In the northwest corner of Italy is the Aosta Valley. The region, known in Italy as Valle d’Aosta, borders France to the west, Switzerland to the north and the region of Piemonte to the south and east. This Aosta Valley is a part of the Alps mountain range. The Valley first was inhabited by the Celts around 900 B.C. The Romans moved thru around 25 B.C naming the land after Augusta. Today, Valle D’Aosta is better known as a tourist destination for hikers and skiers.
Last month I wrote about the “Super Marches” wines from Le Marche. I realize that I have yet to discuss the granddaddy of all the “Super” wines; Super Tuscans. Tuscany has a long history of making great indigenous wines. See previous articles on Chianti , Brunello and Vin Santo . It is also home to some of the best internationally styled wines which are known collectively as Super Tuscans. So just what is a Super Tuscan? There really are no hard and fast rules. First and foremost, the term generally refers to red wines from Tuscany that do not conform to any DOC(G) regulations. They are released as IGT wines or even Vino de Tavola (VdT) or table wine. Beyond that, it is a term more of marketing than art or science.
Le Marche (pronounced lay Mar-kay) is a region in central Italy that borders the Adriatic Sea to the east and the Apennines to the west. Le Marche borders Emilia-Romagna to the north, Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio to the west, and Abruzzi to the south. The terrain is mostly hills and mountains once you get away from the coast. The area has a long history matching most of the historic conquests of Italy: it was occupied by the Gaul’s, colonized by the Romans, later it was invaded by the Goths and Lombard’s, then by Charlemagne. It was then mostly a papal state before finally being annexed in the mid-1800’s by the kingdom of Italy.
Summertime. For many of us that is the time for a cool white wine. Of course many of them are produced in Italy. One of the more commercially successful whites is the Pinot Grigio from Italy. Specifically, those produced in the north-eastern province of Trentino-Alto Adige. Surrounded the Alps and Dolomites, and bordering Austria and Switzerland, this is the northern most region in Italy. The area is mountainous with only about 15% of the land being farmable.
Rome is one of the great cities of the world. It has been for over two thousand years, and continues to be to this day. If there is a wine that is synonymous with Rome, it is Frascati. This wine has been produced in the countryside around Rome for almost two thousand years.
Apulia (also called Puglia) is the region that makes up the southeast corner of Italy including the heel of the boot of Italy. Historically, Apulia has been a very large producer of wine often leading Italy in terms of quantity of wine produced. The wines produced there were rugged, rough and deeply colored, and not of high quality. Much of the production went into cheaper jug wines or was blended into generic wines. Often, the wines were scandalously blended into wines from the more premier wines of the north giving those wines deeper color and a bit of texture. Nevertheless, the locals liked their local wines. These wines, however, were rarely tasted outside their homeland as a serious individual bottle of wine.
All the way down at the southern end of Italy, in the arch of the boot, is the region of Basilicata. It is sparsely populated with sturdy peoples of very old traditions. The people who reside there often call their region by the ancient Roman name of Lucanta. The wine making and drinking traditions there predate Rome. One of the oldest and best wines made there is from the Aglianico grape. It is called Aglianico del Vulture. In fact, it is one of the great-undiscovered wines of Italy. This is most likely due to the isolated position of Basilicata and lack of tourism.
As the weather starts to warm up, I find myself looking to shed those heavy red wines and foods of winter. In particular, white wines that are both refreshing and interesting are on my mind. Italy has many great white wines, some of which have been discussed here before . Vermentino is made around the Mediterranean from Spain to Italy. It is even made in California. But for me, the top Vermentinos in the world come from Sardinia. Off the Western coast of Italy, in the Mediterranean, lays the island of Sardegna (what we call Sardinia). The island has an ancient history, being controlled by the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians, the Romans, Byzantines, Arabs and Catalans.
In a previous article, we examined Brunello’s 100 plus year history . In Italian wine expressions, that is a relatively short period. Nevertheless, Brunello has established itself as one of the premium wines, not only in Tuscany, but also in the entire world. Brunello di Montalcino has an even more brief history in Italy’s wine regulations. Brunello did not become a DOC until 1966 and has only been a DOCG since 1986. Brunello’s DOCG regulations require that 100% Sangiovese grapes be used. The wines are then aged for a minimum of 4 years (5 years for the Riserva). Traditionally, Brunello required a minimum of three years ageing in wood barrels. That has now been relaxed to two years ageing in wood. In addition, four months must be in bottle (six for the Riservas). The finished wine cannot be released for sale until January 1st of the year five years from vintage year. For example, the 2003 Brunello’s could not be released until January of 2008. Geographically, there is a strictly identified zone surrounding the town of Montalcino, in which the Sangiovese grapes used to make Brunello must be grown and the wines must be bottled. So what type of experience should a good Brunello provide? This simple question is controversial at the moment. Traditionally, Brunello, like other Sangiovese wines, is a pale ruby color. The wine is transparent in the glass with lovely perfumed aromas of cherries and floral notes. It has a powerful elegance about it.
There really is little question as to what the two most famous and prestigious wines from Italy are: Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino. That is not to say they are the best wines, but that they have a history of being some of the best wines exported from Italy. The next series of articles will examine Brunellos (for a review on Barolo see the previously posted three part series on this site ). Brunello di Montalcino is a wine made from grapes grown in vineyards surrounding the hilltop town of Montalcino (about 5 miles south of Sienna) in Tuscany.