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Toasting Italy, the Land of Wine

The February issue of New Jersey Monthly is all about Italian food. I thought we should give some equal time to Italian wine, which is as essential to the Italian dining experience as bread and pasta.

The ancient Greeks referred to Italy as Oenotria, or land of wine. There are close to 1,000 different grape varieties grown in Italy, and if you ask me, any country with that many choices can keep the title.

Italian wines are famous for being food-friendly; with so many choices where should you start? Begin by choosing a wine that will pair well with your meal. Many Italian dishes are tomato-based with red gravy (or sauce) and deserve a red wine with higher acidity to match the acids in the tomatoes. Wines made from Sangiovese grapes are a great choice. These grapes are grown extensively in Tuscany and are the main grape for Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, Rosso di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and many, but not all, Toscana IGT wines.

Sangiovese typically tastes of sour-cherry, dried herbs, violets and black tea. These are not big fruity wines, although Chianti and Toscana IGT wines can include other grape varieties to add deeper color and dark fruit flavors. Wines labeled Riserva have been aged longer prior to the wine’s release. Chianti made from grapes grown in the classic Chianti vineyards is labeled Classico.

Here are a few of the Italian wine producers that I enjoy:

Chianti: Felsina and Isole e Olena.
Brunello di Montalcino: Pertimali di Livio Sassetti and Mocali
Rossi di Montalcino: Uccelliera
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano: Dei and Cerro Vino
Toscana IGT: Montevertine and Montevertine’s Pian del Ciampolo