I found that nowhere in the world is the wine as fine and varied as in Italy. Towns only 20 kilometers apart produce unique varieties made from the same grapes, appellations they can call all their own. Driving through each will give you the chance to taste this firsthand. My two favorites grew in micro-climates states apart, but the bloodlines these wines share make them family.

We've all heard of Tuscany and the world famous wines it produces. Government policy ensures this purity with a rating system, which until recently, has been unquestioned. That was before a scandal erupted in the hilltown of Montelcino, where unscrupulous producers were left to guard their own henhouses. The shortcuts they took tainted the reputation of that town's most famous wine, Brunello di Montalcino. However, not every vineyard was involved in this dishonor. I found a brunello on this trip made at a small family owned estate untouched by this, Podere San Giacomo, which continues to use traditional methods. Some people prize brunellos with a bright cherry-red color, but others, like me, prefer a darker, sweeter brunello with a velvety texture, and they have achieved this spot-on. Keep an eye out for their Brunello di Montelcino 2003 in the US market soon.

My other favorite is produced in Umbria, another stellar wine region directly east of Tuscany. It has a wetter climate than Tuscany, and because of that some call it the Green Heart of Italy. You'll find this favorite at Paolo Bea Estates in Montefalco, where town archives report the family has been living for over 500 years and today their descendents run a fattoria. After you look at the impressive vineyards and hear of their unique natural production, have Giampiero pour you a taste of Sagrantino di Montefalco Secco 2003, a wine that best expresses his artisan approach to winemaking. Layered with flavors of berries, plums, spices, and herbs, you'll quickly fall in love with this deep and dark vino like I did.

These are wines to stash in your suitcase and carry home with you, if you can just resist the urge to drink them before you leave!

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