A Virtual Journey through Italy
Wines take enthusiasts to each region
Since the Coronavirus slammed the brakes on life for most of the U.S., wine sales have gone through the roof. For bloggers, the shut down has presented a new challenge: Instead of budgeting travel, we’re now reckoning with the reality of forever staying at home and banging our heads against our computers for ideas.
It was during one such attempt that an idea did dislodge from somewhere in my brain. How about tasting and writing about Italian wines? Italy is, in most years, the world’s largest producer of wine. Many of their mid-range Corvina- and Sangiovese-based wines are delicious and more affordable than California wines in the same class. But the overall picture of Italian wines appears fuzzy to me.
And so, we will go on a journey through the different wine regions of Italy. Limited availability of the many varietals and blends so freely available there may prevent us from covering the smaller regions or from exploring the full range of offerings in others. We will, however, come to know what to expect from each region.
A Bit of History.
Wine’s history in Europe goes back centuries. That Europeans seem to drink more wine than water intrigued me. A few years ago, I was writing an article on Miljenko Grgich, whose winemaking skills changed the history of California wine. In his autobiography, A Glass Full of Miracles, he says that his mother weaned him at the age of two and a half to a mixture of half wine and half milk. The reason? Poor water quality.
The Mediterranean climate with its warm, dry summers and cool, wet winters has undoubtedly played a role in this bounty. Grapes require a long growing period, when rain can destroy the ripening fruit on the wine. The wetness of winter nourishes the dormant vines.
Or Piemonte in Italian, meaning the foot of the mountain – in this case the Alps. It is arguably one of the most prestigious wine producing regions in Italy, located in the extreme northwest, with France to its west and Switzerland, north. The steep slopes and the fog on the hills are ideal for growing a variety of grapes, with the Nebbiolo, a red grape, the most prominent.
Nebbiolo is a varietal and, to add to the confusion of someone trying to understand Italian wines, is also the grape from which the pride of Piedmont — Barolo and Barbaresco wines – are made. They draw their names from two villages, which alone can grow and produce these wines. Most other places, it’s Nebbiolo.
Socially distanced and time buffered wine tastings are a challenge: we tasted four wines. As I have said over the years in my posts, I am so used to California wines that I cannot always create a flavor profile with new wines. For n ow, it’s sufficient to say we enjoyed the wines.
Ratti, Battaglione Barbera d’ Asti 2018. (Asti is a district name that lends a little more oomph to this grape.) Barbera is a popular grape that produces a light, drinkable, low-tannin wine, high acid wine.
Barbaresco, Produttori del Barbaresco 2011. Garnet colored with a tawny rim that shows some age. The first day the wine felt tannic, but not the next, and though the wine is supposed to be high in acid, we didn’t find it so. It could well have mellowed with age. Alcohol, 14 percent. (Trying to understand the labels of Italian wines requires dedication. I hope these notes will help you decipher them. The Barbaresco at the top of the label in the picture is the DOCG or Denominazione d’Origine Controllata e Garantita, the highest classification for quality. Produttori del Barbaresco is the producer – in this case a cooperative.)
Angelo Negro, Roero, DOCG, Prachiosso, 2015. This wonderful Nebbiolo from the Roero region in the southern half of Piedmont was ruby colored, medium bodied, high acid and tannin, and aromatic. Alcohol, 14 percent. It paired well with Indian lamb wraps. (The note about labels held true here. This time the producer, Angelo Negro –whose name appears at the top of the label — decided to put the name of the vineyard – Prachiosso – under Roero.)
Valfaccenda, Roero, DOCG, 2018. The one white we tried was also from Roero – an Arneis. At 13 percent ABV, it was a bit higher in alcohol than we’d expected, but it was delicious and crisp and a perfect way to start the hot evening. Aromas of tropical fruit and jasmine. We savored it over the evening with a tomato-mozzarella salad, a peach salad, and linguine with clams. This was followed by the Nebbiolo from the same region, as described above.
Gavi Masera, DOCG, 2017. Le Terre di Stefano Massone. This wine is made from the Cortese grape, centered around the village of Gavi, that grows in the southern part of Piedmont. Alcohol 12.5 percent. We found this to be a light, everyday wine for the summer, with the aroma of lemon and petrol — I associate the latter with many of the Rieslings of Germany. As the wine opened, the petrol scent dissipated, to be replaced by a hint of summer fruit.
The soils of Roero are primarily sandy, mixed with clay and silt. Arneis and Nebbiolo are two of the most popular grapes of Roero.
More to come.
I haven’t written about Piedmont’s crown jewel, Barolo. Waiting to taste this big wine could take many more months. I will write as I taste others from this region.
Then there is more general information to give. I will do so in subsequent posts. Until then, see if you can acquire a bottle of Italian wine. Then swirl, sip, and savor.