Italians love their wine.
To eat dinner in an Italian home and not partake of the wine is insulting
to the host and does damage to the meal itself because Italian wines
so eloquently complement the country's food. Eat a dish of penne
rigate with tomato sauce and meatballs without a glass of red
wine and something's missing.
While Italian wine-grape growers
produce grapes for both red and white wines (as well as "blush" or rosé
wines), it is the red that contains the soul of Italy and that generates
the romance of Italian wine. If a table for two in a candlelit restaurant
with a bottle of fine Chianti Classico and a carpaccio (thinly
sliced, seasoned raw beef) appetizer is not enough to kindle a romance,
then you'd better look for another partner.
In the Northwest provinces,
dark, thick-skinned Nebbiolo grapes produce the deep, rich Barolo
and the lighter, more elegant Barbaresco wines from the many vineyards
near the town of Alba. This area also produces the popular Barbera
and Dolcetto wines in great abundance. The Valpolicella, Bardolino,
and Soave wines you find in so many American supermarkets are generally
produced in the Northeastern sector of the country, where producers
like Bolla and Masi export them in great quantities.
From the center of the country
in the region around Tuscany, comes Italy's most characteristic
wines, Chianti and Chianti Classico, which are what most Americans think
of when they think of Italian wine. The same area also produces the
prestigious "Super Tuscans" from the Cabernet and Sangiovese grapes.
The best of these Tuscan wines are coveted by collectors throughout
the world and are often auctioned off at mind-boggling prices. The wines
of the south are generally less well known in America and are not considered
as prestigious as their northern rivals, but they are just as magnificent
a complement to any meal.
In 1966, the Italian government
established a system for controlling the quality of wine production
and assuring consumers that certain wines met standards of taste, aroma,
longevity, alcohol content, color, acidity, and so forth. If these standards
are met, the wine maker is entitled to print DOC (for Denominazione
di Origine ControllataÜDenomination of Controlled Origin) on the
wine label. Truly outstanding vintages are labeled DOCG, the "g" standing
for garantita (guaranteed). While these designations are often
highly subjective, they do provide some guidance to the nonexpert wine
buyer shopping for Italian wines.
Italian wine is the very blood
of the earth drawn upward through the vine into nature's own storage
containers, clusters of grapes, bursting with juice and flavor, are
then squeezed from the grape and stored in barrels to age and ripen.
When bottled, it becomes a time capsule for the year and place it was
made. Open a bottle of 1990 Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, for example,
and you're transported to the very earth of the Abruzzi in south-central
Italy where the grapes it is made from are grown.