Friday, May 7, 2010

Italian Wine ….I’d Like To Get To Know You

A question that I am often asked by friends when they find out I am an Italian sommelier, is what wine should I buy to bring home with me to Canada? How long will it last? It is really difficult to figure out Italian wines from the label: Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Bardolino, Barolo, Brachetto d’Acqui, DOCG, DOC, IGT. These are the labels that you may have come across while trying to choose your Italian wine to accompany your Sunday dinner. To North Americans, these labels don’t give us a lot of information about the wine. In North America, wines are labeled according to the type of grape. If it is a California wine, it will tell you on the label that it is made with Zinfandel, or Merlot, or Chardonnay. In Italy and France, the name on the bottle tells you the area or the town that the grapes/wine have come from.

In Italy the grape topography is somewhat more complicated than it is in France. Whereas France has chosen to limit its viticulture areas to 10, Italy has taken the approach that each of its 20 political areas has indigenous grapes that are of high quality, and are valued for the terroir in which they grow, and are perfect matches with the regional dishes of the area. While France uses just over 100 different grape varietals, I’ve heard it said that Campania alone has close to 300 varieties. How can a foreigner ever begin to grasp what is in a bottle of Italian wine and what they can expect from it?

First of all, it is helpful to understand the hierarchy of wines that exist in Italy.
Italy has created a sort of hierarchy of quality for the consumer. At the base of the Italian wine pyramid, you will find the Vini da Tavola or table wines. They are usually generic, bottom end wines price wise, but not always in quality. They have only to follow the laws set out for hygiene and they must be produced in Italy. They will not have a year on their label, nor will they indicate where the grapes come from. There are some “Vini da Tavola” that are of very good quality. These are wines that do not adhere to any dictates by the government other than health regulations and taxes related to selling wine.

The second category is the I.G.T., which stands for Indicazione Geografica Tipica. This category refers to table wines that are produced in a certain geographical area. On the label they may refer to the types of grapes used, and the year that the grapes were picked. Generally, but not always, these wines are higher end table wines. However, even here you have to know what you’re buying because there are some “I.G.T” wines that are of extremely high quality. The only reason they are labeled as I.G.T. is because they may be using grapes that are not dictated by law for that area. They may have chosen to use an International variety such as Cabernet Sauvignon. The Super Tuscans fall into this category and they demand a very high price and are revered worldwide.

The D.O.C. designation or Denominazione di Origine Controllata has stricter, more rigid rules that must be followed. It refers to a specific viticulture zone within 1 of the 20 political regions of Italy. The zones are defined by specific boundaries and have to be registered with specific authorities. Not only do the wines have to come from within the boundaries of the specific area, but the grapes used and the quantities of the grapes that are grown per hectare must be those defined for that zone. These wines have to submit samples to be tested chemically as well as have the specific aromas and qualities of the wines that they represent. There are currently over 300 DOC wines in Italy.

At the top of the pyramid are the D.O.C.G. wines where there are even more rigid and strict quality controls. The same rules apply for the D.O.C. G. as for the D.O.C. wines but in this case there are more rules to follow in the vineyard and in the winery. Thus the word “garantita” is added to the Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita. As of March 2010 there are 49 D.O.C.G. wines in Italy. The following table is meant to help you with your wine choices by listing the Region, the DOCG wine name, the Grape, a short description of the type of wine, and it’s “best before date”, some of the best producers as dictated from the 2010 Duemilavini guide book to Italian wines, as well as some suggested pairings. I have not tried all of these wines, but I plan to make my way through them as I find them. The producers I have listed have the highest ratings for the wines that are listed. Most have received the maximum of 5 glasses (bicchieri) in the Duemilavini 2010 edition. Some of the wines, you may only be able to find in the area where they are made. Please contact me for a list of the websites and other contact information of the wineries that are cited here.

Where is the best place in Naples to buy wine? Enoteca’s will have knowledgeable staff, and will have on offer wines from the best producers as well as some very good values, and some new producers who are trying to make a name for themselves. The largest selection that I have found of DOCG wines can be found at Auchan. The best prices I have seen for wines are at the Save Center on the NATO base in Bagnoli.
While DOCG wines are not the only good wines to buy and taste while in Italy, they are a good place to start if you are trying to build a private stock of very good to excellent Italian wines.

Special thanks to Alfonso Cevola, in his wine blog “On the Wine Trail in Italy for his up-to-date list of ever growing DOCG wines.

Some wine descriptions are my own, and for the others, I referred to the Italian descriptions in the book, Il Vino Italiano 2B, Panorama vitivinicolo attraverso le denominazioni di origine”

The Duemilavini/2010 is published yearly by Bibenda Editore and can be purchased from their site

The table is here!


Deep Red Cellar said...

Nicely done Cathy! :)

hungech said...
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