Many a wine lover is born of traveling to Italy. What’s more? With the lack of preservatives in the wine over here, you don’t end up with the dull headache from over-indulging.
I’m no sommelier, and I don’t meet much wine I don’t like, so I’ll offer what I know in an average person’s laymen terms.
In Italy, wines are distinguished by the region they’re grown in, their grape varietals, and their grade/rating.
The lowest grade is Italian table wine (vino da tavola / VDT), next up is wine specific to a certain geographic location (indicazione geografica tipica / IGT), nicer still is specific by both a region and controlled standards (denominazione di origine controllata / DOC), and finally there is most restrictive rating that is actually given a seal of approval from the government (denominazione di origine controllata e garantita / DOCG). Strict regulations, wine laws, and minimum alcohol levels determine the wine grades.
There are twenty wine regions in Italy. Just as the foods in each region are slightly different as you travel through Italy, so are the wines, and they are intended to marry well together within each region.
As far as red grape varieties go, many people are aware that Chianti was born here, and it’s generally a safe choice to accompany most foods. Nebbiolo is also very popular, and its wine is less jammy than Chianti, bringing out more of a floral bouquet with hints of truffle. Aglianico wine is very common as well, and offers more spicy notes. Other popular reds to note are Nero d’Avola, Sangiovese, Dolcetto, Corvina, and Negroamero. I suggest sampling all you can of everything you have the opportunity to try, as these are but a handful of the many offerings here.
I’m a red wine lover at heart, but there are amazing white grape varietals here as well. I’ve been drawn to them frequently at lunch when I want something sweeter, cooler, and more crisp.
How could I write about Italian wine and not mention Prosecco? Prosecco is dry and sparkling, and is made from the Glera grape. It always carries either a DOC or DOCG grade, and is less expensive than Champagne (of the Champagne region in France).
Verdicchio is lovely as it is a bit nutty and has sweetness to its aftertaste. Trebbiano wines can go with anything. Fiano is more herbal and a bit nutty. Garganega, Malvasia Bianca, and Ribolla Gialla are also popular for good reason.
The best way to bring out the flavor of good wine is enjoy it with bread and a variety of cheeses. Take a sniff, take a sip, slosh it around in your mouth so it hits all of your taste buds, and try to pick out all the flavorful notes you are able to sense.
If you can’t get to Italy any time soon to taste all the lovely wine she has to offer, you can still enjoy a great tasting of 21 Virginia wineries in Yorktown today at the Yorktown Wine Festival at the Riverwalk Landing.
If you can’t make it out to Yorktown, invite some friends over and ask them to each bring a favorite bottle. You can enjoy sampling each other’s selections over an antipasti picnic in your own backyard.