Buy Fine Italian Wines

Written by Blaire Chandler-Wilcox
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Italian wines have a classification and designation system similar to France's. Their governing body is the DOC, the Denominazione di Origine Controllata. As with French wines, DOC wines are of the highest quality. The lesser standard, the Indicazione Geografica Tipica, is the equivalent of French Country Wines (Vin de Pays). The Italian equivalent to table wines is Vina da Tivola. Surprisingly, however, many of Italy's finest wines can be found among this latter group, often because extremely quality conscious winemakers choose to use experimental blends or employ other practices not officially recognized by the DOC.

Three Famous Faces: Soave, Chianti, Valpolicella

The majority of Italian wines are red, though there are some well-known whites, like Pinot Grigio, and the handful of fine sparkling wines which can occassionaly be found. One of the most famous Italian whites is undergoing an image renovation: the poor, much maligned Soave. Soave is a decent wine with a bad reputation, due to the extensive importation of cheap jugs during the 70s. Wines from the Soave region are made with Garganega and Trebbiano grapes. Although experts say neither of these grapes is necessarily a stand-out in and of itself, a handful of quality wine producers are now making Soave which deserves another taste. Soave is best served around 50 degrees, and is excellent with light hors d'oeuvres, shellfish, pastas with light cream sauces and mild cheeses.

Italy's central region is home to Tuscany, the cradle to Chianti, perhaps Italy's best known wine. Though in years past Chianti's reputation suffered like that of Soave, recent conscientious efforts on the part of organic winemakers have resulted in some of the finest Chiantis seen in generations. They are flavorful, more rich in color than in years past, and are earning fine praise once again. Chianti is made primarily from the Sangiovese grape, and is excellent when paired with most red-sauce pastas, light fish, poultry, casual beef (like hamburgers, short-ribs, etc) and savory, firm cheeses.

From the Piedmont region of Northern Italy, there comes Valpolicella, another well known Italian wine. Regular Valpolicella is considered a straightforward, "easy-drinking" red. There is also the higher-classified Valpolicella Classico and the Valpolicella Superiore (with a higher alcohol content), which are said to be more substantial than the basic version, and are, of course, slightly more expensive. Valpolicella is a dry, dark, ruby colored red, best served around 60 to 65 degrees. It pairs well with heartier meat dishes, pastas with red sauces, and strongly flavored cheeses like Gorganzola.

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