ITALY HAS OVER 2,500 INDIGENOUS TYPES OF GRAPES. ITALIAN WINEMAKERS CREATE WINE RANGING FROM FRUITY ROBUST REDS TO CRISP DRY AND SPARKLING WHITE WINES. WITH SO MANY VARIETIES, IT CAN MAKE THE SELECTION PROCESS DIFFICULT.
The Struggle is Real
There are so many native types of grapes in Italy because the landscape is superb for growing grapes. “Grape vines like to struggle. They grow well in rocky, mountainous or hilly regions, and they thrive in volcanic, prehistoric ocean beds,” says Robert Riggs, wine expert at Apollo Liquor. There are three volcanoes in Italy creating the perfect conditions for grapes: Mount Vesuvius on the mainland, Mount Etna on Sicily and the island volcano of Stromboli.
Expressive Italian White Grapes
“I love Italian whites. They are so, so expressive. The two main grapes are vermentino and verdicchio,” Riggs says. “Vermentino grapes are grown all over Italy, and even though it’s the same grape, it has different expressions.” In Sardinia the grapes create crisp and acidic wine. In Tuscany the wines are softer and rounder, and in Piedmont the wine is crisp with less mineral. Wine buyers beware: Italians have a habit of changing the name of the grape depending on the region. For example, the vermentino grape is known as the favorita grape in Piedmont.
The verdicchio grape is primarily grown in Lugana, and its name is changed to trebbiano. Apollo offers two different trebbiano Lugana wines. The higher priced bottle is crisper and brighter while the lower priced one is softer, rounder, with a hint of melon on the tongue and a touch of sweetness at the end.
Matchmaking: Italian White Wines and Food
Tiffany Houser, bar manager at Victoria’s Ristorante & Wine Bar, plays matchmaker. “Pairing is critical because wine brings the flavor of food to its highest level.” Pinot grigio, gavi and prosecco are intended for dishes with white meat, like chicken and seafood, as well as dishes created with white sauces like Marsala wine and Marco Polo.
One of Houser’s favorite white wines is the Tiefenbrunner because it pairs so well with a variety of seafood dishes. It’s a pinot grigio with hints of pear and light fruit, yet it’s not overly fruity. It has dry attributes and brings out the spice in sauces without taking away from the food.
Popular Italian Reds
Chianti, Brunello, Barolo and Barbaresco are very popular grapes from Italy. Chianti and Brunello are made from the sangiovese grape. Sangiovese wines are medium bodied and acidic. Their flavors include notes of cherry, blueberry, blackberry and plum. Barolo and Barbaresco wines are created with the nebbiolo grape. These wines are light in color with hints of rose, cherry, anise and leather flavors.
Riggs says, amarones are also popular, and created with a distinctive process called appassimento. When the grapes are harvested, winemakers put them in a building with open windows and let them sit for two months to dry before the wine is created. This process intensifies the sweetness.
Matchmaking: Italian Red Wines and Food
Houser loves Amarone Tommasi because it goes well with so many dishes. It’s dark and jammy, yet light and refreshing. “This wine pairs well with red meats, cheese trays and bread and oil. It’s easy to drink with a full meal or light appetizer,” Houser says.
Super Tuscan Wines
The term “super Tuscan” dates back to the 70s. It’s a red wine from Tuscany created with the sangiovese grape and blended with Bordeaux grapes. “The name ‘super Tuscan’ originated from American wine critic, Robert Parker, when he tasted one of these wines and stated, ‘Wow, that is a super Tuscan,’” says Riggs. “They are delightful wines because the sangiovese grape is expressive, and by adding Bordeaux grapes, it gives the wine some additional depth and vibrancy.”
Nicole L. Czarnomski is a freelance writer in southeastern Minnesota.