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Are you knowledgeable about Italian wines?

Are you knowledgeable about Italian wines?

Jul 2nd, 2001, 01:26 PM
  #1  
Judy
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Are you knowledgeable about Italian wines?

My husband and I are planning a vacation to Italy soon. We went out to dinner over the weekend and realized how little we know about Italian wines. While we're not experts by a long shot, we're Californians and have an acceptable (to us) understanding of California wines--Chablis, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet etc. and know generally what's sweet, dry, light or heavy and what "goes" with beef, fish, etc. But we have no concept of the different varieties of the Italian wines. Can anybody give us a crash course or refer us to a web site. (We're not interested in reading a book.) Also, is ordering the house wine acceptable or we look like boorish Americans? Thanks.
 
Jul 2nd, 2001, 01:33 PM
  #2  
Enjoy
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One word: Chianti!! In Italy that's all you need to know and you'll be fine.
 
Jul 2nd, 2001, 01:36 PM
  #3  
Linda
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Sorry, can't really help you with most questions. I lived in Italy for 3.5 years and mostly what I did was order the "vino di casa" (house wine). And don't worry, most of the natives are doing exactly that. Most house wines are pretty good--a restaurant stakes their reputation on their wines--if their house wine is bad, the locals won't come back. Plus, I found that ordering the house wine and experienceing the wine from that area was part of the dining experience. Just figure out if you want rosa (red) or bianco (white) and go from there. I found there are few sweet wines in Italy. Most tend to be in the medium to dry range. Whites are fruity, most reds are in the dry range. Maybe someone else can help you more than this.
 
Jul 2nd, 2001, 01:38 PM
  #4  
kpaul
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Judy

It might be easier to find out what areas of Italy you are planning to visit,as there are many different varietals of Italian wine, some of which are world class. For instance,if you are seeing Tuscany, the key areas are Chianti Classico region south of Florence which serves up light and fruity reds made for drinking fairly young. Further south is the Montalcino are, where the Brunello wine is produced. THis is a serious red wine with a deeper and fuller flavor and color. Up north, there are two significant areas, in the piedmont in western italy and the veneto in the east near Verona. Piedmont is famous for the Barolos, which are red and very good. THe Veneto is known for their whites, which tend to be lighter and less oaked then your US chard. I would recommend before you leave going to a wine tasting of Italian wines in your city and learning what your palate likes and dislikes. Salut!

kpaul
 
Jul 2nd, 2001, 01:49 PM
  #5  
Christina
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I'd follow the former advice and stick with table wine - it's always drinkable and always affordable.

That said, 1997 Tuscan reds are very highly rated - this applies to both Chianti and "super-tuscan" wines (generally cab-san giovese blends). Super Tuscans can be excellent, and pricey, and are not DOCG (denominazione di orgine controllata e garantita), but rather than run through a list, I'll just say you can't go wrong with any DOCG 1997 Chianti if you don't want the house wine.

That's just the tip of the iceberg. You might try to do some research on winespectator.com and look for articles on the subject.

I generally find that the Italians I know have a glass of white wine (vernaccia, perhaps) or sparkling wine (prosecco) as an aperitif and drink red with dinner regardless of the menu.

Salute!!
Christina
 
Jul 2nd, 2001, 01:57 PM
  #6  
Book Chick
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Hi Judy,
You may find more on the website www.made-in-italy.com

There's a section on that site called Food & Wines, with an intro to Italian wines & some info on regions. Previous posters have given good info. I frankly never had a bad Italian wine the entire time I lived there & it is perfectly acceptable to order house wines. In a chart of light (on top) to heavy (on bottom) the list goes something like this (and you should recognize some wine names that will give you "your bearings"):

RED WHITE
Pinot Noir Fume Blanc
Grenache Riesling
Sangiovese Pinot Grigio
Alfiera Sauvignon Blanc
Shiraz Semillon
Cabernet Sauvignon Chardonnay

Hope this helps. Don't get too worried. Ask if you have questions, ask, they will help you in restaurants. (Dolce=sweet, secco=dry)
Buon Appetito,
BC
 
Jul 2nd, 2001, 02:01 PM
  #7  
Lisa
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First of all, Italian wines are highly under rated and under valued. The under valued works to your advantage when you're over there 'cause it will be cheap. In Europe, wines are classified by the region, town, vineyards not by varietals which can confuse people. For example, Chianti is quite often sangiovese grapes, but not always, as Chianti is a town not a grape. kpaul gave a lot of good info. I really like Italian wines and find that when traveling there, the house wine, served in a pitcher is not only fine, but one way to taste a local wine, since it will usually always be a locally produced wine.
Wine is not marked up as high in Italy as it is here,(a quick aside, in the U.S. the cheapest wines are marked up the most, so its often better to spend a bit more in a restaurant to get a better wine. A wine at the winery I work at sells for 7.99 and is on most restaurant lists at 22 -28.00! While a much better wine that retails at 32.00 sells in restaurants for 40.00) But I digress
Back to Italy, don't feel that because it isn't expensive it won't be good, quite the oppsoite. My favorites in Italy are Piedmont whites, light, refreshing. Orvieto classicos are also terrifically refreshing. These are lighter, steely/minerally whites not big oaky chards. They are great for hot afternoons. Try prosecco, a wonderful sparkeling white from the Veneto.
Barbara d'alba from I belive Peidmont, is a great red. Multipulciano in Tuscany is also a great red. Multipulciano like Chianti is a town in Tuscany that is fun to see. If you're going to Siena, stop in at the Enotecca museum. Its located in the city walls and they have a great wine tasting bar where you can buy by the glass or bottle and sit out on the patio. A fun way to try wines and a place with many to choose from. Rome is actually not really known for its great wines. Most of the best wines are from northern and central Italy. Enjoy! And if you taste a wine you really like, bring it back. Most of the wines you'll see in Italy, you'll never see in the USA.

 
Jul 2nd, 2001, 02:11 PM
  #8  
Lori
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Judy-
Please let us know which part of Italy you are visiting and I'll try to give you a heads up as to which wines to look for. We just returned from a trip to Italy and really enjoyed trying the wines of the different regions. While the house wine is available at most of the trattorias, you are typically presented with a wine list at the nicer ones. And, if you experiment with different California wines, you'll find that many of the house wines are very simple. The sommeliers are usually knowledgeable, especially about the wines in their particular regions, and of course, the 1997 vintage has been heralded as the best in Italy in a long time. The Gambero Rosso website has some general information in an English format.
 
Jul 2nd, 2001, 02:11 PM
  #9  
the turnip
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No wine expert here but I must second the recommendation to try Orvieto Classico. Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. Add a few "m's" actually. Before we left I found a little grocery store selling a vintage we like selling large bottles for around $4. Came home and it was $23 for a small bottle. Glad I lugged back all I could...
 
Jul 2nd, 2001, 02:24 PM
  #10  
Monica
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I also know a lot about California wines, but there is only one thing I know about Italian wines, and it was enough: mezzo litro di vino roso. That's a half-liter of the house red. Mmmmmmm.
 
Jul 2nd, 2001, 02:36 PM
  #11  
Judy
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You guys came up with some very practical advice, which is exactly what I asked for. For those of you who asked which areas we'll be visiting--Rome, Siena, Florence and Venice. Thanks again.

This Forum and all the contributors are great!! Thanks again!!!
 
Jul 2nd, 2001, 02:53 PM
  #12  
Diane
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We spent three weeks in Italy this past May and didn't have a bad wine with any meal, whether we ordered from the wine list (which is refreshingly inexpensive compared to how they are priced in the US) or simply went with a carafe of house red. We enjoy reading Wine Spectator, visiting wineries (both in Northern California and in Northern Virginia) and fell in love with French bordeaux back in the '70s. Like you, we knew only very little about Italian wine. HOWEVER, you probably know more than you think. 1997 was a banner year for reds just about everywhere. We picked up a $6 1997 Chianti Classico (not "even" a reserve) in a little sandwich shop in Castelina in Chianti to drink with our $2 mortadello & cheese paninis for a picnic. It was marvelous. 1995 was also a very good year, so it is also a good choice. I usually don't like sparkling wines, but when we ordered a carafe of vini bianca at an outdoor restaurant stop for lunch (our 3rd day in Italy) in Mantua, we were introduced to Prosecco. It was heavenly: dry but somehow thirst-quenching -- like beer on a really hot afternoon, except very light (less filling, tastes great...sorry, couldn't resist.). It became our aperitif from that point on! I'Toscano, a good little restaurant in Florence, had their own label Chianti as the house wine and it was terrific. We also had a great 1997 Valpolocello La Musella in Verona, and fell in love with Montelpulciano's Vino Nobiles...Another can't miss choice, especially from '97. We probably never spent more than $14 for a bottle of wine with our meals, and usually it was more in the $10-12 range. I know we went through two bottles over a 5-course dinner in Amalfi (there were three of us) and the bill including tip was only about $105. Our moderately priced wines were so reliable, we never even tried the pricier Brunellos from Montalcino. (And since I've seen how horrendous the markup is on those back here in DC, I've sort of been kicking myself for not splurging and spending $45 on one at least once). But then, we were very happy with Vino Nobile and Chianti and I think I'll survive the psychic loss.
 
Jul 2nd, 2001, 10:11 PM
  #13  
Carin
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I have NEVER liked wine, but I tried Italy's best when we were there in April, and it was wonderful. My husband does like wine, especially reds, so he knows more about it, but....Do not miss Brunello de Montalcino - very expensive, but it's 5x more expensive in the States, and it's delicious. Vino Nobile da Montepulciano is great, too. Prosecco, an aperitif, is wonderful! Try San Gimignano's vernaccia, and you must have the dried grape wine (VERY strong and sweet), Vin Santo, that is served with little almond biscotti to dip into it for dessert. Have dinner at an enoteca where you order different "appetizer" plates for your meal and they serve a different wine with each one. We went to Gli Archi Enoteca in Siena - I forgot the name of the street, but it's on the street leading into town from the Porta Romana.
 
Jul 3rd, 2001, 03:18 AM
  #14  
the turnip
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Off topic but while in Siena Judy please try to eat at the Cano & Gatto. It's a little bit of a splurge (ok a lot for me) but it truly was worth it for us and very memorable. It's just a few blocks off the campo "behind" the left side of the tower. We'll be talking about that meal for years to come. Also avoid any gelato places along the main drag through town. I didn't think it was possible to get bad gelato in Italy but a few toursit traps in Siena proved me wrong.

Cheers, the turnip
 
Jul 3rd, 2001, 04:15 AM
  #15  
christina
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hi judy

i didn't read all now but i picked up something:

"For example, Chianti is quite often sangiovese grapes, but not always, as Chianti is a town not a grape. "

NO! chianti is an area. there is no town named chianti. i try to make it short:

you make the difference between chianti and chianti classico. 3/6 of the toscana is chianti, where the "normal" chianti wine is produced. the chianti classico is an exact definitioned area and it is located between firenze and siena. it's the oldest known wine producing area. etruscans made wine here. the consorzio chianti classico takes care, that wine which is produced in this area will have the black rooster as a label and would fit into a pattern.

chianti and chianti classico wine must have at least 80% sangiovese grape. the old recepie for chianti classico was: sangiovese, canaiolo, trebbiano and malvasiano grape. the last two are white grapes. today the market ask more for cabernet and so they changed the compostition a bit. today you can find a chianti classico with 90% sangiovese, 5% colorino and 5% canaiolo. but there are even other combinations with cabernet sovignon. however, the history of our wine here has a long and old tradition and is only a bit complicated. the marks of chianti classico is: ruby color, earthy taste, some berry in the back and is good together with meet and pasta. as many foregners think it goes even together with pizza: wrong. we drink beer together with the pizza.

you can order the houswine but it can turn out into a s... sometimes they serve you something similar to vinegar. it depends where you go.

judy, if you want to know more please feel free to e-mail me directly.

tanti saluti

christina da firenze
 
Jul 3rd, 2001, 04:34 AM
  #16  
christina
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For the record, Italian wines aren't all so under-rated, especially in recent years...

Sassicaia, anyone??!

By the way, love the "mezzo litro di vino rosso" line.

C
 
Jul 4th, 2001, 09:07 AM
  #17  
Robin
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I receive a newsletter from The Wine Club, a retailer in California. In this month's issue there is a little article describing the rating system used by Gambero Rosso, which is described as "the foremost publication on food and wine in Italy" (I'm taking their word for it!) The article goes on to talk about the "three glass" system of ranking Italian wines. I haven't looked into this any further, but you could probably search for info on the web on Gambero Rosso.

The Wine Club posts some of their newsletter on line, at www.thewineclub.com. This particular article isn't there yet, but it looks like similar things from past issues have been posted, so it may show up. By the way, they have been a great resource for recommendations of, as someone called them, underappreciated Italian wines.
 
Jul 4th, 2001, 10:56 AM
  #18  
Paulo
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The Italian version of the Gambero Rosso site indeed has a service (Girone dei Gulosi) to which one may subscribe for free and which gives substantial info on Restaurants, fodd, wine, etc. I haven't checked, but I'd doubt that the same service is available in the English version. Anyway, regarding wines, one may get valuable info even if one doesn't understand Italian. Besides the listings and comments on the "3 glass" wines in all Italian wine producing regions it also has a listing of the wines that in their judgement merit the "Oscar", that is, lowest price to quality ratios. I've experimented some of the wines (red and white) in the latter past lists and I was never disapointed.

As a rule of thumb, the best white Italian wines are produced in the Friuli-Venezia-Giulia (Collio and other) and Alto Adige (Gewürztraminer).

The top red wines are produced in Piemonte (Barolo), Toscana (Brunello and IMO the superior Super Tuscans) and Veneto (Amarone della Valpolicella). Except for the Supoer Tuscans (no set rule), all these are aged a minimum of 4 years before being released to the market.

Personally, I'm more fond of the all-Nebbiolo variety wines produced in the Piemonte. In the past this translated to Barolo. More recently, though, the Barbaresco has come on strong relative to price to quality ratio. In the average it's a cheaper wine because it's released to the market one year prior to the Barolo of same vintage.

Paulo
 
Jul 6th, 2001, 02:55 AM
  #19  
alex
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http://www.gamberorosso.it/e/index.asp

that's the ultimate site you need to visit - the link is for the english version on line for one of the most important italian magazines about food/drink/travel in Italy.
All you need to know is in there,
enjoy, Alex
 
Jul 7th, 2001, 05:29 PM
  #20  
Diane
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Wow. This turned into a really informative thread! A tip for anyone who wants to remember things right...the receipts from Italian restaurants don't list specifics of what you had -- so if you want to remember that wine you loved, write it down or you'll forget. Of course, we did fall into a routine of looking for Chianti Classicos (and sometimes "reserves"), Vino Nobile Montepulcianos, and we did look longingly at the Brunellos (sigh, next time I'll take the plunge). I know we had a great white wine one night when we just asked the waiter for vino bianco "molto secco!"
 

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