I realized how eager readers are to learn about wine values when my Spanish wine blog was posted. Thanks to the indigenous grapes of Spain, we can enjoy great wines for a song. If you liked what you read about Spain, gear up your palate and get ready to take on Italy! The land of internationally-admired cuisine is home to hundreds of indigenous wine grapes, which keeps prices low, but poses an interesting challenge to the consumer’s knowledge. In order to alleviate your shopping anxieties, begin thinking of Italian wine in three categories: northern, central, and southern.
Here’s a guide that will launch you into “the know” about the essentials of northern Italian wine.
Both food and wine in the north of this gastronomically diverse country are at once refined, dignified, restrained, and elegant. Since northern Italy abuts Austria, Slovenia, France, and Switzerland, the winemaking is progressive and Teutonically-influenced, although many varieties here are French-derived. Climate dictates which types of vines are planted, and while many of the resulting wines mimic what lies beyond the borders, they remain distinctively Italian.
Northern Italy is home to exquisite bubblies, famous for starting and ending meals. The simple and delightful Prosecco is perhaps the darling of sparkling starters, while the compelling sparklers of Franciacorta have a reputation parallel to that of Champagne’s great Blanc de Blancs, and are meal-worthy. And don’t forget the Langhe’s famous Moscato d’Asti, that sweet, light, fizzy, affordable treat which wakes up the palate for dessert time.
Start your evening with a glass of Drusian Prosecco NVBrut ($15) …and finish it off with Sergio Grimaldi Moscato d’Asti, 2009 ($14) for a celebration of any size.
Whites from the northern regions of Friuli and Alto Adige are alluring because of their striking aromatics. Pinot Grigio has become the most common, but truthfully, has the least to offer. Examples of dry Riesling, Pinot Bianco, Tocai, Arneis, Sauvignon, and Tramin are typically un-oaked and full of vibrancy, minerality and mouthwatering acidity, and promise a unique experience each time.
Keep an eye out for any wines produced by DiLenardo, and know that the price/quality ratio will be in your favor. ($10)
Delicious Soave is under-acknowledged, earning a bad rap through commercial growers who have over-produced and flooded markets with inferior product. The fact is, this region (yes, Soave is a place) is responsible for some serious and beautiful whites. Reputable producers are working hard to restore the reputation of their wines, made from the Garganega and Trebbiano varieties.
Check out Inama and La Cappucina (both about $13) to taste what makes Soave serious juice.
Poor Man’s Rich Reds
Northern reds like Refosco, Lagrein, Dolcetto, Teraldego, Barbera, and the wines of Valpolicella are compelling on the palate without being a strain on the wallet. Most are designed for drinking young, when their acidity is lively. These can be wonderfully rustic, old-world styled reds with aromas and flavors that resemble the foods they pair best with.
Pair either Trinchero’s elegant Barbera d’Asti Superiore ’04 ($14) or the lively Refosco from Tentuta di Blasig ’07 ($14) with your next sausage and creamy polenta dinner.
The Godfather Of The North
Nebbiolo is the regal red grape of the north, and composes the greatest wines in all of Italy! Taking on many forms, this grape may instill budgetary terror when seen as Barolo or Barbaresco. But fear not! Nebbiolo from the Piemontese denominations of Gattinara, Ghemme, Sfursat, or Langhe can be exceptional and realistically-priced. Furthermore, serious Nebbiolo is even found from Lombardy and Valée d’Aosta for under $15! Experience royalty at a discount.
Vallana 2007 Spanna is a treat any night of the week. ($15) (Spanna is the local name for Nebbiolo from the tiny area in Piemonte called Colline Novaresi.)
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