100. Wine

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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.

 

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