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A Guide to Italian Grocery Store Wine

Italian Wine for Dummies: Selecting a Decent Bottle from the Grocery Store

It is beyond doubt that a proper glass of wine complements the exquisite cuisine and breathtaking landscapes of Italy. As a global leader in the realm of wine production, Italy offers a captivating selection for both seasoned enthusiasts and curious newcomers.

From the robust intensity of red varietals to the delicate finesse of white wines, Italy proposes a remarkable selection that ticks all the boxes and everything in between.

Wine has been a part of Italian culture for millennia, dating all the way back to the Etruscans and ancient Greeks. Stomped grapes and fermentation left our ancestors with unforeseen yet miraculous results. Over the centuries, Italian winemaking has evolved into a true art form, with each region offering its own unique blend of aromas.

The extensive wine selection can be intimidating, especially for newbies. To put your mind at ease, we've crafted the perfect guide to simplify the process.

This Italian wine guide for dummies will serve as your compass as you navigate the wine aisle in Italian grocery stores, transforming you from a bewildered beginner into a confident connoisseur. Stay tuned for some insider tips and tricks that will make achieving la dolce vita a breeze!

Keep your eyes peeled for these important markings: DOC & DOCG. These seals located at the neck of the bottle are indicators of quality and origin. The DOC label stands for “Controlled Designation of Origin.” Bottles with this seal come from a specific region in Italy and adhere to strict production regulations. DOC wines represent a step above basic table wines, offering a certain level of quality and regional character. The DOCG stands for “Controlled and Guaranteed Designation of Origin,” indicating the highest quality classification for Italian wines. It signifies that the wine not only meets the stricter regulations of a DOC zone but also passes a rigorous government tasting panel.

Cork vs. Screw. Many Italians argue that the presence of a screw cap indicates the bottle of wine is cheap. Italian winemakers tend to stick with the traditional bottling process by using the cork, however, research indicates that screw caps made from aluminum material do not react with the wine and restrict the risk of cork taint. Contrary to popular belief, screw cap closure does not indicate sub-average wine.

Punt. When the term punt is used, we are not talking about a football match! The punt is a subtle or deep indent designed by glass blowers located at the heel of the bottle. Initially intended as a well for sediment to collect, this characteristic keeps the sediment from swirling back up into the wine as you pour it. This distinction on the bottle indicates attention to detail during the production process, meaning wine bottles with a deeper punt tend to be of higher quality.

Now that we have covered the basics regarding the production and packaging of Italian wine, it's time to dive deeper into the selection process. Before entering the wine aisle, ask yourself a simple question: what ambiance am I looking for? It is important to consider specific foods or locations you may be looking to pair the wine with. For example, seafood dishes such as spaghetti alle vongole are complemented best by a glass of white wine. In contrast, plates prepared with red meat or tomatoes such as spaghetti bolognese are paired best with a glass of red wine. Some bottles provide a pairing recommendation on the back label which can be extremely useful, so always be sure to explore the backside. Remember to have a general idea of what you are looking for to expedite the process.

Vino Bianco

Pecorino. This white wine from Abruzzo is made from the Pecorino grape and is known for its full-bodied character, with flavors of pear, apple, and almond. Pecorino can be enjoyed on its own or paired with richer dishes, such as grilled fish or roasted vegetables.
Vernaccia di San Gimignano: This white wine from Tuscany is known for its crisp acidity, citrus and almond flavors, and a hint of minerality. It's made from the Vernaccia grape and pairs well with seafood and light pasta dishes.

Soave. Another famous white wine from Veneto, Soave is produced mainly from the Garganega grape. It has a dry, minerally character with flavors of apple, pear, and almond. Soave pairs well with shellfish, pasta with creamy sauces, and cheese.

Friuli White Wines. The Friuli Venezia Giulia region in northeastern Italy is known for its high-quality white wines, particularly those made from Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, and Friulano grapes. These wines can range from dry and crisp to richer and more textured, depending on the grape variety and production style. They pair well with a variety of dishes, from seafood to salads to grilled chicken.

Vermentino di Gallura. This Sardinian white wine is made from the Vermentino grape and is known for its bright acidity, citrus and floral aromas, and a slightly salty finish. It's a refreshing wine that pairs well with seafood, pasta with light sauces, and salads.

Franciacorta. This sparkling wine from Lombardy is produced in the traditional method, similar to Champagne. It's made from Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, and Pinot Nero grapes and can range from dry and brut to sweeter styles. Franciacorta is a versatile wine that can be enjoyed as an aperitif, with food, or for celebrations.

Vino Rosso

Chianti Classico. Chianti Classico is a Tuscan wine produced in a designated zone within Tuscany. It's made primarily from Sangiovese grapes, often blended with other red varieties such as Canaiolo and Colorino. Chianti Classico can range from light and fruity to full-bodied and rustic, depending on the producer and vintage. It pairs well with a variety of dishes, from pizza and pasta to grilled meats and stews.

Montepulciano d'Abruzzo. Originating from the Abruzzo region in central Italy, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo is a red wine made primarily from the Montepulciano grape. This wine is known for its medium to full body, with flavors of dark fruit, plums, spice, and sometimes herbal notes. It can be enjoyed young or with some aging. Montepulciano d'Abruzzo pairs well with a variety of dishes, pasta with tomato sauce, grilled meats, and aged cheeses.

Barolo. This king of Italian wines comes from Piedmont and is made from the Nebbiolo grape. Barolo is known for its bold tannins, high acidity, and complex flavors of tar, rose, and dark fruit. It requires aging and pairs well with rich foods like braised meats, stews, and aged cheeses.

Barbaresco. Also from Piedmont, Barbaresco is another wine made from Nebbiolo grapes. It's often lighter in body and more approachable than Barolo but can still be quite complex. Barbaresco pairs well with similar dishes as Barolo, but can also be enjoyed with grilled meats and pasta dishes with hearty sauces.

Brunello di Montalcino. This prestigious wine from Tuscany is made from the Sangiovese grape. Brunello di Montalcino is known for its full-bodied character, with flavors of cherry, plum, and leather. It requires aging and pairs well with grilled meats, roasted vegetables, and pasta with tomato sauce.

Amarone della Valpolicella. This unique wine from Veneto is made from grapes that have been dried after harvest, concentrating their sugars and flavors. Amarone is also known for its full-bodied character, with flavors of raisin, prune, and spice. It pairs well with rich foods like braised meats, stews, and aged cheeses.

Nero d'Avola. This Sicilian wine is made from the Nero d'Avola grape and is known for its bold tannins, ripe fruit flavors, and spicy notes. Nero d'Avola pairs well with grilled meats, pasta dishes with tomato sauce, and aged cheeses.

This is just a small sampling of the many delightful Italian red and white wines available. With so many regions and grape varieties to explore, there's sure to be a perfect Italian wine for every taste. From the crisp whites of Soave to the bold reds of Barolo, there's always an Italian wine waiting to be discovered.

With so many options, the most important factor is your own personal taste. Don't be afraid to experiment with different grapes and regions to find what truly speaks to you. Remember, grocery store staff can be valuable allies in your exploration. Share your taste preferences and ask for recommendations, they might introduce you to your new favorite Italian wine!

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