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By Seema Tikare
Italy is one of those countries that is both timeless and a study in how life changes over time. If you walk the narrow lanes of small towns, you still see laundry blowing in the breeze off balconies, old men sitting around tables at the local café playing cards and drinking coffee or wine or grappa, flowers spilling out of pots on everyone’s doorstep. But on the main thoroughfares, you see slick young professionals, in tailored suits and sunglasses, shoes impeccably shiny with new cars and new phones. Old architecture juxtaposed with new windows and lighting and furniture, all unbearably stylish.

One of the wonderful things about all the old and new being side by side is that you see the same in the food and drink as well. Old recipes handed down over the generations but served on ultramodern plates with pristine, modern wines. No longer do you find Italian wines with that funk you used to get in the old basket-covered chianti flasks. Now you get pure fruit flavors, carefully vinified in stainless steel vats and aged in clean oak barrels. All the complexity and concentration come from intentional winemaking rather than from haphazard fermentations in musty old cellars.

The recent wines of Italy are amazing in a way they were not always in the past because the quality of the wine is now not only very reliable but also extremely high. Even iconic wines like Chianti Classico, Barolo, and Soave are better than ever thanks to a new generation of winemakers who have paired their generations-old traditions with formal training at universities and in vineyards and wineries all over the world. They have traveled and studied and brought home all the knowledge and technique they have learned.

Given that June is the month when the sun finally gains strength and delicious summer vegetables arrive, let’s focus on Italian wines that pair so well with the foods that one might find in an open-air market — sun-ripened tomatoes, gorgeous olives with fresh crusty bread, perfect cantaloupes, lovely cheeses, and cured meats.

Prosecco has seen an astronomical rise in popularity over the past several years and this wine embodies why. It is fun, refreshing, and light. It is a wine that is drinkable at every meal starting with brunch, but also as an aperitivo or just to sip at a sidewalk café. Add to its charm its lovely rosé hue and you have the perfect festive, happy drink. It opens with a fresh, green apple and strawberry burst followed by a gently foaming hint of candied orange and blossoms. It is a wine that you can drink with any course of the meal, but I always like to begin an evening with something sparkling, so it can be served with light nibbles, like pecorino and crackers, an olive tapenade, or a bruschetta. Available from Horizon Beverage Company.

Produced by the renowned Mastroberardino family, is a beautiful wine with notes of orange, orange blossoms, pears, hazelnuts, and a touch of apricot on the finish. It sports a label that reads, “Ex Cinere Resurgo,” meaning I have returned from the ashes. The phoenix is a symbol of several villages near Naples, perhaps referring to the ancient memories of Vesuvius. To the Mastroberardino family, it signifies the passage of the wine from the old family vineyards amid extinct volcanoes to the Terradora di Paola winery. This wine is crying out to be paired with chicken liver pate on crusty fresh Italian bread with olive oil. Available from Ruby Wines

Kermit Lynch has a way of finding wines that others may overlook and bringing them to us when we did not know we needed them. The wines of the Marche are relatively unknown to many people – sandwiched between the Apennine Mountains and the Adriatic Sea, with limestone-rich soil that is ideal for white wines, and bright, warm morning sun and cool afternoon breezes off the sea. Verdicchio is that rare grape that is both linear and fleshy, depending on how the winemaker treats it. Kermit Lynch has made a wine that achieves a perfect balance of being crisp and refreshing with a hint of peaches and herbs but also with a softly rounded mouthfeel. This is the perfect wine to go with fresh melon and Parma ham or prosciutto. Available from Carolina Wine & Spirits.

San Felice is one of the most beautiful estates you can imagine in Tuscany. The old buildings are built from mellow golden sandstone with deep green vines climbing up most of the walls and gorgeous flowers — geraniums, oleander, bougainvillea, roses — crowding around the edges of inviting patios as you look out over the vast sloping vineyards that surround the property. It is a paradise befitting this equally gorgeous wine. Sangiovese is one of those miraculous combinations of old and new that characterize so much of Italy. It is an old wine tradition, with first mention of Chianti appearing in writing in 1398. Today, with modern viticulture and winemaking, the wines are full of ripe cherries, blackberries, and dried orange peel with notes of violets and roses. The tannins are firm but velvety and the 2O% new oak aging adds baking spice aromas that round out the acid structure. This wine makes me crave the iconic Tuscan pappardelle (or pici) with wild boar ragu. Available from Carolina Wine & Spirits.

While Barolo tends to get the love and adulation of most people, myself included, Barbaresco is equally deserving of accolades. In fact, it tends to cost a bit less and be a bit more approachable earlier than the more muscular Barolo. Barbaresco can have a delicacy and a finer edge on its tannins while still carrying all the power and glory of cherries and roses, licorice, and spice that characterize the Nebbiolo grape. Brothers Bruno and Marcello Ceretto were pioneers in mapping out the terroir in Barbaresco to find some of the best vineyards for their wines, and in producing organically to ensure that each wine reflects its origin. Barbaresco makes a natural pairing with meaty dishes like lamb, game, and grilled steak. Available from Boston Wine Company and Carolina Wine & Spirits.

It is never easy to find a wine for summery desserts, especially something light and airy like strawberry and basil panna cotta. Moscato d’Asti on first blush may not seem like a serious wine — it is sweet, with 135 grams per liter of residual sugar, and lightly fizzy. The first time I tried it, it reminded me of less-than-wise decisions in college to drink wine coolers. But the floral and tropical fruit aromas are gentle in this wine, with a light effervescence that tempts you to take one more sip along with the cool texture of the panna cotta. Soon, the glass is gone and you wonder, should I have a bit more? At 5% alcohol by volume, why not? It is the perfect wine with which to end a summer’s evening. Available from Horizon Beverage Company.