Wines Of Italy

To write about the wines of Italy, is almost like attempting to write about the creation of the world. It could, quite possibly, take my lifetime and I still wouldn’t be done, nor would I know everything there is to know. So, I thought sifting through the designations might be a good place to start.

There are 19 wine regions in Italy and upwards of 1,000 different grape varieties. In some areas, the countryside is boundless in graceful vineyards spreading as far as the eye can see. Many people are familiar with varieties such as Chianti (the good and the bad), Amarone, Barolo, Barbaresco, and Brunello di Montalcino. Or, if you’re a wine drinker from the 70’s, wine in a straw cloaked jug. But there are many, many lesser known varieties. Some are not even open to exportation and only known in their local area. Since living in Italy, I’ve also become familiar with landlord wine which can range in taste anywhere from a dirty, wet sock to a lightly refreshing, frizzy summer pick-me-up. Believe me……..I’ve had both.

The wines in Italy are designated much like the wines of France. Specific regulations are followed in order to be named in a designation. These designations can help land you a good bottle; however, they don’t always guarantee a good one. As a matter of fact, surprisingly, many wines with lesser designations are just as good, if not better, as some of the ones with the more controlled regulations.

There are 4 basic designations for the wines of Italy: Vino da Tavola (VdT) – Table Wine, Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) – typical geographic location, Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) – denomination of controlled origin, and Denominazione di Origine Controllata Garantita (DOCG) – guaranteed denomination of controlled origin.

VdT is wine classified as table wine but that’s about it. It can be made of any grape(s), grown in any area of Italy and is often sold as bulk or blending wine. Many of the house wines in restaurants are of this designation. Although they don’t carry an illustrious designation, some of these wines are the perfect compliment to casual, al fresco dining in a scenic, little village. There are exceptions to every rule, of course, as some “Super Tuscans” are classified as VdT (more on Super Tuscans later).

IGT is wine classified as having been grown in the appropriate geographic location but other than that, no specific regulation is required. These wines encompass a large playing field and can be some of the best. In Italy, they are plentiful in enotecas, restaurants, and grocery stores.

DOC is wine classified as having followed the appropriate guidelines for growing region, varietal, production formula, and aging. Wines that fall under this designation go through rigorous tasting from a committee for every production year before they can be certified. Many of these wines are excellent; however, when you see this designation, it does not necessarily assure exceptional wine.

DOCG specifies the same as the DOC but, as mentioned above, the “G” stands for “garantita” (or guaranteed). This designation is usually set aside for the more historic wines like Brunello di Montalcino, Barbaresco, Chianti, etc. and is considered more strictly regulated.

In upcoming posts, I will travel through specific regions and wines (there’s a great white wine I want to tell you about). If you desire an in-depth look into the designations or any other wise counsel on the wines of Italy, I suggest Vino Italiano: The Regional Wines of Italy . This book is chock-full of information and has been invaluable to me as I’ve trekked through the different regions of Italy.

In the meantime, may I suggest going to your favorite wine store, and picking up a bottle of Italian wine. Whether you find a VdT, IGT, or DOC, I hope you have fun exploring.

Sources: Joseph Bastianich & David Lynch, Vino Italiano. The Regional Wines Of Italy, (New York, New York, Clarkson Potter/Publishers, 2002); Robert M. Parker, Jr., Parker’s Wine Buyer’s Guide, 7th Edition, (New York, New York, Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2008); Hugh Johnson, Jancis Robinson, The World Atlas Of Wine, (London, England, Octopus Publishing Group, 2007)

photo by Joe Overstreet

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A Note To The Followers Of Deep Red Cellar

In my excitement of starting up a new blog and trying to get posts submitted, I neglected to learn all the features of editing and publishing. For you, that meant probably receiving several posts that looked very similar as I kept making minor editing changes and publishing over and over again. I apologize and promise, from now on, to do all editing before I publish.
In addition to stories, you will see posts on wines of Italy, gourmet chocolate, etc. I am also trying to get programs set up where I will be able to send you links to some of the items I mention as well as where you can purchase them.
Thank you for following my blog. I hope you will enjoy it as more upgrades occur.

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Enate Cabernet Sauvignon – Merlot

I am amazed sometimes at how life’s paths come together. I was living in Japan in the late 1990’s just starting to spread my “wine wings.” My friend, Lynn, and I were great partners in crime, seeking out places to buy wine. On one of the many adventures, we stumbled on this very stylish Enoteca in Tokyo. It became my favorite place. I would stock up and haul bags of wine back to my home on the train that was often filled like a sardine can.
That is when I found the Spanish wine, Enate, specifically their cabernet sauvignon – merlot blend. It was inexpensive and some of the best everyday drinking wine I’d tasted. I drank it regularly from the first day I found it until my feet left the ground of the Kanto Plain for America.
After relocating to America, I started looking for the wine I had grown accustomed to drinking and enjoying so much. I couldn’t find it in any store and even spoke to a few wine distributors. One offered to see if he could get it if I’d be willing to purchase several cases. By that time, I was living in Southern California with no air conditioning and no wine cellar. Lynn, my compatriot mentioned earlier, made a trip back to Japan during this time and was kind enough to get me a couple of bottles……..still the wonderful taste I remembered.
It was here where life’s paths collided. I had almost forgotten about my pal, Enate, until this past September when I was sitting at a wonderful tapas restaurant in Barcelona. As my husband and I were looking over the wine list, I was elated to discover that they had Enate – they even had the cabernet sauvignon-merlot blend! As I was sipping on a glass with great delight, a rush of memories came back about life in Japan, the Enoteca in Tokyo, the sardine can trains, etc. I like how wine has a way of taking you back to the moment when you first discovered a favorite bottle.
It was then that I decided I needed to find out where to buy this pal of mine and take it home. It didn’t take long……it was waiting for me at “El Cellar de la Boqueria” a quaint little store in the very lively “La Boqueria” market. Two cases came home with me and I’ve been savoring them sparingly in hopes of somehow not running out until I know for sure where I can get my next stash.
Tasting Notes: Enate Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot, Somontano, 2006
This medium bodied wine has a ruby red color with tastes of blackberry, vanilla and spice rounded out by a toasty finish and balanced acidity.
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Insalata Caprese


It was 1992 and I made my maiden trip to Naples, Italy to visit my husband when I stumbled on “Insalata Caprese.” What – this is a salad? Who knew there could be variations.

As a child, I was used to salads consisting of that pale green and yellowish stuff called iceberg with maybe some carrots, radishes, a few tomatoes and trans fat laden bottled dressing. I had no idea something so fresh and yet so simple could be so good. That first bite of mozzarella di bufala was almost an outer body experience. It was like nothing I had ever tasted and just seemed to smoothly run down my throat. The contrast of the sweet, fresh, tomatoes that the Campania region is famous for along with sprigs of fresh basil, olive oil and the perfect amount of salt was what has kept me on the quest for more.

Fast forward to 2007 when I found myself moving to Naples and ecstatic at the prospect of tasting all the wonderful food (and wine 🙂 ) Italy has to offer.

Of course, I returned to the quest for more caprese and found that there are even slight variations on this salad…..some come with oregano instead of basil, some with a squeeze of fresh lemon, some chunk the tomatoes and mozzarella, and some slice them. The key ingredients – tomatoes and mozzarella di bufala – remain the same.

So, after living here for almost two years, I not only have my favorite way of making “Insalata Caprese,” I can actually tell the difference between good mozzarella di bufala and bad. Now, before I get the Italians mad at me, let me clarify. By bad, I don’t actually mean it is indigestible, I mean, it is not my preference. Because what I’ve also learned from living here is that many people have different opinions about what makes good mozzarella di bufala. Some prefer it slightly firm, some think salt destroys it, some only buy it from the town they live in or even more specific, from the same vendor they’ve been buying it from for years (because so-and-so’s brother owns the caseficio).

I can’t say I’m much different because I have tried almost all the shops that sell it in my town and can even tell who makes it slightly firm, with little or no salt, etc. Now, many Italians would probably think I’m crazy (although admire me for sticking to my personal quest for the best) but I don’t buy my mozzarella from any of the shops in my town. Instead, I drive to a nearby town and buy mine from a local Caseficio which, in my opinion, produces the most perfectly balanced, melt-in-your-mouth, mozzarella di bufala I have ever tasted. Add the freshest tomatoes, ripped (not cut) basil, enough salt to compensate for the exquisitely sweet tomatoes, top quality extra virgin olive oil and that, my friend, is what the love of food is all about! My quest has come to a very happy end!

Recipe: Insalata Caprese

2 servings
1 large ball mozzarella di bufala
8 cherry tomatoes, quartered
2 large leaves basil
extra virgin olive oil
kosher or sea salt
Cut mozzarella in half then each half into 4 pieces. Place on a serving dish with the tomatoes. Rip fresh basil over the insalata and drizzle extra virgin olive oil on every piece of mozzarella and tomato. Sprinkle salt to taste making sure you generously sprinkle on the tomatoes if they are sweet. Serve immediately.

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