Home » Discovery Tastings (featuring $10-$15 wines) » Intro to Italian Wines

Intro to Italian Wines

Theme

Everyone loves Italy, and Italy loves wine.  This tasting is entirely dedicated to Italian wines and is designed to introduce your guests to the range of grapes & flavors bottled with amore in Italy.  This party will take your guests on a tour of Italy and may just reveal to them a new wine to accompany their favorite pasta.  You’ll all soon be confidently asking for the wine list at your favorite Italian restaurant and raising a glass to toast la dolce vita!

Angle

This tasting is a “horizontal” tasting of many of the basic wine varietals of Italy.  A “horizontal” wine tasting means you taste very different wines one after the other and learn how to tell one apart from the next.  You don’t hide the bottles (as in a “blind” tasting) because you want your guests to see what they taste and learn as they go.  The angle of the event is to educate your guests on the major types of wine from Italy and to help them learn which they prefer.  You’ll also learn what region of Italy each wine is most associated with, and what foods make the perfect pairing!

Sample Lineup

  1. Tocai Friulano, Ermacora ($15)
  2. Pinot Grigio, Alois Legeder ($15)
  3. Soave, Allegrini ($12)
  4. Valpolicella, Masi “Bonacosta” ($9)
  5. Barbera, Fontanafredda Piemonte “Briccotondo” ($11)
  6. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Bosco, Riserva ($12)
  7. Chianti Classico, Isole e Olena ($12)
  8. Nebbiolo, Renato Ratti, Nebbiola d’Alba “Ochetti” ($20)

The Wines

With this tasting, the range of varietals is more important than the specific winemakers.  The lineup above includes recommended versions of each from some of our favorite merchants, and all in the $10-15 range (with the exception of nebbiolo, which is worth including if you can find one just a bit pricier than $15).  Work with your local wine merchant and find a version of each varietal that they carry regularly and recommend.. 

Starting with the whites, Tocai, Pinot Grigio and Soave are probably the best Italian whites to introduce to your guests.  Tocai is a bold, flavorful, tangy white from Friuli that will go great with prosciutto-wrapped cantaloupe.  Soave is a light, fresh and smooth (literally, “suave”) white from a town located just west of Verona (of Romeo & Juliet fame).  Pinot Grigio is a versatile white that at its best can be tangy & minerally.  Some of the best come from the Trentino-Alto Adige region in the Italian Alps, just south of Austria. 

 

For the reds, Valpolicella is a lighter, easy-drinking wine from the Veneto region (around Venice, as the name suggests!).  Barbera and Montepulciano are more full-bodied but still smooth and drinkable.  Chianti Classico and Nebbiolo are more complex (and often more expensive), with bracing acidity & tannins and more structure and depth.  Chianti is made from the sangiovese grape – Italy’s most recognizable and popular – while Nebbiolo is a grape that produces some of the most revered and sought-after reds in the world from the Barolo region of Piemonte.

Music

For this party, you want fun background music with a decidedly Italian flavor.  Make an Italian mix of songs on iTunes.  Billy Joel’s “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” can certainly make an appearance.  But to actually go in that restaurant, search for an album called “Ciao Amore” where you’ll find tunes like “Amado Mio,” “La Dolce Vita Suite,” “Via Con Me,” “Alle Prese con Una Verde Milonga,” and “Titoli.”  There’s also an album called “La musica della mafia, vol. 3” where we’d go for “Era na sira i Maggiu,” “E lu processu,” and “Ammazzaru lu generali.”  Other albums to check out with great Italian tunes for this mix are “Gira L’Italia,” “The Italian Collection (vols 1 and 2)” and “Legends of the Italian Lounge.”

With that base of authenticity in your mix, add in some familiar tunes from classic Italian crooners.  Dean Martin’s “Volare,” “On an Evening in Roma,” and “That’s Amore” are perfect choices.  Frank Sinatra’s “Come Fly With Me” and “I’ve Got the World on a String” will fit right in, as will Bobby Darin’s “Beyond the Sea” and Tony Bennett’s “The Best is Yet to Come.”  Then, toss in some upbeat classic Italian folk tunes & arias from the greatest Italian tenor of them all, Luciano Pavarotti. We’d pick “Ti adoro,” “Funiculi, Funicula,” “La Donne e Mobile” and “M’appari,” among others.  And finally, don’t forget Rosemary Clooney’s “Mambo Italiano.” 

Mix all these tunes up – plus any others you discover in the process of searching for these – and let iTunes shuffle it into a veritable ragu of great Italian background music for your tasting.  All this might sound cheesy, but trust us – we have actually thrown an Italian party with this mix and it the music set a perfect mood for a classy yet boisterous party. 

Pairings

Italian cheeses are delicious – we’d recommend putting a cheeseboard together with some soft, lighter cheeses (for the whites) as well as some hard, full-flavored Italian cheeses to pair with the reds.  Taleggio and fontina are delicious cheeses for your whites.  Parmigiano reggiano and asiago are crowd-pleasers that will go wonderfully with the Italian reds you’re serving. 

For passed hors d’ouerves, you can prepare a variety of lighter and heavier apps with an Italian flair.  Prosciutto-wrapped cantaloupe is one of our favorites and will pair very nicely with whites like Tocai or Pinot Grigio.  We’d cube the cantaloupe in advance, wrap each bite-size piece with a bit of prosciutto and serve with toothpicks.  Another fun finger-food appetizer you can make in advance would be mini-Caprese skewers, using a toothpick to skewer a halved grape tomato, a fresh basil leaf and a small mozzarella ball.  Along the same lines, halved fresh figs topped with a fresh basil leaf and a dab of goat’s cheese make a great summer-time finger food that would complement your theme and your wines perfectly.  Of course, to pair with your reds you can’t go wrong with chopped tomato bruschetta, and Italian meatballs served with toothpicks are sure to be a hit.

Tasting Notes

Italy produces more wine than any other country – vino is an integral part of the Italian meal and Italian culture.  There are over 900,000 registered vineyards in Italy (!) across twenty distinct wine regions.  Italians drink an average of nearly 15 gallons of wine per person, per year.  Italian whites are light, versatile crowd-pleasers, but arguably lack the stage presence of other white wines that are perhaps more popular when tasted in the absence of food (e.g. chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, Riesling).  Similarly, the acidity and “kick” of Italian reds means they can be daunting when tasted on their own.  The fact is, all Italian wines are designed to be enjoyed with food, when their acidity springs to life alongside cured meats, tomato dishes, and rich Italian sauces. 

We recommend printing out a map of Italy (or finding a map in a book) where you can highlight for your guests the regions from which the various wines hail.  Wine tasting is a form of world travel in between vacations, and we’ve always found guests enjoy connecting the various wines they’re trying to the far-off and (particularly in the case of Italy) romantic places the wines were made.  Tuscany, the Italian Riviera, Verona, the Italian Alps… In the same vein, highlight the types of foods unique to each region, as Italians tend to eat primarily local meats and produce and to pair them with local wines. 

Italian wines can be daunting to get to know because the wines can be named either for the region/village where the wine is made, or for the grape itself (which in most cases you probably aren’t familiar with).  Soave, for example, is made primarily from the trebbiano and “garganega grapes.  Tocai and Pinot Grigio, meanwhile, are the names of grapes, the former native to the Friuli region, the latter known as “Pinot Gris” elsewhere in the world.   Valpolicella is made from the corvina grape, while Chianti is made from the sangiovese grape.  Chianti Classico is a distinct region known for producing the richest and most full-bodied of these wines, known for their cherry and plum flavors.  But if the sangiovese grape is Italy’s best-known red, the nebbiolo grape makes Italy’s most profound red wines – those found in the Barolo and Barbaresco regions of Piemonte. 

We can recommend two great books that revel in the glories of Italian wine, food and culture.  Frances Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun is a great read that is now well-known thanks to the 2004 movie starring Diane Lane.  But whereas the movie focused on the main character’s love life and personal journey, the book is more about the food, wine and culture of Tuscany – complete with recipes and food/wine pairings.  Also, we recently read and loved Sergio Esposito’s memoir Passion on the Vine, a great story about the author’s life, work and travel in pursuit of discovering and glorifying Italian wine and the food, culture and personalities that accompany the grape in Italia.  Esposito is the founder and proprietor of Italian Wine Merchants, a fantastic all-Italy wine store in New York City with a great website – check it out!

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