When you think of Italian food images of pasta, cheese, tomatoes and pizza come to mind. But what do you need to pair with all this great Italian food, of course, a great Italian wine!
Italian wines can be difficult to pick and understand, but once you begin trying some different varieties you will soon find a favorite. The difference is that most Italian wine is named for where it is made, not the type of grape. Especially when it comes to red wines. The quality is also monitored by the DOC or DOCG seal that you find on many of the bottles. DOC or DOCG is a designation by the Italian government that the winemaker has followed certain growing and production methods that ensure the quality and tradition associated with that specific variety of wine. There are 77 DOCG Italian wines, the difference being these are the names that will be most recognizable because of large production, popular growing region and most stringent government control on winemaking techniques. Wines like Chianti Classico, Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino – to name a few. The DOC wines are more numerous – exceeding 330 varieties – but don’t necessarily represent a lower quality wine. Sometimes these wines follow even more strict production techniques and simply represent grapes, growing regions and wine characteristics that are grown and produced on a smaller scale.
During Taste of Italy, you’ll have the opportunity to sample some great Italian wines in store and enjoy 20% off 6 bottles or more of Italian wine. Take home some different varieties and learn the nuances and flavors associated with some of Italy’s greatest wine growing regions.
And don’t forget to grab some delicious Italian cheeses, meats, olives and other accompaniments to enjoy with your wine. Italians put a lot of thought into wine and cheese pairing and making sure each one complements the other in the perfect way. It’s all part of the Dolce Vita lifestyle that Italians do so well!
Here’s a list of the more popular Italian wine categories that are available on the FRESH wine aisle.
Brunello di Montalcino: Made near the small Tuscan town of Montalcino, Brunello is one of Italy’s most exclusive wines due to its low production. Made from Sangiovese grapes, Brunello wine has high acidity, high tannins and flavors of dark cherry, figs and red plum.
Amarone: Made primarily from the Corvina grape which is partially dried before fermentation. The result is a rich, deep, concentrated flavor in the wine. Made in the Valpolicella area near Verona.
Valpolicella: From the Valpolicella wine growing region near Verona. These wines are typically light bodied and have been made from Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara grapes. These wines are DOC labeled and can be traditionally made or include the Amarone winemaking method or Ripasso – a second fermentation, initiated by pouring Valpolicella wine over the Amarone pressed skins.
Barolo: Made from Nebbiolo grapes from the Barolo wine growing appellation of the Piedmont region. Barolo is often compared to French Burgundy Pinot Noir and is a softer, lighter colored Italian red.
Barbera: A rare exception, Barbera is a grape variety from the Piedmont region, and not a place. It is labeled Barbera or can be a grape used in Barolo or Barbaresco. It has high acidity and lively fruit flavors that make it a classic pairing for pizza.
Nebbiolo: The grape predominately used in making Barolo wine, although it is sometimes labeled as Nebbiolo if not made in the specific technique as Barolo. Although lighter in color, this grape produces big bold reds that have high tannins and flavors of cherry, coffee, soil and warm spice. This ancient grape variety pairs well with heavy, rich foods.
Chianti Classico: Everyone knows Chianti, but it is not enough to be a wine produced within the Chianti region to be authentic Chianti Classico. Winemakers must respect specific rules. Its a blend of 80% of Sangiovese, the red grape typical of this area, 20% of other grapes which include native grapes such as Canaiolo and Colorino, as well as other international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Characteristics include ruby red color, floral notes, dry flavor and good level of tannin.
Montepulciano: As if Italian wines weren’t confusing enough – Montepulciano can be two different wines. Vino Noble of Montepulciano is a Tuscan red wine made from Sangiovese grapes grown near the hilltop town of Montepulciano and aged in the ancient cellars under the city. But, also, Montepulciano is a grape that is grown in the Abruzzo region in East-Central Italy and used to make Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, a rich, robust wine with high tannins and acidity and flavors of cherry, dark berries, herbs and tobacco.
Sangiovese: The most popular grape grown in Italy and the primary grape used in some of Italy’s most notable wines like Chianti Classico, Vino Noble Montepulciano, and Brunello. Referred to as a chameleon grape because of its ability to take on a myriad of flavors depending on the soil, climate and winemaking technique. There are wines available that are labeled Sangiovese that are just Sangiovese wine. They don’t follow the techniques or production guidelines of DOC or DOCG categories, but they are still good wines.
Pinot Grigio: A white wine grape that produces light, crisp and refreshing flavors. The characteristics of Pinot Grigio are reminiscent of green apple, lemon, lime and other tropical fruits. Grown mostly in Northern Italy.
Vermentino: Light-bodied white wine grape grown mainly on the island of Sardinia. Flavors of citrus and stone fruit are predominant and make this a perfect light summer wine.
Soave: A white wine produced in the appellation of Soave near the city of Verona. Made from Garganega grapes the wine is often reminiscent of melons of orange zest. Soave is also known as a white wine that improves with age.
Gavi: From the small town of Gavi in the Piedmont region, Gavi wine is made from Cortese grapes. The wine is crisp and acidic with lots of minerality, floral notes and flavors of herbs and melon.
Prosecco: The most well-known white sparkling wine of Italy, Prosecco, is made from Glera grapes grown in the Prosecco growing region near Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia. To be called Prosecco, the grapes must come from this area and follow a specific technique used to produce the bubbles. Other Italian sparkling wines go by the name Spumante, Franciacorta, Lambrusco (red) or just sparkling (frizzante.)