Friday, April 20, 2012

Italian Wines

It’s Not Just Chianti!!

Lucca Italy!!
Italy is a great country to visit. We went there when Allison was in a summer art semester in college. She was staying in Lucca, which is a wonderful walled city in the Tuscany region. While there we traveled all over northern Italy and loved the fact that many small restaurants got their wine right out of the barrel or large wine jugs.  

Wine Right Out of the barrel!  
These were local wines that were served in whatever wine bottles were handy. Poured into small water glasses the wines were unfiltered and often cloudy…but very nice, or at least they seemed so at the time.  I am not really sure if all the wines we tried were great but the atmosphere made them great, and the old cities and outdoor cafes of Italy made them romantic.  What more can you ask? 

I don't consider myself an Italian wine expert. For that talk with Paul DeCarlo at Jimmy's. Except for that trip to Italy, Gale and I are fairly new to Italian wines. However the more I drink wines from Italy, the more I like them.

A friend recently told me that Americans and the French like to talk about their wines, but Italians, they like to drink theirs. Which may explain why Italy is one of the world’s largest wine producers with more vineyards than any other country except Spain. And Italy produces hundreds of wines, many from native grapes that are only used in Italy, which can be a problem when you’re trying to pick a wine from a restaurant menu.

     Italian Wines are Made for food!!
Italian wines are designed to go with a meal, that’s how the Italians drink them. Most are high in acidity, fairly subtle and are light to medium body with no sweetness. While this is changing, more wines are being made fruitier, with more oak flavors; they're still being designed as a mealtime drink. Which is one of the reasons why I like them so much!   

Because Italian restaurants are popular, most of us have tried Italian wines like Chianti and Sangiovese. And Pinot Grigio has become very popular; it’s the white wine of choice for many people. It’s crisp, light and fruity which makes it a great wine for our hot days and summer nights.

Inexpensive Chianti! 
However growing up, I thought Italian wine was the Chianti that came in a funny looking bottle with a kind of basket weaved around it. Those bottles when empty made cute little candle holders at Italian restaurants. But Chianti is much more than a wine with a grass skirt.

But what is Chianti? When it comes to the straw covered bottles, they are an inexpensive wine that represents only a small portion of Chianti's. However Chianti is not just one wine but a whole range of wines from the Tuscany area of Italy. 

The wines from Florence to Siena are called Chianti Classico DOCG. They make up the heart of Tuscany and it is the original Chianti region. The wines produced outside of the Classico area are just called Chianti DOGG, which includes six sub areas within Tuscany. 

Chianti and Chianti Classico must contain at least 75% Sangiovese. Since 25% of Chianti's can be blended from other grapes, they do vary according to their blend. However in practice, they tend to have mainly Sangiovese grapes.

It’s not hard to fall in love with Chianti; they are generally medium bodied, firm, with medium acidity and tannins.  They also have ripe and tart cherry flavors and can be nutty or floral. And expect the flavor to hit you somewhere between the middle and the backend of your mouth.

Sangiovese the Wine of Sangria!! 
Sangiovese has become very popular as a standalone wine that is a highly acidic and it can be light bodied. When young, they tend to be fruity with flavors of strawberries and spice. However when aged in oak, Sangiovese wines easily take on the oak flavors and aromas. Sangiovese is also the primary wine put into Sangria, which I primarily drink for the ah …fruit.

While Pinot Grigio, Chianti and Sangiovese are the three most known “Italian” wines, they are far from the only ones. As I said, the Italians make hundreds of wines. And like all good wine countries, they also make some excellent Merlots, Cabernets and Chardonnays.  

The second most widely grown grape in Italy, second only to Sangiovese, is the Barbera grape. Barbera wines are becomming more popular in the US. These are rich red wines that are highly acidic with the flavors of black cherry. The traditional way to make them is without oak flavors, but that is changing, which may or may not be good, we will have to see what develops. Let’s hope for the best! 

Barolos Wines of Italy!   
While Tuscany is the Italian version of Napa, there are other great wine areas in Italy. The Piedmont area in Northern Italy is known for its red wines, especial those from the Nebbiolo grape which produces both Barolo and Barbaresco wines. Both of these wines are very robust reds, very dry and high in tannin, acidity and alcohol. And unlike most Italian wines they are full bodied with Barolos being the most full bodied. These wines are not for drinking young and should be aged at least 10 years.

The Dolcetto grape is also popular in the Piedmont. While the grape is somewhat sweet, the wines are dry, a little grapey and they have noticeable tannins. They are somewhat dry like Beaujolais that go well with food. 

Another exciting wine area is southern Italy. This region is hot and many of the wine grapes might do well in Texas. However you will not recognize the names of many of the grapes used in this region. One of my favorite restaurants in DC only sells wines from Southern Italy, and I only recognize a few of the grapes being used.  So each glass is a blind tasting, but it’s great fun and great wine! 

   Chinese Roasted Duck!

So take the time to try some Italian wines, you will like them, and they go well with all types of food. In fact, The Dallas Morning News recently picked several Italian wines as the best wines to drink with Chinese roasted duck. Italian wines are also fairly inexpensive and a great value for their quality.  So give them a try and have fun finding the ones you like, even if you never heard of the grape.



Cheers From a Munger Place "Wine" Porch Party!

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