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Antonio Molesini 

Italian wine specialist

Antonio Molesini is an Italian wine salesman and wine instructor with Republic National Distributing Co. (809 Jefferson Hwy., 837-1500; www.rndc-usa.com). He's a native of Cortona, a small town in Italy's Tuscany region where his family first opened a wine shop in 1937 and has run groceries and restaurants for generations. Molesini moved to New Orleans in 1993. Today, he supplies Republic clients across Louisiana and regularly leads tastings and wine classes for consumers and professionals.

We're seeing more Italian wines in stores and on restaurant wine lists. Why is this happening?

Molesini: The economy. The economy won't make people stop drinking. That will never happen. But it will make people look for better values, and the economy has brought people to discover the baby, not the daddy, wines that have the same characteristics but aren't going to be so expensive. They're discovering bottles that can be $11 or $12 that they've never heard of before but have the same quality as their $20 merlot or cabernet from California. And people travel more today. When you go to Italy there are two choices for drinks — wine or water. Water will make you rust, so you drink wine. When they come home, they look for what they had over there.

For a lot of people Italian wine still means Chianti and pinot grigio and not much else. Do people get intimidated beyond those obvious choices?

M: Our wine names aren't easy to pronounce and that can intimidate some people, so they stick with what they know. California teaches people that wine comes from 10 grapes, maybe 20. But in Italy we have thousands of different grapes. Let's expose people to something different.

OK, it's about 90 degrees as we're talking. If I want a refreshing Italian white and I'm tired of pinot grigio, what do you recommend?

M: Three choices: an Orvieto, a vermentino or a Vernaccia. And also moscato. You'll be seeing a lot more Moscato soon. Two years ago our company had one moscato, now we have 16 labels and I'm working on getting two more, so 18. Like riesling, it's a clean refreshing wine and it's sweet but it has this spritziness that cuts the sweetness. — Ian McNulty

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