Thursday, April 16, 2015

Matching Italian Wine to Food

By Liza B. Zimmerman


Italy is my adoptive second country, so forgive me if I get my feathers ruffled when friends don't understand how to pair these beautiful wines with foods. The key  to enjoying many of the country's huge variety of reds, whites and dessert wines is understanding that they tend to run acidic, low alcohol and can be pretty tannic. These are all very much good things when it comes to food synergies.

Sean Diggins used to be the wine director at a great little Mediterranean restaurant called Gitane in San Francisco and now works for Italian wine importer Banville Wine Merchants. Given the number of indigenous, and hard-to-pronounce, grapes grown on this ancient peninsula, he concurs that it is easy to get confused.

However, Diggins notes that, "Whether one is looking for something light and crisp to sip while on the balcony, or something with a heavier, rich texture to go with gamey meats, or a sweetly sparkling treat, Italy has it and has it in spades." He adds that pairings often go back to what grows together goes together, as the same Italian regions that make great wines have a rich history of producing their own grains, vegetables, seafood and meat that work beautifully with their local wines.

A "regional approach to pairing is a great guide to any wine growing area in the world, but for me Italy has such diversity and breadth...[and an] almost endless possibility of flavors, textures, aromas and sensations."

Regions to Keep An Eye On
The Southern part of the country has long been a treasure trove of great value wines that pair beautifully with a wide range of foods. Islands such as Sicily and coastal regions like Campania, just south of Naples, have cool ocean breezes that moderate vineyard temperatures day and night to produce well-balanced wines and crisp whites that are great with seafood or as a aperitif.

In terms of Sardinia, Sicily and Campania, Diggins notes that, "their respective wines lend themselves to these briny, multi-textured gems from the deep. White grapes like the bright, crisp Vermentino from Sardinia, the citrus-like Inzolia of Sicily, or the savory Fiano of Campania all go fantastically with these coastal cuisines."

Falaghina from Campania is a beautiful go-to grape to pair with a wide range of lighter foods, especially salads and seafood. For heavier meats and roasts you might want to look to Brunello or Morellino from Tuscany. Soft tannins and big structure will also pair well with stews, as would any of the great wines of Piedmonte (including affordable Dolcettos and Barberas).

Diggins concludes that, "Using the template of regional wines with that particular regions foods as a guide is a handy way to help in selecting wines of anywhere to pair with food and fun. The diverse wines and food of Italy leaves open a lifetime of possibilities, but focusing on a few key regions will give you the confidence and pleasure to explore further."

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Liza Zimmerman has been writing and consulting about wine and food for two decades. She is principal of the San Francisco-based Liza the Wine Chick wine writing, education and consulting firm. She has worked on staff and freelance at national magazines such as Wine Enthusiast, The Magazine of La Cucina Italiana, Wine Spectator, Where SF and the Examiner. She currently contributes to Cheers, Wine Business Monthly and the Examiner, among others.

Zimmerman focuses on demystifying wine and transforming it into a tool for business and networking for companies all over the country. Past clients include Genentech, Roche and IBM.

She has visited all the world’s major wine regions and is one of select few in the U.S. to hold the Diploma of Wine & Spirits (D.W.S.), the three-year precursor to the Master of Wine.

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