Thursday, January 10, 2008

Pronto! Italian Wines Calling

This year one of my resolutions is to learn more about Italian wines. I'm only ten days into the adventure, and I'm already finding out just how much there is to know. With twenty wine regions, dozens of native grape varieties found nowhere else, and a complicated system of appellations, it's enough to make anyone's head spin. (click on map from Siena Imports to enlarge)

Rather than tackling the situation from every direction at once, I've decided to focus on one or two appellations a month, and try to drink at least one red and one white wine from each region, as well as either a a sparkler or a dessert wine. What's up first? In January, I'll start out in the far north-east corner in Friuli-Venezia. For February we'll make a diagonal sweep to the south-west and visit Sicily. And in March we'll head north just a bit to Campania. Where next? Well, that depends. It's not that easy to find wines from Molise in LA, as it turns out, so the next stop will be determined by what I can get my hands on. As always, I'll be seeking out wines that are distinctive and show lots of varietal character but are less than $20. With the declining power of the dollar and the relative rarity of some of the wines, this may not always be possible--but I will try.

If you are also interested in learning more about Italian wines, here are some resources that I've found helpful the last few weeks:

1. Vino Italiano!, also known as the February Wine Book Club selection, is chock full of reference information, contains lists of Italian native grape varieties, and lists of producers. The chapters are very readable, too, so if you've been on the fence about joining in and reading along with the rest of us, I highly recommend it.

2. Two blogs are well worth subscribing to: Terry Hughes's Mondosapore, and Alfonso Cevola's On the Wine Trail in Italy. Both of these blogs contain lots of reliable information about the region's wine, but what's more they convey that in Italy, wine is part of life--not something for scorecards. If you can manage Italian, add Aristide,, and Vino al Vino to your reader while you're at it. Been planning to learn Italian? Here's your chance.

3. About learning Italian. Italian wine names can seem like a mouthful. Tasters A and B from the blog Smells Like Grape led me to an online Italian Wine Pronunciation Guide at WineIntro, as well as to a glossary of Italian wine terms. Kudos to the Tasters for finding these resources. Now everybody can go back to #2 and actually try reading some Italian wine blogs. Seriously, Americans are not the world leaders in foreign language skills. Why not TRY to expand your linguistic horizons, all in the cause of learning about some great wine?

4. Those labels. If you can figure out how to read an American label, you can figure this out, too. Wine Library has a great article that gives a simple explanation of the DOCG/DOC/IGT system of appellations and defines some common label terms. The Wine Lovers Page has a side-by-side comparison of US, French, and Italian labels so that you can see it's not that complicated, it's just different.

5. That appellation system. Yes, it takes a bit of getting used to, but there is a helpful article with diagram at Zigzagando. The reason it's a bit tough is because it's so quintessentially Italian, with lots of fuzzy areas and overlap, not to mention escape hatches for those creative individuals who don't want to grow approved grapes in their vineyards. This mixture of regulation, deliberate fuzziness, and creative side-stepping is what makes Italy great. How else did they manage to jumpstart the Renaissance? If none of what I just said made sense, go read the article. You'll come out realizing that great wines can be found at every appellation level, and you'll feel better about your chances of drinking great Italian wine.

So if Italian wines are calling you, don't get all anxious. Just shout "Pronto!" and get started.


Unknown said...

Pronto! Dr. Debs, very happy to help you to enter in the "jungle" of Italian wines, Doc-Docg-Igt, etc
Franco Ziliani from Vino al Vino

Wilf G.K said...

Wow, Dr.Debs what an educational, well done entry to your blog.I have bookmarked some of the links you mentioned. If only Amazon would hurry and deliver my Vino Italiano book so I can get a better understanding of the Italian wine scene.

Orion Slayer said...

You rock! What an awesome post, and very timely. I have been planning to go to a local wine shop that specializes in Italian wines and have them assemble a sample case to help me learn about Italian wines. The references you listed in this post will be a great help. I'm looking forward to getting my copy of the book club selection. 2008 is looking great!

Dr. Debs said...

Franco, mille grazie! I am enjoying your blog immensely, and am so glad I found it. Wilf and Orion Slayer, happy to help out. I found the pyramid incredibly useful myself, and actually printed the map out (geography NOT my strongest suit). Orion Slayer, that's a great idea and I can't wait to hear the details of the case when you get it.

Unknown said...

Hi Dr. Debs,

Your idea is a great and making me really wish my copy of the book would arrive in the post soon.

I would recommend ensuring that Alto Adige is on your list for this year. I was introduced to one of their great Gewürztraminers. It really made me re-evaluate my opinion of the grape and expections for an Italian white wine.

Alfonso Cevola said...

Grazie Dottore Debs:

I'll be looking back at your blog..
I bet Roberto @ Wine Expo in Santa Monica can hook you up with Molise wines. If anyone is gonna have them in L.A. it will be them.

Cheers and thanks for the props!


Lizzy said...

Hi, Dr.Debs!
If you need some - little - help for wines from Veneto (do you know Amarone della Valpolicella?) I'm here...


Dr. Debs said...

Sean, Alto Aldige is certainly on my list. And if I don't get through everything this year, I'll just roll on into 2009. Thanks for the suggestion of WineExpo, Alfonso. I always think of them for champagne, but of course they are known for their Italian wines, too. And thanks to you, Lizzy, for the link to your site which I've put in the sidebar. I will be looking to you when I get to the Veneto!