Editor’s Note: While Carl is transitioning from heart surgery recovery to working more regularly we’ve asked some of his good friends to fill in with their wise words on wine in his absence. Today’s blog is another from guest blogger Tom Welsh, general manager and partner at Tapastrie restaurant in downtown South Bend, Indiana.
Having focused recently on the three best known Italian wine regions, I will end our tour of Italy with some brief information on several other regions that may be lesser known but very worthy of exploration.
Italy is unique among wine producing countries in that wine is produced nearly everywhere. Anywhere else the areas suitable for growing wine grapes are in specific geographical pockets. But in Italy, they are virtually contiguous from north to south and on its islands. This blog will focus on some of the more notable of these locations where great values can be found.
Outside of the three we have visited so far − Piedmont, Tuscany and Veneto − the most exciting wines I have had in recent years are from Campania, in southern Italy to the east of Naples. The predominant red grape variety here is Aglianico. Aglianico has very high acidity and tannins, and is sometimes referred to as “the Nebbiolo of the south.” Thus, like its Piedmont counterpart, it has great aging potential. The best of these wines do not reach prime drinkability for 8 to 10 years and last another 10 years beyond that. Aglianico produces an earthy, hearty wine that goes well with fatty meats and spicy sauces like barbecue. More modern styles are being made now, with new oak aging to tame the tannins and be more easily accessible sooner. Aglianico is also common in the other southern regions, particularly neighboring Basilicata.
Another interesting Campania wine is Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio, literally “Christ’s Tears at Vesuvius.” It is said that grapes grown in the parched volcanic landscape were only made possible by the tears of Christ so that the region’s inhabitants could have wine. The primary grape variety here is Piedirosso, which is blended with Aglianico and others for this wine.
Campania makes interesting white wines as well, from the Greco (also called Greco di Tufo) and Falanghina grapes, both light-bodied, crisp wines great on their own and with seafood.
Abruzzo, on the Adriatic coast, is known for its Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wine. Often confused with the Tuscan city of Montepulciano, in this case it is the name of the grape. This is a fairly common wine often seen in shops and wine lists in Italian restaurants. Montepulciano is the second most planted grape in Italy (after Sangiovese) and is a workhorse grape, but many quality versions are out there.
The large island of Sicily produces many wines of very good quality at very affordable prices. Sicily could be a blog of its own (no, I wouldn’t do that to you!) with many different styles and grape varieties, both indigenous and international. Historically Sicily is best known for the fortified wine, Marsala. Marsala once had the status of Sherry, Madeira and Port, but fell out of fashion and became primarily a cooking wine. It is made from mostly the Grillo grape.
The primary red grape of Sicily is Nero d’Avola. Similar in ways to Syrah, it produces a hearty, sometimes tannic but fruity wine and can be found commonly in wine shops these days. Other reds from Sicily are made from Primitivo (genetically the same as Zinfandel), Nerello Mascalese, Frappato and Perricone. Whites are commonly made from Grillo, Inzolia and Chardonnay grapes.
The other major island, Sardinia, is known for its Vermentino, a white grape variety producing crisp, acidic and fruity (citrus, pear, green apple) wines complex enough to go with many foods, but especially fish and shellfish, and simple enough to drink on a hot summer day. Other white grapes include Malvasia and Moscato.
The dominant red variety of Sardinia is Cannonau, a regional (called the same on the nearby French island of Corsica) synonym for Grenache. Like its cousin in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, it produces robust fruit-driven wines with earthy flavors and aromas like plum, dark red berries, blackberry, chocolate, balsamic and tobacco. Other prominent red grape varieties include Carignan and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Another southern region with a great story is Calabria, the “toe of the boot.” Like most of southern Italy, wine has been made here for 2,500+ years. A regional style of wine known as Cirò Rosso, made from the Gaglioppo grape, was so highly regarded that it was the wine given to the winners in the ancient Olympic games. Cirò Rosso wines are still made today and I know a restaurant in South Bend that has one on its list!
Back to the north now for a few regions that are better known to wine lovers, but not yet with the status of the previous “big three.” Friuli-Veneza-Giulia and Trentino Alto Adige, to the east and west of Veneto respectively, are known for their Pinot Grigio (Gris), Pinot Bianco (Blanc), Chardonnay and Pinot Nero (Noir) wines. Top quality wines are made in each area and they offer great values.
The Lombardy region in north-central Italy is best known for the sparkling wine Franciacorta. This wine is made in the Méthode Traditionnelle (second fermentation in the bottle) and is probably the closest in style to Champagne in the world of sparkling wines. It is made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and in some cases with some Pinot Blanc added. This is a wine worth seeking out as it is, for the time being, a great value compared to Champagne.
This has been a lengthy one – thanks for sticking with it until now. I apologize to Umbria, Puglia, Marche and other regions with interesting wines, for not elaborating on them. Italy is a fascinating wine producing country and deserves as much exploration as possible.
Calendar of Events
- May 4th – International Sauvignon Blanc Day
- May 9th – National Moscato Day
- May 21st – National Chardonnay Day
- May 25th – National Wine Day
- June 11th – National Rosé Wine Day