Background: Pinot Grigio grapes (Photo: Mark
Now here’s something. Did you know that a third of the world’s wine comes
from Italy? Looking around the local shops, you’d never have guessed. Only a
few supermarkets around here have a decent selection of Italian wines and
there’s one I know that seems to have none at all. Probably the best places
to find them are wine outlets like Wine Connection or specialist
Italian food shops.
The Etruscans and the
Greek settlers produced wine - of a sort - in Italy long before the Romans
got started, with the result that Italy has some of the oldest
wine-producing regions in the world. Grapes are grown almost everywhere and
there are more than a million vineyards up and down the length of the
country. There are thousands of different Italian wine grapes too. Italy’s
Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has documented around 350 grapes and
granted them “authorized” status but there are evidently more than 500 other
documented varieties in circulation. Needless to say, navigating your way
through this lot is something of a challenge.
Italian wines have
come a long way from the old “spag and vino” image of a simple rustic
glugger. There are still a few dodgy ones around and if you don’t want to be
caught out, look for wines from reliable companies such as Banfi, Bolla,
Corvo, Frescobaldi, Lungarotti, Palazzo Grimani, Ruffino and Zonin. There
are many others of course, but these are the names you are likely to see in
this country. You can also avoid dubious wines by remembering the four
Italian wine classifications which I shall attempt to explain. So please sit
up and try and look as though you’re interested, especially those people
shuffling around at the back.
Right then. At the top
of the tree are (1) wines labelled Denominazione di Origine Controllata e
Garantita (DOCG) and these are about the best that it gets. The DOCG
classification covers a relatively small number of first-class wines but the
regulations are strict and fewer than a dozen regions meet the regulations.
One notch down come (2) wines labelled Denominazione di Origine
Controllata (DOC). These must be made in certain areas specified by the
government but they’re subject to fewer regulations than DOCG wines. The
next level is (3) wines labelled Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT),
wines from specific growing regions and some of these are exceptionally
good. I won’t explain the reasons, because I can see your eyes glazing over
already. Just remember that IGT wines are not necessarily “third class”. At
rock bottom are (4) wines known as Vino Da Tavola (VdT) which are
sometimes not much more than feeble plonk. Very few rules govern these wines
except that they’re not supposed to be actually poisonous. However, I have
tasted some that get pretty close.
Pinot Grigio Delle Venezie IGT 2012 (white), Italy (Bt. 555 @ various
Pinot Grigio (PEE-noh
GREE-joh) is Italy’s most popular white. It’s usually light and
vivacious, a bit like I used to be forty years ago. It’s fruity, easy to
drink and ideal with an informal meal. Pinot Grigio is always intended to be
enjoyed when it’s young. To make this fresh-tasting wine, the grapes are
usually harvested fairly early and then fermented and stored in
stainless-steel tanks rather than oak barrels. In this case, the letters IGT
indicate that the wine comes from the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, up in
the top north-eastern corner of Italy, the traditional centre for Pinot
Grigio production. And in case you’re wondering, Pinot Grigio is the same
grape as the French Pinot Gris although they are usually made into
completely different styles of wine.
Typically, this is a
pale, straw-like yellow colour with a slight greenish tinge. Poke your snout
into the glass (assuming that your glass is big enough) and you’ll pick up a
lovely delicate floral aroma of fresh apples with faint hints of citrus,
pears and melon. On the palate, it’s light and refreshing with white fruit
and an attractive zingy dash of acidity. It’s completely dry and has a
satisfying, long dry finish.
Pinot Grigio works
well with lighter fare and also with fish dishes, veal and poultry. By the
way, if you want to pronounce the name like an Italian, remember that the
second word has two syllables, not three. It also helps to wave your arms
Zonin Chianti DOCG
Italy (Bt. 625 @ various outlets)
is one of the most well-known Italian reds and the perfect accompaniment to
traditional Tuscan foods. It invariably goes well with pizza or rich
colourfully-flavoured pasta dishes. Chianti is not a grape variety, but a
vast wine-growing region in central Tuscany. Years ago, the wine came in a
rustic-looking flask-shaped bottle enclosed in a straw basket and known as a
fiasco, but these days most Chianti comes in a standard wine bottle.
The wine is in the DOCG category and if you’ve been concentrating, you’ll
know what that means already.
The Zonin family has
been in the wine business since 1821 and owns well over four thousand acres
of vineyards, making it the largest private vine growing and winemaking
company in Italy. This ruby-red wine has really quite an intense aroma
especially if you allow a bit of time for the air to do its work. The aromas
are dominated by wild berries, a hint of sour cherry, violets and a kind of
perfumed spiciness. You might also notice the distinctive aroma of capers.
Perhaps there’s a dash of rhubarb too. Now if all these smells sound a bit
odd, they are fairly typical of Sangiovese (san-joh-VAY-zeh) which
traditionally makes up the largest proportion of Chianti blends, 95% in this
case. The remaining 5% is Canaiolo, a black-skinned grape grown all over
Italy and nearly always used for blending.
On the palate, you’ll
get the typical Chianti “bite” which makes the wine such a good food
partner. It’s very dry with a smooth mouth-feel; medium-bodied with
pronounced raspberry and cherry flavours, along with a dash of spice. It’s
only 12.5% alcohol content, well-balanced with soft tannins and a long, dry
and fruity finish.
Italian wines are made
for food and Chianti is no exception. It is perfect with the
richly-flavoured dishes of Tuscan cuisine. After ageing for about three
years, it becomes the ideal companion of every type of roast, grilled red
meat, game and mature cheeses. The distinguished winemaker Piero Antinori
suggests that you could drink Chianti with Bistecca alla Fiorentina
(Florentine beef steak) roast beef, roast turkey or even wild boar, if you
can manage to catch one. In many ways this is a text-book Chianti; an
excellent example of a classic wine. It’s as Italian as a Lamborghini.