An Italian Introduction
A few years back, I took a few good friends of ours out to my parents’ house for a long weekend. It just nicely coincided with a village festival celebrating the main produce of the area; a wine variety called Barbera. What you do at these festivals is pay 4 euros, get a tasting glass in return, and then get shepherded into the main square in the village. In that square there’s about 30 different producers all giving away tasters of whatever they produce. All about pacing yourself!
The whole village comes out to celebrate the year’s release. That included someone whom we were reliably informed was the resident village lesbian, and further talk with the locals let us know that she was on the prowl. Now this woman had a completely genius idea. She had with her a ridiculously cute puppy (think a puppy version of Puss In Boots from Shrek when he does the eye thing!). She would then treat this puppy on a lead like a fishing rod, casting it in the direction of anyone she fancied talking to, and bob’s your uncle!
Problem that day was she had a complete shocker, as my (male) Canadian friend, who was desperately missing his dogs back home, near as damn it stole the little guy away for the duration. Better luck next year I guess, but she was a great laugh and spent most of the day nattering away with us about the different wines we were tasting and the surrounding area. Everyone in the square, to the man or beast, were so eager to get us involved, trying the special brew under the tables, and sending us on our way full of the joys an afternoon of Barbera.
The point of all of this is that the Italians are exceptionally proud of their regional produce and the massive diversity of it. That’s why I love the place when I go, and why I’m always keen for friends to come and join me and experience for themselves. Now the diversity and regionality is a great thing in some respects, but for anyone wishing to get a great handle on Italian wines, it becomes pretty tough.
It’s reckoned that Italy has over 1,000 different grape varieties…
No one really knows the exact number. There are monastaries up a hill somewhere near Castello Di Somewhereorother where new varieties are being found to this day! So let’s not go nuts and think we can list them all and know all we need to know in 5 easy steps. Not going to happen.
What is possible though is to split the country into the major wine producing regions…
In each of these regions the major grape varieties are listed, and from there, the more famous and exportable wines made from these grapes are listed. It’s not fool proof, and for those travelled in Italy and from the world of wine I know it misses out some incredible gems, but for the sake of popping into your supermarket it’s pretty useful to at least have a point of reference to start.
So what have we got?
– Piemonte, located in the North West
– Veneto, located in the North East
– Tuscany, on the west coast
– Le Marche, on the east coast
– Sicily, southern island off the south coast
Yes I know there are more, but as I said earlier, it’s a starting point. There’s plenty of opportunity to go into depth later on. I’ll start very generally with the wines in each region too, so bear with me. It’s just an introduction.
So, time to get some names into memory…
Some are named after the grape, which will be obvious, others after the village or commune around which the wines are produced. I’ll split into reds and whites, put the main labeling term, and then the dominant grape in brackets after.
Brunello Di Montalcino (Sangiovese)
LE MARCHE Reds
Montepulciano D’Abruzzo (Montepulciano)
LE MARCHE Whites
Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi (Verdicchio)
Now I’m not saying you should write all these down and memorise them. To begin with it also won’t really matter to you where they’re from in the country. We’ll get to that later. For now just make a mental note of one or two to start with. Head into your wine shop, and start trying them out. You may like some, you may love some, and you may even dislike some. No one can tell you what you should or shouldn’t like. Just go drink a few and go from there.
Now, there’s one wine not up there at the minute that most of you will have heard of; Pinot Grigio. Why’s it not up there? Well, because it’s produced across the entire country. That means there are many styles and many prices for various reasons, but the principle remains the same. Go try some, branch out to new wines, and in those wines, new producers, and so on.
Think that’s probably enough info for one post.