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Italy's other red wine deserves some recognition. 

Big, Bold Barolo

Chianti, Chianti, Chianti. Tuscany, Tuscany, Tuscany. "A Year in Tuscany," "A Garden in Tuscany," "Biking in Tuscany." Enough already. Yes, it's true that Tuscany is fabulously gorgeous, has delicious food and some of the best wines in the world, but can we peek at another important wine-producing locale in Italy?

It's the Piedmont region, which borders France and Switzerland. In this region, there's a village called Barolo, which lies in the Langhe hills southwest of Alba. It is here that some of the finest red wines in the world are produced. This wine — called Barolo — is made from the Nebbiolo grape, named after the fog (nebbia in Italian) which rolls through during harvest time and is said to aid in the proper ripening of the grapes.

Barolo is labeled "DOCG," a legal term which guarantees its quality because the wine must meet certain government-controlled criteria. For example, Barolo must age a minimum of three years (two of which must be in wood barrels); a Barolo Riserva must age four years; a Riserva Speciale, five years; and so on. Barolos are generally described as having an aroma of violets or anise and flavors ranging from truffles (the fungus, not the candy), licorice, earth and chocolate. Barolos tend to be robust, dry, full-bodied and high in acidity, tannins and alcohol, so they're a good choice for cold weather meals that feature steaks, venison, lamb or other protein-rich fare.

Some wine lovers compare Barolos with fine Bordeaux, because both wines tend to be complex, sophisticated and often austere. And, like great Bordeaux, Barolos aren't cheap. Buy them ready to drink (i.e., 1995 or older) and they'll start at about $30. Worth the money? Absolutely. These are special-occasion wines.

1995 Fratelli Revello Barolo, DOCG., $37.99 A gorgeous nose filled with notes of anise and mushrooms, this robust wine explodes on the palate with flavors of licorice and chocolate. Fratelli Revello is multilayered and complex, delivering pleasure with every sip.

1995 Elio Altare Barolo DOCG, $42.99 Slightly less robust than the Fratelli Revello, the Elio Altare has a nose redolent with cassis and licorice. Intriguing and sophisticated, it finishes dry and lingers long on the palate.

1997 G.D. Vajra Nebbiolo, DOC, $17.99. You'll notice that this wine is not called a Barolo, and it is not a DOCG wine. It is produced in the village of Barolo, and is made from Nebbiolo grapes, but does not meet all the government requirements to be labeled "Barolo DOCG." (I suspect the three-year minimum aging is the issue, here.) However, this lovely, hauntingly austere dry red has much of the characteristics of a true Barolo. Let it breathe for an hour before pouring; then enjoy with red meats or your best lamb
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