Ampeleia is a versatile wine choice

We were looking for one bottle to suit the big tasting menu at Vetri, as opposed to the elaborate flight of pairings, and sommelier Tara Fay nailed it with ampeleia, an unusual Tuscan IGT blend of six grapes featuring cab franc and sangiovese from a biodynamic producer in Maremma co-owned by star winemaker Elisabetta Foradori (known for her teroldego).

Deep with black stone fruits and spice, and framed by just the right brace of acidity, this earthy super Tuscan was the perfectly balanced match for a wide variety of flavors.

A couple weeks later at Vernick Food & Drink, I noticed the ampeleia name again - though this time on a one-liter jug pouring wines by the glass called, appropriately, unlitro (Italian for "one liter"). It was a different, lighter blend, with a Rhône-style mix of alicante (also called grenache), mourvèdre, carignan, and alicante bouschet, and the wine was more of a medium-bodied ruby hue.

But its juicy blend of bright red fruit, cocoa, and earth had a similarly silky balance, which was stunning considering the price and (sometimes rough around the edges) organic pedigree.

Since these are still new to Pennsylvania, only restaurants (Vedge, Coeur, and Wm. Mulherin's Sons also) carry them. But several stores in New Jersey sell them retail and at fair prices from around $14 (for unlitro) to $29 (for the premium ampeleia), that make these new Tuscan gems very accessible.

- Craig LaBan

Ampeleia wines are available at Canal's Mount Ephraim (210 N. Black Horse Pike, Mount Ephraim, 856-931-5900) and WineWorks (319 Rt. 70 W., Marlton, 856-596-3330).

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