Variety is the spice of life, they say. So to prove “them” correct, my friends and I embarked on a mysterious and giddy wine flight tasting experience at top-rated San Francisco gem, Incanto. Wine flights are a foolproof way to sample many different types of wine, compare, contrast and discover new favorites that you never would have tried on your own. And what better place to sample delectable delights than Incanto,

which boasts rustic California-Italian cuisine with some unique specialties like house-cured meats, innovative pastas, and sustainably grown fresh produce. This Noe Valley treasure’s chef, Chris Cosentino, recently had the honor of appearing on Iron Chef America, so they know a thing or two about the perfect blend of food and wine.

In addition, Incanto’s self-proclaimed “award-winning wine program features one of the most diverse Italian wine lists in the United States and an ever-changing lineup of more than twenty wines by the glass, half-glass, half-liter, and flight.” This is one impressive wine list, to be sure. My dining companions and I were presented with a cornucopia of choices, but the whimsically named wine flights – Tuscan Trifecta, for example – caught our fancy.

Feeling mischievous, I opted for the Mystery Flight, while my husband partook of the Bonny Doon Italianates sampler. My itinerary included a lovely translucent rosé Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Cerasuolo Campirosa, 2005, Illuminati. Quite a mouthful even for this little Italian, and indeed it turned out to be a mouthful of lovely, light goodness but with enough personality to stand up to the hearty dishes for which Incanto is known – a perfect starter. I would have seen this on a wine list and perhaps opted for something more comprehensible, but that is the joy of wine flights: you never know what you’re going to get. And if you’re lucky enough to get a top-notch tasting experience like we did, the bar staff will even tag each glass so if you fall in love with something, you can just take the tag with you so you don’t forget the name.

My second stop was a bolder Nero d’Avola Rossojbleo, 2005, Gulfi. Nero d’Avola is an important grape from Sicily and the wines it produces have a similar quality to Shirazes. This grape also plays a part in Marsala blends so we were definitely kicking up the intensity from our initial rosé. This particular wine tasted balanced with a slight mineral hint. A peppery kick complemented our antipasto starter of house-cured meats and patés quite nicely.

And for my final destination, I was presented with an Aglianico Contado, 2002, Di Majo Norante. I never even knew Aglianico was a type of grape – again, why I love wine flights. Aglianico is a red grape mostly grown in Italy’s Campania and Basilicata regions, although its love of sunnier climates has seen it putting down roots in Australia and California. This plush ruby-red treat was all about berries for me and went down smoothly. Matched with our rustic pasta and meat entrees, this wine achieved perfection. And for good reason: I later learned that this is exactly what this wine is made for – hearty roasted meats, lamb, and wild game. The Di Majo Norante winery is located in the Molise, overlooking the Adriatic Sea, and is one of the best known producers in the area. Their wise old Aglianico vines are organically grown and help achieve this fabulous complement to heartier dishes.

The grand reward for our tasting bravery? Finding a wine we loved to order as a full glass finale to our meal. Although, I must admit Incanto’s generous tasting pours more than satisfied for the entire meal. I just love wine flights and can’t recommend them enough. While I like to think I’m adventurous, I don’t think I ever would have tried so many new and unusual wines. Tasting flights sparked my curiosity to research more about these Italian gems, a wine region that I normally don’t experiment with as much as I should. I’m going to chalk this all up to “prep work” for a planned 2008 Italian villa vacation. Sigh….homework should always taste this good!

Have you discovered some fabulous reds on your tasting adventures? Drop me an email at [email protected] and share the joy.

Maria Ross is a freelance writer who also runs Red Slice, a branding and marketing agency that helps emerging businesses, including wineries and wine bars, tell their unique story and attract new loyalists.  She is based in Seattle.