True to popular belief, wine has always been an intrinsic part of Italian culture, an enigmatic force commanding the very ethos of true Italianism.
Without a shadow of doubt, any master sommelier or oenophile worth their salt will tell you that Italy comfortably sits atop the pyramid of wine superpowers, and that Italian wine is the epitome of authenticity, luxury and exclusivity. This is home to some of the finest wine varieties money can buy.
So what makes Italian wines special, different, or well…Italian? What exactly qualifies them as the creme de la creme of fine wines? Well to that feat we ought to raise a glass and have a toast, as we dive deep into the wonderful world of Italian wine. Shall we?
The One and Only
Italy’s status as a wine powerhouse is so commonplace that it’s easy to overlook the unique and historical strengths and advantages it holds over its rivals. Below is a list of the fundamental factors that are the bedrock of Italian wine’s supremacy.
1. Beyond a Drink
They say you don’t drink Italian wine, you experience it. In Italy wine is viewed as more than just a drink. It is a phenomenon that creates a national bond, one which speaks a language only understood by the Italians themselves, and other enthusiasts, who’re Italians by subscription.
2. Aesthetic Value
The brand strength that Italian wine enjoys the world over is the clearest testament to its legacy, both tangible and intangible. Italy hosts some of the most respected winemaking dynasties that make some of the best vintages known to man. They are not only expensive, but exclusive and rare.
For these maestro winemakers, these signature wines, and by extension Italian wines, are not mere cash cows, but revered accolades that stand as status symbols and badges of honour that have no monetary price tags.
3. Unreplicable History
The Greeks didn’t name Italy “Oenotria”, translated as “Land of wine” without reason. With Italian viticulture dating back more than 4,000 years, this makes Italy by far the world’s most experienced wine producer. Wine has not only been a source of trade to them, but a daily necessity, the very oxygen that they breathe.
4. Unparalleled Diversity
Italy is currently the largest wine producer in the world by volume, with a collection of over 1 million vinos. It boasts 20 major wine regions, each cultivating their own flavours and specialities. Over 350 different kinds of grapes are grown throughout Italy alone, most of which produce the richest wine selections in the world.
5. Incredible Infrastructure
Italy is blessed with many high end vineyards able to generate enough income for them to continue investing in quality control. Being in the peninsula has also made trade quite easy for them. Their stringent checks anchored on layers of chemical and physical analyses have worked well to uphold their zero tolerance to mediocrity.
A government enforced four tier labelling system overseen by vetted and certified tasting panels has been strategically placed to edge out the faint hearted mediocres, and to reinforce the credibility of an already credible product.
6. Perfect Environment for Viticulture
Traversing the robust Venetian vineyards, heading south through the regions Toscana, Abruzzo and Puglia, one can’t help but acknowledge that in terms of production, Italy has an enviable climatic advantage. With fertile land stretching from the Northern Alps to the islands of Sicily at the southernmost tip and Sardegna further west, Italy was truly meant for viticulture.
Well by now, even a hardcore doubting Thomas must be in agreement that the supremacy of Italian wine is unrivalled, and a product of a complex equation.
Italian Wine Tasting: A Delicate Balancing Act
Truth be told, Italian wine is not your ordinary wine. With over 350 varieties of grapes distributed between all the 20 wine regions, confusion is the greatest challenge facing most Italian wine enthusiasts, newbies and veterans alike.
While fronted as a tasting experience, wine tasting is equally a scientific undertaking that demands experience and a consistent mastering of one’s craft. This makes the wine tasting experience – especially Italian wine – a complex balancing act, one that is partly art, partly science and partly craft.
For instance, how you taste Italian sparkling wine varies to how you’d taste white or red. You see, a simplistic one dimensional approach simply won’t cut it when it comes to Italian wine. And as they say. “The devil is in the details.”
So you may be no expert, but the following curated points may as well put you on the path to becoming one!
Your Italian Wine Tasting Checklist
Attention to detail is the key that unlocks the flavours of Italian wine. To get the most out of your wine collection, before any wine tasting event, ensure you are well equipped with the following:
- Bottles of wine
- Bottles of water
- A corkscrew
- A spittoon or crock to dump excess wine.
- Clean, clear and quality glassware.
- A palate cleanser eg wine cracker, bread or water.
- Wine chillers to maintain the wines at optimum temperatures.
- A well functioning wine key.
- A white background to view the wine against.
- A decanter
The Six Steps of Tasting Italian Wines
Without further ado, here are the six steps to follow, and you’ll be tasting it like a true Italiano.
Start by choosing a context or theme. This can be decided based on the wines’ values, regions, varieties, vintages or types so get creative and ensure it gives the event the much needed connection and direction. After selecting the theme, it’s now time to set the table and venue based on it.
Commandment 1: Thou shall never hold your event in a venue exposed to other competing extra smells and light.
Key takeaway: The preliminary preparations are done to set the stage and enhance the main experience.
Be it consciously or subconsciously, the assessment of wine begins by its colour. Just by the colour alone, one is able to observe and understand its shade, hue, and tone. A wine’s colour also tends to tell a story concerning its variety, flavour, age and quality.
Commandment 2: Thou shall only judge a wine’s colour when placed against a white background.
Key Takeaway: Colour intensity and flavour are directly proportional.
This is the aeration process that makes wine taste better. It simply exposes all the flavours and aromas to the senses. Skipping this process will cost you a memorable wine tasting experience.
Commandment 3: Thou shall not lift the glass when you swirl. Set it on the table(or counter), hold its base with your index and middle finger and move it around in circles like a pro. It will never spill.
Key Takeaway: Swirling allows the release of numerous aromas which interact with oxygen and become easier to smell.
Sniffing directly familiarises your brain with the wine’s aromas and flavours. It’s very interesting how most people overlook the correlation between taste and smell. Experiment by eating a strawberry with your nose covered. Now uncover your nose as you chew and you’ll realise just how different the taste is!
Faulty wine is also confirmed at this point, so stick your nose all the way into the glass, close your eyes then breathe deep.
Commandment 4: Why rush over a beverage that took more than a year to make? Thou shall take your time.
Key Takeaway: Faulty wine has off smells that resemble some wet cardboard or vinegar. They are quite easy to detect.
The focal point of the entire tasting procedure is the actual tongue tasting. Take a sip and let the wine sit in your mouth for a while. You can swish it around, for the wine to reach all the taste buds in your mouth.
Commandment 5: Thou shall involve all your taste buds with the exception of none.
Key Takeaway: The wine is swished inside the mouth to reach all the taste buds, with the aim of getting a wholesome experience and judgement.
It’s all about experience in this final step. Everything that has been done culminates to one word, “Experience”. Whether you’re setting up a professional wine tasting event or hosting a wine tasting party, a memorable experience is the major objective.
Commandment 6: Thou shall not be distracted from having a great experience.
Key Takeaway: Partly, art, partly science, partly craft, but ultimately experience.
The Ultimate Takeaway
Taste is the result of the interaction between wine and your taste buds. Flavour on the other hand is the interaction between wine and the entire sensual ecosystem. So we don’t undertake wine tasting for taste, but for flavour.
Just like creating a cocktail at home, there’s nothing such as right or wrong. Everything is subjective in the wine world. No two people can taste wine in the same exact way, and no one’s opinion is better or more accurate than the other.This is especially true when it comes to wines endowed with quality, variety and vintage like Italian wine.
So there you have it. The full guide, featuring the six steps, the six commandments, and the six takeaways.
The Ultimate Commandment: There’s only one destination when it comes to fine wine, Destination Italy!