Bookstore sommelier gets the boot
June 27, 2007
My first recommendation is to get a firm grasp of Italian geography. The wine regions are stylistically divided by region. Each major region boasts superiority in the use of their native grape variety and the style of wine production that goes along with it. For example, the northwest is dominated by three major red grape varieties.
First is the noble Nebbiolo grape that is responsible for Barolo and Barbaresco production. These wines are the most expensive in Italy and have character and depth that is unique to only these great wine regions.
Second is the Barbera grape that is the most underrated and misunderstood of the wines of the northwest. These wines in their best form can be fruity and bombastic with a strong life span of 10-plus. Finally, is the summery and fun Dolcetto grape, that while short-lived can be ripe and playful. This is not to mention Italy’s greatest brut style bubbly wine Franciocorta, its fine sweet bubbler Mosato D’Asti and one of Italy’s greatest whites, the Roero Anreis, all from the northwest.
You can see why I recommend learning one region at a time, as not to miss any of Italy’s great opportunities in wine drinking.
My second recommendation is to learn some of the label language. The first thing to learn is that you can base nothing on the DOC system. In Italy, the label governing body has designated certain regions and imposed certain restrictions by which if one wants to use a name the must comply. For example, Chianti has received the country’s highest designation, the DOCG, and therefore to use this name you must follow certain regulations that once included using a certain percentage of white grapes to preserve a light and fruity character. Those who wanted to make a more serious wine in Chianti and used exclusively Sangiovese grapes were denied the name Chianti and their wines were thus designated the lower level of IGT. It turned out that these were some of the greatest wines in Italy.
Some language that you do want to know is the word di or sometimes if the following word begins with a vowel it will be written, d’. This basically means, "of". So for example, if you find that some Barberas strike your fancy and some don’t then you might notice that some are written Barbera d’Alba and some are written Barbera d’Asti. If you like a heavier bodied style you might want to stick to the Barberas of Alba.
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So, if you want to be up to date on the current trends of Italy, I recommend that you read the column and follow my travels over the next few weeks through one of the greatest wine countries in the world. I will also be blogging daily with pictures on the Frog website at http://www.spottedfrogbooks.com .
Zev Rovine is the sommelier and resident cheese monger at the Spotted Frog Bookstore Cafe and Wine Bar where he teaches weekly wine classes. His wine education comes from the American Sommelier Association in N.Y.C. and he tries his very best not to spill the Pinot on the bestseller section. If you have any wine queries or comments he is easily contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org .