Amarone, Sassicaia, Bricco dell’Uccellone plus a hundred more excellent labels. Italian wine has certainly come a long way. Today, whoever looks at the great French reds and noble whites with a twinge of envy is guilty of the unforgivable sin of provincialism. Think only of the fact that the world’s best-selling Italian reds are the three Modena Lambruscos (the pinnacle of which is Sorbara). Since the dawning of the art of fine wine, Italian grapes have been appreciated for their unparalleled quality, immediately carving a niche on the wine lists of the top restaurants and the trendiest wine bars.
Italy’s whites and, above all, its reds have achieved cult status. Metamorphosing into luxury products of which many gourmets quite rightly sing their praises, finding them easy complements for dishes that can trace their ancestry to the most ancient of regional gastronomic traditions.
Wine was one of the first products exported by Italy, driving art and culture and spinning a common thread of refined and polished Italian style, to which fashion lends the final touch. On the other hand, wine is the most complete form of the producer’s material and spiritual culture.
THE GREAT ITALIAN WINES
The abundance of precious Tuscan reds is the best enticement to sample the meat dishes of the region that has inspired artists to create priceless masterpieces, on paper and canvas, in stone and marble. What other region can boast of elixirs such as Brunello di Montalcino, which refined palates acclaim as Italy’s most aristocratic wine – but is it still worth classifying or is it easier to judge the best wines as first among equals? – alongside the intricate lace façade of Orvieto Cathedral?
Where else but Italy can we find the robust wines of Salento teamed with the soft and luscious curves of Lecce’s baroque architectures? Food, wine, art and stunning views cradle all of Italy’s regions in their embrace, even though a more skilled marketing approach would no doubt enhance and increase sales to the rest of the world.
AN INVITATION TO TRAVEL
Italy, the preferred destination of the “grand tours”, like those in vogue a couple of centuries ago, but also for those Italians with a discerning eye and sophisticated taste, who find themselves spoilt for choice. The wine lists have never been as rich as they are today, even though they remain exclusive to Italy and are hard to find beyond its borders. For example, let me invite you to discover some excellent yet little-known wines that also have the no lesser advantage of an eminently good quality/price ratio.
Gutturnio, a wine produced in the Piacentino area that used to grace the table of the Farnese nobles, should be tasted with a dish of those splendid pasta dumplings made from durum wheat which the locals call pisaréi and Italians gnocchettini, covered in a savoury sauce of pinto beans and wild porcini mushrooms.
Or sample the ruby red and brick-hued Teroldego Rotaliano with a plate of Trentino canederli (bread dumplings) accompanied by Tyrolese speck to transform a peasant dish into a feast worthy of royalty. Dishes born from plain and simple fare that have been quick to appear on the princes of menus. But labels precious enough to be auctioned at Sotheby’s garland all the excellent regional cuisines of Italy, which take the place of a nonexistent national cuisine. Wines of both noble and peasant descent: indeed, who would ever think that an ex-Bertoldo Lambrusco with its violet bouquet, the impeccable accompaniment to the sticky and quivering zampone (pig’s trotter stuffed with minced pork meat and spices), would have risen in the appreciation stakes to achieve “red champagne” status in America’s most select restaurants.
And not too far away, at Ostellato (Ferrara), you can be wined and dined at the “buen ritiro” of one of Italy’s most brilliant chefs, Igles Corelli, whose Locanda della Tamerice can be found in Via Argine Mezzano 2 (0533.680795, info@ locandadellatamerice.com, www.locandadellatamerice.com ). After sampling an array of delicacies, try the fried caramelized bigné accompanied by one of the passito wines kept under close guard in the cellar.
My last top tip takes us to the Marche region, to Numana, near Ancona, a small town that looks onto the Adriatic sea, where the jutting rocks known as the Due Sorelle (Two Sisters) seem to imitate the famous faraglioni of Capri. A renovated washhouse (Via Roma 13, 071.9330999) has been transformed into a restaurant from which our host Vincenzo makes sure you leave with the “taste” of fish in your mouth. Indeed, he will serve neither coffee nor liqueurs at the end of your meal, but the most mouth-watering scampi dipped in cognac that you will ever eat on any of the five continents. To ensure the perfect match you would be wise to order a Gallura Vermentino, with its greenish nuances, subtle bouquet, and slightly bitter aftertaste of fresh flowers.
La Dolce Italia
In a word, Champagne!