In our second Tasting Room, we’re delving head on into Italy.Though not a large country in land size, Italy kicks some major butt in wine size. Not only is Italy one of the largest producers of wine in the world, it also is one of the most diverse. The country sports 20 different wine regions, each named by district. Vineyards are planted in just about every corner of the country – from the Alps in the north to the sunny tip of the boot. Add hundreds of DOC and DOCGs and numerous indigenous grape varieties, and you have one complex wine nation.For the Novice…
Most people shy away from wine labels that look completely unfamiliar. Unfortunately, most Italian wine labels are just that – unfamiliar. So how do you go about decoding Italy? It’s good to know a few key regions and their grapes, as well as the laws that regulate them.
First, let’s talk about the label. Italian wine labels can be quite confusing due to the fact that they have no uniformity. In France you see region, in the US you see grape, in Italy… well, you see both. Sometimes the label will list the region, other times just the producer and occasionally the grape AND the region together. Without knowing what to look for, it’s hard to know what you’re getting. We want to give you a little cheat sheet for decoding Italy. Here, we list the regions and grapes and what you see on the label and what it means.Tuscany (Toscana)
Tuscany is one of the more famous regions in Italy. The primary grape of Tuscany is Sangiovese. When you see red wines from Tuscany, you MOST LIKELY are drinking a wine based on Sangiovese. Within Tuscany are smaller sub-regions, some with grape specialties. They are:
Chianti (red): Chianti is a DOCG, which means it is regulated by the government. Within Chianti there are other sub-regions.
Brunello di Montalcino (red): Brunello is the grape (a clone of Sangiovese), Montalcino is the sub-region within Tuscany. It’s a collectible wine worthy of the cellar. Try Rosso di Montalcino for a less-expensive and more youthful wine.
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano: Vino Nobile (the noble grape, which is Sangiovese) is the grape, Montepulciano is the sub-region of Tuscany (NOTE that in Abruzzo, Montepulciano is a GRAPE).
Super Tuscans: For Super Tuscan wines, you may see a grape or a region like Maremma or Bolgheri on the label. You will most likely see IGT instead of DOC or DOCG. This is because Super Tuscan wines came about by not following the DOC and DOCG rules, so they were labeled with IGT (see more on Italian Wine Labels).Piedmont
A region in the north that is know for three reds: Barolo, Barber and Dolcetto, as well as the ever popular Moscato.
Barolo and Barbaresco: Both are regions producing big, bold, expensive and age-worthy wines from the Nebbiolo grape.
Barbera and Dolcetto: Both are grapes producing light-bodied, reasonably priced wines in Alba (Barbera d’Alba; Dolcetto d’Alba) and Asti (Barbera d’Asti; Dolcetto d’Asti).
Moscato: All the rage, Moscato makes a lightly sweet, lightly sparkling wine with low alcohol levels.Trentino Alto Adige
If you see this region on a label, you’re in for a delicious white wine (most likely). Some of the best Pinot Grigio are from this area.Prosecco
A region and a grape, this is THE sparkling wine of ItalyMontepulciano d’Abruzzo
Montepulciano (grape) and Abruzzo (region) make a rustic yet fruit-driven wine from central Italy.Primitivo
Genetically the SAME grape as Zinfandel here in the US, Primitivo is usually from the Puglia region down near Italy’s boot.Soave and Orvieto
Two delicious white wines from indigenous varieties in central Italy.For the Enthusiast…
Though small in land mass, Italy remains a giant in the wine world. With 20 wine regions and numerous indigenous varieties, diversity is a key theme through the country. While that means Italy can be confusing when it comes to wine, it also means there is a little something for everyone beyond Chianti and Pinot Grigio. Our Enthusiast list this month highlights the hidden gems – wines slightly off the beaten path – that are some of our favorites, yet often overlooked due to their obscurity.Italy is full of what we call indigenous varieties, which means grapes that are local to Italy, species that originated in the country and have found a “home” there. We throw that term, “indigenous variety,” around when we’re talking about non-international grapes. Cabernet Sauvignon is also indigenous somewhere, but since it’s grown just about everywhere else, we call it an international variety.Italy is quite unique in the vast number of indigenous varieties that are grown and not only consumed within the country, but also commercially sold. Falanghina is not in Australia yet. Aglianico has not picked up in California and I doubt you’ll be seeing Nero d’Avola pop up in South Africa. Countries have tried to grow Sangiovese and Nebbiolo, and while they have had some success, these grapes are just not destined to become international variety superstars. This makes Italy a very special place in the wine world.There are a few generalities we could throw at indigenous varieties in Italy. For whites, most are crisp, with excellent acidity, and many have a slight hint of a “nutty” character, like almonds or roasted nuts. You may also note a lovely minerality flowing through Italian white wines. For reds, excellent acidity remains a theme, as well as red fruits, dusty tannins and an earth-driven character that is distinctive. That said, both white and red wines vary greatly due to extremely diverse climates, soils and grape make-up. Our selection of Italian gems off-the-beaten-path are meant to show you how Italy truly represents a sense of place.For the Collector…
Structured and long-lived, the collectible wines of Italy are some of the best in the world. From the highly sought after Super Tuscans to the dust-worthy Barolos to the comeback kid Chianti Classico, we have a delectable list of collectible Italian wines ideal for your cellar. An age-worthy Italian wine has a combination of acid, structure and complexity of flavors. We think most of those wines deliver this harmonious blend. Though the majority could use some age, some of these wines can be drunk and enjoyed now.We hope you enjoy the wines of this month’s Tasting Room. As always, feel free to let us knwo if you have any questions or would like to learn about a wine subject/region/grape in particular! firstname.lastname@example.org
In case you missed it, Buitoni USA is running a Wine Wednesday sweepstakes where they are giving away Wine.com gift cards. Kind of a no brainer – sign up and you’re entered to win a $25 gift card to Wine.com!In case you are unfamiliar with Buitoni, the company produces a number of Italian food products, from delicious pesto sauces to ravioli to complete meals!We’ve decided to help pair some wines with these meals during the sweepstakes and today, we’ll feature the Shrimp-Lobster Ravioli with Garlic Butter Sauce. Um, can you say rich white?Since it’s Italian in nature, my first pick would be an Italian white like the Planeta 2008 Chardonnay. It’s rich, saturated and creamy, a perfect match to that rich garlic butter sauce with the ravioli. The dish is perfect for any rich Chardonnay, but pairing region with region (Italy with Italy in this case) is always a recipe for a good pairing. Don’t hesitate to try another white I love from Italy: Falanghina. This is another rich variety, perfect for a creamy sauce.Don’t forget to enter the Wine Wednesday sweepstakes today through the Buitoni facebook page.
Wine Name: Barbi Brunello di Montalcino 2004 375ml
Wine Reviewer: Eileen
Wine Rating: 5 stars
Paired with: Nothing … I had this one just by itself
Wine Review: I bought two of these for stocking stuffers at Christmas, one for a stocking, and one for me and my partner. Yes, folks, we’re lightweights when it comes to wine. We find ourselves not opening a bottles when we know we won’t finish the 750ml. So these half-bottles are absolutely perfect … and I love that this wine is 93 Wine Spectator points under $20. So … on to the wine!I enjoyed the mellowness of this wine and its medium body. Not as powerful as a Cab but not as light-bodied as a Pinot. Somewhere in the middle and elegant. As what I would expect from a European / Italian wine, the nose has a rich fruity bouquet and the flavors of dark cherries stood out. The mellow tannins were enjoyable for a nice soft grip. I sort of wanted to enjoy some cheese with it, but I declined and enjoyed my ‘special’ glass all by itself.Something I’d recommend to share on Valentine’s Day or not, you’ll enjoy it either way. Read more of my reviews on my Wine.com community page.
Last night I had the pleasure of tasting the Nino Franco Rustico Prosecco. Again. I previously opened it on Sunday evening for a few reasons. First, to entice my husband to do a few more “honey-dos” around the house after a very hectic weekend, and second, I was looking for a bubbly buzz. It was successful on both parts! Last night, I opened the remaining half bottle, which had been saved with my favorite Champagne stopper, while doing some computer work. This time, I was less concerned about my bubbly buzz and in-between typing really got to taste the wine.Originating in the Veneto region of Italy, Prosecco is named for the grape from which it is produced, the wine it creates, and the DOC in Italy from which it hails. Prosecco is a delightful wine, typically made in the tank method, which is different from the method used for wines from Champagne, or the traditional method, as it's called. It shows lots of upfront fruit and usually lacks the typical characteristics common to Champagne and wines made in that style. The Nino Franco, however, is different… I still get the fruit aspect, but also with a lovely crisp, citrus background, with good bubble persistence and a nice, lingering finish. This is a delicious sparkling wine – it is Prosecco, but with an “I can be like Champagne, too” attitude. Good stuff. Enjoy.