Saturday, February 19, 2011

ITALY: Need to Know, Too

From its calf to its toe, Central and Southern Italy produce an ocean of everyday wine for thirsty regional consumption. Here we find mostly DOC regions. A small portion of this wine has fortunately evolved to higher EU standards to become DOCG; but, just about all of it has ancient origins.

South of Emiglia-Romana, and east of Tuscany lies the hilly Adriatic region of Marche. Here Conero DOCG is based on the native red grape Montepulciano, and grown in the hills overlooking seaside Ancona. Thought once to be extinct, the region's ancient red Vernaccia grape, produces Marches other DOCG wine, sparkling Vernaccia di Serrapetrona. Venerable Verdicchio, and old world white grape, is the base for the regions generously consumed and best white DOC wines produced throughout the region.

Like Marche to the North, Abruzzo is mostly mountains and hills that run to the eastern sea. The regions only DOCG wine, also made from Montepulciano grapes, can be found in its extreme northernmost  zone, Montepulciaiano d'Abruzzi Colline TeramaneTrebbiano, a native variety, produces the regions best white DOC wines. A reductive vino cotto or cooked wine, is a regional specialty here, much like Portugal's Maderia.
Without any DOCG appellations, Latium can only claim to be the home of Frascati DOC, a white blend of Malvasia Bianca and Trebbiano grapes. It can be found in dry, sweet or sparkling styles. Of note is a simple wine with a big thousand year reputation, Est! Est!! Est!!! di Montefiascone DOC.  It is based in a similar white grape blend, and then benefits from centuries of apostolic marketing following its discovery by a bishop.

Originating in Greece, high acid red Aglianico, produces the popular Taurasi DOCG in Campania, and Aglianico del Vulture DOCG in neighboring Basilicata. The regions white DOCG's are from the Greek introduced Greco grapes, Greco du Tufa, and raisiny Fiano da Avellino produced from the Fiano grape.

Apulia, the prolific wine producing heel of the boot, does not have a DOCG, in-spite of being one of the country's largest wine producers. Red grape dominated, it is the home of Salice Salentino DOC and Brindisi DOC, prominent among its 24 DOC appellations. It is home to red Negromaro and Primitivo grapes.

Calabria, Italy's toe, has its most famous DOC, Ciro', a rosso from the ancient Galioppo grape that it is said has been produced here for thousands of years. Also notable is Greco di Bianco DOC, a dessert wine made from dried greco grapes along the regions coastline. Documents indicate that this specialty has been produced here since the 8th century BC!
One of Italy's largest producers, Sicily, is most famously known for Marsala DOC, a dry or sweet fortified wine produced on its western edge. White Cataratto Bianco grapes dominate the islands landscape, and its only DOCG, Cerasuolo di Vittoria, is from the red grape Nero d'Avola. Two important dessert wines are produced here, Moscato di Pantelleria DOC, and Malvasia delle Lipari DOC, it made from malvasia grapes on the islands of Lipari.
Vermentino di Gallura comes from the white grape(Vermentino) of Spanish origin that is Sardinia's only DOCG zone. On the other side of the island, a bone dry, partially oxidized wine, Vernaccia di Oristano DOC, from the local white Vernaccia variety is produced.  It is said to be reminiscent of a simple Sherry. Continuing today to reflect its Spanish past, the most widely planted red grapes on this island are Connonau, also known as Garancha, and Carignano(carignan).

With a historical perspective, it probably is important to realize that Italy was not united as one kingdom until the last part of the 19th century.  Prior to that, these independent city states that sit at the crossroads of the old world were visited time and again by foreign powers. Yet, throughout it all, century upon century, with local wine traditions firmly in place, it has remained distinctly Italian.  For one of the world's foremost producers, it must be the wine. Salute!

'Wine is Life' -Petronius

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