Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Wine-down Wednesday- Italian Wine

Angie @ Angie's Recipes mentioned in a comment last week on Wine-down Wednesday- The Other Beaujolais post, asking if I could write something on Italian wine. This thought had already crossed my mind, but there are so many to cover (lots of grape varietals, and blends). I will try and begin with a variety of grape that is not widely known, Corvino. Amarone is a top wine for the seasoned enthusiast, but it's less expensive clone is worthy of a mention- 'Baby' Amarone. This is a  very 'Sexy' Italian you might want to slip into bed with, along with a snack tray of cheese, meats, biscuits, and a good movie, with that special someone...You! Yes you, treat yourself!

 My 'Partner in Wine', Adrienne and I had this fantastic glass of 'Baby' Amarone at a local establishment in Princeton, Salt Creek Grille months back. I must confess there menu/kitchen is horribly inconsistent, but the bar/lounge area with live jazz, Wednesday half price wine, and appetizers are so worth the trip. Believe me this is not a commercial. They are over priced, and I am not sure why the kitchen just does not pull through after two years of being in business. Everyone complains about it. The interior clearly speaks $$$, and I have been wanting to say that. I did. Okay, back to the wine, we had this lovely wine one evening with a plate of red tomato sauce with a round of goat cheese floating on top, and a side of crostini.

The pairing was clearly a good one. I realized we do not drink this wine as often as in the past. The price is right and the pairings are endless. My experience and love affair with wine like this evolved after Hubby and I decided we wanted to bring a unique concept of wine tasting to Dallas in the 90's. So begins my wanting to share my wine experiences with you here...

Let me introduce you to one of my business websites, CookAppeal Wine & Food website...

The top five reasons you should join our CookAppeal Wine & Food group:
  1. Can you think of an easier way to meet new friends who enjoy food and wine as much as you do?
  2. We will answer food- and wine-related questions that you’ve always wanted to ask, but were afraid to!
  3. Imagine all the delicious homemade exotic and ethnic foods you can enjoy—without making a mess in your kitchen, breaking a sweat OR cleaning up after wards?
  4. You’ll be introduced to some very Sexy Italians (wines)!
  5. One look at our hip logo and you KNOW we’re going to be a fun-loving group! 
Our own personal experiences with wine education in the beginning was like many, trial and error; which is not bad, but we began to realize it helps to have a starting point. Taking classes, and bringing in some of the top educators into our tastings began to open our eyes. Back when having palates for steak and Cabernet, seafood and chardonnay was the cliche, and then became a faux pas we decided to step outside the box and expand the combination's.

Once we expanded our palates for global experiences, things started to click. Then hubby was slapped up side the head with big bold flavors of Italian wines. Reds like Super-Tuscan, Barolo, Amarone, Barbaresco, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and Brunello. I had to adjust my own attitude about bold wines, and I fell hard for a few Italians...

[I paired a Beef Carpaccio-Sunchoke Salad with the Masi pictured below.]

Wine classes taught us words such as 'Sexy', and 'Super-Tuscan' in reference to Italian wines. This super seeded what we had learned from French Appellation system and standards that already intimidated me. France and Italy are the two leading wine makers in the world, but Italy was the oldest know wine producer in the world. In 2005, Italy's production was about 20% of the global total. Second only to France, which produces 26%. Italy's classification system and attitudes on wine making is a modern concept mixed with old  that reflects current realities.

By going back to the beginnings of Italian wine making via Etruscan and Greek settlers we see they enjoyed wine long before France had jumped on the band wagon. They have four rating systems- basically two main specifications, two under each category. Understanding these basics can help understand their complicated wines down the road, and how they developed wine like 'Baby' Amarone. Bare with me.

Table Wine:

* Vino da Tavola (VDT) - Denotes wine from Italy. NOTE: this is not always synonymous with other countries' legal definitions of 'table wine'. The appellation indicates either an inferior quaffing wine, or one that does not follow current wine law. Some quality wines do carry this appellation.

* Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) - Denotes wine from a more specific region within Italy. This appellation was created for the "new" wines of Italy, those that had broken the strict, old wine laws but were wines of great quality. Before the IGT was created, quality "Super Tuscan" wines such as Tignanello and Sassicaia were labeled Vino da Tavola.


* Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC)
* Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG)

Both DOC and DOCG wines refer to zones which are more specific than an IGT, and the permitted grapes are also more specifically defined. The main difference between a DOC and a DOCG is that the latter must pass a blind taste test for quality in addition to conforming to the strict legal requirements to be designated as a wine from the area in question. Presently, there are 120 IGT zones. In February 2006 there were 311 DOC plus 32 DOCG appellations, according to the PDF document V.Q.P.R.D. Vini (DOCG – DOC): Elenco e Riferimenti Normativi al 07.02.2006, published by the Italian Ministry of Agriculture.
 - Information: Wines Around The World, Italian Wines

I do not want to bore you with too much information, but it does help to understand labeling when looking for a decent wine. Some bottled Amarone, and 'Baby' Amarone wines are labeled (and can be confusing, as it is not their name) Corvino, due to the wine has to have at least 60-70% Corvino grapes- Plus Veronese,  Rondinella, Molinara which are chosen for having the highest sugar concentration for a successful wine. Concentrated as it is, it is exposed to Noble Rot, then store in Slavonian casks for from 5 to 8 years and in bottle for 1 year.Wow isn't the word 'rot' appetizing? Cheese has mold!

My 'Partner in Wine' Adrienne Turner (who writes about budget wines) will tell you that there are bargains out there, but you have to know what you are looking for in a good bottle. Matter of fact we discovered this is a good $12 - 20 a bottle of Italian 'variety' of wine that goes well with many ingredients. HINT: A great way to try it before you buy- By the glass wine lists in restaurants, and at a bargain of half price like Salt Creek Grill. Ask to see the bottle, read the label. Take a camera photo if you like it.

The parent wine, Amarone is a wonderful concentrated style Italian table wine from Veneto, Italy. These wines were groomed for quality, and are meant to be aged to balance out the acidity of the tannins. They let the grapes dry in the sun for about four months in a raisin process. Once this process is complete they add liquid back in, and aged in oak barrels for ten years. This technique created one of the more expensive wines of Italy, but a new and quicker style were inspired and introduced by Masi Vineyards, 'Baby' Amarone.

The Italians do not waste a trace of the precious dried Amarone grapes (just like in their cooking). Winemakers found that adding the pumice of the Amarone, the grape solids leftover after fermentation, to Valpolicella, they created something quite special. This process is called 'Ripasso', or re-passed.

'Baby' Amarone; 'Ripasso' refers to a Valpolicella wine style that's made by re-fermenting a young wine on an Amarone's leftover dried skins and lees (literally dead yeast, but it sounds much nicer if you call it "lees"). The process helps the wine to develop far beyond a typical Valpolicella, into a richer, more Amarone-style wine -- but in less time (and with less work), hence the moniker "baby" Amarone- Hence the cheaper price tag. Higher end bottles however can take up to ten years of bottle age.

A visit to Italy's wine regions is the best education if you can afford the trip, but local venues like retailers and Eno Tecca's (wine bars, with small plates) can help. Make notes. Remember many wines are meant to serve with foods, especially regional cuisine of the country of origin. If you did not care for something, do not give up. Try the wine with a meal (following hints below*), and then decide if it is for you! Grab a friend, or go alone. Wine tastings are a great way to pick the brain of the distributors or growers who are pouring the wines.

I have been told, read, and experienced the fact that unless you have a palate for heavy bold wines, then Amarone is not one you would jump into. Chianti classico is always a favorite of crowds, but it is a much lighter wine in comparison. So no two Italians are alike, but I encourage you to once again, step outside the box of your norm. 'Partners in Wine' both suggest you go for a 'Baby' Amarone over a 'Super Tuscan', and ease into bed with that 'Sexy' Italian!

Wine Suggestions-

Tommasi Viticoltori "Ripasso" Valpolicella, Calgery, $21
Masi Campofiorin (Amarone Classico), 09, Wine Spectator Rating 90- This wine is a keeper in our cellar, and is very drinkable and compatible with many foods, as well as a friendly party wine/gift, $15-17.99, depending on state, we spent as little as $12.99 in Dallas

This wine pairs well with most foods, and aged Amarone is no stranger to spicy food cultures, such as Asian regional cuisine. Meats and hard aged cheeses.
Cesari Amarone, 05, Wine Spectator, 92-  Slightly sweet currant aromas and flavors, colored with nuts and vanilla. Medium- to full-bodied, with a clean, fruity palate and fine tannins. Drink within purchase for maximum quality.

5 S's of Wine Tasting: Not laws, but helpful hints to enjoying wine!

See the wine- look at the wine at an angle against a sheet of white paper. Learn to see the color variances of each bottle and style of wine. (not that important in the learning process; will come to you as you learn)

Swirl- One of my pet peeves is the type of wine glasses restaurants use in wine service. Larger and proper shaped glasses allow for swirling, which allows for air to enter the wine and allowing wines to breath and releases the aromas of the wine.

Sniff- Another reason for proper wine glass. Higher end glasses are large at the bottom and get smaller at the top to allow the aroma to concentrate at the nose once the glass is sitting upon the mouth. By closing your eyes you should be able to take in the smells of each wine, as their bouquet opens up to your senses. For instance is the wine fruit forward, earthy, or oaky.

Sip- Now, sip the wine. Your mouth will confirm what your sense of smell has detected. A dry red wine with tannins will leave you with what they call the “pucker factor” completely drying out your mouth at the first sip. A fruity sweetened wine will sit on the tongue and play across the taste buds delighting the palate and leaving the mouth moist.

Swish & Spit- These are two extras hints for anyone attending wine tastings or classes. Many times you have so much presented that you can get 'burn out', or 'taste bud kill' by drinking and swallowing so many at one tasting, or class. Swishing wine, and then spitting it out the first go around even with casual drinking can help coat your mouth, so that the next drink should present itself with a more palatable and enjoyable drink. Also this helps if you did not like the first sip, and will help you gain more sense of its true flavor. Rinsing with water in between wines is always a good idea!

Savor- As you gently swirl the wine around in your mouth savor the flavor. You are checking for the balance of the blends; for each wine bottle is not just the end product of one type of grape, but a carefully planned blend of several types. Some wines contain not just the juice of the grape, but also the stems and the seeds.

I recommend that you 'Swish', and then swallow, then repeat for a true tasting of the wine before re-tasting or eating with food. As you develop a confidence in wine tasting, and expand your palate this stuff will just come naturally. One does not need to feel they are a snob in doing so. I myself love tasting wines, but often find myself done after about four wines during a tasting. I will then stick to one I really enjoyed, people watch, and listen to conversation about opinions of the wines served. Great lessons are learned in these social settings.


Extra Tidbit (I really tried to make this a short piece)-  Dante himself, exiled from Florence, is supposed to have spent some time in this region. In fact, bibliophiles obsessed at finding earthly and “real” inspirations to his heaven and hell, apparently have found similarities between some terrain in Valpolicella, described in Divine Comedy. Local legend has it that some of his lost cantos may in fact be hidden in the home of his descendants.

Beef Meets Sunchoke Salad recipe from above...