From Franciacorta in the north in Lombardy and Friuli in the northeast to Toscana in central west and Sicily in the southwest, Italy is full of wines to discover. With over 2000 indigenous grapes grown in the 20 regions, the range of wines and expressions makes getting to know and understand Italian wine an interesting challenge as I discovered last year during the VinItaly Wine Ambassador Course.
Think it’s time to tune up your Italian wine game in 2020?
Today, we want to introduce you to four of our favorite Italian discoveries to try in 2020 from four different regions from north to south: Franciacorta in Lombardy (peach color in the top center of the map), Friuli Venezia Giulia (in the far east in yellow), Chianti in the large region of Toscana (in yellow on the west coast), and Mt Etna in Sicily (yellow) — the ball at the toe of the boot.
I think you’ll agree with us that these wines are worth spending just a little more money, because you will get such a bigger bang for your buck.
- Instead of Prosecco, how about a sparkling wine from Lombardy’s Franciacorta?
Introducing: Franciacorta Brut DOCG NV Girolamo Conforti, specifically, a Brut made from 80% chardonnay and 20% pinot bianco.
- Instead of just any pinot grigio, how about one that is DOC from Friuli?
Introducing: 2017 Terlato Friuili Pinot Grigio – D.O.C.
- Instead of an inexpensive, generic, chemical laden sangiovese, how about a DOCG Chianti that’s organic?
Introducing: Monte Maggio – Chianti Classico – Riserva – DOCG
- Instead of any old rose, how about a biodynamic one from old vines grown on the high altitude slopes of volcanic Mt Etna in Sicily?
Introducing: 2016 – Vinudilice – Vino Rosato
To get to know these wines better, we paired them with some classic choices of Italian cuisine– and wow did these wines make this simple dinner with simple ingredients shine, especially the artichoke!
- Oysters and Cavier
- Cheese and Fennel salami plate
- Antipasto Arugula Salad
- Artichoke with lemon aioli
- Spaghetti with Italian sausage and mushroom marinara sauce
- Rustic roasted garlic bread
- Franciacorta Brut DOCG NV Girolamo Conforti – 12.5% alcohol
- 2017 – Terlato Friuli Pinot Grigio – D.O.C. – 13% alcohol
- 2016 – Vinudilice – Vino Rosato – 12.5% alcohol
- 2010 Monte Maggio – Chianti Classico – Riserva – DOCG – 13.5% alcohol
Franciacorta Brut DOCG NV Girolamo Conforti – 12.5% alcohol – SRP $40
purchased $32 on sale
If people know anything about Italian wine, they generally know and have tasted three: Prosecco, Pinot Grigio, and Chianti.
So I choose to encourage YOU in 2020 to bypass the Prosecco to try Franciacorta — a sparkling wine made in the traditional way using chardonnay grapes, sometimes blending with indigenous Italian grapes like this wine which has 80% chardonnay and 20% pinot bianco. The region has a dynamic range of soil types and the climate is influenced by a large lake as well as the Italian Alps. I was introduced to Franciacorta at a Balzac twitter tasting many years ago, and have been a fan ever since. The traditional method of making sparkling wine is so time and labor intensive which explains why it is so expensive. When I saw this on sale for this price, I jumped at the opportunity and I would encourage newcomers to Italian wines to do so too!
Color: Golden, daffodil, lovely foam, delicate persistent bubbles.
Nose: White florals and fruit, asian pear, carnation spice, sandalwood, amber.
Palate: Fresh, nice acidity, super foamy, the texture of the bubbles hang out for a long time, especially on the tip of the tongue, lemony, it has an interesting texture that hangs out for a long time!
This sparkling wine pairs well with a wide range of foods! Let it inspire you!
Pairing: Nice with fresh oysters on the half shell. Fine with caviar, but better with the fennel salami as it makes the salami very interesting as the wine loves the salty richness, and speaking of salt richness, it even tackles the anchovy wrapped capers and salt cured olives! Surprisingly, it likes salty aged cheeses as well include alpine cheeses, aged gouda, and parm. Franciacorta loves the yeasty qualities in the warm bread: The bread is warm and the sparkling is cold– what a wonderful combination. Great salad wine as well: the arugula makes it pop. The bitterness of the lettuce brings out the fruity characteristics in the wine. Good with the antipasto, but would also like caprese, or a grilled fruit salad, making this a fun wine throughout the year.
Sue wanted this wine and the artichoke every day.
It was fine with the pumpkin soup, but would do much better with a pumpkin soup with more italian herbs rather than curry and baking spices. This wine paired well from beginning to end of our menu tonight, and at the end I found myself contemplating how well the artichoke went with this Franciacorta Brut.
2017 – Terlato Friuli Pinot Grigio – D.O.C. – 13% alcohol SRP $20
Most people know about and have tasted Pinot grigio. A few years ago it seemed to have taken the US by storm and everyone was drinking it and talking about it, but I did not really see the point. It seemed to me more like a watered down sauvignon blanc so I have to admit that I am generally not going to jump at the chance to drink Pinot grigio.
But this one, made from 25 – 40 year old vines on over 240 acres, is exceptional. I would definitely seek this one out and encourage people to try it in 2020.
If not this particular wine, up your Pinot Grigio game by seeking higher quality DOC wines and spending a little more money for them because the increased complexity is worth it and changes the wine from being a summertime sipper to a complex and fascinating dinner companion.
Color: Very pale gold, pale white gold
Nose: Petrol and white florals with white stone fruit. The white florals are a very faint gardenia. A bit of carnation spice as well, especially in a Pinot Grigio glass
Palate: Very light on the palate. The viscous mouth feel stands out. Pinot grigio is a mild mannered white wine, but this quality has a bit more character. It is mild and smooth with steely minerals and a smooth viscous mouthfeel that makes it stand out as an interesting wine. There is a nice finish that is minty and cool in the back of the throat. Like a lemon sorbet with fresh mint!
If you are not a fan of Pinot Grigio you should try this because it is interesting and different than the typical grocery store wine you might have tried.
If you are a fan of Pinot Grigio you should try this because it is interesting and different than other PG you may have tried.
Pairing: Can work with oysters. Great with nutty alpine cheeses. Fantastic with the fennel salami. But wait till you get to the artichoke! It is a lemon sorbet combination that is out of this world.
If I had a restaurant, I would want to pair this wine with artichoke, and would tell all the customers that they had to try it! I loved it so much that on a subsequent evening I paired it with artichoke ravioli! YUM!
It was also yummy with the pumpkin soup taking in all of the baking spices of the soup, the richness of the soup and making it one. While the main course we did was a rich meaty red sauced, surprisingly the wine loves this dish as it goes so well with the spices of the sauce and the fennel in the sauce from the Italian sausages, and loves the spice from them too.
This is no simple mild mannered Pinot Grigio but one robust enough to handle the complexity of an antipasto salad making it a wine that can follow a meal from start to finish. And that is why you would pay for a D.O.C. wine. You are getting a wine with character.
2016 – Vinudilice – Vino Rosato – 12.5% alcohol SRP $45
bought on sale at WineHouseLA for $22
I found this wine at WineHouseLA on the sale rack, and marveled at an Italian rose for $44, now on sale for $22 which is STILL really high for a rose. So we tracked down eh Italian specialist and asked. He swooned over the wine, and said he just wanted to move those final four bottles, so Sue bought one and I bought three!
So now let me introduce you to a really wild Italian wine. This is not your typical wine. It is not your typical Italian wine. It is not a wine that the general population might get.
This is a wine for my wine geek friends that are always open to a new adventure.
It is unusual, and it is fun, and it is super food friendly given the right menu as we experienced this evening.
This biodynamically made rose from 100 to 200 year old grapes grown on Sicily’s Mt Etna would be a desert island wine for me.
Color: Somewhat pale rose gold, but insanely bright, capturing all the light.
Nose: Minerals, sulphur, petrol, earth, iron. It has a very interesting nose. When first smelling this wine, you are intrigued right off the bat.
Palate: This is a mind blowing experience — a very unusual wine. Tart and acidic up front, a burst of white stone fruit mid-palate. The back of the palate is all about tangerine with a bit of sulphuric salt, and a long lingering finish. I swear I can taste the earthy, iron volcanic influence.
Pairing: Not great with an aged gouda–. together they are super sour. Good with olives and salami.
Artichokes with lemon aoeli was a fantastic pair.
We tasted a bit of caviar with the Vinudilice and imagined eggs and caviar — have you ever had an egg salad sandwich or deviled eggs with caviar? YUM! . If we have any of this wine left tonight, I am going to Trader Joes and finding artichoke ravioli (which I did and it was fantastic also!)
Artichokes can be a hard food to pair with wine, but it works well. With the meaty pasta, it bounces off the rich spicy components of the dish and stands up to it just fine.
Montemaggio – Chianti Classico – Riserva – DOCG – 13.5% alcohol SRP $35
sample for my review consideration
Like Prosecco and Pinot grigio, most people know Chianti. But do they know DOC and DOCG wines? They really are significantly better, and while they might cost a bit more, they are worth the price. Also look for the Reserve designation!
While this is a sample, I will definitely be on this lookout to buy this organic wine because it overdelivers at this price. I would love to see this wine on a restaurant list by the glass or the bottle! Learn more or order the wine online here.
Color: There is a brickiness to the color with a coral rim.
Nose: Nice spicy nose, pepper, clove tobacco, a rich cigar box nose, Sue found dirty socks and I found cherry cola. We looked at each other and realized we had two totally different glasses. Yes, the glass matters! So much better with a glass designed for sangiovese (or syrah) rather than Bordeaux.
Palate: I got a lot of pepper right away, cherry, very dry, dried cherry with snuff, or cherry tobacco mid palate. It is a 2010 and it could lay down a lot longer. Leathery, very textural, slate at the back of the throat.
It is interesting on its own, but you imagine right away how well it will dance with food and you want to get on the dance floor right away!
Pairing: Sue went straight for the salt cured olives and was not disappointed. Sue really liked it with the salami. With the artichoke and lemon aioli it was a hands down BAM! for the both of us. There was something about the pumpkin soup that Sue did not like at all. Great with the meat sauce, a beautiful simple pairing. It is all about the fruit. Bright cherries and spice meet on the palate when the food and the wine come together.
What did I tell you? Artichoke is magical with all four wines from four regions! No wonder artichoke is a specialty of the country! I had no idea until we experienced it on this night!
Cheers to the New Year and sharing our love for wine! Which wine or wines from Italy would you choose to introduce a friend to Italian wine? Here’s the other participants in this month’s Italian Wine Food Travel prompt hosted by Jeff:
- Camilla at Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares “Sips and Eats Around the Boot: A Primer to Italian Wines and Pairings”
- Lynn at Savor the Harvest shares “Introducing the Diversity of Italian Wine”
- Wendy at A Day in the Life on the Farm shares “Ringing in the New Year with Loved Ones and Prosecco“
- Pinny at Chinese Food and Wine Pairings shares “Sharing Lugana DOC – Winter Whites With Friends #ItalianFWT #luganawines“
- Marcia at Joy of Wine shares “The World of Italian Wine: Where Do I Begin?“
- Gwendolyn at Wine Predator shares “4 To Try in 2020: Italy’s Franciacorta, Friuli, Chianti, Mt. Etna“
- Cindy at Grape Experiences shares “Why the Wines and Food of Custoza DOC are Some of Veneto’s Many Pleasures”
- Susannah at Avvinare shares “Three Noble Red Grapes that Help to Navigate the Italian Peninsula”
- Linda at My Full Wine Glass shares “What exactly IS this Italian grape?”
- Jen at Vino Travels shares “The Beginnings to Understanding Italian Wine”
- Kevin at Snarky Wine shares “Cutting Your Teeth on Italian Wines”
- Katarina at Grapevine Adventures shares “3 Grapes to Get a Beginner’s Taste of Italian Wine”
- Nicole at Somm’s Table shares “Italian Wine 101 Cheat Sheet”
- Jeff at Food Wine Click! shares “Italian Wine 101 – Start Your Journey Here”
Here’s what we will be discussing during the twitter chat from 8-9am Pacific:
- 11:00 am ET
Q1 Welcome to the 2020 kickoff for #ItalianFWT. Where are you tweeting from? Introduce yourself, share a link to your blog. Visitors too!
- 11:05 am ET
Q2 Today we’re challenging our group members to Introduce a Friend to Italian Wine. What would you do? A special wine? A list of wines? Highlight your approach! #ItalianFWT
- 11:10am ET
Q3 What are the keys to understanding Italian Wine? Are there unique qualities? #ItalianFWT
- 11:15am ET
Q4 Did you have an “aha” moment when it comes to Italian wine? Share your story! #ItalianFWT
- 11:20 am ET
Q5 What specific wine or wines did you suggest to your curious friend? Tell us why you chose what you did. #ItalianFWT
- 11:25 am ET
Q6 Did price enter into your consideration for your recommendations? #ItalianFWT
- 11:30 am ET Q7
Did you recommend wines from multiple regions or just one? Any reasoning? #ItalianFWT
- 11:35am ET
Q8 Did you suggest food pairings for your wine recommendations? #ItalianFWT
- 11:40am ET
Q9 Do you have favorite food pairings for Italian wines that might not have been in your post? (even non-Italian foods) #ItalianFWT
Q10 If your friend wants to travel to Italy, would you send them to the region your suggested wines originate from? Why or why not? #ItalianFWT
Q11 What next steps would you recommend to your friend, after they have taken your advice? #ItalianFWT
Q12 Open comment time, any thoughts or discoveries you’d like to share? #ItalianFWT
- 12:00pm EDT
Thanks for joining our “Introduce a Friend to Italian Wine” at #ItalianFWT! Join us in February as Kevin Gagnon leads our chat on Italian Winery Cooperatives.
This is what we did in 2019 for #ItalianFWT:
- January: Camilla M. Mann hosts “Italian Wines for Cold Winter Nights” with our contribution
“4 Montepulciano Paired with Osso Bucco Warms Up Winter Italian Style plus #ItalianWFT plans for 2019”
- February: Jeff Burrows hosts “Umbria, with a focus on Sagrantino”– our post–
“Get to Know Sagrantino #ItalianFWT”
- March: I hosted a Focus on Sustainable Agricultural Practices in Italy
“La Maliosa Biodynamic Procanico and a Pasta Bar with Santa Barbara Uni and Mussels #ItalianFWT #WomensHistoryMonth”
- April: Jason Or Jill Barth hosts “Island Wines of Italy” and we contributed
“Island Wines of Italy: 3 from Sicily paired with pizza #ItalianFWT”
- May: Lynn Gowdy Marche and the Pecorino grape
“Pairing Pecorino d’Abuzzo from Ferzo: Lemon Caper Shrimp #ItalianFWT”
- June: Katarina Andersson hosts “Lambrusco” and we have
“Bugno Martino’s Organic Lambrusco Defy Expectations #ItalianFWT”
- July: Camilla M. Mann hosts “Prosecco” and we have
3 Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG and Calamari with Lemon Caper Sauce #ItalianFWT
- August: Kevin Gagnon hosts “Northeastern Italy” and we did
“Celebrating Summer with 4 Wines from the NE Mountains of Italy with 4 Vegetarian Courses #ItalianFWT”
- September – Jennifer Gentile Martin hosts “Passito Wines” and we offered
“Let Pasqua Put a Little Love in Your Life Appassimento Style #ItalianFWT”
- October – David Crowley hosts “Abruzzo” with our contribution
“Beautiful Abruzzo: 3 Montepulciano and 1 Trebbiano with simple Italian cuisine #ItalianFWT”
- November: Wendy Klik hosts “Chianti” and we have “Tasting Tuscany: Tuna, Beans, EVOO, Chianti, Vermentino #ItalianFWT”
- December: Susannah Gold hosts “Lesser Known Wine Regions of Italy (Molise, Basilicata, etc)” and we offer up “3 Surprising Sparklers from Emilia Romagna’s Terramossa”
In 2020, we plan:
- January: Introduce a Friend to Italian Wine hosted by Jeff Burrows
- February: Cooperatives in Italy hosted by Kevin Gagnon
- March: Women in the Italian Wine Industry hosted by Pinny Tam
- April: Brachetto d’Acqui hosted by Cindy Lowe Rynning
- May: Wines of Campania hosted by Susannah Gold
- June: Sangiovese Around Italy hosted by Wendy Klik
- July: TBA
- August: Sagra degli Spaghetti all’Amatriciana hosted by Camilla M. Mann
- September: Sustainability and Climate Change hosted by Katarina Andersson
- October: Volcanic Wines hosted by Jennifer Gentile Martin
- November: Primitivo: Godfather of Zinfandel hosted by us!
- December: Sparkling Wines of Italy for the Holidays hosted by us!
Join us on our Italian Wine Adventures in 2020!