Monday, December 16, 2013

Italian Wine - It's Not Just Chianti

Chianti Classico wines
Chianti Classico wines
Few places are more evocative of Italy than Tuscany, and its rolling hills and vineyards attract wine lovers all year round. Connoisseurs of Italian wine will of course enjoy sampling the variations of Chianti Classico on a visit to Tuscany but local restaurants will also serve up a range of wine from other wine growing regions. 
Travelling through Italy outside of Tuscany will also give visitors access to a range of interesting wines and grape varieties. 
Tuscan wines may be amongst the best that Italy has to offer but it is worth knowing a little about what else is available rather than sticking doggedly to a single type of wine.

Piemonte is one of Italy’s smaller wine regions which specializes in high-quality red wines. The town of Alba, south-west of Turin produces DOCG Barolo and DOCG Barbaresco which are strong, savoury wines made from the Nebbiolo grape. The area is also a source of two other grape types, the Barbera and the Dolcetto. To the north of Turin, DOCG Gattinara is a robust red wine produced through a combination of the Nebbiolo and Bonarda grapes. Piemonte though is probably best known however for its DOCG Asti, a medium sweet sparkling wine developed from the Muscat grape.

This region, with Milan at its core, is at the heart of Italy’s industry and commerce. It is not a huge wine producer but has some interesting wines including DOCG Valtellina Superiore and a popular sparkling wine, DOCG Franciacorta.

Bordering Tuscany, this is the wine-growing region famed for the medium sweet, sparkling Lambrusco, taken from the local Lambrusco grape. Most versions at around 8% ABV  are only classified as Vino de Tavola, whilst the products exported to other markets such as the UK can be as low as 3% ABV. The more critically acclaimed wines from the region include DOCG Albana di Romagna, DOC Trebbiano di Romagna and the red Sangiovese di Romagna.

The Veneto is one of Italy’s largest wine-producing regions after Tuscany and produces a number of wines including some speciality wines. From the Verona area are DOC Soave, DOC Valpolicella and DOC Bardolino. Using the Garganegna and Trebbiano grapes, Soave is a light white wine named after the local town whilst Bardolino and Valpolicella are light-bodied reds made from local black grapes including Corvina. Valpolicella, whilst often an unspectacular wine, can be made a lot stronger through a local method of drying the grapes indoors on wooden racks. Amarone della Valpolicella is produced by a method which ferments out all of the sugar present in the grapes, delivering a wine that can be up to 16% ABV - certainly a wine to drink in moderation. Another speciality version of Valpolicella that is produced via traditional methods is Recioto della Valpolicella. The more standard versions of Valpolicella are medium-bodied with moderate tannins. The Veneto region also produces a sweet Soave wine and a few cheap versions of Prosecco.

This region tucked away in the north-east of Italy produces wines that often blend a range of grape varieties. White wines might include a mix of grapes such as Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Bianco, Riesling, Verduzzo and Picolit, whilst grapes used for the regions red wines include Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Nero, Refosco and Merlot. The quality of winemaking in this area is generally pretty good and some of the better DOCs include Colio and Colli Orientali del Friuli.

Abruzzo tends to produce decent quality, mid-bodied red wines at reasonable prices. The most common grape is the Montepulciano and the region’s DOC wine is the DOC Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.

This mountainous region of Italy was actually a part of Austria until the end of the First World War and many locals along the Adige Valley are German-speaking. Wines from the regions will sometimes be labelled in German as “Sudtiroller” (from the South Tyrol) rather than as “Alto Ridge.” The cool climate in the area is suitable for the production of dry whites, often made from grapes such as Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco. Trentino-Alto Adige produces light and crisp wines as well as some medium-bodied reds made from Merlot and Cabernet-Sauvignon grapes. The best wines will be sold as DOC Trentino or DOC Alto-Adige. There is also a medium-bodied red from the region’s Schiava grape known as DOC Santa Maddalena.

Laura Chapman

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