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Posts Tagged ‘Italian Wine’

Summer is over and fall has begun to settle quietly in. As with all of you, I’m gearing up to hunker down and get back to business (too many prepositions?).

Fall is wonderful; the way the light shifts from the harsh bright sunshine of summer to the soft golden hue of autumn, the chill that creeps in slowly and settles with a pleasant crispness and the scent of dried leaves that whisks away the sour odor of New York’s summer streets.

In the beginning, it may get just as warm as a summer afternoon, but suddenly, a glass of Rosé, though rosy as it always was, isn’t quite as charming. The bright, crisp, and refreshing quaffs of summer, no less delicious, just don’t seem to pair as well with the slight coolness lingering on the edge of the breeze.

It’s a confusing time…you’re not quite ready for the big hearty reds of winter but you’re through flirting with summer’s tipples.  For me, fall belongs to the red wines of Piemonte in Northern Italy.

If you’ve ever heard of Barolo or Barbaresco, you’ve heard about the most famous wines of Piemonte, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t know that that’s where they came from.

Barolo and Barbaresco  (made from the Nebbiolo grape) are the only two well known wines out of Italy that are identified by neither their place of origin (like Chianti, for example) nor their grape name (Montepulciano etc.).

Out of this same famed corner of Northern Italy come two less renowned grapes called Dolcetto and Barbera that produce wines by the same name (phew!).

Dolcetto is a grape that literally translates to “little sweet one.” Before you assume that I’m about to sell you on a sweet red wine (and you, like any self-respecting wine drinker, are thinking “Ew! Disgusting! Sweet wine?! Blagh!”) let me assure you that the grape’s name is entirely misleading.

Quite contrary to its name, this grape turns into an absolutely charming wine – dry, juicy, with good fruit and a fair amount of spice.

Dolcetto is the first vine to ripen in Piemonte and is often planted only on the least favorable sites in a vineyard. Many of the region’s most famed winemakers end up planting and producing Dolcetto out of sheer economy – they may have a site that’s unsuitable for Nebbiolo but instead of letting it go to waste, they’ll plant Dolcetto to sell as a simple table wine and offset profits. In the hands of the region’s star producers,  this humble little grape often ends up getting VIP treatment by default. The results have started to gain attention from wine drinkers here in the U.S – popping up in wine shops and on wine lists more and more as people realize the simple pleasures and particular food-friendliness of this little grape.

Barbera is Nebbiolo’s other ugly cousin – regarded with more esteem than poor little Dolcetto but still not as highly as Barbaresco or Barolo. Where Dolcetto is vigorous, Barbera is prodigious – capable of extremely high yields. Barbera also ripens after Dolcetto but still two weeks before Nebbiolo grapes and can thrive on sites still not ideal for Nebbiolo (a very picky grape).

Barbera, however, isn’t as charming straight off the vine as Dolcetto – with high levels of tannin and acidity that must be somehow softened. Until the 1970s this was done through blending with other varietals. Then, French winemakers suggested experimenting with aging the wine in small oak barrels. The oak barrels helped to oxygenate the wine, thus softening it, and also added richness and spice. These Barberas were suddenly structured, soft, and fruity wines that didn’t have to be blended at all! All of a sudden this grape, once only used for blending, became a good wine in its own right and quickly gained appreciation as such.

For fall, there’s nothing better than a glass of Dolcetto or Barbera – so how about a glass of both? Just the other day I was sent a sample of Cascina Degli Ulivi Bellotti Rosso 2010 – a blend of equal parts Dolcetto and Barbera – from my favorite online wine store, Plonk Wine Merchants.


Etty Lewensztain is the girl-crush lady-genius behind Plonk dedicated to bringing delicious, interesting, and affordable wine to anyone with an internet connection. She was just named one of Wine & Spirit Magazine’s 30-under-30 and she is the reason I have tried such weird wines as Plavac (Croatian) and Montsant (Spanish).

Cascina Degli Ulivi Bellotti Rosso 2010 ($18) is from a biodynamic and crazy natural winery in the heart of Piemonte. I swear, I usually don’t pay very much attention to a wine’s color but as I poured this one into my glass the color struck me – it was a gorgeous clear rose-tinted purple.

The nose was all wet leaves and hay and the first sip literally danced on my tongue. Maybe it was bottle shock – and I should have let the wine sit for a day or two longer, but the wine was lightly effervescent! Dark cherries and juicy tannins that sucked more at the tip of my tongue than the back of my mouth rounded out the first taste.

On her website, Etty suggests pairing this particular wine with a Soppressata and Wild Arugula Pizza; Rigatoni with roasted eggplant, cherry tomatoes, and ricotta salata; or Roasted veal chops with gremolata.

I suggest pairing it with these first few days of fall.

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*Note: Click on the image above to see it enlarged and fully-sized

The nomenclature of the wine world can be confusing. Many times the words on a wine list are hard to pronounce and totally foreign – leaving prospective drinkers grasping at any word on the page that jumps out as familiar. There are better ways to order wine than to order the one that’s easiest to say or most recognizable.

And so, I’ve decided to help you figure out what the hell you’re looking at when you’re looking at a wine list and I’ve started with Italian wines. Italian wines can be listed on a wine list according to three criteria:

1. Name of the grape that is used to produce the wine

2. Name of the region (in Italy these specific areas are called D.O.C’s – stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata)

3. Many Italian wines are listed as Rosso di ____ . “Rosso di” roughly translates to “red wine of…” and that blank is usually filled in with the name of a nearby town or area but is not distinct enough to be a DOC all on its own or is located within a better-known DOC.

4. Sometimes, the names of the wines don’t have much to do with either and don’t worry – I’ll cover those as well.

Ok, so now that you know those basic categories, lets dive into the wines that you’re probably most likely to run into on an Italian wine list:

Italian red wines that go by their grape name

Aglianico is a grape grown mainly in Campania. It makes a rich full-bodied wine that is meant for aging

Barbera is grown in the same region as Dolcetto and shares a lot of the same qualities but its fruitier and tends to be sweeter

Cannonau (aka Grenache) is a grape that is typically grown in Sardinia

Dolcetto is the name of a grape grown in Piemonte and is usually made into a wine that’s used as a super drinkable, light, and delicious table wine. Commonly listed as:

• Dolcetto D’Alba

• Dolcetto D’Asti

• Dolcetto Di Dogliani

• Dolcetto D’Acqui

 

Frappato is a grape grown in Sicily and has shown up more frequently of late in single-varietal wines that are light and juicy

Montepulciano is a grape that is commonly confused with Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (named after the village in which it is produced, this wine is made with Sangiovese NOT Montepulciano). Montepulciano is grown all over Italy and specifically in Abruzzo, Le Marche, and Umbria

Pinot Nero is what the Italians call Pinot Noir (easy, right?)

Primitivo (aka Zinfandel) is a grape that is grown primarily in Puglia

Sangiovese is the grape that goes into Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, Vino
Nobile di Montepulciano, and most Super Tuscans. However, Sangiovese can be billed on its own and often appears under its grape-name when it is produced in Emilia-Romagna or Lombardia.

Sagrantino is a grape grown mainly around the village of Montefalco in Umbria. The wine produced from this grape is a hearty rustic wine known for its earthy character and hit of cinnamon on the nose

Schiapettino is a grape grown in Friuli-Venizia and produces a medium-bodied wine with notes of raspberries, white pepper, and violets.


 

White wines that go by their grape names

 

Friulano is a grape grown in the Friuli-Veneto region .

 

Falanghina is a grape grown on the coast of Campania

 

Arneis is a grape grown in Piemonte, most commonly in the hills of Roero but also in Langhe

Muscat(o) is grown in Piemonte and is most commonly seen as Moscato d’Asti, a sweet and fizzy wine

Prosecco is the grape grow in the Friuli-Venezia region as well as the Veneto region

Trebbiano is the grape that commonly goes by the names:

• Trebbiano d’Abruzzo
• Trebbiano di Romagna
Verdicchio is a grape that is grown in Le Marche and often appears under the names:
• Verdicchio di Matelica
• Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi

Italian Wines that go by their growing region’s name

Valpolicella is produced from grapes grown within the Veneto region. Valpolicella is made from a blend of three varieties of grapes that are relatively obscure outside of this region and grown specifically for Valpolicella. The wine can range from light and fragrant table wines to full-bodied and big.

Chianti is produced from Sangiovese grapes grown in a specific area of Tuscany.
Chianti Classico is produced in an area that stretches between Florence to the North and Sienna to the South. These wines are usually medium-bodied, have some medium tannins, and have a lighter flavor profile of cherries and florals.
Chianti Rufina is produced in the northeastern area of Tuscany around the town of Rufina and are most widely known outside of Italy as wines with a great deal of complexity and finesse.

Rosso Orvieto is a wine produced in the Orvieto region of Umbria and is usually made up of Trebbiano-based blends for whites and Montepulciano on its own or blended for reds.

Veneto Bianco is white wine produced in the Veneto region .

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is a wine named after the village of Montepulciano in Tuscany where it is produced. It is made from Sangiovese grapes and is a sub-style of Chianti.

Common Italian wines that go by names that have nothing to do with either their grape or where they’re grown and/or produced

Barbaresco is a wine made from the Nebbiolo grape grown in Piemonte in an area called the Langhe. Barbaresco is a big wine that requires 2 years of aging before it can even be bottled, and then is expected to age for another 5-10 years after that. Barbaresco is extremely tannic when young, but softens into a gorgeous red wine known for its floral nose, and rich earthy flavor with tendencies towards smoke, leather, and tar.

 

Barolo is a wine also made from the Nebbiolo grape grown in Piemont. The difference between Barbaresco and Barolo is the area in which it is grown and the fact that grapes going into Barolo are harvested after the grapes that go into Barbaresco.

 

Super Tuscan is a wine that is made from grapes grown in the Chianti region of Tuscany but strays from classification of Chianti because of the proportions of grapes other than Sangiovese that go into the blends. Usually, Super Tuscans, incorporate more Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, into their blends to produce a wine that is richer than Chianti.

 

Brunello di Montalcino is a red wine made from Sangiovese grapes grown around the village of Montalcino. Brunello di Montalcino is a wine renowned for its full body, smooth tannins, and bright berry flavors that are often complimented with notes of chocolate or leather.

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When my friend and current roommate Jenna and I were looking for our first apartment in New York, one of the criteria we noted for every apartment we looked at was its proximity to a decent-looking wine shop. Given that there is an alarmingly high abundance of wine shops in this city (seriously, I couldn’t even begin to understand how they all stay in business), we should have known better than to thrill every time we found our potential apartment sharing a corner with a liquor store.

Another factor under consideration during our apartment hunt was location – though on this small matter Jenna and I largely disagreed. Jenna was content to settle in uptown while I was rather stubbornly intent on finding a place somewhere south of 42nd street…until the only place our broker could find in our price range was in Times Square. To a resounding chorus of “aw, hell no!” (like in a rap voice) we shuffled into our broker’s air conditioned car and headed uptown without even looking at the place and I left all downtownly ambitions behind.

We ended up in on the 2nd Floor of an old tenement building on W. 88th squarely on the Upper West Side – a neighborhood I neither knew anything about nor had ever had any inclination to explore. As it turns it out, my neighborhood is great – especially for a wine geek. Due to its, ahem, more mature population (read: parents, parents of parents, and people about to become parents) there is an abundance of great wine bars all within easy walking distance from my apartment (score!) and each with a different focus and approach to their wine lists.

A couple of weeks ago, Jenna and I left the apartment to have a glass of wine for a change, and walked a mere block and a half north to Accademia Di Vino, which specializes Italian wines. Their wines-by-the-glass list was two pages long each for both reds and whites and offered something for every kind of wine drinker and from every major region. Our bartender was friendly (not to mention cute!) and gave each of us two different wines to try before we ordered – which meant that we both got to try four.

I was pondering whether to order a Sicilian wine that was a blend of Nero D’Avola and Syrah grapes or a single-varietal single-vineyard Montepulciano that was listed under the guise of a Rosso Conero from Le Marche, a region that occupies the eastern coast of central Italy.

Jenna, on the other hand, was torn between a Rosso di Montalcino, a single-varietal Sangiovese from Tuscany and a Barbera (made from the grape of the same name and always from Piemonte). As we tasted, Jenna asked what the difference was between the Sangiovese she had tried and a Chianti listed below it that also piqued her interest.

When I told her that they were actually both made from the same grape, but in different regions and in different styles, she, exasperated, asked why they had to make it so confusing!

In the end, I settled into a glass of the Sicillian wine, called ReNoto, in favor of the Rosso Conero. I was in the mood for a big challenging glass of wine and the latter was a bit of a fruit-bomb and too easy for me in that moment. Jenna however, found the Barbera too sweet and the Rosso di Montalcino not quite as delicious as the Rosso Conero I’d asked to try, so she ordered up a big glass of it.

While we were happily sipping and chatting we didn’t care what the red stuff in our glasses was called.  Knowing, however, that the second wine she almost tried was made from the same grape as that of the first wine she didn’t like, though the wine list made no mention of it, steered her away from another bad choice.

This story introduces a new project that I want to include you all in! The nomenclature of wine is hard enough (what with all those foreign pronunciations) without even beginning to broach the subject of the naming systems employed by various wine-producing countries. That said, I’m going to do my very best to elucidate the whole thing according to country in the coming days. Just knowing what something is called can help you sort this whole mess out a little better and perhaps even impress a cute bartender some day (*wink*).

Rosso Conero, San Lorenzo, Umani Ronchi, Marche 2006

Grape: Montepuliano

Region: Le Marche

Tastes like: The fresh and juicy flavor of wild cherries with a tinge of earthy wood notes       and an herbal quality that the menu listed as “liquorice” which made my roommate turn     her nose up at it at first.

Rosso di Sicilia, ReNoto, Feudo Maccari, Sicilia 2006

Grape: Syrah and Nero D’Avola

Region: Sicily

Tastes like: Rich, spicy, full bodied, with lots of ripe fruit without being fruity, a touch of smoke and a strangely savory note of  bacon that makes this wine deelish

Rosso di Montalcino, La Fortuna, Toscana 2007

Grape: Sangiovese

Region: Tuscany

Tastes like: On the verge of fruit-bomb but with big spice, bright acid, and a dry finish

Barbera d’Alba, Bussia, Giacosa Fratelli, Piemonte 2007

Grape: Barbera

Region: Piemonte

Tastes like: Medium-bodied and on the sweet side with predominant flavors of ripe strawberries, a streak of vanilla, and a soft but dry finish

 

 

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