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Wednesday, February 10, 2010


In the picture: Ripe Barbera grape on the vine.

There are over 2000 wine grapes variaties that are indegenous to Italy, but only about a score of them are really essential to know. The wines produced from these grapes are either known by the region's name such as Barolo and Chianti which are produced from the Nebbiolo and Sangiovese grape varieties respectively, or with the actual grape name as for example Barbera or Trebbiano which are both well known grape varieties.

The following are the grape varieties which have made Italian wine world famous:

Aglianico is a dark, brooding and intense red grape variety which is primarily grown in Basilicata and Campania. Its wines are usually fiercely tannic, smoky and full of robust berry flavours. Aglianico wine ages very well, even for decades for the best vintages.
Top wines made by the Aglianico grape variety come under the title TAURASI & TAURASI RISERVA which are produced by various winemakers.

Barbera which is grown in Piedmont lives in the shadow of the Nebbiolo variety, but when carefully made and not over oaked, Barbera is responsible for some really elegant, medium-bodied reds that carry sour-cherry and spice flavours along a line of vibrant acidity.
Wine examples: Barbera D'Alba; Barbera D'Asti.

Catarratto is a Sicilian white grape variety which is the second most planted IN Italy. Some new wines are being produced from this variety and is also used in the production of Marsala.

Cortese di Gavi as it is commonly known is the white grape which is grown in the provinces of Alessandria and Asti and is the variety that is used to produce the DOCG classified Gavi Di Gavi wines. Cortese wines tend to be medium bodied with notes of limes. The wines can be aggresively acidic but recent wine making techniques such as malolactic fermentation and oak barrel fermentation has tempered this effect to produce a smooth and crisp white wine.

CORVINA, RONDINELLA AND MOLINARA: The grapes from which the famous Amarone, Ripasso di Valpolicella and the Valpolicella Classico Superiore are produced in the Veneto region of the Tre Venezie.

Fiano is another white grape variety, it is exotic and grown also in the Campania district. It makes luscious, full-bodied, floral white wines marked by rich pear and honey-spice flavours. A subregion of Campania which creates the most sought after bottlings is Fiano Di Avellino.

This is the principal grape that is used to produce SOAVE. Garganega wines are usually light to medium-bodied, with citrus and melon fruit flavours and an almondy finish.

This is another Italian, robust red grape variety which is planted throughout central Italy, but which mainly comes from Abruzzo and the Marche regions. This grape creates forceful reds with soft tannins and plum flavours and can be found in different brands titled Montepulciano d'Abruzzo and Rosso Conero.

This is without a doubt Piedmont's most famous grape, responsible for both the presigious BAROLO and BARBARESCO wines, and which is an extremely difficult grape to cultivate. This grape is growm successfully almost nowhere else, that is why vintage Barolo and barbaresco wines are normally expensive. When young these wines are often astringent and tannic and sometime the taste jarrs. Given an aging period of 5 to ten years in the bottle, Nebbiolo's great perfume of roses, herbs, cherries and plums emerges, and tannins soften to a silken grace.

Nero d'Avola is found throughout Sicily and is now also successfully grown in Australia and California. This wine embodies an ideal Mediterranean warmth with it generous, ripe, black-fruit flavours and soft enveloping tannins. It is a full-bodied red wine with good alcohol content.

Primitivo is a red grape variety gtown principally in Apulia. It may have remained relatively obscure had its similarities to Californian Zinfandel not been noticed. There are varietal DOC's for Primitivo di Gioia and Primitivo di Manduria. Most wines labeled Primitivo are highly alcoholic.

Pinot Bianco is mainly grown in the North of Italy, particularly in the Fruili and Alto Adige regions. Though more full bodied than Pinot Grigio, it still makes light-bodied white wines with flavours of pears and green apples.

Sangiovese is probably Italy's most famous red grape variety. Sangiovese is grown in the pivotal grape growing region of Tuscany and is consequently grown throughout central Italy. Sangiovese is responsible for everything from bargain-priced, reds such as some Chiantis, to the best aromatic, complex and age worthy wines such as CHIANTI RISERVA, BRUNELLO DI MONTALCINO and VINO NOBILE.

This is the most widely planted white grape variety in Italy. Trebbianno mostly produces bland and forgettable lightwines. Yet it does make some appealing, affordable wines and in the hands of a good winemaker it can produce a luscious, white wine with floral aromas and even honeyed texture.

This grape is confined to Italy's Marche region and has been awarded two DOC's within Marche with Dei Castelli di Jesi and di Matelica. This grape variety is known for its subtle delicacy in both its fragrance and flavour, with fresh herbs followed by crisp, lemony and citrus notes.

Vermentino is one of Italy's most compelling white grape varieties. It is grown up and down Italy, but mostly in Liguria, Tuscany and Sardinia. Wine from this grape variety is normally fresh with focused acidity, savoury, light herbal flavours and a complex mineral finish.

The unique, red wine grape, that grows only in its majectic style in the city of Montefalco in Umbria. Strong, austere, full-bodied and full of fruit.

Two other Italian wine grape varieties of note are the MALVASIA for deeply coloured whites and possibly light coloured reds, and NEGROAMARO which produces rich red wines which require ageing before it is in its prime to be drunk. GRILLO in Sicily is also making a comeback in crisp and affordable white wine for everyday drinking with med fish cuisine and pasta.

Sunday, February 7, 2010


Selecting a wine from private cellar.
As not every wine can be aged in the bottle, neither is any place suitable for storing a good wine and keep its character intact. Before deciding whether to keep a bottle, take note of these tips.

Place: Wine needs peace and quiet to evolve over time and, just like us humans when wanting to rest, the best place for it is where there are no abrupt changes in temperature, there is little noise, excessive humidity or sudden movements. Hopefully, the rest should all take place in one and the same place so as not to alter the aging process.

Bottle's position: The best position for a bottle is lying down. In this way, the cork is always in contact with the wine and it does not dry up, as this could cause filtration. Also, it avoids further oxygen from entering and the wine will evolve quicker. Quick consumption wines may be kept upright; they also usually have shorter corks that saturate quicker.

Temperature: The temperature of the storage place must be kept constant, because any changes cause the liquid to expand or contract, which could cause the cork to pop out and then the wine will be lost. The ideal storage temperature is between 16 deg.C and 17deg.C. At this level, the wine evolves slower and better. Ideal humidity is likely to be around 70%. A drier atmosphere would cause the cork to compress and let wine out, whilst a higher one could give rise to mildew on the cork.

Light: Wines prefer darkness to daylight. Sunlight makes the reds lose their intensity of colour, whilst the whites acquire a yellowish and golden tone. The best place is a well closed cupboard, windowless room, or if you have it a cellar.

Wine Choices: Now we come to the wine choice which is the most important aspect of this feature and wine connoisseurship, as the wine must be primarily and intrinsically capable of being aged.

Cheap wine found in supermarkets, white, rose' as well as red, is usually produced to be drunk immediately, or within two years of production.

Very few white wines can be aged for a long time, for example Chardonnay and Pinot Gris are only recommended to be aged as from one (1) year up to only six (6) years for exceptionally good vintages, from the grape vintage year. Only certain white wine styles and special vinatges can be aged successfully beyond this, but of course like in everything else there are exceptions. It is known that some white wines have been aged for up to 30 years and very recently I had the opportunity to taste-test and review a superlative, Spanish white vintage wine produced in 1964 from a blend of Macabeo and Malvasia grapes. After 46 years  this wine has continuously evolved superbly into a  supelative white wine. So as I said before, there are exceptions, but these are few and far between.

Prior to buying red wine to be aged, I normally do several things and /or reviews: First is the winemaker and his vinification methods;  the next is the choice of wine, grape variety, blend and  vintage; thirdly I always buy or acquire at least two bottles of the wine that I want to keep, one bottle to be taste-tested at my leisure, blindly in comparison with similar wines, by itself, with food, etc, and the second bottle is to be aged, only if I like the wine in the first place.
I have seen various private cellars with a number of inferior wines stored in them together with some very good vintages. Wines to be aged must be bottled in glass bottles and must have the correct cork stopper.

Wine grape varietals that I choose to age up to 10 years include good vinatges produced from: Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Primitivo/Zinfandel and some other less well known grape varietals.

If I am aging wine beyond ten years than a very careful choice of a selection of the following varietals, from exceptional vintages and renowned winemakers, are made: Aglianico of Taurasi, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Nebbiolo and Syrah/Shiraz.

Other good varietals can be safely and successfully aged up to five years, and after all, wine is produced to be drunk and enjoyed so I normally have a selection of my favourite wine styles on my table all the time.