Thursday, December 3, 2009

Some Notes On Italian Wine

Wine Grape Varieties

Over the years I have had the chance to learn quite a bit about wine, especially Italian. I have had wines that are amazing, and wines that are just not that good. Here is some of what I have gleaned:

Chardonnay – Chardonnay can range in styles from crisp and structured, through full and rich, all the way to syrupy and fat. Flavors roam from citrus to tropical fruits, to smoke and butter, and even herbs and red raspberry. The origins and best examples of Chardonnay come from the Burgundy region of France. It is also a crucial component of Champagne and most other sparkling wines. Chardonnay grows with some success in every wine producing country on earth, with Portugal seemingly the only exception.

Grechetto – Hearty varietal, full bodied white. Commonly with aromas of wildflower and lime. Also used to create Vin Santo. Central and Southern Italy

Italian Riesling – E Europe/N Italy, sweet with low acidity, also known as Walschriesling

Malvasia – Rich brown or soft white wines that is one of the styles of Madeira, and used in Vin Santo & Negromaro. Known as Malvoisie in France

Pinot Gris – heavy, fill bodied whites. Common characteristics: lemon, pear, apple, vanilla, almond. Pinot Grigio in Italy

Trebbiano – Aroma and flavors of citrus fruits and almonds very common. Natural acidity. Central Italy

Verdicchio – Verdicchio can range from zingy and citrusy to plush and elegant to almondy and bitter on the finish. Central Eastern Italy

Vernaccia –Versions of Vernaccia include the light frizzante red wines of Vernaccia di Serrapetrona found in The Marches on the Adriatic coast and Vernaccia di Cagliari which is a fortified wine similar to sherry that can be found on the island of Sardinia. The most famous of these is the Vernaccia di San Gimignano, the great white wine of Tuscany.

Vermentino – An Italian varietal that can be found extensively throughout the regions of Sardinia, Corsica, and especially the Cinque Terre D.O.C. on the Italian Riviera (Liguria). Vermentino is a very aromatic varietal combining notes of citrus, fresh grass, herbs, and almonds with a crisp and acidic framework. On the island of Corsica it is known as Malvoisie de Corse.

Aglianico – Aromas and flavors of black fruits, smoke, dark chocolate and even iron are common. Aglianico is southern Italy's greatest grape, with the best expressions coming from the D.O.Cs Taurasi in Campania and Aglianico del Vulture in Basilicata, where it grows in the volcanic ash on the slopes of Mount Vulture. It can also be found in the warm climates of Riverland (South Australia) and Nemea (Eastern Greece). It is a good match for roasts and game.

Barbera – Dark, fruity, sharp. One of the most important Italian grapes, the Barbera produces half of all the red wine found in northern Italy. Can range from light and tart to hearty and robust, factors which are determined by the age of the vines and the amount of oak ageing. Flavors and aromas of cherries, plums, red currants and raspberries are common. Piedmont produces the highest quality. 5th most widely planted grape in California.

Brunello – First cultivated in the 19th century by Ferrucio Biondi Santi, today Brunello di Montalcinos are the greatest expressions of Tuscan Sangiovese. Brunellos are big, intense, complex and expensive. The DOCG of Montalcino also has specific standards regarding yield, harvest dates, ageing and quality.

Cannonau – Grenache grown in the gorgeous island of Sardegna, also called Alicante.

Dolcetto – Soft, seductive dry red from Piedmont. “Dolcetto” means ‘Little Sweet One.’ Dolcetto wines have a very full pigment as well as aromas and flavors of cherries, plums, almonds and anise. They have low acidity levels and are delicious young though they may age gracefully for up to ten years.

Grignolino – Table wine, Piedmont. The wines are very fresh with aromas of fresh herbs and light red fruits. Fruity aromas, floral notes and spice are common. Good with high content foods.

Lambrusco – The Lambrusco is distinct for its fizzy red foam and perfumed aromas. Lighter in body, Lambrusco can be a touch sweet and makes for a very refreshing summertime red. Look for lots of light red fruits, and drink it young. Also grown to a lesser extent in Argentina.

Montepulciano – Wines from the Montepulciano are rich with red and black fruits. A vigorous varietal widely grown in central Italy.

Nebbiolo – Nebbiolo grows almost exclusively in the northwestern reaches of the peninsula, most notably Piedmont, where it thrives in the DOCGs Barolo and Barbaresco. Fine Nebbiolo can also be found in Gattinara, Ghemme and Carema under the synonyms of Spanna, Chiavannasca and Picutener. Considered a high end varietal, it pairs well with rich, strong flavored meats and stews, as well as dry, strong, aged cheeses.

Sangiovese – Sangiovese has an affinity for limestone soils, but it can also be found as the base of many an Italian wine such as Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, Morellino di Scansano, Rosso Piceno and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. When blended with international varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, Sangiovese has created a niche as part of the wines called "Supertuscans."

Vin Santo – see Malvasia & Grechetto

Have a favorite Italian wine you'd like to share? Please let me know!

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