Italian Wine Regions: Friuli-Venezia Giulia

friuliveneziagiuliamapThis northern region snuggled up closely with Slovenia has a long history (evidence suggests 20,000 years of human occupation) and with it a very interesting viticultural one too.  The Friuli territory has been on the wine map for quite some time, being situated geographically just right to have some rather important port/trade cities throughout the Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, Venetian Republic, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  The Friulani today are very proud of their history, dialects/language, and of course wine!

Friuli is an important Italian wine region for a few reasons.  For one, though its production is much lower than Tuscany or Piedmont, it ranks as highly as them in terms of the quality of their wines.  Friuli is a quality vs quantity kind of place with its numerous and exceptional small vineyards (often family-run). A blend of innovation, tradition, and investment in winery equipment since the 1960s has resulted in a really impressive array of Friuli wines (especially so-called “super” whites).  Friuli vintners tend to use lots of their indigenous varietals as well as non-traditionally Italian ones like Pinot Bianco or Riesling.  The majority of wines produced are white but they do have some phenomenal reds too.

friuli_cartinaGeography: Situated between the Alps and the Adriatic, Friuli-Venezia Giulia has climatic variation between the north and south as well as some micro-climates.  The northern half of the region is mountainous with a grape-friendly alpine climate while the southern half is characterized by smaller hills, flatter plains and a more maritime climate as it gets closer to the Adriatic sea.  In general Friuli vines find themselves able to ripen well with the region’s favorable daily temperature variation (known as “diurnal range”, this difference between night/day temps helps grapes develop slowly and gain more complexity as sugar levels increase).  The region has two principal rivers: the Tagliamento and the Isonzo.  Some areas can occasionally be exposed to a strong and frigid wind called “la bora”.

Friuli_wine_regions(map provided by Agne27 at en.wikipedia wikicommons)

Main Provinces and their Wine Regions:

  • Udine: Colli Orientali del Friuli, Cividale del Friuli, Aquileia, Latisana, Annia, Friuli-Grave
  • Pordenone: Friuli-Grave, Lison-Pramaggiore, Sacile, San Vito al Tagliamento, Spilimbergo
  • Gorizia: Collio/Collio Gorziano, Isonzo, Cormons
  • Trieste: Carso

Key Regional Grape Friends:

  • Chardonnay (white)
  • Cividin (white)
  • Garganega (white), makes up a lot of the Soave wine blend in nearby Veneto
  • Incrocio Manzoni (white), a crossing of Riesling and Pinot Blanc/Bianco
  • Malvasia Istriana (white), a sub-variety of Malvasia (planted widely around Italy)
  • Moscato Bianco (white), aka Moscato Canelli or Muscat Blanc à Petit Grain
  • Müller-Thurgau (white)
  • Pignoletto (white)
  • Picolit (white), a prized local variety that has been documented as far back as the 12th century.
  • Pinot Bianco (white), aka Pinot Blanc
  • Pinot Grigio (grey), aka Pinot Gris
  • Prosecco (white), aka Glera (see more about Prosecco sparkling wine made in the Veneto area in other posts)
  • ribollagiallabottleRibolla Gialla (white), probably originally Greek but now associated with aromatic and crisp wines from this area and Slovenia
  • Riesling (white), aka Riesling Renano
  • Sauvignon (white), aka Sauvignon Blanc
  • Tocai Friulano (white), now more commonly (and legally) labeled as “Friulano” due to confusion with the Hungarian dessert wine Tokaji and the Alsace wine Tocai.  Genetically identified as the French grape Sauvignonasse or Sauvignon Vert.
  • Traminer and Traminer Aromatico (grey), aka Gewürztraminer, the “aromatico” variety being more well…aromatic!
  • Trebbiano/Trebbiano Toscano (white)
  • Ucelut (white), local grape
  • Verduzzo Friulano (white), a local grape aka Ramandolo
  • Viognier (white)
  • Vitovska (white), a local grape that is the second most widely cultivated in the region.  Its name likely derives from the Slovenian city Vitolje.
  • Aleatico (black), grown all throughout Italy often used for sweet red wines
  • Ancellotta (black)
  • Cabernet Franc (black), of French origin
  • Cabernet Sauvignon (black), also of French origin
  • Carmenere (black), French grape used sometimes in blends
  • Cjanorie (black)
  • Franconia (black), aka Blaufränkish
  • Gamay (black), French grape famous for its light and fruity Beaujolais wines
  • Incrocio Manzoni 2.15 (black), a crossing of Prosecco and Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Lambrusco Maestri (black), one of the grapes famous for creating a red sparkling wine
  • Malbech (black), aka Malbec
  • Marzemino (black)
  • Merlot (black), this French grape is among one of the most planted throughout Italy due partly to its amicable relationship in blends with other grapes
  • Pignolo (black), possibly native to the Friuli area, this grape has been saved from extinction and makes spicy and dark wines.
  • Pinot Nero (black), aka Pinot Noir
  • Refosco and Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso (black), Refosco and a red-stemmed sub-variety, both making dark and tannic red wines.
  • Sangiovese (black), more associated with Emilia Romagna and Tuscany
  • Schioppettino (black), a native grape sometimes labeled as “Ribolla Nera” (but unrelated to Ribolla Gialla) or “Pocalza”
  • Tazzelenghe (black), in regional dialect means “Tongue cutter” referring to it’s striking acidity

pinotgrigioThe Better Known Wines:
Wines from this area can often be both regionally AND varietally labelled, for example “Colli Orientali Ribolla Gialla” or “Schioppettino di Prepotto”.

Ramandolo DOCG – $-$$,  This was the first wine region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia to gain DOCG status.  All of its wines are either white or dessert wines (made from Verduzzo Friuliano of course).

Friulano Colli Orientali DOC – $-$$, Friulano wines today tend to be medium-bodied, crisp, refreshing, and full of melon, peach, blossom, and almond flavors.

Pinot Grigio – $-$$, a varietal that is not solely grown or famous for being in Friuli BUT some very creative and excellent winemakers have made some excellent golden/coppery examples of this amazing grape.  Try out Sot Lis Rivis to get an idea!

Colli Orientali del Friuli Picolit -$$, Another sweet wine with delicate dried fruit aromas and a great reputation.

Ribolla Gialla – $-$$, this grape makes some refreshing dry whites loaded with exotic and tropical fruit armoas.

schioppettinoFriuli Isonzo DOC – $-$$, a zone that offers dry whites from Traminer/Gewurztraminer, Riesling, and Pinot Grigio as well as some reds made from Pinot Nero, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon

Schioppettino (Colli Orientali, Friuli Isonzo, Venezia Giulia IGT) – $-$$, sometimes also called “Ribolla Nera” on the label, this red grape is one of the Region’s red wine stars, making wines full of red fruits, floral, and sometimes peppery character.

DOCG Wines of Friuli-Venezia Giulia to Date:

  • Colli Orientali del Friuli Picolit
  • Lison
  • Ramandolo
  • Rosazzo

DOC Wines of Friuli-Venezia Giulia to Date:

  • Carso or Carso Kras
  • Collio Goriziano
  • Friuli Annia
  • Friuli Aquileia
  • Friuli Colli Orientali
  • Friuli Grave
  • Friuli Isonzo
  • Friuli Latisana
  • Lison Pramaggiore
  • Prosecco

IGT Wines of Friuli-Venezia Giulia to Date:

  • Alto Livenza
  • Delle Venezie
  • Venezia Giulia

Aubrie Talarico

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FAQ: Where does the “Grigio” come from in Pinot Grigio?

Pinot_Gris_closeFAQ: Doesn’t “grigio” mean “grey”?  Aren’t Pinot Grigio wines white…?  Where does the name come from?

Short Answer: Pinot Grigio, is technically a “grey” grape!  Its wines range in style from pale lemon to deep gold to orange.

Longer Answer:  There are three color categories of grape varietals: white, grey, and black.  White varietals include the likes of Chardonnay, Trebbiano, and Sauvignon Blanc while black varietals include grapes like Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, and Merlot.  Some grapes have a coloration that is somewhere in between, hence where the “grey” term comes from.  Pinot Grigio is one of these.  While the “grey” in the grey grape varietal classification can sometimes be literal, it isn’t always.  Grey varietals can have spotty pigment (meaning that the bunch of grapes is not uniformly one color) or have actual spots on them. Sometimes whole berries in one bunch might be darker, or orangeish, and yes, sometimes greyish in color.

Pinot_Gris_glasses1Because the juice of any grape is colorless (with a few grape exceptions like Tannat), the color of the wine comes partially (but primarily) from skin contact or lack thereof.  Red wine production generally involves juice being in contact with the (black grape) skins for longer periods than other wine styles, resulting in more color being extracted from the skins and coloring the resulting wine.  White and rosé wine production tends to have less skin and juice contact, resulting in paler wines that may be any color from lemon-green or gold to pink or salmon.  This is why Pinot Grigio, “grey” as it may be, can yield wines that are quite pale and why non-rosé Champagnes are not especially pink or red despite the fact they are made with one or two black grapes (Pinot Noir and Meunier).

Fun Fact:  The “Pinot” in grape varietal names comes from the French word for “Pine cone”, referring to the shape of the grape bunch.  So Pinot Noir/Pinot Nero literally means “black pine cone” and Pinot Grigio literally means “grey pine cone”.

palazzone_pgOrange Wines:  Orange wines result when non-black grape varietals are vinified more according to a red wine method (i.e. with more skin contact).  The results are interesting, complex, and definitely worth trying.  Recent media attention to orange wines might incorrectly or unintentionally suggest that they are merely a new wine fad.  But the reality is that this is a method/style of wine with very old roots that still characterizes a lot of the wines of the world. Italian vineyards Palazzone in Umbria and Denavolo Catavela in Emilia Romagna make very nice examples.

Fun Facts:  Common synonyms of Pinot Grigio are Pinot Gris, Grauburgunder, and Auxerrois Gris.

The Pinot Particularity:  We have a lot of different grapes with “Pinot” in their names.  They are in fact all (genetically speaking) the same grape varietal.  Yes, this means that Pinot Grigio/Gris, Pinot Nero, and Pinot Blanc are all actually different mutations of one grape: Pinot Noir.  In fact, Chardonnay is a proud member of this Pinot family (confirmed by DNA analysis in 1999), being sometimes formally called “Pinot Chardonnay”!

Aubrie Talarico

UPDATES:  Meunier, a French grape most associated with sparkling wine production, has been incorrectly called Pinot Meunier for centuries.  Genetic mapping has only recently discovered that we were mistaken to think that it was part of the Pinot Family.  For that reason, I’ve changed it to its more accurate name Meunier here.

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Friday the 17th – Origins of the Unlucky

spilled-wineYou might have heard of the unlucky nature of the number 13, especially when it falls on a Friday in some parts of the world, but in Italy the number 13 is actually a good one!  Except in one very particular situation:  13 people sitting at a table…take a look at DaVinci’s Last Supper and you may understand why…lastsupp

In Italy the number 17 is avoided and feared, even to familiarly irrational lengths like skipping the number on airplane rows or street addresses.  Friday the 17th is a national day of sfortuna, or bad luck…and you’ll be hard-pressed to find an Italian who can coherently explain their motivation for avoiding travel and important events or decisions this particular day.

But why the number 17? There are a handful of potential reasons:

  • The Pythagorean Greeks considered the number 17 a disgraceful number between two otherwise “perfect” numbers, 16 and 18.
  • The Christian biblical flood (Genesis 7-11) started on the 17th day.
  • In 9 AD the 17th Roman Legion, among others, was brutally defeated by the Germans in Teutoburg.  Some 20,000 Roman soldiers died in this unexpected attack.
  • Confusion in the Middle Ages led to the Roman Numeral for 17, XVII, being associated with the Latin phrase “VIXI” (=”I lived”) seen on ancient tombs.

So why is Friday the 17th especially bad?
Likely because of Friday’s already tainted reputation due to Good Friday, which in the Catholic faith is the day that Jesus was crucified.

So on this Friday the 17th, if you find yourself superstitious, I suggest you grab a bottle of Italian wine and relax safely somewhere inside.  After all, wine helps calm the nerves!

Aubrie Talarico



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There’s Something About Montalcino: The Micro-Terroir Debate


To subdivide or not to subdivide…that is the question!

Wine-o’s who love a serious red wine probably already know about Tuscany’s precious red gem of Brunello di Montalcino.  But what do you know about the region’s micro-terroirs?  These seemingly small differences can make quite a big difference and are currently causing quite a debate.

Brunello di Montalcino is a wine made in the designated wine region Montalcino inTuscany.   Its wines are made of 100% the black grape variety Sangiovese (“Brunello” is one of Sangiovese’s many other recognized names and is actually a specific clone) and the wines must be aged in oak for at least 4 years (5 years for bottles labeled Riserva) before bottling and release.  The result is a complex, full-bodied and bold red wine, with all the best berry flavours and spicy aromas Sangiovese can offer with the addition of some earthiness (e.g. forest floor, leather) from ageing.

The current discussion is not to make any changes to Brunello wines.  Rather it’s to redraw the maps of the region due to the large number of micro-terriors (~20) inside the area.  Micro-terroir, or micro-climates are the differences within a region in terms of altitude, soil composition, sunlight, and temperatures.  Because the most subtle differences in any of these factors (sun, soil, altitude, etc) can create a lot of variation in the resulting wines made even from the same grape variety, even if they’re right next door to each other, some wine-makers of the Montalcino region are calling for some officially designated “sub-zones” within the region.  The idea is that consumers will be better able to find the bottle of Brunello they like most, knowing that wines in Sub-Zone 1 of Montalcino tend to be ones with characteristics they prefer versus the neighboring Zone 2 or Zone 3 wines.

Though this might sound complicated at first glance, it’s actually not unheard of that regions are subdivided due to the high level of climatic variation within.  Further, proponents of sub-zones suggest that redrawing of the area’s maps will also make the region easier to navigate for visitors.  This would be beneficial to some producers who feel they miss out on business simply due to visitors in the area getting lost.

Producers against the suggestion argue that even within a sub-zone there can be variation.  In fact this is why some producers in the region make their Brunello wines by blending wines from multiple areas within Montalcino  – blending from multiple zones ensures consistency and balance (a common practice in wine-making).  They claim that because of this, redrawing maps and designating these sub-zones will not necessarily provide a clearer picture on wines of the area and is therefore a pointless endeavor.

What do you think?  Do you think that micro-terroir are cause for creating sub-zones within regions? Or do you think it’s just splitting hairs and might not really be as helpful as people would like?

For a look at just how varied terroir can be, even within ONE region, look at this map made by the Brunello Wine Consortium:


Aubrie Talarico

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A Grape by Any Other Name: Pinot Bianco & Pinot Blanc


*A Grape By Any Other Name posts are about exploring different grape varieties known by other names or nicknames, both inside and outside of Italy.

Pinot Bianco (say it “Pea-noe Bee-ank-oh”), a white mutation of the famed black grape Pinot Noir (Pinot Nero in Italy) is primarily grown and used in the northern regions of Italy like Friuli Venezia Giulia, Lombardy, and Alto Adige.  It can be found both in single varietal wines or as a part of blends, like in the very popular Soave wine from the Veneto region.  Pinot Bianco is sometimes used in small portions in production of sparkling wines such as Franciacorta, a highly celebrated traditional method bubbly comparable to France’s Champagne.  Wines made primarily or entirely of the Pinot Bianco grape can be crisp, steely, minerally, and floral in character.  Commonly used descriptors include green apple, white blossom, melon, and beeswax.  Pinot Bianco can also be used for Vin Santo (a dessert wine from Tuscany) production.

In Italy, also known as:Weissburgunder  in the (primarily German-speaking) region of Alto Adige, sometimes called Sudtirol.

Internationally, also known as:  Pinot Blanc (France, USA, Canada), Wiessburgander (Germany, Austria), Klevner (Austria, sometimes France), Fehér Burgundi (Hungary), Rulandské Bilé (Czech Republic), Rulandské Biele (Slovakia), Pinot bijeli (Croatia).

  • Pinot Blanc is most associated with France, especially when it comes to the region of Alsace and to a lesser degree in Burgundy.  Pinot Blanc, unlike the Italian wines containing the same grape, often see oak.
  • Wiessburgander, literally meaning “White Burgundian”, is mostly labeled as such in Germany and Austria, where it accounts for 19% of Pinot Blanc/Bianco world growth and is used in dry as well as dessert wines.
  • In the USA Pinot Blanc is used often for sparkling wine production, and usually labeled as “Pinot Blanc” on any bottle containing it.
  • Canada uses Pinot Blanc for their widely acclaimed icewine (=a sweet wine made from frozen grapes) production.

Same name, different country:  Spain also refers to this grape as Pinot Bianco.

Bottom Line:  Though Pinot Bianco is grown and vinified in Italy, it’s not the Belle of the Ball domestically, in that its relative Pinot Grigio gets more of the attention.  It also tends to make up a smaller percentage of the blends it finds itself in.  There are some really nice wines made of Pinot Bianco, as it does extremely well in the northern regions, but there are also many mediocre examples that haunt the shelves too, so drinkers should be adventurous and willing to try more than one bottle!

Aubrie Talarico

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What’s That Mean? Understanding Italian Wine Labels

label_1There’s a lot of info on those labels, and being in Italian certainly doesn’t make it look less mysterious to non-Italian speakers…  However the good news is that with respect to world wine labels, Italian labels are relatively easy to understand once you know how to decode the terms and legal categories (which I cannot say for some other countries like France which demand a lot more studying to be understood).

Italian wine labels share with other European Union countries some basic requirements on their labels such as:

  • Alcohol content– ie. 14% or 13.5%.  EU regulations allow a certain amount of estimation or rounding up or down here, meaning a wine with an actual alcohol content of 14.3 might be labeled either as 14% or 14.5%.
  • Producer name- the winery
  • Appellation– ie. DOC, IGT, VdT, etc
  • Volume– your typical wine bottle is 750 ml of liquid.
  • Vintage– “Vendemmia” in Italian, the year the grapes were harvested and made into wine.  Though this might seem obvious not all wines in the world have this requirement, for example in the Champagne region of France where wines might be a blend of a few different years (in which case they are often labeled “NV” for non-vintage).
  • Color*- Not required* but often an indication of color is included, such as Rosso (red), Bianco (white), or Rose’.

Appellations of Italian wines:  VdT, IGT, DOC, and DOCG.  This classification system was first introduced in the 1960’s in order to better control production and quality.  The model followed the French appellation system established in the 60’s as well.  All categories specify which grape varieties are permitted in a given area/region but other restrictions and rules vary quite a bit after that.

Microsoft Word - Elenco vini DOCG - DOC - IGT  suddivisi per reg

  • VdT= Vino da Tavola, or literally “Table Wine”.  This is the lowest designation for Italian wines and the majority of wines produced fall under this category.  The wines must be made using only approved grapes varieties (ie. Sangiovese, Colorino, Trebbiano, Merlot, etc) but there are not requirements on percentages of certain grapes within the blend and there are less restrictions on the growing and vinification (=wine-making) process.  VdT wines can be made from grapes grown in multiple regions and the region(s) or grape(s) don’t need to even be mentioned on the label.  In the 1970’s and 80’s innovative wine-makers chose to make wines falling into this appellation in order to have flexibility in their wines, resulting in the highly prestigious “Super Tuscan” wines (a nickname that stuck) and eventually the introduction of a new wine category: the IGT.
  • IGT= Indicazione Geografica Tipica, meaning something like Indicated Geographic Region.  This category was introduced in the 1990’s in order to incorporate wines which didn’t fall into the DOC or DOCG categories but were not fairly represented with the lower aforementioned VdT category (a concern directly brought on by the wildly loved “Super Tuscan” wines of Tuscany).  This category specifies a geographic area (often times an entire Italian Region like “Toscana” or “Lazio“).  IGT wines are made entirely of the area’s permitted grape varieties and may also specify on the label which varieties (though generally only the principal varieties of the blend are named and not necessarily all that were used).  IGT wines may include both native Italian grape varieties, like Sangiovese in Toscana, as well as international grapes, like Merlot from France.  The main focus here is REGION, not varieties, however.
  • DOC= Denominazione di Origine Controllata, meaning “Controlled 2013-10-18 13.22.38designation of origin” is one of the top appellations in Italian wines.  Often characterized with an extra purple or yellow label around the top of the bottle, this category has lots of rules to follow and requirements to meet.  Wines labeled DOC mean that a wine is made according to the traditions and rules within a specific geographic/legally designated viticultural zone (ie. Chianti, Soave, Barolo, Valpolicella, Alba, etc).  Wines are made with specified grape varieties, often within specific percentages, as well as grown, harvested, vinified and bottled on site or within the legally designated area.  Further, there are strict regulations on the amount which may be grown or produced (the yields) in order to prevent overproduction and therefore poorer quality wines as well as strict rules on practices considered less natural or traditional such as irrigation.  Depending on the wine, some DOC zones require specific amounts of ageing in specific types of containers (ie. barrique, or botte) before release.  Also, in general producers cannot sell their grapes they have grown to other producers – usually – and if they do the buyer cannot label their wines as being from that DOC zone unless they fall within the area and follow all the above-mentioned rules….this is to prevent people from selling “Chianti DOC” or “Prosecco” made somewhere else entirely like California, one of the key concerns that fueled the French to create this entire system to begin with!
    Does that sound confusing?  Let’s break down the requirements of a particular DOC wine:  Valpolicella DOC, a wine from the Veneto region.  For a bottle of wine to be labeled Valpolicella DOC it must be made of only permitted grapes grown, harvested, and vinified in the Valpolicella designated zone.  The principal grapes are  Corvina Veronese, Rondinella, and Molinara (with a minimum of 70% Corvina required in the blend) but other permitted varieties may be included.  Grapes must be able to make a wine with a minimum of 11% alcohol by volume (a requirement related to grape quality since adding alcohol or grape spirits is not allowed).  The finished wine must be bottled on site where it was grown and vinified.  There is no requirement of grapes being mentioned on the bottle or their percentages.  Irrigation practices are not permitted except in case of extreme weather conditions such as major droughts.  Spraying for fungus or pests must stop before September.  These are the principal rules for a bottle of Valpolicella DOC!
  • DOCG= Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, meaning “Controlled and guaranteed designation of origin”.  This is the highest category in the Italian appellation system and as such accounts for the least amount of annual production.  It’s essentially the same rules and requirements of the DOC designation but often with stricter requirements in terms of yield restrictions, grape maturity, labeling (numbering systems are important to prevent counterfeiting) and wines must pass quality control tastings by a panel of experts.

It should be noted however that:  DOC and DOCG wines are not automatically “better” wines than their IGT counterparts, despite their higher spot on the category pyramid.  The less rigid set of rules for IGT wines gives the wine maker much more creative license in the wines they choose to make.  After all, some of the most appreciated wines of Italy don’t fall under DOC/DOCG categories!  The rules and regulations of the DOC/DOCG categories are becoming more flexible though, as new appellations are created, as some viticultural areas are starting to extend borders or allow international grape varieties to be used, and as requirements change in blends all together.

Other Italian label terms:aglianico_vulture

  • Classico= refers to the “classic” area of a viticultural zone, the oldest part and often considered the best area (ie. having the best slopes and sun or weather conditions).  Chianti Classico DOC on a label therefore tells us that a wine is from the oldest part of the Chianti zone, versus a bottle labeled only Chianti DOC which would be in a later addition to the Chianti area.
  • Superiore= refers to a higher level of quality/maturity of the grape(s) used.  For example a Orvieto Superiore DOC means that the grapes used were higher in quality, with higher sugar ripeness and therefore able to naturally produce a wine with a higher level of abv (alcohol content).    It’s not uncommon to see Classico and Superiore used together, ie. Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC.
  • Riserva= A label saying Riserva means that a wine went through a longer than required ageing period.  It can mean a higher price since it meant a winery had to hold on to a wine longer, not to mention that barrels don’t always come cheap!
  • Descriptions and Suggestions= Sometimes a label will include a brief description of color, aromas, serving temperatures (in Celsius), and food pairing ideas.
  • Sweetness or Bubbly Descriptions= Terms like “Frizzante” or “Spumante” for example will tell us a bottle is not still but sparkly.  Terms like “dolce” will indicate a sweet wine, “Secco” a dry wine, and “Amabile” a wine that is somewhere between dry and sweet.  Similarly, terms like “Vendemmia Tardiva” (late-harvest) or “Passito” (a method of production used for sweet wines) tell us that a wine is sweet.

nebbiolo_labelGrape varieties & labels
Even if there are requirements for percentages of grape varieties in some Italian wines (ie. Barolo must be 100% Nebbiolo, and Valpolicella must include a minimum of 70% Corvina), there aren’t any requirements to name them on the label.  However some wines are helpfully named in such a way that includes the variety and place. For example: Barbera d’Alba is wine made principally from the Barbera grape in the viticultural zone of Alba. Morellino di Scansano is a wine made primarily (or entirely) of the grape Morellino (aka Sangiovese) in an area called Scansano.  Within the EU, bottles with labels naming a grape variety must include at least 85% of the named grape(s).

Aubrie Talarico

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Wine Quotes – Pliny the Elder


“In Vino Veritas (In wine, there is truth)”

Gaius Plinius Secundus, aka “Pliny the Elder”.
Pliny the Elder was a Roman author and natural explorer and philosopher in the 1st century AD. He is maybe best known for writing Naturalis Historia (Natural History), an extremely influential ancient encyclopedia.  Pliny also might be considered a sort of ancient “wine critic”, having ranked the Campania region’s best wines.
This quote, “In Vino Veritas”, is alluded to by Pliny in Natural History. Though he is not credited with having written this proverb, his mention of it in antiquity sheds some light on the ancient cultures and civilizations that make mention of it. This expression is referring to the observed truth-serum effects of wine: that when wine is consumed, the truth can’t help but come out…for better or for worse!
The quote is sometimes extended to: “In vino veritas, in aqua sanitas” (In wine there is truth, in water there is health).

Pliny the Elder died during the infamous eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD while trying to rescue a friend and his family by ship.

Aubrie Talarico

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Italian Wine Regions: Campania

campaniaCampania is not only the home region of Naples and pizza- it also has a long history with viticulture (=grape growing) and viniculture (=wine making).  Long before the Roman Empire’s well-known romance with wine, the Etruscans, the Aurunci and the Opici (of Greek origins) and the Sannites lived and cultivated grapes here- as far back as the 12th century BC!  And long before modern day wine critics we have writings from Ancient Romans like Horace, Virgil, and Pliny, ranking the region’s best wines: Cecubo, Caleno, Falerno, Formiano.  The 1st century AD was the beginning of a period of decline in production due to the eruption of Vesuvius (which among other cities destroyed Pompeii) and the viticultural restrictions (part of the “Lex Marciana“) enacted by the emperor Domitian.  The fall of the Roman Empire and subsequent invasions and occupations by the likes of the Longobards, Normans, and others, furthered this lull in wine activity.  Eventually some revival started in part thanks to Benedictine monks during the middle ages.  By the Renaissance, the area received great recognition from Pope Paul III when he named 18 Campania area wines as being part of his Top 53 Wines list.  The area has seen a great deal of fluctuation in good and bad periods after the Renaissance, surviving through devastating plagues, the vine-destroying phylloxera pandemic, and world wars.  Today we can see a region that is making consistent progress and gaining new recognition in the world wine scene, producing some extremely noteworthy wines, both white and red.

Geography:  about 100,000 acres (=46,800 hectares) of land is dedicated to vines.  Campania has a great variety of micro-climates and terroir.  Grapes like the region due to its abundance of sunshine, hot and dry summers, mild winters, volcanic soil, and cool winds from the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Appenines.  Variation in temperatures, rainfall, and soil between coastal and inland areas account for variation in wines made from the same grape(s).

Main Provinces and their Wine Regions:

  • Benevento: Terrecuso, Guardia Sanframonti, Dannio, Sant’Agata dei Goti, Solopaca.
  • Avellino: Tufo, Avellino, Taurasi, Santa Paolina, Montefusco, Lapio’, Summonte, San Michele di Serino, Paternopoli, Castelfranci, Venticano, Pietradefusi
  • Napoli: Campi Flegrei, Penisola Sorrentina, Vesuvio, Capri, Ischia, Cilento, Ravello, Tramonti, Furore
  • Caserta
  • Salerno: Castel San Lorenzo


Key Regional Grape Friends:

  • Aspirinio Bianco (white)
  • Biancolella (white)
  • Chardonnay (white)
  • Coda di Volpe (white), so named by the Ancient Roman Pliny
  • Fiano (white), an ancient variety
  • Forastera (white)
  • Greco (white), of ancient Greek origin
  • Malvasia (white)
  • Moscato Bianco (white), aka Muscat Blanc à Petit Grain
  • Pinot Bianco (white), aka Pinot Blanc
  • Pinot Grigio (white/grey), aka Pinot Gris
  • Trebbiano (white), aka Ugni Blanc
  • Voigner (white)
  • Aglianico (black)
  • Aleatico (black)
  • Cabernet Sauvignon (black), of French origins, this as well as some other French varieties started to be planted in Italy after the Phylloxera crisis in the 19th century.
  • Merlot (black), this French variety is now the third most planted black grape variety in Italy
  • Piedirosso (black), literally means “red feet”
  • Sangiovese (black), one of the noble grape varieties, this wild grape has been used as far back as the Etruscans.
  • Sciascinoso (black), aka Olivella Nera
  • Syrah (black)
  • Tannat (black), French variety primarily used for blending

The Better Known Wines:

  • Taurasi DOCG– $$-$$$, this mid to higher priced wine is a deep ruby red wine made primarily from Aglianico.  It’s widely considered to be “the Barolo of the South”, referring to the high quality and world famous red from Piedmont.  Due to DOCG requirements these wines spend some time ageing in wood barrel before release.
  • Fiano di Avellino DOCG– $-$$, this inexpensive to mid-priced white wine is made from Fiano, an ancient grape variety.    Fiano wines tend to be crisp and dry, having a bright straw yellow color and high acidity.  They make an excellent wine buddy for seafood dishes like pasta with mussels.
  • Falanghina DOC- $-$$, another ancient variety that modern-day wine drinkers can easily enjoy, Falanghina makes medium body, crisp, citrusy whites which go great with appetizers and seafood.
  •  Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio DOC– $-$$, literally meaning the “tears of Christ (of Vesuvius)”, these characteristic white or red wines are a staple of the region.  Both red and white varieties are blends of local grape vareties (Greco, Coda di Volpe, Piedirosso, Aglianico).


DOCG Wines of Campania to Date:

  • Aglianico del Taburno
  • Fiano di Avellino
  • Greco di Tufo
  • Taurasi

DOC Wines of Campania to Date:

  • Aversa
  • Campi Flegrei
  • Capri
  • Casavecchia di Pontelatone
  • Castel San Lorenzo
  • Cilento
  • Costa d’Amalfi
  • Falanghina del Sannio
  • Falerno del Massico
  • Galluccio
  • Irpinia
  • Ischia
  • Penisola Sorrentina
  • Sannio
  • Vesuvio

Aubrie Talarico

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Wine & Food Buddies: White Truffles + the Wines of Piedmont


Pictured above, the Italian culinary equivalent of an edible diamond:  the white truffle (this handful here is worth 300 Euros!).

Truffle season and its many festivals and feasts are upon us (it’s November).  Truffles are found throughout central and northern Italy, mainly in the regions of Umbria, Tuscany, Piedmont, and Marche.  The name in Italian is tartufo, and it derives from the Latin name tuber, meaning something like “lump”.  Truffles come in two main types, black and white, with the white truffle being the more valuable one.

White truffles are an extremely pungent smelling and potent ingredient that typically is eaten with pasta or risotto…and a little bit goes a long way!  A classic recipe, for example, calls for merely shavings of fresh white truffle:

Pasta & White Truffle Recipe for 4-6 people:
Ingredients needed:

  • 1 lb or about 500 grams uncooked pasta (Linguini style noodles are a good choice)
  • 6-7 tablespoons or about 85 grams of unsalted butter (or easily sub extra virgin olive oil for butter if preferred)
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, preferably freshly grated
  • salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1 white truffle, cleaned (a small one will do just fine because you will need to use very little of it)


  1. Bring large pot of water to boil, add salt to boiling water and then add pasta.  Tip: waiting until water is boiling to add the salt as opposed to boiling already salted water speeds up the process!
  2. Cook pasta according to the cook time on the package, usually between 7-9 minutes. Aim for al dente (=cooked but still firm) to avoid overcooked pasta noodles, which become a sticky tangled mess. Remove pot from heat at this point and drain.
  3. Add butter to pasta and stir until melted – or add olive oil (as much as needed). Add grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (about half a cup or 40 grams) and then add salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Serve pasta on plates and use a grater to add a generous amount of shavings of truffle on top of each plate.  Tip: Clean your fresh white truffle first by brushing off any dirt. Do NOT wash it off in water like you would veggies!

*Fresh truffles and portions of unused truffle should be stored in paper towel (as in the picture above) and inside a glass jar or plastic container in your refrigerator. Change the paper towel daily.
**A cheaper version of this recipe can be achieved by using white truffle infused olive oil as a final condiment poured on top rather than freshly shaved truffle.

nebbiolodalbaSuggested Wine Buddies for White Truffle based dishes:  Truffles have a very earthy flavor to them and go best with bold reds that gain earthy, foresty, flavors in them as they evolve.  A mature Barolo, Barbaresco, Barbera d’Alba, Nebbiolo d’Alba or Dolcetto (Dogliani) – all from Piedmont – are the best suggestions as far as Italian wines go.  If white wine is your grape juice of choice, try pairing white truffle with a Chardonnay from the Langhe area or a Timorasso white from Piedmont or from the Lugana region.

Aubrie Talarico

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A Grape By Any Other Name: Cannonau & Grenache


*A Grape By Any Other Name posts are about exploring different grape varieties known by other names or nicknames, both inside and outside of Italy.

Cannonau is most closely associated with the island of Sardegna where it is widely planted.  Cannonau is used to make dry reds, rose’, passito sweet wines, or fortified “liquoroso” wines.  Many of the wines spend some time in oak or chestnut botti (=large barrels) depending on its classification (riserva, classico, etc).  Common descriptions include red fruits like raspberry, floral, and spices when more mature.  You are more likely to hear about Cannonau’s International counterparts in France and Spain, but it’s believed now that this grape actually originates from Sardegna.  Cannonau wines tend to be labeled clearly as such: “Cannonau di Sardegna” or “Cannonau di Jerzu” (the latter being a specific sub-region of Sardegna).

Cannonau has several synonyms domestically: Cannonau di Sardegna Capoferrato, Cannonau di Sardegna Oliena, Tocai Rosso, Uva di Spagna, Cannonaddu, Abundante, Aleante, Aleantedi Rivalto, Nepente, Aleante Poggiarelli, Cannonau Selvaggio, Canonazo, Carignane rosso, Elegante, Francese, Gamay del Trasimeno, etc.

Internationally Cannonau is known under many synonyms: Grenache (France) and Garnacha (Spain) are the principal ones to remember.

  • Grenache is a widely planted black grape in France, with most plantings being used in the popular blends of the Southern Rhone (think Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Cotes du Rhone) and in both the Provence and Languedoc-Roussillon regions in the south of France.  It’s also used in the French sweet wine production, vin doux naturels.
  • Garnacha/Garnacha Tinta/Garnatxa/Lladoner/Tinto Aragones/Granaccia/Garnaccho negro, Garnacha Comun/Garnacha negra/Garnacha Roja is the 2nd most planted black grape in Spain and makes up part of a large percentage of red blends.
  • Other names (of which there are too many to bother making you read) include: Alicant Blau, Aragones, Bois Jaune, Rousillon, etc

Other Locations:  This grape is planted in a lot of places, including Portugal, Israel, Australia (where it is also used to make a port-style wine), and the USA (California, Washington state).  In these cases it’s more likely to be labeled Grenache, or one of the many other synonyms rather than “Cannonau”.

Why so many names?  Well, why do we have so many different words around the world for the color yellow, when it is in theory the same thing, in all its many shades?  Also worth noting: there are many mutations and crossings of Grenache/Cannonau which can be the reason behind a different name, as is the case of Grenache Rose and Grenache gris (which are mutations of Grenache) or Alicante (a crossing of Grenache and Petite Bouschet).

Do they all taste the same?  Wines around the world made from Grenache/Cannonau are all different from each other mainly because most are blends, meaning they are not 100% of this grape and therefore vary in their other grape components.  Dry red wines made of a dominant percentage of Grenache/Cannonau tend to have noticeably similar textures and descriptors for tastes and smells (velvety texture, red fruits).  But when we consider the effect of Terroir (=the combo of the soil, weather, sun, altitude, etc which make a place unique and different from other places), a Grenache-based wine from France cannot possibly taste exactly like a Cannonau from Sardegna.

International Grenache Day is on the third Friday of September every year.  Your local enoteca might have a special tasting event for it, so keep your eyes peeled closer to the date!

Aubrie Talarico

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