Italian Style Comfort: Food and Wine for Uncomfortable Times

These past few months have been difficult, uncomfortable times. On top of the COVID-19 pandemic with over 105,000 people dead and my own father in the hospital with pneumonia awaiting the results of his test, a pandemic which required shutting down the economy leading to an economic meltdown which revealed the inequity and injustice of our system, then the killing of several African-Americans by police leading to peaceful protests where criminals have taken advantage of the situation to loot and riot wreaking havoc. Many innocent bystanders, journalists, and protesters have been injured.

As I write this, areas of LA County are on lockdown, and last night many areas of the country had curfews and lockdowns. Over the weekend, the President even turned out the lights in the White House and cowered in a bunker.

There is not much I can do about any of it. I don’t even bake bread. Fortunately, Sue does.

In these uncomfortable times, comfort food for Sue and I means Italian food. And what better wine for Italian comfort food than Italian wine? Or at least wine made from Italian grapes like sangiovese, friesa, and teroldego.

This week we’re taking a deep dive into sangiovese, the quintessential red wine of Italy, better known simply as Chianti, the place in Tuscany that made sangiovese famous and iconic in the straw bottle called a fiasco (seriously).

Today we have three sangiovese based blends from the west coast of the United States: one from Santa Barbara, one with grapes from Paso Robles but made in Ventura, and one from Oregon. Note that due to COVID none of their tasing rooms are open at this time.

Next up is a vertical of sangiovese from Paso Robles Ranchita, and finally on Saturday June 6, we have five sangiovese from two regions in Italy, Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna, all imported by Verovino. Join our twitter chat on Saturday at 8am Pacific time where a group of wine writers will discuss Sangiovese from Italy.


  • Montinore Rosso di Marchesi  “Quinto Atto” $25
  • 2015 Toccata Classico  $30
  • 2014 Four Brix Winery “Scosso”  $32


  • Tapenade, Italian cheeses, homemade pesto, oven-dried tomatoes (that Sue grew and dried herself!)
  • Caesar salad
  • Lasagna
  • Sue’s Italian Grandma’s anise cookies (scroll for recipe)

NV Montinore “Rosso di Marchesi – Quinto Atto” Willamette Valley, OR
13.2% alcohol; SRP $25
52% Sangiovese, 11% Teroldego, 18% Lagrein, 13%Pinot Noir, 6% Nebbiol

Every year, the blend in this non-vintage wine changes, but it’s always a blend of Italian grapes, and very reasonably priced, especially for a winery that is certified biodynamic: the current release is $25.

While these grapes from Italy may be unusual in the US and Oregon, the wine is an homage to Rudy Marchesi’s Italian roots. Stay tuned for posts about the next version of this wine as well as their Teroldego and Lagrein!

This is a great pizza wine.

Color: Garnet, brickish rim.

Nose: Bright cherry, baking spices, cloves, carnation, dried rose petals,

Palate: Tart cherry, clean, slate, acidity, balanced tannins, tastes like cool climate fruit. This is not a heavy wine, it is quite elegant because of the elegant grapes in the blend.

Palate: I thought about olives right away. I could see this with a white pizza topped with mushroom, lighter Italian fare. The wine loved the anise seed cookies, it liked the olive and fig tapenade, but it did not go with the parmesan. The romano cheese was much better– the mouthwatering acidity of the wine worked really well with the sharpness of the cheese. Great with the lasagne. Made the bread sweet even though there was not any sugar in the bread and loved the rosemary in the wine.

2015 Lucas and Lewellen “Toccata Classico” Santa Barbara CA
14.1% alcohol; SRP $30

A super Tuscan blend of 50% Sangiovese, 5% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot, plus 5% Freisa!! I love Freisa and I had no idea anyone was growing it around here. I haven’t tasted there for over 20 years; time to get there and see what they are up to these days with winemaker Megan McGrath (who we wrote about here).

The Toccata tasting room is located in downtown Solvang, the cite Scandanvian themed village in the heart of Santa Barbara’s wine country.

Color: Bright red, like theater curtains, orangish/coral rim

Nose: Rich floral, perfume, black pepper, vegetal, sweet violet, rose, smoky tobacco, toasty oak, vanilla

Palate: Big fruit up front with a mineral finish. It is more overpowering on the nose than it is on the palate, bright and clean, balanced tannins, violet pastilles, blood orange on the finish.

Very enjoyable as a cocktail wine, but exciting with food as well.

Pairing – So good with the Anise seed cookies, also great with pecorino and parmesan cheeses, not quite as good with the romano.  Great with the fig and olive tapenade as well. The lemon eggy ceasar salad brings out vegetal characteristics in the wine. No surprise here, but it also works well with the lasagne.

2014 Four Brix Winery “Scosso”
SRP $32

Four Brix Sue is a member of the Four Brix wine club; she purchased this wine and a few years ago, she gave me a bottle of this wine for my birthday which we wrote about here. The grapes in the blend of 64% Sangiovese, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot come from Paso Robles.

Color: Ruby, very dense, brick rim, brick color

Nose: Plum and pepper, stewed fruit, blackberry jam, sage, very engaging nose, Sue just wanted to keep sniffing.

Palate: Tons of cherry up front, tart cherry, jolly ranchers cherry, plum on the finish, tannins are quite present, clean acidic, silty clay finish.

Pairing: Very yummy with the Anise Seed Cookies, great with the olive and fig tapenade and with the Italian cheeses on our cheese plate (Parmesean, Romano, and Pecorino). Sue felt that this wine was our least favorite wine with the lasagne. Maybe because it was a vegetarian lasagne, and this wine needs something more meaty.

Sue says “My grandmother, and my mother have always dipped these cookies into their wine as an after dinner treat.”

Sue’s Italian Nana’s Anise Seed Cookies


  • 4 eggs beaten
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1T Anise Seeds
  • 1 C Almonds – blanched and roasted
  • 3 C Flour
  • 3t Baking Powder
  • 1t Salt
  • Grated rind of 2 lemons and 2 oranges


  • Mix Eggs and Sugar
  • Mix together flour, baking powder and salt.
  • Mix flour mixture into the egg mixture. The dough is a bit sticky
  • On a floured surface, roll out dough with a rolling pin until about 1/2 inch thickness.
  • Sprinkle the dough with the almonds.
  • Roll into a log.
  • Bake in a 350 oven for 10 to 15 minutes until golden brown.
  • Remove from oven and cool.
  • Slice 1/2 inch thick.
  • Place rounds on a baking sheet and bake for 7 to 10 minutes.
  •  Flip and bake for another 5 to 7 minutes.

Sue served these with marscapone and cherry poached wine sauce.


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