In the world of Italian wine, a grape variety’s identity id often profoundly connected with the terroir. Italian winemakers, with the exception those in some regions, always refer to them in conjunction of their terroir i.e Sangiovese di Romagna, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Pinot Grigio Collio, Garganega Veronese, Arneis Langhe, Moscato d’Asti, Primitivo di Manduria, Nero d’Avola di Sicilia.
When considering the great Italian wines, – Barolo, and Chianti come to mind, but to really understand these wines and their history, it’s just as important to get to know the grape varieties which comprise them.
Pinot Grigio, beloved world over for its crisp, fresh, vibrant wine with lemon and mineral aromas and flavour, gives its best in northeastern Italy’s Alto Adige and Friuli. Pinto Grigio’s skin has a light pink colour. Winemakers remove the skin immediately after crushing to avoid a pink colour.
Best tastes best as an aperitif, with light seafood or steamed clams or mussels or vegetarian dishes.
Garganega is an ancient Veneto grape if treated expertly yields highly prized, delicate wines with fresh aromas and flavours of lemons and almonds. Garganega is the biggest constituent of Soave wines; sometimes it may be used for varietal wines.
Arneis aka “little rascal” in Piedmont goes well with risottos, pesto-flavoured pastas and rich seafood.
Seafaring Greek merchants to southern Italy imported Greco di Tufo some 2500 years ago. It exudes peach, citrus and herbal aromas. Greco di Tufo grows well in Campania, Calabria, and Abruzzo. It requires pending on vintage three or four years of cellaring.
Prosecco has become spectacularly successful recently as a refreshing and light sparkling wine. Citrus, apple and pear aromas dominate. Veneto, particularly Valdobiadene, is the leader of production followed by Australia, Romania, and Argentina.
Nebbiolo yields revered, long-lived, tannic, medium to full-bodied wines in Barolo and Barbaresco both in Piedmont, Lombardy to the east also grows Nebbiolo successfully close to the Swiss border.
Well-made Barolos and Barbarescos smell of cherries, raspberries, wild herbs, truffles, rose petals, and tobacco. They should be cellared for four to six years ending on vintage.
Aged Barolos work well with game, mushrooms risottos, roast leg of lamb, aged cheeses, or rare-grilled steaks. According to legend, Pliny the Elder wrote about its qualities.
Nebbiolo shares ancestry with Viognier from Cotes du Rhone. Now it is also grown in Ontario, California, Chile, Australia, and Argentina but the taste and mouth feel of wines from these regions don’t come close to those from Piedmont in successful vintages.
Corvina is the prime grape variety of Valpolicella of Veneto. Rondinella, Molinara and Corvinone are the other components. Valpolicella is a fine “sipper” and goes well with light meat dishes, ripasso complements best strongly flavoured pastas, and Amarone is considered best with deeply flavoured dishes, aged hard cheeses and dark chocolates.
Sangiovese is the most popular red grape variety planted in Italy. It has many aliases including Morellino di Scansano, Brunello, and Montepulciano.The most flavourful of Sangiovese grow on 400 – 600 metres altitude in Tuscany. Elsewhere the results are acceptable, but never outstanding. Also planted in California, Australia, Argentina and many other regions. Sangiovese displays fresh fruit aromas, mainly cherries, earthiness and spice in its youth. Old wines exude dried fruit aromas. Brunellos age particularly well.
Sangiovese is a thin-skinned grape prone to diseases and requires attention. Chianti is arguably the most famous Sangiovese-based wine and can be spectacular when made from well-maintained, low-yield, high-altitude vineyards, by skilful winemakers.
Chiantis go well with tomato-based sauced pastas, with veal specialties, and grilled eggplant.
Primtivo’s origins have been traced to Croatia’s Crljnak Kastelanski and genetically identical to California’s Zinfandel. Some researchers claim Zinfandel’s ancestor to be Plavac Mali from the same region.
Primitovo displays aromas of black- and blueberries, anise and pepper. It yields full-bodied wines that should be cellared fro two to four years minimum.
Primotivo thrives in Puglia and Californian as Zinfandel.
Montepulciano wines are dark red, round, soft with plum and cherry aromas and flavours. Montepulciano wines are approachable in their youth, but some are made for aging in the cellar for up to 10 years or longer. Thrives in Abruzzo, and Puglia, but in general Central Italy
Montepulciano is a versatile grape variety yielding wines that can go with medium-rare steaks, ribs, hamburgers, pastas, grilled vegetables and can be sipped before an extensive meal.
Aglianico grows best on Basilicata’s and Campania’s vineyards, Prefers volcanic soils, Aglianico del Vulture in Basilicata is made of grapes grown on the dormant Vulture volcano. It yields deeply coloured wines offering chocolate and plum aromas, fresh acidity, and fine-grained tannins.
Aglianico wines go best with medium-rare steaks, lamb stews, roast leg of lamb and game meats.
Nero d’Avola is the up-and-coming Sicilian red grape variety. It means the black grape of Avola (a small city in eastern Sicily). Nero d’Avola smells of plum and offers a flavour of chocolates. The wines
are acid driven and tannic.
Well-made Nero d’Avola wines require cellaring. They complement rich meat dishes (roast beef), roast rack of lamb, or game stews.
Italy has a huge number of grape varieties that can be made to fine, and occasionally to outstanding wines. Unfortunately, they are planted in such small acreage that most of these grapes end up in blends. Only very few small producers make and market them to interested parties.
Here are some varieties that can be of interest to wine lovers.
Negrara, Ucelut, Moscato rosa, Sciaglin, Cividin, Cjanorie, Forgiarin, Piculit neri, Cardenossa, Pecol ros.
Some of these varietal wines can be ordered from www.appellationwines.ca (firstname.lastname@example.org), Toronto.
Susumaniello from Puglia is increasing in popularity as it is a heavy bearer, Incrocio Manzoni (a hybrid ) is an excellent white wine grape variety, Vespaiola is the grape that constitutes the basis of Torcolato, and excellent sweet wine from Veneto