Italy is the world’s second largest producer of wine, behind France. Grapes are grown in almost every region of the country and Italy has more than one million vineyards under cultivation.
Italy has four classes of wine: Vino da Tavola or table wines for everyday consumption, Indicazione geografica tipica (IGT) that refers to wine from a more specific region, Denominazione di origine controllata (“Controlled designation of origin”, or DOC) and Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG).
The last two regions refer to zones that are more specific than an IGT, and the permitted grapes are also more specifically defined.
The overall goal of the system is to encourage producers to focus on quality wine making. Italy has about 120 IGT zones, and more than 300 indigenous grape varieties.
This column focuses on some of the more interesting lesser known wines.
The Collina Dei Ciliegi brut is a non-vintage sparkling that is a blend of chardonnay and garganega grapes. The former gives acidity and finesse and the latter aroma and lemon-lime flavours.
It is a delightful aperitif wine from the Veneto region with sparkling acidity, the result of secondary fermentation in tanks, known as the charmat process or “metodo italiano”.
The 2011 Poggiotondo vermentino is from the Tuscany region. It has a pale lemon colour and zingy acidity that causes the mouth to tingle in anticipation. Vermentino is a late-ripening white that is grown widely in Italy. It is typical of Italian white wines designed to be drunk with food and have a refreshing acidity.
The wine is made in stainless steel tanks though about 15 per cent spends time in oak barrels. This give the wine a floral and crisp personality with flavours of toasted almond.
The 2010 Villa Lucia Rosso di Montalcino is a DOC red made from sangiovese grapes. Sangiovese is the most planted red grape in Italy. It has high tannins that cause the mouth to pucker.
The wine spends two years in oak and another two years in the bottle before it is made available. It is pale red that tastes of almonds. In the mouth the wine feels firm and has aromas of cherries and balsamic vinegar. It is best served with food because of the “grip” of the tannins.
One of the most unusual wines I tasted was the non-vintage Giavelli Toro Italiano lambrusco. It is a semi-sweet sparkling red wine that receives its secondary fermentation in stainless steel tanks.
The wine has aromas of cherries and black currants. The tannins are soft and the wine easy to drink, partly because of the low alcohol. It is an ideal lunch wine.
Lambrusco had a poor reputation some years back because of the tendency to make sickly sweet reds. But this lambrusco is a delight. It comes from around Bologna, considered Italy’s food capital. The wine pairs beautifully with meats like salami and ham, the sweetness balancing the salt of the meat.
The 2010 La Collina Dei Ciliegi Recioto Della valpolicella is a DOCG wine made from corvine, corvinone and rondinella grapes. It has an intense dark cherry colour and a sweet yet velvety body that tastes of chocolate, cinnamon and cherry.
It also has a slightly bitter taste like a mouthful of almonds. This is a wine that would match perfectly with nutty dishes, or even a plate of almonds.
The wine is made with the “appassimento” method where grapes are dried in the sun to concentrate flavours. This method produces five types of wine, with “Recioto” the second sweetest.
Another wine made in the” appassimento” style was the 2004 Giacomo Mori Vin Santo Del Chianti, from malvasia and trebbiano grapes. Wines are sealed with wax in small barrels – only 50 litres – for six years. Over that time some liquid evaporates, concentrating flavours.
The name “vin santo” means holy wine or wine of the saints. It is a blessing to taste. Aromas of toasted caramel fill one’s nose and it tastes of roasted almonds and fruitcake. The acidity in the wine keeps it feeling fresh.
Italian wines are designed for enjoyment. This group of wines demonstrates that principle.
* Published in China Post, 15 November 2012, page 10. Find a link here.