommended Wines

Cavallotto Dolcetto d'Alba 2006 Piedmont, $22.99

Le Terrazze Rosso Conero 2005 Marche, $23.99

Piazzano Rio Camerata 2005 Chianti, $17.99

Tavignano Verdicchio 2006, $16.99

Paolo Scavino Rosso da Tavola 2006 Piedmont, $22.99

Ciacci Piccolomini Poggio della Fonte 2005, $15.99

Costantini Massarossa Frascati 2006, $16.99

Grimaldi Barbera d'Alba 2004, $26.99

Paolo Scavino Barolo 2003, $67.99

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