Tuesday, January 28, 2014

All I Really Know About Italian Wines Is Nothing, Really

I have had every intention of reading my Marketing textbook for class tomorrow when I was suddenly overtaken by the urge to drink a glass of wine.

Due to a gathering of culinary friends last week, much to my dismay, I found my wine cooler much depleted.  In fact, I'm down to four bottles...a bottle of Spanish Albariño obtained in España last summer (which I won't open, ever), a Malbec, a cheap dry table red from somewhere here in the state, and this:

I believe I purchased this in a weak moment for a New Year's Eve get-together for friends who enjoy Moscato.  It was never drank and ended up coming home with me - like a curse, I guess.  I'm really quite ashamed to even admit I not only purchased it, but I was so hard up for a glass of wine THAT I also opened it.  For drinking purposes.

For the record, let me state that I am not really enjoying it.  Adding a cup of sugar to a glass of Sprite would render the same flavor profile.  And I realize now that it's time to restock the wine cooler.

Which gets me thinking.  I'm past the stage of drinking swill from the local gas station.  I need to finesse myself a little in the art of wines, and start thinking about a wine dream team, of sorts.  Oh, goody.  Research.  I pull out this Larousse wine tome, which I gifted to myself at Christmas.

Of course, buying wines is an overwhelming thing.  One does not simply walk into the local liquor store and buy a wine with a cool-sounding name.  I would know, I've tried...as this post relates.  Wines run the gamut in prices and quality...it's really possible to spend a decent amount of money on a bottle of wine that reminds you of piss...while it's conversely possible to go cheap on something that tastes pretty good.  And, there's wines from ALL OVER THE WORLD, mind.  A Chianti is not a Cab Franc is not a Shiraz, right?

To begin and to keep it simple, let's use tonight's wine as a jumping-off point.

Spumante = Italian for 'sparkling' 
Sparkling Wine = redundant, sparkling carbonated

The André wine company is trying to dupe you, just so you all know.  They include 'Sparkling Wine' on the label...fine, that's so you know it's fizzy.  But, they also put 'Spumante' on the label...why?  They've already told you it's carbonated.  It's fancy, that's why!  The consumer buys a bottle of wine with the word 'Spumante' on it - it's exotic, it's elegant...they don't know it's repetitive.

Okay, to start...let's say I want an Italian white wine.  When I'm in a wine shop, in the Italian wine section, I'm looking closely at labels.  If I don't see these words Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, then I'm sort of on my own in regards to quality.  Italian (and a lot of other European) wine laws compel wine producers to put these words on the label ONLY if the wine is made in a region that is well-known for constantly good, quality wines.  Again, let it be said that good wines (and cheap ones too) can be found in areas not designated as DOCGs, but...caveat emptor, yes?

1.  If I'm set on a spumante, then I want an Asti.  The western part of Italy's "boot-top" is the home of the Piedmont region (really, really close to the Alps, too), and home of the classic Asti (no, not the Riunite Asti Spumante version of the 80s).  The Muscat grape is the primary varietal and gives the Asti a definite fruit tang (think pears, etc.).

1.2 If not an Asti, then I'll take a Prosecco.  From an area near and dear to my heart, the Veneto region in the eastern part of the top of Italy's boot.  The very important city of Verona is in the Veneto province...the city of the tragic story of the two star-cross'd lovers, Romeo and Juliet.

Author's Note: I've been sleeping on this, and I've come to the conclusion that I'd actually take the Prosecco over the Asti.  Of course, a lot rides on which one I can more readily find, and which one I can more readily afford.

2.  Departing then from the sparkling wines, I'll list here a couple of other Italian whites I'd give a shot: Soave (because I've always wanted to try it), and Greco di Tufo (because I have tried it).  The Soave is the name of the wine and the region it's from (Veneto: see Prosecco), and Greco di Tufo is the name of the region (Campania: think southwestern Italy, Amalfi Coast, Pompeii, Mt. Vesuvius).

I've obviously left out some great Italian whites (and I didn't even hit the reds).  This should demonstrate how little I know about wines, and how much I must learn.  But, for now, tracking down these four wines would be quite an accomplishment for me.  As soon as I procure them, then I can talk more about taste and food pairings.

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