Italian Wines?

Apr 4th, 2006, 11:33 AM
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Italian Wines?

One thing I would like to try in Italy is a variety of Italian wines...mostly reds, but a few whites as well. I'm not that familiar with Italian reds, other than Chianti which I enjoy.

Other reds I enjoy regularly are Syrah/Shiraz, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Cab Sauvignon, Merlot...the usual.

Should I just stick to trying the house reds to get an overview, or are there particular varietals I should be on the look out for?

Cheers! Brent
BrentA100 is offline  
Apr 4th, 2006, 11:43 AM
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Here's a listing of some of the grape varieties in Tuscany. Sangiovese is probably one of the most common - used in Chianti and Brunello, and various blends.
Budman is offline  
Apr 4th, 2006, 11:44 AM
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Italian wines are not my favorite. They are named for the region, not the grape. You might like Barolo (Nebbiola grape, I think) or the super tuscans. My husband loves the montefalco rosso from Sangrantino grapes in Umbria.
Sounds like you'll have fun.
csabia is offline  
Apr 4th, 2006, 11:50 AM
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You will hardly find any varietals that are familiar to you in Italy because there are many regional varietals which are perfectly adapted to the special soil and climate. Here some tips on red wines:
Probably the best Italian wine is the Barolo which is made from the grape Nebbiolo (because it is picked when the fog comes). Barolo is in the heart of Piemonte. Barolo is a "hard" grape which needs many years to mature (10 to 20 years). Lighter grapes in Piemont include Barbera (with an almond taste) and Primitivo ("the first grape to pick", identical with Zinfandel).
From Lake Garda, you may try Bardolino (a wine-growing town) with light but aromatic red wines or, on hot days, Bardolino Chiaretto which is a light-red, almost rosé wine which is served chilled.
In middle Italy, including the Chianti region, the varieties Sangiovese (cherry aroma) and Montalcino are grown. The very best yet expensive wine is Brunello di Montalcino. When you do not want to go that far stick to Rosso di Montalcino.
There are also good wines from Umbria. Lungarotti is one of the most famous producers. Montepulciano d`Abruzzo is usually a very good bargain. Light aromatic wines with cherry aromas for good prices.
Farther south, you will find 2,500-year-old varieties from Ancient Greek like Aglianico (better) and Piedirosso. These have a distinct character. If they comes from the Vesuvio region they may have a volcanic taste, too.
Sicily grows strong wines which often lack finesse.
traveller1959 is offline  
Apr 4th, 2006, 11:54 AM
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Italian reds ARE my favorite---amarone (Valpolicella region) and brunello in particular. These are big wines, like Shiraz and Zins. Italian wines are generally named by the region, not the grape. Find a wine bar and try some different ones so you can see which you like.
enzian is offline  
Apr 4th, 2006, 12:00 PM
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Where are you going? That's the first question. Italian wine is meant to be eaten with Italian food, and many recipes are made with that in mind.

If you are going to Tuscany, why not drink the local vintage? Likewise Umbria, Liguria, the Veneto, Piemonte, etc. The wines of the northern part of Italy tend to be more praised than the wines of, say, Amalfi, but some of the wines produced near Vesuvius are pretty tasty!

By the way, so far as I know, I've never gotten ripped off by asking in a restaurant for a recommendation for a wine to go with my food. I always specify "secco" (dry) because some parts of Italy favor sweeter wines than I like. Ask the price before you order. "Quanta costa?" No one will find the question insulting and generally Italians don't believe you have to spend a lot on wine and are very complimented to be asked their opinion on how best to enjoy their food.

nessundorma is offline  
Apr 4th, 2006, 01:16 PM
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Yes, Brent, please tell us where you will be headed and we can recommend specific wines. The range is too broad to be covered here without some more specifics from you.

A small correction to Traveller's post; Montalcino is not the name of a grape but is the name of a town in southern Tuscany at the heart of the growing area that produces Brunello. The Brunello grape is a form of sangiovese known as sangiovese grosso.
ekscrunchy is offline  
Apr 4th, 2006, 03:00 PM
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Sorry, should have mentioned where I will be going. My wife and I will be embarking on the following trip this Friday:

Venice (3 nights)
Florence (2 nights)
Cinque Terre (2 nights)
(pick up car in La Spezia)
San Gimignano (1 night)
Pienza (4 nights)
(drop car in Rome)
Rome (2 nights...we've both been before)

Thanks for all the great tips thus far. Very helpful.


ps...yes, I know this will seem like too much moving around for some people, but I have travelled around like this before and don't mind it, plus I will be able to look forward to spending 4 days in the same place, so I get the best of both travel styles. At least, that's the plan.
BrentA100 is offline  
Apr 4th, 2006, 04:14 PM
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If you are going to Cinque Terra and eat seafood, I recommend you try the white wine Vermentino with a seafood dish. It is the local Ligurian wine which is made from grapes that grow on the hillsides over the Mediterranean. Because the grapes and the soil are bathed in salty sea mists, the wine itself has the taste of salinity. It sounds not so tasty -- until you taste with seafood!

There is another local white wine that is rather sweet and a lot of local restaurants and bars in Cinque Terre so hate it they don't serve it! It's very pricey to make, and I've yet to run across a wine expert who recommends it. But its reputation perists.

For Venice, the Veneto is a stellar wine region. There, I actually would be tempted to visit a wine bar and sample some regional stars, like Amarone or Bardalino, while having a few snacks. I'm sure whomever is pouring will be able to tell you what they have in house that is worth 10 euros a glass.

nessundorma is offline  
Apr 4th, 2006, 04:32 PM
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If you enjoy Chianti, try a Morellino di Scansano, also from Tuscany. If you click on Budman's link you will see it listed.

I'm not sure if nessundorma is referring to the white still wine from the Cinque Terre, but if you get a chance, try Sciacchetra, a deliciously sweet dessert wine from the region.

JQReports is offline  
Apr 4th, 2006, 04:51 PM
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Don't know if this is always true, but the first time I tried red wine in Italy, the 16% alcohol content (versus the 12-14% I'm used to in the US) seemed extremely strong to me.

My friend Charles is fond of saying, "There are no good Italian wines, there are no bad Italian wines..."
smalti is offline  
Apr 4th, 2006, 05:30 PM
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I love Italian reds and what I found to be a great choice when we were in Italy was to ask for the house red. Some were better than others, but I never had a "bad" one. A variety that I get here in the States that I like a lot is the Sangiovese that I believe comes from Tuscany.
jcasale is offline  
Apr 4th, 2006, 05:57 PM
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If you want to do some research before you go, take a look at this site which is a compilation of the best Italian wines by region.
rbrazill is offline  
Apr 5th, 2006, 04:09 AM
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A few of the wines from the Veneto and surrounding regions;Tokai- which is a white grape, fairly tasty ( I'm not overly found of whites)drinkable even as the house vino bianco in many places. Soave , they are make some better Soave these days, if you run across Anselmi Soave that one is pretty decent. Reds from the nearby regions, Amarone- a lush wine with a wide selection of cost choices. Valpolicela - a lighter redwine. A very good dessert wine, Piccolit. If you see a La Boatina Piccolit, give that a taste, lots of fruit flavor sometimes a hint of cocunut which I have rarely tasted in a desert wine.

The others have identified Cinque well.
Florence would obvisoulsy be the Tuscan reds. If you would like a list of wine bars (enoteca) in Florence let me know. If you should be taking a day trip from Florence, in the nearby town of Greve there is a enoteca (La Cantinetta D Greve) that has about 100 different Tuscans wines to select from, connected to a automated dispensing system. You will know Tuscan wines better after visiting this place.

San Gimigiano is known for a white wine called Vernaccia. I don't care for it, but again not overly found of whites, but it's a famous product of that region.

Pienza sits between 2 different and important wine styles, Brunnello Di Montalcino, mentioned previously and Vin Nobile D Montepulciano. Both very important reds of Italy. You could taste the heck out of them in their respective towns and find those on the resturant list where you dine in around Pienza. Most of the cheese shops in Pienza also have a good selection of local wines.
A good desert wine in Tuscany is Vin Santo. There's many Vin Santo bottles available to pick from. The flavors, to me, run from cough syrup to delicious. In a bar or resturant the Vin Santo is typically served with biscotti after dinner. I enjoy the Vin Santo of Castello Brolio. But wine taste are so very subjective.

The region of Lazio where Rome is located has a few of it's own varities, of which I can't recall at the moment. Rely on waiter for a decent Lazio recommendation. If you would like some wine bar recomendations for Rome, indicate that.

In general if you can't choose between getting the vin casa ( house wine) or buying a bottle, ask the waiter for a taste of the vin casa, if you don't like it you can select a bottle. Most Italian dinning places do not mark up the cost of a bottle of wine to much as found in other countries.

The only way to find wine you like is to keep tasting wines when you are able. Traveling in Italy is a very opurtune way to find wines that please your taste.

Salute !
Lorenzi is offline  
Apr 5th, 2006, 04:29 AM
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Brent, given your itinerary, it's a pity that you won't be able to taste the best red wines of Italy: Barolo (Piemonte) and Sagrantino di Montefalco (Umbria). The grape varieties you've mentioned are not native to Italy, with the only exception of already mentioned Primitivo (named Zinfandel in California), and you'll won't find Syrah or much Pinot Noir; of the two "globalization reds", you'll find some Merlot of decent to good quality in northern Italy; Italian Cab. Sauvignon, however, is not what I would like to drink.

But when being in Venice, you should absolutely visit "Al Volto" - a famous wine bar with the reputation of having one of Italy's best-assorted cellars. You'd never guess that this place is so famous (and justly so), as it is so extremely casual. But you've never tasted what a true prosecco is, for example, unless you've been "Al Volto" (literally, "in the vault").

smalti, your friend Charles didn't obviously taste enough Italian wines so far. Many Italian reds are among the very best worldwide, and of course, there are also bad and terrible Italian wines (just try a Marzemino from the Veneto region).

nessundorma, sorry, but "quanto costa?" is a question that would come across as, well, not exactly rude, but certainly very blunt and not at all friendly. You'd rather ask "quanto viene?" or maybe "quant'è?"
franco is offline  
Apr 5th, 2006, 04:58 AM
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Thanks, franco!
nessundorma is offline  
Apr 5th, 2006, 05:02 AM
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Brent, excuse me: I forgot to tell where Al Volto is to be found - it's on a dead-end lane heading to Canal Grande from Campo S. Luca.

Btw, anyone who reads German and is interested in Italian wine - maybe the best magazine on Italian wine is available in German only: "Merum" (, to take out a subscription). It's extraordinarily knowledgeable, lucid, funny reading - published by Andreas März, a former Swiss journalist who became a small Tuscan wine and olive grower. He's the head of opposition to the "Super Tuscan" designer style wines with their complete lack of terroir, and to Gambero Rosso's "tre bicchieri" wines. Great!!
franco is offline  
Apr 5th, 2006, 05:24 AM
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In Spello, our waiter suggested a 2001 Montefalco Sagrantino Passito after our dinner....really wonderful and our regret that we only took home one bottle..
Traviata is offline  
Apr 5th, 2006, 05:27 AM
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I'm certainly not a wine connoisseur or anything remotely close, but I enjoyed many Italian wines. I think my favorite was a Montefalco Rosso that we ordered in a restaurant in Montefalco. DH and I usually prefer wines on the sweeter side, and asked the waitress to give us a recommendation or two. She brought out a bottle that wasn't labeled, and it was delicious! I also enjoyed Montefalco Sagrantino and Orvieto Classico, but usually we just order the house wine by the liter and hope for the best.

tcreath is offline  
Apr 5th, 2006, 05:52 AM
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This is such a vast and interesting subject it is hard to know where to begin. For those who would like to delve a bit into Italian wine, I recommend "Vino Italiano" by Jospeph Bastianich, which is a well-written overview of the country's wines. Bastianich (the son of Lidia Bastianich, the restaurant owner and author) is a restaurant-owner as well as part-owner of vineyards in, I believe, the Maremma and in Friuli. His book is readable and very informative.

And to Charles who is not present among us, and who commented that there no great Italian wines and no bad ones: That is SOOOO last century!! A pretty ignorant comment.

In Tuscany, I would pass on the "supertuscans" (made largely for the export market and drunk in Italy mainly by tourists, I would guess) and concentrate on true regional wines. In the Veneto Amarone sounds like your style, but experiment! Look at the wine list, which has prices, consult with the waiter or wine person, visit wine shops..and taste as much as you can. It is a whole new world just waiting for you to explore.
ekscrunchy is offline  

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