I doubt it will come as much of a surprise that Italy is home to many of the world’s oldest wine-producing regions, and with so many indigenous grape varieties the wines are renowned for having a depth and character like no other. As my Italian Week celebrations near the end, I thought an introductory look at the more well-known regional wines was called for. So grab a glass and join me in drinking some of Italy’s best.
Second only to France in terms of wine production, Italy has grapes growing in just about every region of the country and Italian wine is exported around the world, but with literally hundreds of wines produced in Italy, choosing the right wine to drink with your Saturday night spaghetti can be more than a little intimidating. Although most tend to associate Italy and red wine, there are some incredible white wines on the market. Arguably the most important thing to remember is that Italian wine is ‘designed’ to perfectly complement Italian food and just like ‘food of the region’, wines produced in a specific region of Italy are the best to complement the regional cuisine.
There are two major classifications for Italian wine – Vino da tavola which simply means the wine is made ‘for the table’, and those that are rated at the ‘higher end’ of the spectrum ranging from good to superior. A table wine in Italy can cost you as little as $10 a bottle whereas wines from the higher end range between $25 (still quite reasonable) to $100.
In northern Italy, taking in the regions of Liguria, Lombardy, Piedmont and Valle d’Aosta comes the Barolo, Barbaresco and Dolcetto red wines and the Asti (formerly known as the Asti Spumante) sparkling white wine. One of my favourite drops, Valpolicella comes from the northern Italian regions of Fruili Venezia Guilia, Trentino Alto Adige and Veneto. It is a pleasant, easy drinking red wine made from air-dried grapes. As a medium-bodied red wine, I find it’s dark cherry and licorice notes goes best with pork, lamb and eggplant dishes and even well-aged cheeses.
From central Italy comes the best-known of all Italian red wines, Chianti. I’ll always remember the two unusually shaped green bottles with the woven bases that sat in the dining room at my nonna and nonno’s house that had once been filled with chianti. Hailing from the Toscano region of central Italy, Chianti Classico comes from the region between Firenze and Siena and is more medium-bodied with floral and light nutty aromas. Chianti Superiore is a wine produced in the areas of Arezzo, Firenze, Pisa, Pistoia, Prato and Siena of the Toscano region and is more spicy with cherry and pepper flavours. I enjoy my chianti with any tomato-based pasta dish, but it also goes well with chicken or roast vegetables.
Another notable wine from central Italy is the Montepulciano, which is produced in both the Toscano and Abruzzi regions. The montepulciano from Toscano (Vino Nobile de Montepulciano) is a classic red wine made from the sangiovese grape variety, while the wine from Abruzzi (Montepulciano d’Abruzzo) is made from the montepulciano grape. Just a little confusing. The Vino Nobile de Montepulciano is a soft, easy to drink red wine that has flavours similar to Chianti. The latter is a full-bodied red wine and usually with hints of spice and plums and is also a good wine to keep on the rack for a few years before drinking. It can be paired with spicy dishes, but works best with a meat-based ragu.
The south of Italy is regarded for its red wine production, but it is also an area known for its fortified wine, Marsala. Produced in the southern Italian region of Sicilia, marsala is produced using a number of grape varieties, including white grape varieties. Although it can be consumed in a similar fashion to Port or Sherry, marsala is more frequently used in cooking. In Italy, this can be in risotto recipes or (and this is my favourite) in rich Italian desserts such as tiramisu or zabaglione.
Still not sure about your Italian wine selection? Let me help you. As someone who is partial to the odd glass of wine, I can attest to the deliciousness and quality of the following Italian wines, and the good thing – you don’t have to go all the way to Italy to buy a bottle (although I highly recommend you visit the country if you haven’t already) because they should be easily found in any local Australian bottle shop.
- Musella Valpolicella Superiore Vigne Nuove 2008 (750mL), roughly $22 a bottle
- Brown Brothers Dolcetto & Syrah 2010 (750mL), around $12 a bottle
- Ruffino Aziano Chianti Classico 2009 (750mL), at $25 a bottle
- Dorio Montepulciano 2009 (750mL), at the gorgeous price of $10 a bottle