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Italy’s best wines

By Maurice P. Lee

ITALY IS the world’s largest wine producer, producing some of the world’s best wines. Including Sicily and Sardinia, there are 20 wine growing regions and it would be impossible to do justice to Italian wines in one article. So, for now, we will look at two of the main regions – Tuscany and Veneto. But before that, let’s learn about Italian wine labels.

The top Italian classification is DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, meaning it is guaranteed by the government). It guarantees maximum yield per acre, a minimum natural alcohol content, and that the wine has been aged and bottled in accordance with the regulations.

Next is DOC, which is the same as DOCG, but without the government’s guarantee. Then, there is Indicazione Geographica Tipica (IGT). If you are looking for something better than a Vin de Tavola (simply table wine), then try an IGT. They are known as “Country Wines”, but that’s something of a misnomer, as the name could make people wary about quality. These are great value for money.

Classico means the wine is produced in the heart of the area. Riserva (Reserve) means the wine cannot be sold until it reaches a certain age. Don’t take that too seriously though, because each region has different ageing regulations and, with 20 regions, you would need an elephantine memory to remember them all. Ageing whites differ to reds. Novello means “young”, but is somewhat superfluous in my opinion, seeing that most labels show the vintage.

Chianti from Tuscany is one of Italy’s most famous wines. It is made mainly from the Sangiovese grape and any oldies will probably remember that it was once packaged in a round bottle encased in wicker. It is now mostly sold in a Bordeaux shape bottle. I don’t have anything against supermarkets, but my advice is to avoid a supermarket’s own label. Look for Classico and Riserva Chianti.

Most Chianti Classico is DOCG, and the “Black Rooster” is the trade mark of the Consorzio del Marchio Storico – Chianti Classico and was founded in 1924. So look for the “Black Rooster”!

Two other excellent Tuscany reds are Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Both wines are fruity, well balanced, slightly tannic and expensive. With age, they become smooth and velvety, so buy young ones and test your will power! However, don’t confuse Montepulciano d’Abruzzo from the Adriatic coast with the above mentioned wine from Tuscany.

Tuscany has some excellent whites as well. Vernaccia di San Gimignano is a dry white, and from near Pisa comes Bianco Pisano di San Torpè, which is a fruitier white. Both are well worth looking for.

Valpolicella from Veneto can range from mediocre to greatness. Again, avoid supermarkets’ own. Look for a known producer and, if you can afford it, try a Recioto Amarone della Valpolicella. You will not be disappointed, although your pocket might feel somewhat lighter. Another red worth trying is Bardolino, a light red and not very expensive. Soave is Veneto’s most famous dry white, but watch the label, as Recioto di Soave is a rich, sweet dessert wine.

Go Italian for a change and give the French a rest.

Next: More from Italy

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