Advice on Italian wine requested
The wife and I are headed to Rome this fall. Our second trip, but it's been many years. We've had Italian wine here and there, but we're looking forward to the opportunity over the next six months to taste Italian Vino in a much more comprehensive way. The trip gives us a great excuse to get a deeper understanding of these wines. So, the question is, how do we approach it? We'd love some advice on how to get our arms around the topic. Thoughts?
Jeff , I can't really help you , other than to advise you to get a list of grape varieties and start tasting your way thru them ......do it by grape type , not by label names , which will be the names of places . But , what I can tell you is that there is no more fun place anywhere to fool around with wine than Italy . I remember a restaurant once where I ordered a bottle of Gavi di Gavi because that was all I could remember from the book I had been reading . As soon as the waiter told the tuxedoed owner of our order , the owner sped to our table to deliver an impassioned speech on why he would never again serve Gavi di Gavi in his restaurant . ( All I got out of it was that the winemakers had taken a price increase , and the owner decided to never serve their wine again.) So , we drank what he wanted us to drink , and it was marvelous and we had a memorable time . I could go on with Italian wine stories , but they always end well , and you always have fun . Sort of like Italy itself .
Wine in Italy varies greatly by region and there are likely very many obscure grapes you've never heard of, so you may want to focus on one region at a time. The two most popular and respected wine regions are Piedmont and Tuscany, although you'll find many many delicious wines anywhere in Italy.
In most areas, you get a few different levels of wine. So you could start with the cheap grape and slowly move up. For example, in Piedmont, you start off with the simple Dolcetto, move up into a more fruity Barbera, upgrade to fuller Barbaresco and then eventually enjoy the wonders of a complex Barolo. You'll enjoy each step up more if you "get" its other cousins first.
I'd also say that 99% of Italian wines taste better with food and aren't really meant to be sipped alone. Another benefit of focusing on a region is that you could learn what wines go well with what dishes from that same area and thereby bring out the best flavors in both.
This might be a good place to start:
I highly recommend getting a copy of either Burton Anderson's book "Vino" or the book on Italian wine by Joe Bastianich. Reading them will give you a solid background for the wines you will encounter in Italy. Fred Plotkin's "Italy for the Gourmet Traveler" also has a couple of paragraphs in each chapter about the wines of each region.
The wines in Italy are VERY regional and different grapes are grown in different regions, so it really helps to do a little homework.
"Vino" by Burton Anderson may no longer be in print. Any of the other books on Italian wine he has written would be worth reading.
Joe Bastianich's book Vin Italy is a very good overview of almost all Italian wines, and enjoyable to read, with some of Lidia's recipes included. The OP mentioned going to Rome, and Rome is actually the best place to taste more regional wines than any other one place in Italy. Here's a link to my wine report, from our visit to Italy in Oct 07, which has some suggestions:
What's your itinerary?? Depending on where you intend to travel, I'd recommend approaching Italian wine REGIONALLY... Tuscan wine with Tuscan dishes, Piedmont wine with Piedmont cuisine, E-R with E-R, and so forth... this is your best experience, IMO....
Along the way you may develop a particular fondness for this red or this white in which case you branch out a bit and start mixing it up... Lastly, Italian wines can be fairly vintage-critical, so I'd recommend you learn the better vintage years BEFORE you go so you're getting better vintages, particularly of the more expensive bottles you buy.