Italy is determined to help Americans come to appreciate their wines of seemingly unlimited names and designations. Between the grape varieties and the dramatic variations in the terroirs, you could drink and enjoy forever with Italian wines. So, when the Simply Italian Great Wines Tour 2015, by IEEM, International Event & Exhibition Management group, visited Chicago recently, it showcased the best and latest vintages from more than 50 winemakers from Italy’s diverse wine regions including Piedmont, Emilia-Romagna, Sardinia, Veneto, Lombardy and many others. The educational seminars for trade and media presented a dizzying array of information, colors and aromas, while professional representatives gave details about the wines’ origins, aging processes and flavor profiles.
And learning was so worth the effort! Did you know that you can’t make good wines from grapes grown on flat land? How high above sea level, how steep the slope of the land, and how the land interacts with the sun and the wind all affect the character of the finished wine. The mix of soils in the terroir is critical, too. Limestone, clay, sandstone, marine shells, etc. all contribute different subtleties to the wines.
Wines made with grapes grown in the mountains, in soils like limestone, clay and fossils, tend to be bigger and more structured, and to go well with meats and other rich and/or spicy foods. Wines from grapes grown by the seaside tend to be softer, lighter, more floral or fruit forward with lower tannins, and to go well with fish and lighter foods. Now if we could just have a topographical map with us when we go shopping for Italian wines!
Wines from Romagna, the region around Rome–whites made with the Albana grape and reds made with Sangiovese–can be found at every price point from bargain to high-end rates. One young red you might like to try at a bargain $10: Morale 2014 from Azienda Agricola is ruby red in color with violet highlights and has aromas of wild fresh fruit and violets. Experiment with it with food of many kinds, including baked or grilled pasta and sausages.
If you want to taste an exquisite dessert wine–not remotely like the parade of cheap muscatels for sale in times past in the U,S.–buy a bottle of Bissoni Raffaella Alessandra 2010. An amber-colored dessert wine, it’s made with 100% Albana grapes, then aged 14 months in French oak and 12 months in the bottle, and it has a fabulous bouquet: apricot, dried figs, almonds and ripe dates. with a perfume of rhubarb, tamarind, quince preserves and spices like cinnamon and cloves. Extremely rich with lovely tannins, it goes beautifully with, for example, dry almond pastry, mature pecorino, and blue cheese with honey or jam. Makes your mouth water just reading about it, doesn’t it? It’s priced at $45 – $55 a bottle, so it’s a special occasion treat for most people, but you won’t be sorry. Sit down to a magnificent dinner, don’t eat too much, and then you can then savor a small glass of Bissoni like liquid gold with just an extra bite of something to cap off the meal.
The Simply Italian Great Wines Tour also presented seminars on the iconic wines of Veneto, Piedmont and Tuscany, Sardinia and Sicily and more, offering glimpses into a huge selection of Italy’s finest. More featured wines will appear in future posts.