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Italian Overview with Ian Ian D Agata


Ian D'Agata is an expert on regional Italian food and wine and managing director of the International Wine Academy of Rome. Ian gives an overview of the regions and key grape varieties to help get our heads around Italian wine.

Italy has over 2,500 grape varieties of which 1000 have been genetically identified and 600 are grown for making wine. Bearing in mind that in France 99% of the wine is made from 15 grape varieties and in California, just 7 varieties, Italy with 600 varieties can be confusing. Added to that, you also have wines named by place as well as wines labelled by the grape variety, e.g. Brunello/Sangiovese.

The best way to understand Italy is to get to know the grapes because each region is associated with certain grape varieties. Nebbiollo a key red, is really only in Piedmont (e.g. Barolo). It's one of the world's best grape varieties - a late ripener, high acid and the best translator of soil, along with Riesling and Pinot Noir. It ages forever because of the high acidity.

Going north to south, you gain heat and light so the wines become higher in alcohol and extract and colour. In the North - other major red grapes are Dolcetta, Barbera and Corvina (Valpolicella and Amarone). In Central Italy, Sangiovese has the lions share. In the South the main two grapes are Nero d'Avola (Sicily) and Aglianico (one to watch in the future).

The best whites are from the North - Fruilli, Venezia-Giulia and Alto Adige. Alto Adige used to be part of Austria so its the best place in Italy for Riesling, Gew├╝rztraminer and Pinot Gris. In the south you can find good whites from Sicily and Sardinia. Fruilli often blend Chardonnay into native grape varieties for full-flavoured food wines.

Pinot Grigio is one of the world's best selling wines and the best selling import in United States. It is often blended with other grapes, e.g. Trebbiano, and is so popular that Italy can't keep up with demand. The reason Pinot Grigio is popular is that it is food flexible - it goes well with a variety of foods and falls between the flavour and aroma spectrums of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Pinot Grigio is very fruity but less so than Chardonnay and it is slightly herbal but less grassy than Sauvignon Blanc can be.

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