Americans love Italian food. Italian restaurants in major cities throughout the nation are thriving. The image of the Italian-American has been pumped up in films and on TV. Pizza in all its forms, from deep-dish Chicago style to the thin-crusted Pizza Marguerita and thick crusted Sicilian style, is a beloved, quick and iconic treat for lunch or dinner. If Americans became as familiar with Italian wines as they are with pizza styles, they would favor them over all others.
Not only are Italian wines simply fabulous-tasting to enjoy with pizza, red meat, cheese and salumi, antipasto, and pasta dishes, there are some incredible dessert wines that are heavenly with chocolate or other after-dinner finishers. Italian wines offer a tremendous variety of reds, rosés, and whites, but unless you refine your palate and begin to step out into the vineyard riches of Italy, you will be unaware of the wine treasures that Italy offers.
Vino 2015, which hosted a fascinating look into the world of Italian wines of Southern Italy the first week of February, was a great place to gain insight into what you are most likely missing among the fine Italian wines from the southern Italian regions of Campania, Puglia, Calabria and Sicily. Made possible by the support of the Italian Ministry of Economic Development, Vino 2015 was a weeklong festival of educational panels, wine tastings, seminars on the latest trends in food and wine, dinners, and an induction ceremony for those who were elected into the “Wines of Italy” Hall of Fame. The awards were given to various individuals because of their acknowledged contributions to Italy and the Italian way of life, which above all celebrates the pairing of food and wine to enhance the enjoyment and appreciation of both.
Of course, the reason for the emphasis on wine is that Italy is the land of vineyards, with 656,000 hectares devoted to this delicious liquid asset. The climate of many regions of Italy offers a synergy among mountains, hills and sea that is most suitable for grapevine cultivation. This is something the ancients discovered when they began experimenting with grape fermentation.
Vineyards in Italy encompass every region and run from north to south, east to west. There is a strong bond with the culture and history within the provinces, all of which boast their own wines and vineyards. It is interesting to realize that the European Union buys Italian wines to the tune of millions of dollars and is Italy’s biggest importer of wines. The U.S. gradually is coming into the top tier as millennials seek out quality wines in preference to beverages that their parents drank, and as Americans in cities often dine out in restaurants and enjoy trying Italian wines instead sticking to the Californian and French wines that have been around for decades.
An important fact to remember about Italian wines is that they are not typical of mega-corporate production, as is found in the U.S. In Italy the average winery vineyard has just five hectares (just over 12 acres). There are 600,00 individual companies that produce grapes for wine and they are part of a cooperative in which all the wine growers and producers bring their products. And many of the wine producers are part of the Slow Wine movement which is acutely attentive to growing vines and making wines that have not been subjected to heavy pesticide and herbicide use.
Many of the vines are heirloom varieties cultivated regionally for centuries. In Italy, as in most European Union countries, there is a ban on GMOs. Furthermore, there is no hybridizing of seeds and vines. Many of the vines that have been used to tease out wines have been around for decades and in some cases since before the last century. Additionally, there are uniform, strict standards for producing wines which increasingly show the label DOC and DOCG, especially with Prosecco. The labels indicate that the wines were produced adhering to time periods in steel and finished in bottle, in oak, etc.
Research has shown that as Americans discover they enjoy drinking wine, they are seeking education about various wines and searching out Italian wine varieties imported into the U.S. The irony is that some of the most flavorful and delicious wines are not yet known to Americans. Most probably, as they have with Italian food, once the word gets out they will surely embrace and fall in love with these delicious wines from Southern Italy. Already, they are asking for wines from Tuscany and Umbria and the excellent Proseccos coming out of the Veneto.
One of the best ways to get to know the wines from Southern Italy would be at an event like Vino 2015. However, if you are not a wine writer, educator, or restauranteur, or connected with the food and beverage industry in some way, stop into a place like the Astor Center in New York City or other venues around the country which hold classes. This is an excellent way to begin to familiarize yourself with these great wines from Italy.
Another possibility is to travel to Italy’s Southern provinces like Puglia, Calabria, Campania or the island of Sicily to visit the wineries and enjoy a meal. The beauty of visiting the wineries is that many have restaurants attached or there are B & Bs nearby which will happily accommodate you. It is then you will be able to follow their recommendations for food and wine pairings, something which Mario Batali learned and practiced before he was Mario Batali, a chef and restauranteur who is an expert in cuisine and Italian wine pairings.
However, the best way to discover Italian wines is on your next outing to an Italian restaurant. Don’t hesitate to ask the sommelier about the restaurant’s Italian wine list. You will be happy you did and you will probably discover new and interesting tastes which will take you to the next level of wine appreciation, especially when the wines finish off a great dish.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00KXIVIKK][amazon template=iframe image&asin=1400097746][amazon template=iframe image&asin=0764553550][amazon template=iframe image&asin=1503136914][amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00H4DRKVS]