When you think of superb wine, you think of Italy. Grapes grown and fermented from other countries have their own special appeal, but nowhere else in the world can hold a candle to the variety and quality of wine-tasting experiences in Bel Paese (the Beautiful Country).
Why is wine tasting better in Italy than in, say, Mudgee, New South Wales? For starters, the weather's better. But in either place, you'll pick up your glass of wine, swirl it, take a deep sniff, sip and roll it over your tongue, and list your tasting notes. Move to the next bottle, and repeat. This familiar experience is totally different in Italy, where residents have been taking advantage of the country's climate, culture, and cuisine to perfect their craft for over four millennia.
The flavor: Local grapes, local wines
The flavor and overall quality of wines have plenty to do with the land and climate in which the grapes are grown. Italy is a peninsula with extensive mountains and hills that provide the most ideal altitudes, soil, and climate conditions for growing grapes. This is exactly why it is currently the world’s largest wine-producing country: the climate in 20 of the regions most famous for vineyards is perfect for growing the varieties of grapes that make renowned red and white wines.
When wine tasting in Italy, expect to taste wines you’ve never tasted before. If you happen to visit Piedmont in Northwest Italy and have a taste of a rare Nebbiolo red like Sforzato, you might note its delicate, tart taste and cherry and rosy aroma, and wonder if you’ve had something like it before. You probably haven’t because very few of its varieties are sold outside of Italy.
Fortunately, there are thousands of other fine Italian reds that are good substitutes.
The experience: It’s not like drinking at home
Few wine tasting experiences rival those in Italy. Maybe it’s the sheer romance of sipping wines in the idyllic Italian countryside, or the centuries-old cellars and casks, but tasting wine in Italy feels otherworldly.
Taking a tour of historic wine cellars in Italy is a unique experience that heightens an otherwise ordinary wine-tasting event. In fact, wine tours are rarely just about the wines (although a great deal of it will be about the grapes); they’re also about where the wine-tasting events are held.
Tank rooms are fine, but tasting tours can certainly be made special; wine tasting in a pleasantly musty wine cellar adds a rustic touch. The stunning scenery within many of the vineyards and wineries’ areas also makes for a remarkable and unforgettable wine-tasting trip.
Note that a lot of the Italian wines you’ll be tasting are made by the locals for local consumption, so cherish every sip. They’re made fresh and may even be delivered to you the old-fashioned way — in vats and/or barrels and delivered on a truck.
So, if you take home a bottle of that rare red you loved while you were at a cellar, don't be surprised if it tastes slightly (or a lot) different when you uncork it back home. There are wine bottles that, upon initial opening, will taste the same (or even better) after a few weeks or months of storage. Then there are those that must be consumed within a matter of hours rather than weeks or months upon opening. Do the wrong thing and your prized souvenir will taste flat. Most wines have chemicals that alter when transported — either by air or land — and lose or change their flavor and aroma.
If you bring home a great-tasting wine and it tastes differently from when you first took a sip in your wine-tasting your, it could simply be because…you’re no longer in Italy.
The wine culture: Italians’ vivid storytelling
Perhaps you’ve been to run-of-the-mill wine-tasting tours where you visit five to seven wineries, which conclude with a purchase of one (or five) bottles of your favorites. It’s a bit different in, say, Tuscany, where family-owned wineries are the norm rather than the exception.
In fact, when taking a wine-tasting tour in Tuscany, there’s more than a slight chance that you’ll meet the owner/sommelier/wine producer who will most likely enchant you with the history of the family winery that has been around for decades.
Needless to say, Italians are serious about their grape juice. You’ll be tasting wines that are fruity, earthy, sweet, tart, dry, and crisp. Whether you prefer a light-bodied Bianco with heavy citrus notes or a full-bodied, velvety, and well-balanced Rosso, you'll never need to worry about being served a watered down or mischaracterized vino.
The food pairing: Fine wines and divine dishes
Just as Italian wines are world-renowned for their exquisite flavor profiles, so is their cuisine. And although it’s not unusual for wineries everywhere in the world to connect a restaurant to their winery, in Italy, food and wine are practically conjoined twins.
Chances are when you go on a wine-tasting tour in Italy, you’ll be getting more than just a few casual food pairing tips; some guides will conduct wine-tasting activities within the context of local foods that perfectly complement the drink.
You probably already know that a white variety goes well with light fares such as fish, chicken, and turkey, while red is best paired with strong-flavored dishes like roast pork, cheese, and the like. In Italy, they take wine and food pairing up a notch.
You’ll learn to pair a Barolo with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, Chianti and other Italian Sangiovese with crostini topped with chicken livers and fresh mushrooms, or to down your Malvasia white with intensely sweet, doughy Sicilian cannoli. You’ll learn these pairings by heart. You can even take them home with you.
For some travellers, tasting wine is just a blip on their trip. For others, it’s one of the greatest pleasures and what they look forward to the most. Join Wheel & Anchor’s travel tribe in the upcoming Italy: North to South tour to see stunning sights and sip some of the finest Italian wines. Ask us today for more details.