Secrets of Italian Wine
Wednesday 1st May - 6.30pm - 8.30pm
We think that their first secret is their charm; which must stem from the people that make the wine. The Italians have life figured out, it's all about quality and passion; whether it be the food they eat, the clothes they wear or the wine they drink. They are artisanal in their nature and it is why Love Wine loves them and the Italian culture. Something that seems to have been lost of the past few decades; people swapping in quality for quantity.
Italy, one of the Old-World wine countries, produces some of the most famous wines in the world. From the fun Prosecco to the powerful and serious Super Tuscans; the elegant and [nearly] everlasting Barolos to the fresh and fruity Valpolicellas. But how can they make so many famous wines? This is their second secret; the grapes. Italy is famed for so many wines because they have such an abundance of grape varietals (different types of the Vitis Vinifera grape species) to choose from. So much so that they have more than any other country in the world, want to hazard a guess? 20? No, think bigger. 60? That's rookie numbers. 100! Ha, noooo.
The Italians boast over 150 different grape varietals as their disposal. Whilst quantity isn't everything, it does help when it comes to creating unique, interesting and well-balanced wines. The difficulty for us is understanding all those grapes and all the various regions in which they grow.
Now the next point isn’t so much of a secret as a fact, but it’s the weather. From the cooler regions in the north like Piedmont and Veneto to the warmer, drier areas like Tuscany and La Marche in the middle of the boot, all the way down to the hottest part of the country in the heel and toe of Italy, namely Puglia and Sicily. We will cover each of the main regions in a minute BUT what is Italy’s secret weapon and our third secret of each of these areas?
The Food. Ever heard the saying what grows together, goes together? Well now you have… The reason this expression rings so true is because it actually works – Old World producers used to make their wine to go with the local cuisine; and this isn’t just in Italy. Think about it, in regions like northern France (Champagne and Chablis) or Muscadet where they pair the wines with other high acid foods like oysters and fish. In Rhone and the south of France, it is more grilled foods and darker meats like game; again, the wines are made to match with bigger, fuller body and flavours. You want to know the reason why France lost in the famous Paris Wine Tasting of 1976 – the Judgement of Paris?! Because no food was served with the wine and New World countries like the USA didn’t design their wines around food! Sorry, I am getting side tracked – back to Italy…
On the evening, we will be presenting some of our favourite Italian wines together with freshly cooked Italian foods prepared by The Good Stone and Barrow at the Manor.
To keep things simple, I am going to show you a range of grapes that you can find around Italy and their main attributes (some of which you may find open on Wednesday). If you want to learn more about each region in particular, come in and chat with the team!
Remember, tickets are selling out fast, so be sure to save your space by reserving one at the button below!
Starting in the north, the main white grape grown around this area is age-old favourite Pinot Grigio. Pinot Grigio comes in two main forms, white and pink (the latter used to create rosé wines as the colour comes from the skins) and is a high-yielding grape meaning that is produces a high amount of fruit per vine. The good thing about high yielding grapes, is that it produces clean, neutral wines that are [relatively] inexpensive in the wine world; on the flip side, due to the high amount of fruit being produced by the vine, the flavours are somewhat diluted. Whichever way you look at it, it allows those pesky Italians to create a wine that majority of people enjoy a glass of in the sun!
But what should we be looking out for when buying a bottle or two of the stuff I hear you cry?! Well my dear boy, Pinot Grigio usually produces floral wines (think honey-suckle or acacia) with medium body and citrus/green fruit (lime, grapefruit and green apple). The higher quality Pinot Gs from Alto Adige will be produced higher up in the foothills and display lighter body as opposed to the plain where land prices are less dear, and wines are a little more… shall we say relaxed. The winemakers in Friuli-Venezia manage to produce some of the richest Pinot Grigio in Italy with more peachy and tropical fruits. So, which are you? Do you like the light elegant Pinot from Alto Adige or the fuller bodied, richer Pinot from Friuli-Venezia?
Veneto must be crowned King of the North (and no, we are not talking about Jon Snow). Veneto is one of Italy’s largest wine-producing regions and home to some of the best wines like Soave, Prosecco and Valpolicella (pronounced ‘Swar-vey’ and ‘Val-polly-chella’).
If we take a minute to look at the Corvina grape which goes into the wine, Valpolicella, we can see that it is thin skinned meaning that the wines produced are moderately colour with low to medium tannins but high acidity. In order to increase the colour and the tannin, other local grapes can be added to create a blend. The wines tend to be simple and fruity displaying red cherry flavours. These are wines designed to be drunk young and fresh!
Soave is a region within Veneto in the north of Italy with cool soils and high altitude, leading to elongated ripening periods (slow and steady) meaning that wines gain full ripeness whilst still maintaining acidity. Soave is made from Garganega, but small amounts of other white grapes can be added. Typically, these wines have high acidity, medium body and aromas of pears, stone fruit and white pepper. These wines are usually unoaked to display the fresh varietal flavours and can develop almond and honey is aged.
Valpolicella is next door to Soave and is like the red wine equivalent. The only difference is that the land is flatter and therefore slightly warmer, so the wines are fruitier with less acidity (a fun game to play in your head is to guess which of your friends are more Valpol (fruiter) and which are more Soave… need I say anymore?). Valpolicella is majority made with Corvina, a red grape native to the region which has a thin skin giving moderately coloured and low to medium tannin wines. Wines are simple and fruity, rarely oaked and made to be drunk immediately, a plus in our book. Due to the higher acidity than other reds but lower tannin, it makes a perfect drink for pizza and/or tomato-based dishes (as you will find with many other Italian red wines!).
Slightly further south and to the west is the area of Piemonte which consist of four famous appellations (appellations are specific areas within wine regions) but we are going to focus on the most prominent: Barolo and Barbaresco This is where wine starts to get serious. If the previous grapes where fun parties from your teenage and 20-something years, Nebbiolo is the formal dinner with your boss – think good behaviour, reading up on sophisticated conversation starters and being overly polite.
Barolo and Barbaresco are two areas renowned for their growing of the Nebbiolo grape (which means fog in Italian. Wha-hey, didn’t think you would be learning Italian and wine in this little read did ya?) made in two different styles. Barolo has high levels of tannins and acidity but little colour. This level of tannin and acidity (together provide structure to a wine) means that these wines can age for considerable time! The flavour profile of Barolo has been compared to roses and tar (what a load of w*nkery); but is reminiscent of sour cherries, herbs and dried flowers. Barolo must be aged for a minimum of three years before release to the market, 18 months of which must be in oak.
Barbaresco is a smaller region than Barolo and the vines are planted at lower altitudes meaning that the wines are fruitier in style and less perfumed. In comparison to Barolo, Barbaresco only must be aged for two years before release with nine months in oak.
To contrast the two red regions above, Italy has Gavi representing white wines in northern Italy. Gavi is made from the white grape Cortese which is slowly ripened by the cooling breezes of Gavi. The wine Gavi has a delicate floral nose with flavours of citrus, green apples and pears; due to its high acidity, it is a perfect pairing with pesto pasta or seafood. Gavi di Gavi is white wine made in the actual town of Gavi.
The middle part of Italy is mostly associated with the grape Sangiovese and, in more recent times, Super Tuscan blends. Whilst Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino are famous for the grape, Sangiovese is grown through middle and southern Italy. Sangiovese needs a fair bit of heat and sun to ripen fully in order to give us the luscious flavours of sour cherry, tomato leaf, violets and dried herbs.
“I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti”
Now that I have your attention, no this is not a quote of mine but of the fictional character Hannibal Lecter - I promise... I don't like liver.
Sangiovese is often found by itself in a bottle but (including the above) is also found as a base in red blends alongside Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and sometimes Syrah. What to expect? Medium to full bodied wines with dark fruit like plum, bramble and spice; these wines are usually always oak aged to round out the tannins and provide additional complexity!
If we continue our trip down south, we come to Campania and its signature white variety, Falanghina! It may help to think of this as Italy's equivalent to South of France's Chardonnay. It tends to give full bodied white wines with delicious stone fruits, citrus zest and a slight nuttiness. Often oaked but in a good way, retaining some of the grape's natural minerality. What to eat with it? Try shellfish or a hearty salad.
Whilst we are in Campania, we may as well touch on Aglianico as it is the most prestigious black grape variety down here, other than Primitivo (which we will cover when we visit the Unit States later in the year)!
Aglianico has deep colour with high acidity and tannin, providing flavours of black fruit. It is usually matured in oak and can easily age in the bottle where it develops earthy, forest floor notes. Best place to get some? Try Taurasi DOCG, the most famous appellation for this grape, it's a humdinger!
But Alex, what about the others?
If I covered ALL of the more commonly known Italian grape varieties, you would be reading for hours! So whilst we have picked out a few, if you come across others that you haven't heard of, we implore you to give them a try - their rustic charm will be sure to entice you into a second glass... or even bottle!
What are we showcasing on Wednesday?
Now that's OUR secret, but it will include a few of the above. That's all I am allowed to say!
There are a few tickets left, so please be sure to reserve your space now!
- Alex Rondel