“You may have the universe, if I may have Italy.” –Giuseppe Verdi
Italy vies with France every year for largest producer of wine in the world (they make about 20% of the world’s wine), along with greatest consumers of wine in the world- the average Italian drinking 45 bottles each year. Although it’s only about ¾ the size of the state of California, Italy has more native grapes than any other country in the world- somewhere in between 400 and 500 varietals, which makes for some of the most distinctive wines in the world.
Italy has 20 wine regions and 96 provinces which can make understanding Italian Wine incredibly difficult—but if you focus on four of the most famous grapes, it all becomes a bit easier to swallow.
Sangiovese from Tuscany is the primary grape in Chianti (Chianti must be at least 80% Sangiovese, but can be mixed with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and other grapes to round out the flavor profile). A good Chianti tastes of cherry, baked clay, sweet balsamic vinegar, espresso, tobacco and oregano. It pairs well with anything with tomato (spaghetti and meatballs, eggplant parmesan, pizza or even a caprese salad) as well as fruit and chocolate.
Nebbiolo from the Piedmont region is the major grape in Barolo and Barbaresco, each named from the specific regions they come form in Italy. Their flavor profiles are each full of cherry, leather, anise and roses and are high in tannins and alcohol. If Barolo is the older, larger more swarthy beast of a wine (almost intensely tannic and very rich) then Barbarescos are a younger, more demure but very elegant alternative with a lighter body and color, but still aromatic, complex and sophisticated. These wines age exceptionally well and have become new favorites of serious wine collectors looking for better bargains than classic California Cab or French Bordeaux.
Pinot Grigio, originally from France, grows well in Northeastern Italy: Lombardy. Veneto and Alto Adige especially. It is the most popular white grape in Italy (Italian wine production is focused on red wines which make up 60% of all wine produced in the country). Pinot Grigio is a dry, acidic wine with tons of fruit flavors packed in (think lemon, yellow apple, melons, peaches, nectarines) and is the perfect drink for a hot summer day by the pool- it also works extremely well as the base of white sangria as the fruit flavors are intensified without becoming too sweet.
Prosecco, while not the only sparkling wine from Italy, is the most famous- in fact, the original recipe for a Bellini at Henry’s Bar in Venice, was made with Prosecco and not the French cousin, Champagne. Prosecco is a sparkling wine made in the Veneto region of Italy from the Glera grape. Unlike champagne, it is made using the “charmat” method, which means that instead of having its second fermentation in the bottle (like classic champagne), the second fermentation happens in large steel tanks—this not only makes it an incredible value to the consumer, but it also allows for the highly aromatic grapes to really shine through in your glass. And while it’s delicious mixed with peach puree in a Bellini or served in your Sunday Brunch Mimosas, don’t feel like you have to hide it with mixers. Prosecco is a light, fruity wine full of green apple, honeydew melon, pears and honeysuckle that is a delight to sip on its own during your next Girl’s Night. It also makes an amazing budget-friendly pick for the toasts at a wedding!