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Jul 09

Guest Post: An Italian Wine Primer, Part 2

While Kevin & I are in Alaska, we've asked some friends and
colleagues to post on their wine loves, wine experiences and more. For
this post we welcome back Kevin Keith, continuing his post from last week.


Welcome back, it’s Kevin Keith, your friendly neighborhood
wino from Liquor Direct, back with more Italian primer – this time we
take a brisk walk through the Italian wine landscape, starting at the top of
the boot, with the tiny region of the Valle d’Aosta.

Image Credit

Valle d’Aosta is
the smallest of the Italian wine regions, bordering Switzerland to the north,
France to the west, and Piedmont to the south and east.  An ancient growing region, grapes have
been cultivated since the Roman days, with around 22 varieties authorized for
growing, including Picotener (the local name for Nebbiolo), Neyret, Vien de
Nus, Fumin, Mayolet, Prie Route, Petit Rouge, Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir), Gamay,
Dolcetto and Syrah for the reds, and Moscato Bianco (also called Moscat de
Chambave), Pinot Grigio (also known as Malvoisie), Blanc de Morgex, Prie Blanc,
Muller-Thurgau, Chardonnay and Petit Arvine.  There are no DOCG wines from this area.

Piedmont means
“at the foot of the mountains.” 
This region is by far one of the most recognized regions in Italy.  It is the second largest region and has
the most DOC wines (over 40) and DOCG wines (7).  Most of the production of wine originates in the heart of
Piedmont, the Po River Valley. 
Here you will find Barolo, Barbaresco, Gattinara and Moscato
d’Asti.  The first three I
mentioned are all made with the Nebbiolo grape, and the last mentioned is from
the ancient Muscat grape.  Dolcetto
and Barbera are also widely planted red varieties, as well as Freisa,
Grignolino and Brachetto.  The most
popular white grape is the Cortese, used for the DOCG wine, Gavi.  Arneis (nicknamed the “white Barolo”)
and Erbaluce di Caluso are also grown. 
Another important wine product produced here is Vermouth, made with at
least 70% wine, and fortified and flavored with various roots, spices, herbs
and wood – this is what is known as an “Aromatic” wine.

Lombardy sits in
the semi-circle created by the Alps that enclose Italy to the north.  The mountainous north and the flat Po
River Valley in the south define the topography of the growing regions, which
are divided into three:  the
Valtellina in the North, the Oltrepo Pavese in the southwest, and the
Franciacorta in the east. 
Nebbiolo, known locally as Chiavennasca, is the primary red grape grown
in the Valtellina.  The Oltrepo
Pavese is known primarily for Pinot Nero. 
And the greatest sparkling wines from Italy come from the Franciacorta,
and is derived from Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco and/or Pinot Nero.

The Trentino-Alto
is the northernmost wine region in Italy, bordering Austria and
Switerland.  It is divided into two
parts, the Trentino and the Alto Adige. 
Vineyards are planted on terraces or light well-drained alluvial soils
and clay.  Alto Adige is known for
Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Sauvignon Blanc, and the red grape
Teroldego.  Trentino boasts primarily
whites as well, with Sauvignon Blanc, Moscato Giallo, Muller-Thurgau, Pinot
Bianco, Pinot Grigio, Riesling Italica, Riesling Renano, Sylvaner Verde,
Chardonnay, Traminer and Veltner, with red grapes such as Cabernet Franc,
Cabernet Sauvignon, Lagrein, Malvasia Nero, Merlot, Pinot Nero, Schiava
Gentile, Lambrusco, Marzemino and Teroldego.  Friuli-Venezia Giulia
borders the Veneto to the west, Slovenia to the east and Austria to the
north.  This region has been
relatively anonymous until the 1960s, when modern winemaking techniques were
introduced, despite there being a large volume of wine produced in the
area.  There is 1 DOCG (Ramandolo)
and 9 DOC wines in this area, with primarily grape varieties such as Cabernet
Sauvignon, Pinot Nero, Chardonnay, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc being
cultivated.  Local varieties such
as Refosco, Verduzzo, Tocai and Picolit are also cultivated, and making a
resurgence.  Veneto is located in NE Italy, along the Alps to the Adriatic Sea,
bordering Austria and the Trentino-Alto Adige.  Veneto is the third largest wine producing region (behind
Apulia and Sicily).  The most
cultivated grape varieties in this area include white grapes Garganega,
Prosecco, Tocai, Verduzzo, Trebbiano di Soave, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay and
Pinot Bianco, and reds like Corvina, Rondinella, Molinara, Raboso, Negrara,
Merlot, Pinot Nero and Cabernet Sauvignon.  The most significant wines are the 3 DOCG wines (Recioto di
Soave, Soave Superiore and Bardolino Superiore) and the 22 DOC wines (including
Amarone, Valpolicella, Bardolino, Soave, Lugana, and Prosecco di
Conegliano).  Ripasso is a traditional technique that introduces a secondary
fermentation to Valpolicella on Amarone lees, usually drying out the grapes and
pouring the Valpolicella juice over the top. 

Liguria is often
called the Italian Riviera, found just beneath Piedmont along the Mediterranean
coast.  Many grapes are grown here,
including Ciliegiolo, Dolcetto, Barbera, Sangiovese, Canaiolo, Merlot, Cabernet
Franc, Rossese, and Alicante, along with white grapes Albarolo, Bianchetta,
Bosco, Pigato, Vermentino, Moscato Bianco, Albana, Greco Malvasia and
Trebbiano.  There are 6 DOC wines,
yet no DOCG.  Emilia-Romagna borders the Adriatic Sea to the east, the Tuscan
Apennines to the South, the Ligurian Apennines to the west and the Po River to
the north.  It is one of the
largest wine producing areas and is divided into the western Emilia and the
eastern Romagna, with the city of Bologna right in the middle.  The first white DOCG – Albana di
Romagna – is found here, made from the Albana grape.  Also grown here are Pagadebit (known in
Apulia as Bombino Bianco), Sangiovese and Cagnina (related to the Refosco grape
of Friuli).

Tuscany is the
most prestigious and recognizable region in Italy, with the region serving as
the epicenter for a great many changes in Italian wine law, including the
inclusion of non-traditional grapes such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah
and Chardonnay in blends traditionally thought of as native Italian grapes
only.  The primary grape variety is
the Sangiovese, with its clones comprising the most noteworthy wines of the
region – Brunello di Montalcino (the Brunello clone), Vino Nobile di
Montepulciano (Prugnolo), and clonal types in Morellino di Scansano,
Carmignano, Chianti and Chianti Classico. 
There are at least 650 different clones of Sangiovese in Montalcino
alone, and these same grapes planted in Chianti produce completely different
wines.  Some other varietals
cultivated in Tuscany are Canaiolo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah,
Merlot, Vernaccia, Mammolo, Malvasia Bianca, Trebbiano, Pulcinculo (Grechetto
Bianco), Vernaccia, and Malvasia del Chianti.

Marches resides
along the Adriatic coast, and is one-third covered with rolling hills, with the
rest being covered by mountains. 
There are 12 DOC wines here and 1 DOCG.  The primary grapes are Montepulciano (this grape should not
be confused with the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano of Tuscany, which is made
from the Sangiovese clone of Prugnolo), Verdicchio, Sangiovese, Vernaccia,
Pinot Bianco, Ciliegiolo and Trebbiano. 
Umbria is the only region
which is completely landlocked.  It
is home to the DOC wine Orvieto, made from Trebbiano and Malvasia, and two DOCG
wines – the Sagrantino di Montefalco, made primarily from the indigenous
Sagrantino grape, and Torigano Rosso Riserva, a blend of Sangiovese and
Canaiolo Nero primarily.  Latium is a very historic region, residing
around the capital of Rome.  The
most renowned wines of this area are Frascati, and Est! Est! Est!, both white
wines made from Trebbiano and Malvasia, as well as reds made of
Montepulciano.  Abruzzo has undergone a wine revival of
sorts, elevating it to the sixth largest wine producing region in Italy despite
it specializing in just two DOC wines – white Montepulciano d’Abruzzo
(made from Trebbiano) and the red, made from Montepulciano.  Grape varieties planted recently
included Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, Riesling Italica, Riesling Renano,
Sylvaner Verde, Traminer Aromatico, Tocai, Vetliner, Pinot Nero, Merlot,
Dolcetto and Malbec.  Molise is small by even Italian
standards, and borders Abruzzo to the north, Latium and Campania to the west,
Apulia to the south and the Adriatic to the east.  Only two DOCs come from this region, Biferno and Pentro di
Isernia, both producing red, white and rose wines.

Apulia is reputed
to have produced wine since 2000 B.C. 
It is one of Italy’s largest wine producing regions and is undergoing a
winemaking revival of its own. 
Over 80% of the wines from Apulia (also called Puglia) are red,
including the Primitivo, Negroamaro, Uva di Troia, Bombino Nero, Sangiovese,
barbera, Aleatico and Malvasia Nero grapes.  White grapes include Verdeca, Bianco d’Alessano, Bombino
Bianco, Malvasia Bianco and Trebbiano. 
The major DOC wines are Salice Salentino, Castel del Monte, Copertino,
and Primitivo di Manduria.

Campania boasts
the historic cities of Naples, Avellino and Salerno, as well as the ruins of
Pompeii and Herculaneum, and of course Mount Vesuvius.  The rich and fertile volcanic soil
makes this warm-weather macroclimate ideal for grape growing.  The principal grapes found here are
Aglianico, Aleatico, Barbera, Piedirosso and Sciascinoso for the reds, and
Biancolella, Coda di Volpe, Falanghina, Fiano, Greco, Malvasia, Verdeca, and Trebbiano
for the whites.  Taurasi DOCG is
the most famous of the reds, and is often referred to as the “Barolo of the
South.”  Basilicata is one of Italy’s most mountainous wine regions, and is
formed by the southern extension of the Apennines.  The only DOC is the Aglianico del Vulture, made from
Aglianico grapes grown on the slopes of Monte Vulture, an ancient volcano.  Other grapes grown in Basilicata are
Sangiovese, Uva di Troia, Montepulciano, Barbera, Malvasia Bianco, Moscato,
Fiano, Santa Sofia and Bombino Bianco. 
Calabria is almost entirely
mountainous or hilly, with the mesoclimates within the region varied from
subzone to subzone.  There are 8
DOC wines, mostly producing red or rose wines.  Some of the grapes produced here are Gaglioppo, Greco Nero,
Nerello Cappuccio, Nerello Mascalese, Guarnaccia, Greco Bianco and
Moscato.  The most noted DOC wine,
Ciro, comes from the Gaglioppo grape, and has been produced there for several
thousand years.

The island of Sicily
lies to the southeast of Calabria, and is one of Italy’s largest wine producing
regions.  The DOCs include the
Cerasuolo di Vittoria, Enta, Malvasia delle Lipari and Moscato di Pantelleria,
as well as Marsala, a fortified wine that resembles a Port, and is done both
sweet and dry.  Grapes include Nero
d’Avola, Nerello Mascalese, Cataratto Bianco, Verdello, Inzolia, as well as
Chardonnay, Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.  The island of Sardinia
is home to 18 DOC wines and 1 DOCG, the Vermentino di Gallura.  Other grapes such as Cannonau (Grenache),
Monica, Carignan, Vernaccia, Vermentino, Moscato, Nuragus and Malvasia are
grown here.  Viticulture was
believed to have been introduced either by the Spaniards in the 14th
Century, or perhaps much earlier, by the Phoenicians sailing from Lebanon 5000
years ago.

From this extremely brief overview, you can suddenly
understand that there is a heckuva lot more going on in Italy than just Chianti
and Pinot Grigio.  Much more than
this small “primer” (information derived from the Society of Wine Educators
Study Guide) can provide.  For more
about Italian wine, visit Italian
or our good friends at the Italian wine blogs Montalcino Report,
On The Wine Trail in Italy and Mondosapore.

Hope this has been a bit of help for anyone wanting to learn
more about Italian wine, and thank you Michelle and Kevin for letting me hijack
their Thursday blog posts for a spell.  Come visit
me at http://underthegrapetree.blogspot.com
as well. 


Kevin Keith (aka K2)

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Posted by Michelle at 8:30 am in Guest Writers, History, Knowledge | Permalink | Comments (1)

One Response to “Guest Post: An Italian Wine Primer, Part 2”

  1. Caramella says:

    Just thought I’d tell you about a great Italian wine find at Costco (no all Costco’s carry it). The brand is Tormaresca (tower by the sea). It is an estate vineyard located in Puglia. The wine itself is NePriCa, a blend of 40% negroamaro, 30% primitivo and 30% cabernet grapes. The taste is delightful, fresh, yet full of body and flavor. This particular blend creates a truly original taste. At $7.99 a bottle, I consider it a great buy.

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