Wine and Spirits / A Little Italy in Israel

February is the only month with less than 30 days. Called Solmonath (or mud month ) by the Anglo-Saxons for reasons no historian has ever quite verified, it is during this month that the Druids believe the devil walks naked on the earth. It is also when we celebrate St. Valentine's day.

This year we have another reason to rejoice, as about 80 wine stores, delicatessens, mini-markets and wine bars around Israel - in cooperation with the Italian embassy and trade center - will be offering reduced prices on a generous selection of Italian wines from well-known producers in Tuscany, Umbria, Piedmont and Valdadige.

Following are my tasting notes for those wines I consider the best value for your money and worth seeking out. When making purchases, note that although some of these wines will cellar nicely for three to four years, those noted "drink now" will be at their best if consumed now or in the next year or so.

Tedeschi, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico, Veneto, 2006: Deep garnet in color, medium- to full-bodied, with a rich floral nose on which notes of spicy wood open nicely in the glass to show generous purple plums, figs and earthy minerals, parting from mid-palate to reveal blackberries, baking chocolate and a tantalizing note of bitter almonds. Long and generous. Drink now-2018. NIS 189. Score 92.

Tedeschi, Capitel San Rocco Ripasso, Veneto, 2008: Dark garnet, medium- to full-bodied with soft tannins and a light overlay that is reminiscent at one moment of saddle leather and at another of freshly turned earth. Currants, purple plums and mocha on the nose and palate, and on the long finish notes of dried summer fruits. Drink now-2013. NIS 95. Score 88.

Gaja, Promis, Piedmont, 2007: Dark ruby toward garnet, medium- to full-bodied blend of Merlot, Syrah and Sangiovese with generous currant, wild berry and red plum fruits along with hints of white pepper and smoky oak. Long and generous. Drink now-2013. NIS 179. Score 90.

Gaja, Sito Moresco, Langhe, Piedmont, 2005: Dark ruby toward garnet, medium- to full-bodied, with finely tuned balance between spicy oak, soft tannins, acidity and fruit. A blend of Merlot, Nebbiolo and Cabernet Sauvignon, each fermented separately and then blended for 18 months of oak-aging. On first attack, wild red and black berries and currants, yielding to show tempting hints of Oriental spices, all leading to a long fruity finish. Drink now. NIS 189. Score 90.

Tenuta dell'Ornellaia, Le Volte, Tuscany, 2007: Deep garnet with orange and purple reflections, full-bodied with soft tannins and gentle spicy oak notes integrating well, even at this early stage of its development. Opens nicely to show a rich array of aromas and flavors, including wild berries, black currants and purple plums, supported pleasantly by notes of chocolate and Maraschino cherries. Drink now-2015. NIS 109. Score 90.

Tommasi, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico, Veneto, 2006: Dark garnet toward royal purple, full-bodied, with silky tannins and a deep floral nose. On first attack wild berries and currants, followed by notes of dark chocolate and spices. On the long finish, notes of candied fruits. Drink now-2014. NIS 225. Score 90.

Tommasi, Valpolicella Classico, Veneto, 2009: Garnet toward royal purple, medium-bodied, with soft, gently caressing tannins. On the nose and palate abundant plums, dried berries and citrus peel, on a background hinting of cigar tobacco and mocha. Drink now. NIS 55. Score 87.

Tommasi, Pinot Grigio, Valdadige, N.E. Italy, 2009: A very pleasant white, medium-bodied, with generous aromas and flavors of ripe peaches, citrus and roasted almonds. Crisply dry and refreshing, a fine wine to serve with brunch or a light dinner. Drink now. NIS 74. Score 86.

Ruffino, Chianti Classico Riserva, Il Ducale, 2006: A fine Ducale! Full-bodied, with soft tannins and notes of spicy oak integrating nicely and highlighting a generous array of fruits. On the nose and palate appealing blackberries, blueberries and minerals, and on the long finish notes of minted chocolate. Drink now-2014. NIS 95. Score 91.

Ruffino, Chianti Classico, Il Ducale, Tuscany, 2005: Medium-bodied with gently caressing tannins, showing aromas and flavors of blackberries, currants and plums, all with light hints of freshly picked Mediterranean herbs. Drink now. NIS 85. Score 87.

Ruffino, Chianti, Tuscany, 2009: Dark ruby toward garnet, medium-bodied with soft tannins; showing generous aromas and flavors of cherries, wild berries and plums, all on a lightly spicy background. Easy to drink and at its best with pizza and pasta dishes. Drink now. NIS 35. Score 85.

Ruffino, Orvieto Classico, Umbria, 2009: Light golden straw in color, medium-bodied, with appealing aromas and flavors of pears, apples and minerals. Crisply dry and rich in minerals. Nothing complex here, but fine when served with schnitzel or grilled fish and seafood. Drink now. NIS 35. Score 85.

Fonterutoli, Chianti Classico, Tuscany, 2007: Dark royal purple in color, medium- to full-bodied with silky tannins. On the nose and palate black currants, wild berries and notes of vanilla and tobacco. At its best alongside T-bone or porterhouse steaks. Drink now. NIS 89. Score 89.

Fonterutoli, Badiola, Tuscany, 2007: A medium- to full-bodied blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with chewy tannins and notes of grilled herbs. Opens in the glass to reveal aromas and flavors of currants, wild berries and bitter-sweet chocolate. Lovely when served with small cuts of beef or lamb. Drink now. NIS 55. Score 86.

Carmel, Regional, Viognier, Upper Galilee, 2009: Made entirely from Viognier grapes - this year from the Olive Tree vineyard, some early harvested and others late harvested - and with about 30 percent developed in oak, the rest in stainless steel. Aromatic, medium-bodied, crisply dry and with lively acidity highlighting aromas and flavors of apricots, white peaches and green apples, all lingering on a long, generous and lightly floral finish. As the wine matures, look for notes of creme brulee sneaking in gently. Drink now-2012. NIS 55. Score 90. K

Recanati, Special Reserve, White, 2008: The winery's first white release in their Special Reserve series. A blend of Viognier, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc (about one-third each; the Sauvignon Blanc from old vines ). Oak aged for eight months in Burgundy oak barrels, an aromatic blend, full-bodied and powerful, but with finesse and elegance. Fine balance between light cedar notes, acidity and fruit, opening with peaches and tropical fruit and going on to melon and pears, all lingering nicely on the palate. A wine that will develop a more mineral background in the next year or two. A release of only 2,000 bottles, so consider buying six now to follow the wine as it develops. Drink now-2014. NIS 85. Score 92. K