After extensive and time-consuming research drinking my way across Italy (guys, the struggle is R-E-A-L) with one thirsty Trafalgar travel group, I've come to the conclusion that this beautiful country makes it as easy as humanly possible to drink well—due to the fact that nearly all their wine is just. So. Glorious.
Aside from the fact that it's scientifically proven (from my personal "studies") that wine tastes better whilst lounging in a Roman café on a sunny day, Italy has a rich legacy of producing diverse, food-friendly wines worth getting familiar with. Here's why:
1. The Vineyards Have Been Around Forever
When it comes to Italian wine, you're not likely to find some flash-in-the-pan winery started by a bunch of retired investors (or hipsters) last year. Italy boasts some of the oldest, most world-renowned wineries that go back nearly 800 years—and many of them have remained family-owned throughout generations.
This means that pride shines in the product, as I experienced first-hand on a visit to Castello del Trebbio with the group, a 12th century castle set on 150 acres of gorgeous Tuscan vineyards. For example, during a Chianti tasting, one family member passionately explained to our group why the Chianti Rufina was his favorite: It's made with 100% Sangiovese grapes from vines growing just feet away from where we were standing. You can't get much more "local" than that.
2. It's a Heavenly Match with Cucina Italiana
Certain Italian wines beg for certain Italian foods, sure—but did you know that you can enhance both by, well, combining them? Take the aforementioned Chianti Rufina from Castello del Trebbio: From a flavor perspective, its bold acidity pairs perfectly with wild boar; from a sourcing perspective, the property has had problems with wild boar eating all their grapes. The solution? Cook the boar with grapes in its belly, and pair with wine made from the same grapes. Genius.
If you don't have access to a wild boar (or, like me, usually opt for the vegetarian side of the menu), Chiantis are great paired with tomato-based sauces like marinara, and even better with roasted veggies like garlic, zucchini and asparagus.
3. You've Got Colorful Options
Contrary to popular belief, Italy's best varietals are not all crimson. Sure, you've got Chiantis and Barolos leading the pack, but many parts of Italy are churning out some fantastic white wines.
In particular, the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region has recently earned its place in the spotlight. I visited Bastianich winery last February and fell in love with their Plus wine, made from 60-year-old friulano vines. Absolutely perfect paired with a soft cheese (like Taleggio or Robiola) and crusty baguette pre- or post-dinner.
4. It's Fantastically Complex
These wines are best appreciated the Italian way: Tilt your glass in front of a white tablecloth and look for color variations of maroon, purple or ruby red. Is the wine clear, cloudy or opaque? Does it have legs (aka, the streaks that trickle down the sides of the wineglass after you swirl it)? Just like a good Instagram deep-dive on your ex's new girl, the more you look, the more you understand (She = rebound. Wine = bright and complex. And a keeper.)
Next, swirl and sniff. Don't be afraid to really stick your nose in there and inhale deeply. Dark berry and cherry flavours mixed with spicy notes are typical of Italian reds, while the famous fruit-driven Italian Pinot Gris will have notes of apple and white peach.
5. It Can Be Affordable, Too
You don't have to spend a lot for a delicious sip. Try Terrabianca's Campaccio 2008 the low price of $27. Rich, smooth and a perfect bottle to split on a Saturday night while twirling a fork of creamy fettucine.
Or, reach for Lambrusco, like the Cleto Chiarli Lambrusco Vecchia Modena Sorbara. Fizzy, frothy and festive, this varietal is the perfect counterbalance to a salty, fatty charcuterie plate. Plus, they're lower in alcohol and consistently a good value. Saluti!
For more on why you should be drinking Italian wine, watch the video below:
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