Thursday, September 10, 2009

Italian Wine Primer- the Tre Venezie

Having looked at the importance of Piedmont and Tuscany to the Italian wine scene, let's shift gears a little bit and head to the Northeastern corner of Italy. Today, we will briefly look at the "Three Venices": Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Trentino-Alto Aldige, and the Veneto. These three areas are tied together not only by similar geography and political boundaries, but also by their style of wine making. Whereas the rich lush red wines come from the previously studied areas, we are now going to talk more white wines, with some reds sprinkled in. Let's start with Friuli-Venezia Giulia (which I will call Friuli for my finger's sake in typing.)

Located North of the Adriatic sea, Friuli has numerous vineyards in the foothills of the Alps. It is home to some of the local whites like Tocai, and also to some of the best of the international varietals like Pinot Grigio. It's funny though- almost half of the area's production is in red wines, particularly Merlot. The combination of warm, sunny days and cooler nights in the foothills makes Friuli the perfect place to make a local favorite- Tocai. Think of a wine that is about the weight of chardonnay, with some spicy and herbal notes. It's really cool stuff, if you can find it. The area also produces much of the Pinot Grigio that people drink by the bucket at Applebee's. A couple of sweeter wines to keep an eye out for from Friuli are Picolit and verduzzo di Romandalo. Neither are cheap options, but they age decently well, and are delicious.

Now we head up the mountain slopes to Trentino- Alto Adige. This is the most Northern of the Italian areas, and shares a border with Austria (in fact, there is quite a bit of German spoken in the area.) The leading white in the area is Chardonnay, which makes a leaner style than we are used to in California. They also make quite a bit of the country's spumante (sparkling) wine from this area. My favorite wines from here are the Pinot Blancs, and the Traminer (think gewurtztraminer). You can also find some neat reds from there too- try some Lagrein if you are a fan of Malbecs, and Teroldego if you are a fan of Merlots.

The third piece of the puzzle in the Tre Venezie is Veneto. There are several wines that are wildly popular that come from here, including Soave, Valpolicella, Amarone, and Prosecco. The leading white wine is Soave, which is made from Garganega and Trebbiano grapes. Although it used to be considered a simpleton wine, a couple of producers, Anselmi in particular, have really made strides in creating richer, creamier Soave. They have gotten away from the green, weedy wines that gave the area a bad name. Valpolicella is a wonderful, bright, mid-weight red wine made mainly from Corvina, Molinara, and Rondinella. They are usually fairly inexpensive and can be widely found. Now, if you take the same grapes, dry them out, and crush the raisins (a process called Recioto), you get Amarone- deliciously dark, heavy, and pruny wines from the area. The fantastically light bubbly wine that you use in your Bellini is called Prosecco, and also comes from theVeneto. This is a blend of mostly the Prosecco grape, along with some pinot grigio.

So there you have it- the Tre Venezie, an area that makes wines that range from light, almost watery pinot grigio to dark, brooding Amarone.


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