We recommend some excellent wines to complement destination and local cuisine.
Italy’s ‘slow food’ movement – an ethical and a green focus on sourcing ingredients as close to home as possible – naturally applies to wine too. Where would the world’s most beloved cuisine be without all those amazing wines? But the trend for ‘slow’ wines means that sometimes all the best stuff is appreciatively digested before it even has the chance to leave Italian soil. The solution? Well, you’ll have to go there and try them for yourself, just like we did.
An additional positive aspect arising from the slow food movement is that travelling to a specific region will now often allow you to try more food and wines produced nearby and not just those already known to international tourists as more and more restaurants embrace the slow food philosophy that first rose to prominence in Piedmont. Many of these wines and local ingredients will be new and delightful to the visitor; hardly known outside of Italy and produced in smaller quantities with artisan craft and love.
Here is our recommendation of some great wines produced in or very near destinations in Italy, both places that are both global destination favourites and others a little more off the beaten track. We also offer some suggestions of local regional cuisine that complements them perfectly. Furthermore, they’re as pleasing to the purse as they are to the palette: you might be able to get some of these at home through specialist dealers, but you’ll pay a far more reasonable price for them at home in Italy.
Lazio –or Latium as it’s known in English- is Rome’s closest wine-producing region that starts practically in the suburbs. It offers a wide range of wines from a variety of grapes. But, perhaps its most famous white are the white Frascatis, produced in both still and sparkling – spumante- forms; both dry and sweet varieties. If, when in Rome, you really want to do as the Romans do, then reach for the Frascati. Dubbed “the wine of the pope and the people”, because its production – and favour with people of all classes – dates back to Ancient Roman times while it was later adopted as the table wine of some of the Renaissance’s most discerning popes. When in Rome look out for Principe Pallavicini ‘Stillato’ Passito di Malvasia Puntinata. Produced in small quantities on the estate of the Pallavicinis – one of Italy’s oldest noble families – the malvasia grape is dominant (Frasacatis are traditionally a blend of grape varieties). A lush nose of peach and citrus, this is a white wine brimming with vim and vigour. Its strong character makes it a fine companion for white meats, such as Roman-style chicken with peppers or the quintessentially Roman veal involtini.
Tuscany’s wines are as world famous as its romantic landscape that has appealed to the roaming spirit for centuries; from medieval Flemish painters to the E. M. Forster characters. A stone’s throw from Florence, the Baj-Macario family produces excellent wines on the estate surrounding their twelfth-century castle. With a philosophy that epitomises ‘slow wine’, they start with perfecting the grape (the sangiovese and canaiolo varieties) before they even think about wine. So, when in Florence or at their restaurant beside the castle, look out for Castello del Trebbio Chianti Rufina DOCG. A quintessentially Tuscan wine, its heady bouquet of morello cherries and spices pre-empt the richness of the palate. This is one of those wines that offer an ideal introduction to any newbie who doesn’t yet understand how a glass of liquid can offer an actual journey; from warm promise to a silky smooth arrival and a long, lingering finish. A great match with Tuscan sausage or pasta with wild boar ragu, it’s a wine that is definitely grown-up and carries weight without ever losing a luxuriant sleekness.
Colli di Luni is a DOC appellation for red and white wines from the coastal hills where Tuscany rolls down to meet the Ligurian coast between Massa and La Spezia, gateway to the beautiful Cinque Terre. Colli di Luna wines are produced from a variety of grapes but, if you’re visiting the region, with its delicious seafood offer, a Colli made from the vermentino grape will often prove exactly the right choice. Although vermentino Colli di Lunis can vary – for example, some are exceptionally smooth sipping while others can offer a little more vigorous acidity – there are a few things that most of these pale yellow whites have in common. Any good one will offer generous pleasure to the nose; robust aroma. If you’re scanning the picturesque enotecas of the cliff-clinging villages or dining in one of La Spezia’s laid back restaurants, we suggest you keep an eye out for Vermentino Colli di Luni DOC Santa Caterina. A swimming floral bouquet of citrus, flowers, herbs and mint; this is a wonderfully full-bodied dry wine, rounded yet smooth and that special sea salt after-note to perfectly complement delicious fresh Ligurian-style fish or seafood.
The Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, north of Venice and bordered by Slovenia, Austria and the Adriatic, was all once part of the Venetian Republic. It stills shows in its viniculture. This elevated area in the Dolomites produces wines that once graced the tables of Doges and wealthy merchants in their canal-side palazzos. So, if you’re in that most romantic of cities and feeling that the occasion calls for celebration, resist the obvious choices in bubbles and ask for Eugenio Collavini Ribolla Gialla Spumante. Made with tender loving care by one of the most respected winemakers in the region, this is also one of the most traditional. Eugenio Collavini is known for combining age-old regional traditions with New World influences. But historic records of the vineyard producing this sparkling wine from the ribolla grape date back to 1299. Known for the irresistible richness of its flavour – Baccaccio listed overindulgence in Ribolla wines in particular in his 14th century treatise on the sin of gluttony – this straw yellow wine maintains a complexity that is often overshadowed by the fizz in many other sparkling wines. As a result, it makes a more satisfying sundowner with snacks than most, but it also works well as an accompaniment to dishes like Venetian “wet” risotto with peas and mint or octopus salad with lemon.
Sicily’s wines have long been appreciated – Lord Nelson was a great fan when the island was under British control and did a lot to boost the appreciation of Sicilian wines back home in England, for example. If you’re exploring ancient cities like Syracuse and Palermo, or taking it easy in one of the island’s numerous pretty coastal fishing villages, keep an eye open for Feudo Principi di Butera Grillo. Made from the grillo grape favoured for its hardiness to Sicily’s sweltering temperatures, winemaker Claudio Galosi creates this standout wine on an estate with an aristocratic (royal, even) pedigree in viniculture dating back over a thousand years. Zesty, with an aroma of fruit –citrus and the visceral hint of subtropical pineapple – and Mediterranean herbs, it’s a well-rounded white; the fresh, crisp fullness of Sicilian sun seeping away to a pleasant mineral hint. Order traditional Sicilian tuna tartare or pasta with fresh sardines and fennel to accompany this delectable white and you’ll remember the experience forever.
High in the alpine Alto Adige, the German-speaking region of Italy (yes, there is one!) winemakers produce some of the most commanding white wines from a wide variety of grapes. But, it’s definitely worth looking out for those produced from the sylvaner grape if you want something a little different as this tends to be less frequently exported than others more familiar to the German-speaking regions of Europe. If you’re exploring in the mountains near Bolzano or even holidaying at Lake Garda in the glacial valleys below, it’s definitely worth keeping an eye out for Eisacktaler Kellerei Cantina Valle Isarco Sylvaner on the wine list of you lakeside eatery or on the racks of the local wine merchant. A powerful white that comes close to the late-season aromas, raisin flavours and complex transitions more usually associated with Austrian gewürztraminer, the freshness and dry finish of this lovely wine is the perfect marriage for the freshwater fish dishes of the region but even plucky enough to take on the rich flavours of local duck delicacies.
Piedmont’s Barolo Valley is almost a byword for fine wines these days. While Italians have always admired the region’s flare for the vine, recent decades have seen wines from the Barolo become a veritable commodity on the international connoisseur circuit. And that’s brought a price tag to match with it. No one could fault you for ordering one of Renato Ratti’s own DOCG Barolos, produced in the shadow of a 13th century abbey, near the hilltop town of La Morra. If you feel like paying for a seriously sophisticated red (although still reasonable compared with many of the inflated prices for Barolo), Renato Ratti Colombe Dolcetto d’Alba offers a real wine experience at a price that warrants celebration. It’s a highly adaptable red with an aroma of cherries and plums. Its youthful tannin gives it a sense of lightness without denying the warmth of a good red. This makes it the ideal wine for a restaurant where someone fancies the salmon carpaccio, another the vegetarian spinach and walnut dish and the others, the meatballs: its quotidian flexibility makes it good with all of them.
The problem with sparkling wines is that there are so many of them in Italy. A cheap ‘n’ cheerful bottle of prosecco can turn out to be a little treasure discovered by accident, or unpleasant acidity that lingers in all the wrong ways. But, if you’re in the mood for bubbles in Bergamo – or the nearby lake towns around Como and Garda—you can’t go wrong with Ca’ del Bosco Franciacorta Brut Millesimato DOCG. The region’s franciacorta sparkling wines are not nearly as well-known as other Italian sparkling wines, but they have been cited by critics as amongst the best. And, Ca’ del Bosco’s brut has been compared favourably with good champagnes at nearly three times the price. Maurizio Zanella blends chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot blanc to produce complex, layered wines that have the dry sparkle of champagne, but a mountain-fresh savoury nature. This is a very different taste bud sensation from prosecco – which is light and delicate when it’s good and a glass of sweet-n-sour when it’s bad. Ultimately it doesn’t require food – it’s the perfect aperitivo – but if you need to eat when you drink, it complements the traditional Lombard tortelli di zucca (ravioli stuffed with sweet pumpkin) perfectly.