Winos Like Us… Break Bread Together (#3)

Today is day 3 of the #RuckusMakersChallenge and an 8-day series on how Winos like us connect with the world over a glass of wine… 

Sharing a meal together is one of those activities that crosses all cultures and time… every culture has done it in its own way for as long as we know. (Disclaimer: That’s a generality that I presume is true. If any anthropologists/historians out there want to correct me, please do!) It sort of boggles my mind, actually, to think about how embedded the idea of sharing a meal is in our nature. That it is somehow the method by which we most commonly experience a sense of community or family or fellowship.

Sharing a meal is awesome.  But let’s be honest…it’s most awesome when there’s also wine to share.  This is one of the many reasons I’m drawn to wine… not only is it bottled art, but it gives us an opportunity to share and experience a moment with someone. Opening a bottle and pouring wine into a glass is like slowing down time… to pause and reflect and talk. It gives us a reason to sit a little longer, be more open with one another, share a few more thoughts, ask a few more questions, and ultimately, to make a deeper connection. And Winos like us love that.

Winos Like Us… Love Bottled Art (#2)

Today is day 2 of the #RuckusMakersChallenge and an 8-day series on how Winos like us connect with the world over a glass of wine… 

I’m a wannabe museum lover. Seriously – I really want to love them. Sometimes I do… and sometimes I pretend I do. When I walk into a museum, I generally have two simultaneous feelings: being “in awe” and being “not enough”.  I’m in awe of the people who have dumped their souls onto a canvas or into a sculpture. And I feel that “I’m not enough” for not having the creative/artist gene. And even worse – for not understanding what an artist’s work even means. But I have to say that I love museums when I have a good guided tour, or a friend who knows something about what we’re looking at  – something that give me more context to the art.

All of that said, I’m starting to realize that art isn’t always about me understanding the artist’s meaning or intent behind the work, but whether or not their work affected me. Correct me if I’m wrong Artists, but if I felt moved or warmed or angered after looking at your work, you’d be happy that you made me change, right?!

While at the Ruckusmakers workshop last week (see this post if you missed it), we talked about our work as our art. That any craft requires work and you have to work every day to get better at it. Most of us show up to work every day, just like an artist shows up to her studio every day. But the mindset of the worker and the artist is slightly different. The worker shows up with the general intention to get paid. The artist’s intent is to make someone change.

This made me think about winemakers.  They’re out in the fields every day nurturing vines, picking and pressing grapes, fermenting and aging the juice, and eventually bottling their work art. And we Winos get to show up at our favorite kind of museum – the winery – to experience that art with all of our senses.  We look, we smell, we taste, we savor this kind of art. And even better, that winery usually comes with a winemaker, who can elaborate on the intention behind his art. Sometimes we don’t understand it. Sometimes we don’t like it. But it always changes us. And I’m pretty sure most winemaking artists would be happy that we took the time to experience their bottled art.

Winos like us we think of wineries as museums. And we love bottled art.

Bottled Art

A little juxtaposition (am I using the word correctly? It seems artsy so i’m going with it to maintain this post’s content) around the topic of bottled art and art as we traditionally think of it (on canvas). This painting was a meaningful gift that hangs in our living room. I swear that candle looks like it is actually glowing. And of course the wine makes my mouth water.

 

Winos Like Us… Are Ruckusmakers (#1)

To me, blogging is sort of like going for a run. I make up a lot of reasons as to why I’m too busy or why I need that extra hour of sleep over the choice to lace up my running shoes or to write a new blog post. I do that even though I know that starting is the hardest part. If I just start, I will finish and feel good about putting a little of myself out into the world in some capacity.  And in return, the world gave me a little extra energy in some form or another. I won’t lie – every runner and blogger out there knows that sometimes it sucks. Sometimes my legs feel heavy while running and sometimes the words don’t flow while blogging. But even in those situations, after trudging through the thick of it, I feel better when I’m done. And the world is generous with its energy in return.

Last weekend, I attended a workshop with Seth Godin and 80 amazing people who were setting out to make a ruckus in their respective worlds. In our world. And I’ve been challenged. Challenged to give more… to build more… to create more…

Today begins an 8-day blogging challenge (#RuckusMakersChallenge). It’s just one way to start. Because starting is the hardest part when setting out to give, to build, to create.  So Winos and Wine Knows alike, you’re getting more than you bargained for – 8 new posts in 8 days!! Woot!! Let’s kick this little series off with a theme.

Ok – think Kelly Clarkson, People Like Us.  If you don’t know it, here’s the music video. (Try to ignore the blatant advertising in the video.) It’s a great anthem for you and whomever your peeps are. And in this situation, your peeps are us Winos. (I can’t imagine a better group, to be honest with you.) The #RuckusMakersChallenge theme for W2WK is:

Winos like us connect with the world over a glass of wine… 

Ok, so it isn’t quite as catchy as Kelly’s words and beat.  But ruckusmaking is all about making connections… authentically. I’m guessing I’m not alone when I say that I like to authentically connect with others over a glass of wine. There’s something about wine that opens up our hearts and our minds to share a little more than we would share without that glass. It leads us to an authentic connection. Some might say it’s the alcohol… that probably helps. But I believe there’s more to it than that. It’s drinking from the same bottle… sharing a meal.  It’s an experience. And sharing an experience is how one starts to make a ruckus.

The next 8 days will include posts about how Winos like us connect. Stay tuned and jump in! I would love to hear your experiences as they relate to these topics as well!!

Two more quick and unrelated notes:

  • Last weekend’s Ruckusmaking festivities were kicked off with a 2010 Barolo and a 2007 Brunello di Montalcino. (More Wine Know on both of these wines to come, but in summary – Y.U.M.)
  • This blog post was brought to you from my living room with a delicious glass of  Opolo Vineyards Sangiovese 2011 from Paso Robles, CA.

Blending Strengths

I am a wine enthusiast – aka – a “wino”.  I guess that’s obvious since I have a wine blog. For as much as I am a wino, I am also a total junkie for the work of my favorite “motivational celebrities”.  That’s what I’ve coined as their titles, anyway.  These are the people who encourage a reader/listener to exert energy putting creative and authentic work out into the world… no matter how vulnerable that makes us feel.  So I follow their work and take their words to heart. This includes people like Brene Brown and Seth Godin. They don’t talk about wine, but they have certainly helped me make a leaps in my own life (see this post for more on that).  And then there are my personal heroes.  These are the people who personally know my story (and I theirs); they’ve helped me make the leaps in my life. They have been examples to me, and/or supporters of mine as I have attempted to put my creativity to work.

On top of being a wino and a motivational celebrity junky, I’m also a personality indicator assessment addict. I’ve done Myers-Briggs, Kolbe Assessment, Strengths Finder, and pretty much every other assessment that tells a person about themselves. (I’ve got a PI sitting in my inbox right now.)  Why? Because I need validation.  (There’s nothing wrong with that, I swear.  My personality assessment results tell me so.)

So… why do I bring all this up on a wine blog?  Well, recently, it got me thinking.  My motivational celebrities are out their encouraging the need to take leaps in life. My personal heroes are helping me map out how to leap.  And my personality assessments are telling me that I’m not a natural “leaper” but that if I surround myself with people who are natural leapers I can feel a little more comfortable leaping. All of this points to the need for having a team… a network… a tribe. We all need people to surround us who build us up – make our boisterous parts a little calmer, and our calm parts a little more boisterous .

And guess what.  Wine is no different. Sometimes, we can stand strong on our own – out in the spotlight. Just like a single varietal wine. A wine that is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon.  Or 100% Pinot Noir. Sometimes they taste great all by themselves. But many times, we are best blended with our tribe. We need some Merlot to soften the dryness of that Cabernet Sauvignon. We need some Sauvignon Blanc to add some crispness to that buttery Chardonnay.  We need some fruity Barbera to brighten up that dry Nebbiolo.

A “blend” is just that.  It is building a team of grapes in a bottle to make it stronger than it could be standing on its own. It’s acknowledging that.  That on my own, I’m ok – but with my tribe beside me, I’m better. Wine-makers are masters of blending strengths. They figure out what makes two grapes lovely, and what makes two grapes lovelier when they are blended together.  It leads to a world of opportunity.

Since we’re always trying to build up our Wine Know here on W2WK, here are some facts on blends:

  • Sometimes a bottle is labeled a “red blend” or a “white blend”.  All this means is that there is more than one type of grape used in the bottle of wine you are about to consume.  Sometimes those grapes are labeled on the bottle and sometimes they aren’t.
  • Just because a bottle doesn’t say “blend” doesn’t mean it isn’t a blend.  If there is more than 1 type of grape in the bottle, it’s a blend.
  • Many European wines are blends. Wines from Europe are often labeled by region rather than by grape varietal.  And those regions often make wine from more than 1 type of grape.  So when you see a wine from “Bordeaux”, for example, that is typically a wine made of a blend of grapes from the Bordeaux region in France. The label doesn’t always explain this, so just use your wine know or ask the sales associate in the store!

Some of you may be thinking – “this blog post is quite the leap from motivational celebrity to blending grapes“.  That’s ok.  But if you go have a couple of glasses of wine yourself and THEN read this – you’ll find yourself nodding in agreement.  I promise.

Bottom line – if I were a wine, I would definitely be a blend. I not only need the members of my tribe for their strengths – I want them.  They make me stronger… better… braver.

 

Wine Know Journey Update!

Winos! Some of you have been with me for a good while – many since post number 1! (Thank you!)  So you know that this blog started (and continues to be) a journal of my educational wine journey. At first, I just wanted to know more about the fine fermented juice I sipped on ever so often – so I blogged about what I learned.

…And as I kept learning, I just wanted to learn more.  That led me to taking a couple of classes at the fabulous International Wine Guild.

….And that led to some part time work in the wine industry! I started helping a friend with a few wine tastings here and there. And then I worked temporarily in a restaurant as a Wine Steward.

…Then earlier this summer, I became a Wine Advisor with a company that facilitates in-home wine tasting events AND supports charities.  (Yes, you can drink wine for a worthy cause.)

…And finally I made the biggest professional leap I’ve ever made. I decided to leave my safe, comfortable (and salaried) job – that had totally become a part of my identity – to work and further explore the wonderful world of wine!!  I am now working full time for a small wine distributor in Arizona! In my first week of employment, I’ve learned a TON about wine and the wine business and can’t wait to just keep learning!! Who knew that starting a blog would be a catalyst in making a big career change!?

Of course, change is always bittersweet. I spent the past 11+ years working with the U.S. Navy Surface Ship Maintenance and Modernization Community (I know, it’s a mouthful) and met and became friends with a number of very lovely people. I also learned and used about 84,534 acronyms, as one does in any industry. One of these lovely people (call sign: “Enigma”) took some of our most commonly used acronyms and gave them a new meaning in wine terms in the below “good bye” letter. I know that this may not really make sense to some of my readers, but hopefully, you’ll still find it amusing. Those of you who are part of my Navy family will most certainly enjoy this piece of art in the form of a fake Department of the Navy letter.

May you all be doing something you’re passionate about – at least just for fun if not for a living. I’m pretty thrilled to at least attempt to make a living talking about something that I love and that serves as a vehicle to connect souls around the world!!

COMNAVENIGMA AWP RS 11SEPT14-1 COMNAVENIGMA AWP RS 11SEPT14-2

 

Virtual Party-Goers – Please Fill Out The Questionnaire!

Winos! I know that many of you participated in the Virtual Wine Pairing Dinner Party featuring wines from Northeast Italy, the Tre Venezie. Buuuut, I don’t have much feedback from you yet! Please, oh pretty please, fill out the questionnaire (see below) so we can get compare our tasting notes! Also, please send me any pictures you may have taken from your gatherings – WinoToWineKnow@gmail.com.

Coming up soon on W2WK… Results of this Virtual Party AND a Wino Journey Update (I’ve got news to share!).

Only 19 Days Left to Show Up to the Virtual Wine Party!

Just a quick reminder, Winos! We have only 19 days left in the current W2WK Virtual Wine Pairing Dinner Party featuring wines from The Veneto! The party ends on September 7th!

Recipe and wine pairing selections posted here! And don’t forget to fill out the questionnaire! We want your opinion about the tasting!

I’ve received several reports of Virtual Parties happening. Send photos of your party to me at WinoToWineKnow@gmail.com!  Here’s a sneak peak of a couple of parties that have been held so far!

Virtual Wine Pairing Dinner Party – A Taste of the Tre Venezie!

You’re Invited to:

A Taste of Tre Venezie

a W2WK’s Virtual Wine Pairing Dinner Party 

This blog is all about gaining Wine Know through virtual parties!! As we walk through the Country Series on Italy, we’ll be exploring wine from each of the big regions by having a Virtual Party focused on wine from each one!  Here are the details…

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Virtual Dinner Party Process:

  1. W2WK Posts Recipe & Wine Pairing Suggestion: I have posted recipes below with recommended bottles of wine for pairing.
  2. Party-Goer Makes Food, Drinks Wine: Between now and September 7th, you make the food and enjoy it with the wine (maybe with friends?). While consuming the food and wine together, you stick out your pinky, point your nose in the air, and contemplate the flavors and aromas that are (or are not) complementary in the food and wine pairing.
  3. Party-Goer Fills Out Questionnaire: You fill out the accompanying questionnaire at the bottom of this post to share about your wine-pairing/virtual party experience. I recommend printing it out or having your iPad handy while you are eating so that you can take notes while sipping and eating!
  4. W2WK Posts Questionnaire Results: After the questionnaire closes (on September 7th), I will post the results of the questionnaire (it will be anonymous), and we all gain a little more Wine Know.

Added detail:

  • This Dinner Party is about one month in duration – from August 4th through September 7th. What does that really mean? Well, it just means that I’m going to post the results of the questionnaire in a month. The wine pairing police will not come looking for you if you decide to make this stuff after the questionnaire closing date.
  • Don’t be intimidated about sharing your experience – I know the majority of the W2WK followers and we’re all a little shy about our Wine Know. But once you start talking about it, you’ll find that you know more than you think you do!
  • Yes, the questionnaire results will be anonymous. (Unless you put some secret clue in your answers to let others know who you are.  Do it. I dare you.)
  • If you can’t find the specific type of wine recommended, ask the wine store expert to help you pick something else out. There is space to note that in the questionnaire!

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The Tre Venezie Virtual Party will be a two-course meal including a salad and an entree.  There are separate wine pairings for the two courses.  I recommend having a few friends over, and making both courses at the same time and having both wines available. This way, you can taste both wines with both courses to see how different the wine tastes when you change the food. 

Tre Venezie Virtual Wine Party – Course 1:

Soave Classico paired with

Apple-Gorgonzola Salad with Red Wine Vinaigrette (Serves 4)

Vinaigrette Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped

Salad Ingredients:

  • 1 bag (10 oz) mixed baby greens or Italian-blend salad greens
  • 1 medium red or green apple, chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 1/2 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
  • 1/3 cup chopped walnuts, toasted

 

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinaigrette ingredients.

In a large bowl, mix together the salad ingredients. Just before serving, toss with vinaigrette.

Course 1 Wine – Soave Classico

Soave is a wine mentioned in Part 2 of the Country Series on Italian Wine. I picked this wine for two reasons: (1) It is Italy’s most well-known exported white wine and is from the Tre Venezie region (the Veneto, to be more specific).  Since it is popular, it is a good one to get a sense of a wine from the Veneto by trying different bottles over time. (2) It should be readily available in most wine shops.  If you see a bottle labeled “Soave Classico”, go for that over one without the “Classico” stamp. It is a step up in quality.  (Soave Classico Superiore is an even higher quality rating – let us know if you find one and decide to give it a go!)  Normally, I post a specific wine to try. However, most Soave wine should have similar characteristics since there is a required quality system for this area (as discussed in Part 1), so any Soave should do for this Virtual Party!

Pairing Notes: Soave is a very light, fresh wine that finishes smoothly.  I think it will be a great wine for the hot summer afternoons we are all having (at least in the northern hemisphere). It will pair well with the Apple-Gorgonzola salad as the fresh flavors of the wine will align to the crisp apple in the salad. The lightness of the wine will complement the strong flavors of the gorgonzola cheese.

Tre Venezie Virtual Wine Party – Course 2:

Valpolicella Classico paired with

Fresh Summer Pasta with Buttery Croutons and Grilled Chicken (Serves 4)

  • 2 large tomatoes, cored and diced
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 teaspoons of balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter
  • 6 thick slices of Italian-style bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 20 oz of fettuccine
  • 4 chicken breasts (Veggie Option: substitute portobello mushrooms!)
  • 2/3 cup of fresh basil leaves

In a large bowl (so that you can include the pasta later), combine the tomatoes, half of the garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, olive oil, vinegar, red pepper flakes, and a few grinds of black pepper and toss it all together. Set aside.

Melt the butter over medium heat. Add the bread cubes, the remaining garlic, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt and cook until the bread cubes are browned in the hot butter, turning them as they crisp. The bread cubes will soak up the butter in the pan like a sponge.  (You may need to reduce the heat if they look like they are over-browning.)  Transfer the croutons to a plate and let the pan cool slightly, then wipe it carefully with paper towels.

Sprinkle salt and pepper to taste on chicken breasts. Grill on the BBQ or on a grill pan until cooked through (approximately 6 minutes per side).

Meanwhile, cook fettuccine according to package directions. Scoop out about 1/2 cup of the pasta-cooking water and set it aside. Then drain the pasta in a colander.

Dump the pasta and 3-4 tablespoons of the reserved pasta water into the bowl with tomato mixture and toss to coat the pasta thoroughly. Add the basic and croutons and stir to incorporate them into the mix. Taste and adjust the seasoning. If it seems dry, add a little more pasta water.

Serve pasta with chicken on warm plates!

[Recipe based on Carla Snyder’s recipe in One Pan, Two Plates.]

Course Wine 2 – Valpolicella Classico

Valpolicella is, like Soave, a specific region in Italy and produces Valpolicella wine (also in the Veneto). For the same reasons as the Soave, look for a “Valpolicella Classico” as it will indicate a slightly higher quality (and “Valpolicella Classico Superiore” is even higher quality).

Pairing Notes: Valpolicella is a light-bodied red wine that will likely have fruit flavors, namely cherry. This wine often has hints of licorice and some smokey characteristics. This light-bodied wine will accompany the light summer pasta dish nicely (light weight food matching light weight wine!) and the grilled chicken will help bring out any smokey flavors in the wine.

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The Virtual Party Questionnaire

Italy, Part 2 – Northeast Italy – Tre Venezie (DYWK Country Series)

Triveneto! … or Tre Venezie! … or Three Venices!! This is what the northeastern part of Italy is called and what we will explore here, briefly, on W2WK’s Country Series on Italy (part 2 of 5).  The Tre Venezie includes (as you may have guessed) 3 key sub-regions:

  1. Friuli-Venezia Giulia
  2. Trentino-Alto Adige
  3. The Veneto

In the Part 1, W2WK had a poll from readers on who had heard of the various Italian wine regions.  Hardly anyone had heard of Friuli-Venezia Giulia or Trentino-Alto Adige.  And the Veneto seemed to be slightly more well-known than the other two, but not by much!  So hopefully, once you’re done reading this, you can confidently walk into the Italian wine aisle and pick out a northeastern Italian white wine and have a general sense of its expected characteristics.

Where is it? As you may have already guessed, the Tre Venezie is in Northeast Italy.  But for those rusty on their European geography, that means it borders Austria.  When I think of Italy – I think sun and warmth.  When I think Austria, I think of the Von Trapp family hiking through the Alps in the snow. Wine Know Take-Away: The Tre Venezie is on the colder side of Italy’s weather range.

What does colder weather mean for winemaking?  White wine grapes grow better in cooler weather than red wine grapes.  Therefore, this region is known for its white wines – many of considered “world class” or highly rated. That said, the Tre Venezie produces both white and red… and some of its reds (including Amarone and Valpolicellas) are very well respected as well.

General Characteristics of Tre Venezie White Wines: Given that this region borders Austria, much of its culture – including its winemaking practices – is more similar to Austria and Germany than it is to Italy. (And, you’ll find that many wines from Trentino Alto-Adige are actually labeled in Italian and German.)  For winemaking, that means a lot of structure and precision in its winemaking.

Grapes: There are lots of different grapes grown all around Italy – some are very familiar to us Winos, and others are far less familiar.  Single-varietal wines (made from one type of grape) may be labeled by the grape name, but others are known from the appellation in which they are grown (this is the whole DOC/G, IGT, or VdT thing that we talked about in Part 1). This is why, I think, a lot of us avoid these wines all together – because we have no idea what a wine from the Veneto, for example, is going to taste like. At least that’s why I used to avoid them.  Some of the key grapes grown in NE Italy include:

  • White Wine Grapes: Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco, Moscato, Prosecco, Friulano (formerly known as Tocai), Chardonnay, Trebbiano, Garganga, Traminer (related to Gewürztraminer)
  • Red Wine Grapes: Cabernet, Merlot, Pinot Nero, Corvina, Rondinella, Molinara, Negrara

White Wine Characteristics: White wines from NE Italy are primarily dry, unoaked and have a lot of natural fruit flavor and acidity (therefore, they will not have that buttery or oaky flavor). The acidity gives these wines a bit of a spicy, earthy, and/or mineral characteristic, while having a noticeably fruity flavors such as green apples and peaches. Many wines, particularly from Friuli, will have an almond or vanilla flavors as well. Prosecco, the famous sparkling wine from the Veneto, has a touch of sweetness.

Red Wine Characteristics: The cooler weather of this region tends to produce lighter, fruitier red wines that can be quite refreshing and sometimes even a bit bitter. (These are the kinds of wine I love for a hot afternoon happy hour with some light food.) Reds from the Veneto will have some cherry flavors and can be a bit spicy.

  • Amarone: The exception to this light, fruity generality is Amarone. This wine is made in the Veneto and is an intense, sometimes syrupy wine that is made from over-ripened grapes. They are picked later in the harvest and then laid out on racks to dry out even more. This allows the sugar and flavor of the grape to become more intense (as the grape loses its water). Amarone will be very rich, have flavors of licorice and dried cherry.

The Tasting Double-Take: As I indicated in Part 1, I had not tried many Italian wines before starting to work with some Italian wine-focused companies. And while I like white wine very much, I tend to drink red wines more often. That said, the Italian whites that I’ve tried from northeast Italy make me think they can be a red wine drinker’s white wine. They are more interesting in that there is a different level of complexity to them.  Do you ever get that “flat” flavor from some white wines (and red wines too, for that matter)? … The ones that taste a bit like fruit juice with an injection of alcohol?  These wines aren’t like that. They develop while you’re tasting them. Like a wine sip double-take…. You know how you sometimes have that reaction to wine – the initial reaction is “oh yum”, and then about 4 seconds later as that sip of wine has made its way through your mouth, your reaction changes to “Ooooh yu-uuuummmm.”  Well, that’s what I mean when I say the wine develops as you drink it or when I think it is “interesting”.

On The Label: Because many wines are not labeled by grape varietal, you’ll see bottles with the names of the region.  For wines from NE Italy, you can look for one of the 3 sub-region names (such as “Veneto” or “Trentino Alto-Adige” or “Friuli-Venezia Giulia”).  Or look for one of these:

  • Friuli
  • Terlano
  • Prosecco
  • Soave
  • Bardolino
  • Valpolicella
  • Amarone

The below image shows all the regions that are qualified “DOCs”. Any wine that is labeled with one of these terms will be a wine that is true to the characteristics of that particular sub-region within the Tre Venezie.

Northeast Italy (Tre Venezia)

Northeast Italy (Tre Venezia)

If you come across an Italian wine store, you’ll find a much greater variety, but I found that even here at my local Total Wine, the selection of northeast Italian wines is fairly limited with the exception of the pricey Amarone and plenty of selection of Valpolicella.

Coming up!! Later this week I will post a new Virtual Wine Pairing Dinner Party that will include food pairing to wines from northeastern Italy!  Hopefully this will get us all out to experience this wine together!!

Italy, Part 1 – The Basics (DYWK Country Series)

It’s time for another Did You Wine Know – Country Series on W2WK! This country series will be featuring Italia! As I mentioned in my previous post, I have been exploring the wine industry over the past few months… and my wine gigs have been all about Italian wine.  I have worked in an Italian restaurant with a mostly Italian wine list… and with a local distributor who sells only Italian wines.  But I must admit, I had rarely purchased / tasted Italian wines before these gigs.  I guess I avoided the Italian wines because I didn’t know quite what I was getting with any bottle. I didn’t understand the label enough to know if it was going to be a soft/light red, or a bold/juicy red. And I would guess that many of my Wino friends have a similar “avoidance” practice with Italian wines.

I hope that this Country Series gets all of us to explore that Italian wine aisle more frequently. For me, this will be a helpful step in my journey to become a bit more fluent in the Italian wine lingo.

Here is what you can expect from this Country Series:

1. A five-part series over the next several months that highlights info regarding the different wine regions of Italy.

  • Part 1: (This post) Italian wine classification system
  • Part 2: Northeast Italy
  • Part 3: Northwest Italy (Piedmont!)
  • Part 4: Central Italy (Tuscany!)
  • Part 5: Southern Italy (Sicily!)

2. A Virtual Wine Pairing Dinner Party to follow Part 2, 3, 4, AND 5! If you haven’t participated in a Virtual Party before, don’t worry – it comes with instructions.

Italian Wine – The Basics

Production: Italy is THE largest producer of wine in the world. (Does this surprise anyone else? When I learned this, I was a bit ashamed to call myself a Wino since I really haven’t had much Italian wine.) Being the largest producer of wine means that Italy contributes about 17.5% of the GLOBAL wine production.  Considering the size of the country (which is just slightly larger in area than the state of Arizona), that’s impressive.

Wine Regions of Italy: The basic thing to know is that there are a lot of regions – 20! Throughout the next 4 posts in this series, we’ll break that down a bit.  Before I had taken a couple of wine classes, I think I had heard of only 3 of those 20 regions. How about you, Winos – how many of the regions have you heard of before you saw the below map? (Check off the ones you know of in the poll below!)

Now that you’ve submitted your Wine Know, here’s a little map of Italy’s wine regions. You might recognize some of the names from Italian food products as well.  The food regions, wine regions, and political regions are all the same in Italy.

Italian Wine Regions

Italian Wine Regions

 

Wine Classification: Italy has 3 key steps in their wine classification, which means that on any Italian wine bottle label, you’ll see one of these 3 terms.

  • VdT: Vino di Tavola. Wines marked VdT have the least restrictions on the grapes used and winemaking process (making it the lowest quality of wine).  In the U.S., we’ll won’t see a ton of VdT wines – but you’ll find them all over the place in Italy for just a few Euros.
  • IGT: Indicazione Geografica Tipica. IGT wines have some restrictions with regard to the grapes used and winemaking process to ensure the wine has characteristics that are typical of that geographical region.  They are more strict than the VdT, but do not have as many requirements as wines labeled DOC/G.
  • DOC/G: Denominazione di Origine Controllata (e Garantita).  DOC and DOCG are the highest quality wines from Italy. Wines labeled either DOC or DOCG must abide by the most strict requirements.  In order to label a wine with DOC or DOCG, the winemaker must grow the grapes in specifically approved areas, use certain grapes, have a maximum yield of grapes per hectare, follow specific pruning and winemaking practices, among other requirements.

Generally speaking, DOC/G wines will be more expensive than IGT wines. But there are plenty of high quality IGT wines that are in high demand (many “Super Tuscans”, for example). Also, keep in mind, that DOCG quality classification doesn’t mean it is going to taste great to you. It just means it is more likely to have the characteristics typical of wine from that region.

Wine from Italy is named after its region.  For example, Chianti is a specific region within Tuscany. Chianti Classico is a smaller zone within the Chianti region.  And both the Chianti and Chianti Classico regions are designated as DOCGs.  So when you buy a bottle of Chianti, you know that it has followed some pretty strict guidelines with regard to how it was made… However, the label might not have a list of the grapes used to make the wine. You would just have to know what grapes are permitted in making a wine from Chianti.

The Grapes: There are SO MANY grapes used in Italian winemaking. And the vast majority of them are grapes that none of us have heard of. For example, Corvina, Rondinella, Molinara, Erbaluce, Bosco, Bonarda.  The list goes on and on… The good news is that each region has some key grapes – I’ll highlight some of those in the follow-on blog posts in this series!

So those are the basics… next up is a look at Northeast Italian wines – that post will be accompanied by a Virtual Wine Pairing Dinner Party.  Get ready for the virtual fun!