Topic: Italian Wines
To see a well-set dinner coupled with a nice bottle of wine is always a mood enhancer for me, not the alcohol alone but the rich compliments the right wine can bring to a meal. The wines of beautiful Italy are some of my very favorites, the taste, the looks, and the history that still goes into making wine, these processes that date back to an extremely long history, back to the pre-roman empire. There is an incredible diversity in the wines, the grapes, growing conditions and wineries of Italy. There are hundreds of grape varieties in use, well over a million licensed wineries and a yearly production of more than 700 million gallons. This all takes place in a country that is about 2/3 the size of California.
Most of the wine produced in Italy is used for distilling or is, at best “everyday table wine”. Only about ¼ of Italian wine is of good enough quality to be classed as either DOC or DOCG quality (I will elaborate on this later).
Over the last 20yrs, there has been a great improvement in overall quality of the wines of Italy. This is due to the expectations of the consumers, changes in regulations within the European Economic Community, as well as changes in wine regulations within Italy itself.
The better or best wines qualify for designation as DOC or DOCG quality. To receive either of these designations, the winery must abide by regulations about the place where the grapes are/were grown, which grape varieties were included, how many tons were harvested per acre and a minimum level of alcohol that is in the wine. A winery that fails to abide by these rules and regulations for a particular wine may have their entire production of that particular wine declassified as Vino da Tavola (basic table wine). This is the lowest possible ranking as well as an economic disaster for the winery.
“Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Grantita”, is the top classification given to Italian wines. This category is intended to give the consumers’ confidence in the origin and quality of the wines. They have a Government seal on the capsule that indicates they have gone through the mandatory testing and tasting before being bottled. The main difference between DOC and DOCG wines is that there is an accepted system of actually tasting the wines submitted for DOCG classification. Submitted wines must have the characteristics historically associated with the wines of their region. Following is a list of some of the regions whose wines have been awarded the DOCG classification…
Albania di Romagna Gattinara
Barbaresco Montefalco Sargrantino
Barolo Moscato d’Asti
Brachetto d’Acqui Taurasi
Brunello di Montalcino Torgiano Rossa Riserva
Carmignano Vermentino di Gallura
Chianti Vernaccia di San Gimignano
Franciacorta Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
I believe the latest updated list as of Jan, 2nd, 2008, on “Down to earth wine vacation “site, lists 36 total DOCG’s, and 313 DOC’s you can find both listings for DOC and DOCG wines, a list that is updated constantly at http://www.insiderwinetours.com/italian-docgs.shtml .The DOCG was created along with DOC in 1936, but the first DOCG did not come until Vino Nobile di Montepulciano gained the distinction in 1980.Following in the wake of the French appellation d’origine Controll’ee (AOC. Italy launched its own Donominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) in 1936, to guarantee the quality and character of its wines. The system maps out and limits production zones, vine varieties, alcohol levels, yields, ageing, etc. The first DOC was Tuscany’s Vernaccia di San Gimignao in 1966, each year a handful of DOC’S are added and Italy currently counts 313 of them as of November 5th, 2007.
These lists are organized by region and are great for an overview of which are the finer of wines according to the DOC and DOCG guidelines but let us not forget that there are a great many wonderful, full-bodied, mellow, rich, light, fruity, etc.. wines that are not on the lists. When pairing food with wine it is important to think about the act itself – what makes a pair? Sometimes opposites attract, but not always with wine and cuisine. Sometimes you can mix it up, thoroughly surprising yourself. The most important base to pair it with is flavor, it is important to remember to always match similar flavors and textures, making sure the intensity of the wine contributes to the flavor of the dish.
To get great food and wine pairing lists as well as cheese and wine pairings and the flavor wheel; a great site is http://www.tuscanytonight.com.
“Wine is not just what you pour into a glass; each bottle has its own history, tradition, sensuality, uniqueness, and story. This can be both wonderful and wonderfully confusing.” As stated by Marchesi di Frescobaldi, on “Tuscany Tonight (p78). Frescobaldi gives us a few more quick hints and pairing pointers such as…”think about what is going to bring out the characteristics of both, balance tastes, salty and sour tastes in food will make wines taste milder (fruitier and less acidic), whereas most sweet and savory tastes make wines taste stronger (drier and more astringent), also look at the region where the wines come from and pick food from that area. Italy is so diverse and its wines and even more so in its cuisine. Remember that the soil that fruits and vegetables grow in, and the grass that the native animals feed upon, is the same base for the vines. They feed off the same nutrients and will therefore have similar flavors”(p78). You are going to have similarities regionally wherever you look in Italy. I have provided a map of the various regions of Italy so you can match the regional cuisine with the wines you choose.
Wines have long been a perfect companion for a delectable meal, below is a wine and food pairing chart I discovered online at http://www.tuscanytonight.com.
It is a long lived dream of mine to tour Italy, savor the cuisine and to visit some of the many vinyards, I have often heard it said that “if you visit Italy once, you will fall in love for a life time” so I suggest a beautiful meal of barbequed beef, aged cheese and a salad, complimented of course with a Chianti such as Nipozzano Chianti Rufina riserva from Castello di Nipozzano Estate Wines, Bon Apetite’