Sassicaia, Brunello, Teroldego and other fine Italian wine classics. Featured

A brief guide to the tantalizing marriage between culinary delights and the magical liquid.
by 30 June 2009

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 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.

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.

It’s hard to pick the top of the top, especially from among Italy’s splendid tables. Food is subjective, even more so today given the diatribe sparked between the two prevailing schools of thought: that of traditional cuisine and that of creative cuisine. Personally, I favor the latter, but am always ready to be a little recherché also in the former. Ruling out the tables of Gianfranco Vissani at Baschi (Terni) and Fulvio Pierangelini at San Vincenzo (Leghorn)– – let me propose a classic such as the Enoteca Pinchiorri in Florence located at No. 87, Via Ghibellina (055.242757, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.), which I rank as one of the top ten restaurants worldwide. In this magnificent 16th-century palazzo setting, Giorgio and Annie offer the taster a wine cellar that is unique and a cuisine where, among a myriad delicacies, I recommend a dish that I believe emblematic of the intelligent marriage between the owner’s Tuscan background and his wife’s dash of French genius: breast of pigeon wrapped in green olive bread served with a green bean and flitch of bacon salad. The choice of wine to accompany the dish is literally open – just close your eyes and point to any of the excellent Chianti reds lined up on the Pinchiorri’s legendary shelves.

Another restaurant at the top of my list is found in Romagna, at Castrocaro (Forlì). Gianfranco Bolognesi of La Frasca (viale Matteotti 38, 0543/767471, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) will serve his pinnacle dish, a perfectly shaped yet hollow cappelletto (hat-shaped pasta), cooked to perfection and filled with chopped mullet and squash, the whole lightly brushed with a sauce of creamed squash and tiny, crunchy fillets of mullet. The obvious choice is a full-bodied Sangiovese, but to be doubly sure let yourself be guided by Gianfranco, who lists the area’s best wines in the books he has written.

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, [email protected], ). 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.

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