Your beginner’s guide to Italian Wines
Welcome to Italian Wines 101. This is Nelson, and I’m guest blogging this post, with Rachel’s notes here and there. I’m the wine enthusiast of the family, and have come to understand that the vast world of wines can be fun to explore, but also overwhelming. Here I’ll keep it simple and share a handful of our favorite Italian wines with you and some ideas for wine parings, and then I’ll point you in the right direction to do some exploring on your own.
Anni e bicchieri di vino non si contano mai. –Age and glasses of wine should never be counted.Italian proverb from the Friuli Venezia Giulia area
You might think that we drink a lot of wine from reading that quote, but this Italian proverb actually refers more to living your life fully. That’s what we like to do, to live as fully as possible, but maintain a balance to stay healthy. If you enjoy wine, you should definitely consider exploring some of the many unique and amazing wines of Italy to go with your meals.
Wine tasting in Milano
I love this photo! I took it in northern Italy in 2012. This was in a focacceria near the Duomo in Milan that was founded in 1834. The food was amazing, and it was sooo Italian. Click on the photo to go to the restaurant’s website.
And now for my recommendations…
Prosecco is probably the most classic Italian sparkling wine, and perhaps the oldest. It’s from the Valdobbiadene region of Veneto, in the northeast part of Italy near Venice. Unlike champagne, which is traditionally carbonated directly in the bottle, Prosecco is carbonated in vats before bottling in a process called the Charmat Method or Metodo Italiano. It results in a lighter and sometimes slightly sweeter drink than champagne.
Prosecco is a great addition to a light, summer Italian meal like grilled fish, chicken, or veggies, or as an aperitivo. For extra fun, you can also make prosecco cocktails like Aperol Spritz, mimosa, or bellini. Prosecco is a lower alcohol wine, making it a great choice for a hot summer day.
We really like prosecco made by Carpene Malvolti. It’s reasonably priced (about $15) and well-balanced. Carpene Malvolti is one of the most ancient and prestigious prosecco makers in Italy. Founded in 1868 by Antonio Carpene, he was considered “a forerunner in the application of biology to the art of wine making.” He also established the first Oenology school in Italy dedicated to the study of grape growing and wine making.
Also check out the Carpene Malvolti Prosecco web site. It’s got an amazing slideshow with interesting and entertaining photos.
Montepulciano D’Abruzzo was the first Italian red I started buying regularly. I drink more reds than Rachel, and this was one of the first Italian reds I fell in love with. It’s a medium-bodied red from the grape variety called Montepulciano. These wines are fruit-forward, moderately acidic, moderately tannic, and jammy, but with a bit of spice.
The acidity of the wine makes it a great drink to complement a wide range of foods, but goes especially well with fatty foods – meats, cheeses and dishes with a lot of olive oil. Fat and acidity are good complements across a meal or even within a dish. Think about pairing this wine with a salad with goat cheese and balsamic vinegar.
We love this producer, Lunaria, because their wines are biodynamic and organic – something we always search for in our food and drink. And this particular wine is a great value – you can often find it for under $15.
And by the way, Vino Nobile de Montepulciano is not made with the Montepulciano varietal (confusing, I know!). Vino Nobile de Montepulciano is actually a Sangiovese-based wine from Tuscany that is lighter– a bit more like a Beaujolais or Pinot Noir.
If Chianti Classico is the most famous Italian red, Pinot Grigio is probably the most famous white wine from Italy.
Pinot Grigio is similar to Pinot Gris from France, but Pinot Grigio tends to be a little lighter and more citrusy – think flavors like green apple and meyer lemon. Such a light, refreshing wine is perfect with white fish recipes and delicate salads. Or pair it with pasta with mussels. Mmmmm…
This Pinot Grigio from Cantina Zaccagnini is an excellent wine for the money – right around $15. Lunaria, the organic producer above, also makes a good Pinot Grigio, but it is a bit more like a rosé – pink in color and has more body than a classic Pinot Grigio.
Here’s a little known fact (to me anyway)… Pinot Grigio is the most imported wine in America. I would not have guessed that.
Other Italian Reds to Try
Italy is really known for it’s red wines, and there are a lot to explore.
Sangiovese is probably the most important grape in Italy and the base of Chianti Classico from a particular region in Tuscany. Chianti is a wonderful, bold red that is intense and dry. It is a great wine to pair with red sauces, cheeses, and cured meats like prosciutto and salami. Because Chianti Classico is so popular, it’s harder to find good bottles at a reasonable price.
Amarone wines tend to be fruit-forward, tannic, and bold, with hints of licorice and chocolate, but not sweet. It has a high alcohol content compared to other wines and pairs well with red meat, braised dishes, and stews like coq au vin. Think Merlot on steroids!
Super Tuscan, Nero d’Avola, Barbera, Nebiolo… there are too many! And they all have their own characters. Start trying some with your meals. For a quick guide, try Wine Folly’s guide to Italian Red’s for beginners.