In the land of the tomato, the sangiovese reigns.
Sangiovese is the grape of Chianti. It's the ideal partner for the harvest of tomatoes coming in, specifically the match for tomato sauce. Sangiovese balances the tannin and has enough acidity to confront the tomato.
These wines range from the balanced, ready-to-drink, entry-level vino to refined riservas. And although synonymous with central Italy, specifically Tuscany, sangiovese take root very well in California, too, in Napa and Sonoma.
Look for the 2009 Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico ($24), a ruby-shaded mouthful that delivers plenty of red fruit plus cherry notes. Offering a bit more complexity and some spice is the 2008 Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico Riserva ($27), a very satisfying, upfront wine that leads to a long finish.
The 2008 Tenuta di Nozzole Chianti Classico Riserva ($24), a traditionalist's treat, has an affinity with pasta Bolognese, lasagna, grilled steaks.
There's 50 percent sangiovese in the priced-to-sell 2008 Saladini Pilastri Rosso Piceno 'Vigna Piediprato' ($15), a fruity and full-bodied number. The other half is Montepulciano, which gives this red a plummy quality. It can stand up to your heartiest gravy.
If you're fond of Montepulciano, which is grown in central and southern Italy, consider the well-priced 2009 Barba Vignafranca Montepulciano ($15). It has a suggestion of cherry and moderate acidity. Sample it with a pasta in meat sauce or a spicy red sauce. Very good with pizza, too.