Romance, food and wine…that’s all we need in life surely? Well, that is exactly what Italy epitomizes.
I fell in love with Italy the moment I set foot there, and it holds so many special memories for me. Seeing the vineyards of Chianti at dawn from a hot air balloon is the only way!
Their whole ethos of life should be our benchmark to live ours by and we can learn so much from their culture.
The Greeks named Italy ‘the land of wine’, and the Italians have been producing (and consuming) wine for hundreds of years. From everyday table wines drank to accompany a feast of dishes to seriously aged, world renowned reds that seem to live forever!
Italy is the largest producer, by volume, of wine in the world! Every single piece of land in Italy seems to be growing vines.
Wine is produced all over Italy in a vast array of styles, hundreds of different grape varieties and by many small producers, some of whom have been winemaking for centuries. This, along with their main exports being made from Regional grape varieties which may not be easily recognisable e.g. Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Trebbiano etc; has made understanding Italian wines difficult for the average wine drinker.
It is also hard to decipher their wine labels, to recognise producers and to distinguish where a wine is from or which grape variety it is? This is where Wine Angel can help and here, understanding Italian wines has been broken down.
With this knowledge you can feel confident to explore the huge selection of wines available and discover some of the amazing wines this country has to offer.
Italy mainly produces juicy, highly tannic, strawberry or cherry fruit packed red wines and quite neutral, inoffensive whites. These are both easy to eat with food, (for which they are meant to be) and with our penchant for Italian foods and restaurants in the UK, these wines have been highly successful.
Remember the food and wine matching tip, that wine was produced originally to reflect its region’s cuisine. Serious, mind-blowing, full-bodied, strawberry and tar scented Barolo for your roast beef or game. Easy drinking, fresh and crisp Pinot Grigio to sip with your chicken and pasta.
Then there is cherry packed Chianti Classico for your Bolognese and pizza. And light, fruity Prosecco for your Summer’s day lunch..when it comes to wine styles, Italy really does have it all!
Quality of Italian wines has increased dramatically over the last few years. Past over-production and usage of traditional winemaking techniques (like open vat fermentation and long ageing in old oak barrels), did have an effect.
Modern winemakers now use refined techniques, such as stainless steel vats, ageing in new oak barrels and additional growing of recognisable International grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Chardonnay. These are used to blend with regional varieties, which allow the producer to add or diminish certain qualities from each grape to produce their perfect wine.
The new techniques, such as ageing in the new oak barriques, allow the wine to take on oak flavours more quickly (as it is new and also more wine is in contact with the wood as smaller barrels are used).
In Montalcino, this has allowed a junior ‘Rosso’ version (Rosso di Montalcino) of the infamous Brunello di Montalcino to be produced after only one year of ageing! It is lighter of course but incredible quality and half the price!
There are of naturally, opposers to these modern techniques and International grape variety growing. The camps are divided. I personally believe that a combination of old and new methods is the best way forward as seen in many other countries. Working together has improved wine making but retained their traditional values and flavours.
If you haven’t heard of Super Tuscans, these are modern wines produced using these newer techniques, sometimes alongside blending with these International grape varieties.
These Super Tuscans have been developed since the 1970′s and many producers were sceptical and against this progression. Some incredible wines have been produced, fetching hundreds of pounds and becoming collector’s items e.g. Sassicaia, Tignanello and Solaia.
Now, finally, the law has changed to ‘accept’ these wines and classify them, (although not all to the level they should be). At least this is a start, as before they had to be labelled as vino da tavola- table wine!
As quality has improved so much, do try and stick to the smaller producers when purchasing wine as this is where the improvements have been made, rather than the larger cooperatives. You will certainly see the difference, and remember that there are good AND bad examples of wines from each region so don’t be put off by one in particular!
Also, when it comes to pronunciation and understanding where a lot of wines are from, note that ‘di’ or ‘d’, in Italian means ‘of’. This helps enormously when looking at a label. So for example, Dolcetto d’Alba is wine made from the Dolcetto grape in the area of Alba. Similarly, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is the Montepulciano grape from the area of Abruzzo.
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is the noble wine (actually Sangiovese grape here) produced in the town of Montepulciano! Yes, there is a grape and town with the same name! Seems confusing but re-read this and it will click.
Also, Asti is a place. So many different wines come from here, including sparkling wine (‘spumante’ means sparkling in Italian). Asti Spumante has an unfortunate, yet incorrect, reputation!
Italy is divided into 20 different regions, the main ones I have listed here. Go to each Region to find out more, which grapes are grown here and which wine is famous from each area. Note that styles and regions wines have been recommended, rather than particular producers, because there are so many small producers that this could cause confusion. It is best to learn the styles first.