By: Martina Zuccarello
I once saw a tweet that read: ” Sometimes I just like to roll the names of indigenous Italian grapes around in my mouth like velvet-covered marbles.” This resonating phrase presents striking imagery that recalls the lusciousness of fine Italian wines, but at the same time (and I don’t know if the tweeter meant to do this or not) reminds us that the world of Italian grapes is a huge bag of marbles: there are hundreds of them, thousands if you count clones, and rare is it that you will find someone – Italian or foreigner – able to name more than a handful.
As undiscovered as many Italian wines may be in the United States, there are a select few that have somehow or another found their way onto American wine racks and “Italy” sections of restaurant wine lists. And there is one that dominates them all; one whose name claims the fame of being the only Italian “ch” combinations that English speakers actually get right: Chianti. It’s the “go to” when it comes to Italian wines.
It’s not surprising, then, that most Americans peg Chianti’s home region (-s, actually, there are 7 Chianti zones) of Tuscany as the principle wine region of Italy. The most well known wine must come from the most well known region, right? Right…Tuscany is in fac the most well known wine-producing region. But is it the best? Debatable. The biggest? Not even – Veneto and Emilia Romagna claim the highest quantity of wine produced followed by Apulia and Sicily. The most successful? Depends on your measures, but if you’re looking at the region with the most DOCG quality status, Piedmont knocks it out of the park with 42 out of the 73 DOCG highest-quality rated wines.
It’s not that Tuscan wine is bad – its age-worthy Brunello di Montalcino, buzz worthy Super Tuscans and even many of the Chiantis are high in quality, but its image is skewed – or amplified I should say (ever been to the Tuscan section of a wine store? It’s twice the size of all the other regions combined) – by a smart marketing strategy for a well-targeted audience.
As the specialist of Italian wine experiences at Select Italy Travel, I’m always pushing my clients to step out of the box and on to the unbeaten path by exploring Italy’s wine regions beyond Tuscany. As an Italian Wine Specialist I do the same with bottles of wine.
So here’s how you can look a little bit further than the familiar Tuscan bottle on your next trip to the local wine retailer (or across the Atlantic to Italy). Search for these exciting wineries from excellent wine producing regions and spread your vino italiano wings:
You’d be hard pressed not to find this wine at any wine retailer, as its popularity is growing and its drinkability is off the charts. Named after the wine region in which it grows, Valpolicella DOC is a blend based in the Corvina grape (corvina meaning the local black raven whose color is reminiscent of that of the grape). Valpolicella is medium bodied with a refreshing acidity, a distinct sour cherry flavor, and a striking ability to portray the distinct opulent Venetian air of its region. Wineries here are often housed in centuries old villas and are available for year-round visits. Two of my favorite producers are Allegrini and Masi (both coincidently have gorgeous villas that offer visits, private lunches, and lodging). If you’re looking to impress a group of Italian wine-o’s go for the cult classic with a die-hard following, Quintarelli.
If you’ve seen the issue of a Wine Spectator finally giving these wines their due, you might just recognize this DOC zone. This wine region, named for the Eastern Sicilian volcano on which it is located, Mt. Etna, is a landmine of mind-blowing wines. And Etna Rosso, a blend of the exceedingly difficult to pronounce but fun to say Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio, is the mind-blowing wine that comes from it. This wine could be compared to a Pinot Noir grown on a volcano, expressing red fruit, earth, mushroom (porcini mushrooms are a specialty in this area), and ash. I am partial to Tascante – I had cases of it special ordered and shipped in for my wedding – but I also like Tenuta di Fessina and Girolamo Russo’s delightfully enticing expressions. The best way to choose your favorite? Spend a day touring the volcano and its splendid wineries.
Nebbiolo is the noble grape used to make the King and Queen of Italian Wines, Barolo and Barbaresco, but it is also vinified as a younger wine, often labeled as Nebbiolo or Langhe DOC. These wines have an outstanding structure and complexity and perfectly convey the foggy hills of Italy’s most regal wine region. The price point is also agreeable, whereas the two Killer B’s might be considered more “special occasion” wines. I am currently loving Produttori del Barbaresco Nebbiolo Langhe DOC, but I am also a fan of Marchesi di Gresy Langhe DOC and Vietti Perbacco.
Martina Zuccarello is the Director of Lifestyle Representation at Select Italy Travel, where she partners with Italy’s top wineries to create food and wine experiences in Italy. Her favorite region of Italy is all of them, favorite wine is anything grown on a volcano, and her greatest passion is to share the authentic Italy through its cuisine with her clients, friends, and family. Read more of her pieces at selectitaly.com and contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions, comments, and stories of shared love for la cucina italiana.