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Italian Wine: Crash Course

Navigating any country’s wine can be difficult to say the least, and daunting when you are at the LCBO looking for something new to try, when your go-to wine is staring you in the face and you know it is delicious. But if it is anything I continue to do, is to broaden wine horizons and urge you to try something new. What better place to start than Italian wine?

Make no mistake, this isn’t even 1% of the information I could share with you; but I will try and focus on high-level information that will help you when you are trying to pick something out to try, or attempting to impress your friends with some wine knowledge!

Region Matters

Regions in Italy define the type of wine that can be made there. What does this mean? Unlike most of North America, where we have very few rules and regulations on what grapes we grow and where, Italy has strict rules and regulations that determine what kind of wine is made, where grapes are grown, and how it is made. This is evident on bottles at the LCBO with with the DOC or DOCG tab on wine bottles.

The assumption in Italy is, that if you know the region the wine is from; you know what kind of grape is used. But without this knowledge, it can make it difficult to determine quality and a great wine vs. a mediocre wine. Unfortunately this is where I say- the more you learn and try, the more you will know about certain producers in Italy. For us Canadians, the government really does monopolize what we can get, the negative, most small producers can’t get into the LCBO because of minimum case requirements, so some really, really good wines are missed. Once you get to know what wine you really like from Italy, be sure to keep an eye out for special Italian focused releases at the LCBO.

Grape Varietals are not the main name of the wine on a bottle

North Americans are used to buying California wine based on the grape varietal being clearly depicted on the bottle and usually in the wine’s name. This is not the case in Italy, which can be particularly difficult when trying to navigate labels. The focus is as noted above- on geographic regions. For instance, Prosecco- Italy’s famous sparkling wine has its name because it is made in this geographic area. The grape varietal used to make Prosecco is actually called the Glera grape. It is an indigenous species to Italy that likes the particular climate in the North Eastern part of Italy.

The same goes for Chianti- a famous Italian region where the grape varietal is Sangiovese. And, you might be surprised to know that Brunello and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano are all a type of Sangiovese grape, made in slightly different styles.

If you are a Barolo enthusiast,- this is the Nebbiolo grape. Other popular wines made from Barolo are Barbera and Dolcetto. These are all different styles of wine, using the same grape varietal.

It’s Important to Consider Climate

When thinking about wine to try, think about Italy’s climate. Far south is warm and Mediterranean, and as you move north the climate in Italy becomes continental. This has great effect on wine styles. The further north you go, grapes have less daytime sun and a shorter growing season. For white wines- northern Italy produces some great Pinot Grigio, and Soave, crisp refreshing whites with aromas of peach and apple, melon and citrus, they have some minerality and medium-high acidity. For southern Italy, if you are a big fan of Old Vine Zinfandel from California that is ripe, juicy red and black fruit, Primitivo is the most famous southern red wine. Delicious, luscious and full-bodied, it is same grape varietal: Zinfandel.

If You Like This...Try That

Here is where I say, if you take anything away from this article, I will give you a few key suggestions for you to try. A “cheat sheet” of wines from around Italy that are not as well known as the popular wines we drink from Italy.

If you like Barolo...try a Taurasi, this wine is not from the same area as Barolo, or made from the same grape for that matter, but it’s flavour profile of full bodied, dark fruit with leather and some tobacco and spices make for a complex Italian wine.

If you like Dry White Wine... try a Soave, it is a dry white wine with flavour aromas of peach, melon and citrus, light and refreshing, some even have the ability to age. Sometimes Soave is hard to find in the LCBO, but a nice treat if you can find it.

If you like Chianti.... try a Dolcetto, this wine again is a different grape and grown in a different area, it’s actually the same grape used to make Barolo. But the style of the wine is medium bodied; it is an easy drinking wine that goes great with pizza or pasta.

If you like Sweet Wine...try Moscato, this wine is made to keep a great deal of residual sugar, it is a great match with fresh fruit, and doesn’t pack a punch, with only 6-8% alcohol. A great wine to enjoy on a hot afternoon in the sun.

If you like sparkling wine...try Prosecco, a sparkling white wine that is crisp and refreshing with notes of pear, peach and apple. It is made differently that Champagne, so it doesn’t have that dough/bready flavour that some people dislike.

I hope you explore everything Italy has to offer when it comes to wine. I know I try to!

Want to learn more about wine? Why not host a wine event with your friends and family? For more information about wine, food and the good life, follow me on Instagram @NewAgeNonna or subscribe to my Blog.

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