Chianti. Barolo. Pinot Grigio. Italian wines that most folks have heard of.
Nero d’Avola. Pecorino. Falanghina. I know my wine friends know these, but I’m betting many of you haven’t heard of these “weird Italian grapes” (what I call them). Hell, I thought Pecorino was just a cheese!
Italy is full of grapes and vineyards and wineries and yes, lots and lots of wine. And even the so-called cheap or table wine is pretty damn good. Remember that the local wine is what you want to eat with the local food. The food and wine are meant to be paired together. The Italians really know what they are doing. So, trust them.
But it can get very confusing because you’ll hear wine names that are completely unfamiliar to you. So how about I tell you a bit about some of these lesser-known Italian wines. This way you’ll feel a little better about ordering wine when you make that trip to Italy. Beside, Italian wines are my favorites, so I always like talking about them!
Pecorino – It’s more than just a cheese! This grape and wine of the same name is grown predominantly in Le Marche but you’ll also find it in the mountainous region of Abruzzo. It’s a white wine with a high acidity and a lot of minerality that can be drunk alone or with seafood or fish. Depending on where the grapes are grown, you may get some different flavors. You may get citrusy notes. You may get more banana or pineapple. And you may get saltiness. The story of Pecorino is really unique. It was thought that the grapes were extinct. But someone found some vines in a ravine and basically brought the grape varietal back from the brink of never being made into wine again. Lucky for us!
Falanghina – My personal new favorite obsession! I love this wine! The grape and the wine share the same name. This is a wine you’ll find in the Campania region which is the home of Naples, the Amalfi Coast and that pesky volcano, Mt Vesuvius. It varies in aroma and taste according to where the grapes are grown. The aromas tend toward citrus blossoms. On the palate you’ll most likely get apple and pear, but you might get some mineral or spicy notes. Some folks even get a saltiness to it. It pairs well with light salads, goes great with most fish and can even stand up to the tomato-heavy dishes of Napoli, Naples.
Friulano – This is another favorite of mine that comes from the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region up in the northeast of the boot. Now this is the region where you’ll find some very good Pinot Grigio, but step away from that wine and try this one instead. I think you’ll really like Friulano. It used to be known as Tocai Friulano, but had to drop the Tocai part (it’s a long, legal story). The grape and wine share the same name although you may see the wine labeled Friulano Collio or Friulano Colli Orientali del Friuli. These are the 2 main regions for growing this yummy grape. This wine will have aromas of citrus and almond. The taste is similar although you may also get some apricot, gooseberry and even thyme. It definitely has a nice minerality to it. Friulano will pair well fish, salads and even hearty chicken dishes.
Nero d’Avola – This is the main red grape grown on the island of Sicily. This is a big, bold red wine. It definitely has a fruit-fowardness to it with notes of black cherry, black plum and prune. You may get hints of tobacco or licorice as well. Nero d’Avola has a moderate to high alcohol content at 13.5% to 14.5%. This is a wine that will pair well with meat dishes. Lighter versions will go well with something like a pan roasted pork, but the bolder versions will need to be paired with game dishes or a hearty beef stew.
Schiava – Ah, yes — a wine from my favorite region, Trentino-Alto Adige. This is the home of the Dolomite mountains. This grape makes a wine of the same name. Because this region is located in the far north of the boot, the wine is quite light in color and has a lower alcohol content at around 12%. It typically has aromas of strawberry and bubble gum or even cotton candy. The taste is similar, but without the sweetness as it is a dry wine. It’s elegant with soft tannins. You may see Schiava also called St Maddelena or St Magdelener (in German). It’s a wonderful wine to pair with lighter dishes and salads and you can even put a slight chill on it.
Dolcetto – Ok. This is not totally unknown to many folks, but it’s also not super well-known. This, like the Nebbiolo grape that makes that ever tasty Barolo wine, is grown in the Piedmont region in the north. This is the home of Turin, Torino. And this region has some of the best wine in all of Italy. The Dolcetto grape was the grape that made the everyday wine. But that has changed. While it used to be a lighter, easy to drink wine, many producers are now making it into a bigger and bolder wine. Often you’ll get aromas of black raspberries and coffee. Once you drink it you’ll still get those notes of black raspberries, but now you might get dark cherries and maybe even some oak. The tannins are far softer than Barolo. This wine is going to pair well most meat dishes.
Did You Learn Something New?
I hope so.
The thing of it is, you’ll never really get bad wine in Italy. And if you’re still unsure of what to order, just ask the server at the restaurant what they recommend to go with your meal. The Italians are pretty savvy about this.
Another piece of advice — try something new. Step out of your comfort zone with wine. Something tells me you’ll be pleasantly surprised…
Be sure to check back later this week as my new e-book will be on sale. I am just putting on the finishing touches. I’m so excited to share more of Italy with all of you!!