While in Italy I enjoyed a beautiful day in a region of Tuscany called Chianti. It was just like a scene from the film "Under the Tuscan Sun"- rich, green, rolling hills and beautiful scenery as far as the eye could see. It was a place that can only be described as dream like...and only a thirty minute drive from Florence's city centre.
The winery, called "La Castello Verrazano" was a renaissance castle built a top of a large hill, with many, many lush green vineyards below. After a tour of the incredible property- complete with lemon trees and a canopy of hanging grapes, our group headed into the wine cellars where we learned all about the wines production of the region.
Chianti (pronounced "key-aunt-ee") is famous for a wine called...you guessed it....Chianti. In fact, much like the way that sparkling wine (Spumante in Italian) cannot be called champagne unless it's made in Champagne,France, a bottle of red wine matching the criteria of a Chianti cannot be called one unless the grapes were grown and processed in Chianti, Italy.
So what makes a Chianti? This red wine is made primarily with san genovese grapes. In order to be considered a true Chianti wine, the blend must contain at least 80% San genovese grapes. Castello de Verrazano in particular, uses 95%, yielding a delicious, full-bodied red wine. They also make a variety of other wines including a popular house wine called the "supertuscan"(sounded like a super hero) and a golden "holy wine", which is basically a dessert wine.
The wine tasting experience is truly something else in Italy and as our group was lead through a guided tasting complete with food pairings, I was in total foodie heaven. We were each presented a platter with prosciutto, salami, tomatoes, bread, olive oil, olive tapenade and cheeses.
Nearing the end we paired a spoon of the most delectable twelve year old balsamic vinegar with a piece of pecorino cheese and the taste of this pairing can simply not be described. I was in love with the balsamic but at 48 euro a bottle I had to control my impulses.
The final taste...and one that is a local treat in Tuscany was a peice of canatuccini (what we know in North America as Almond biscotti) which was served in a shot glass of grappa. A cookie in a shot of alcohol seems like a strange thing but we were all instructed to dip the cookie into the grappa until it had soaked up the liqueur and then to eat it, chasing it with the shot. It was a little strong for me, I have to admit...but "when in Rome," right? Or Tuscany, rather.
Other regions of Italy also have their special wines and drinks that they are quite proud of. If you are in Rome, I'd recommend you try the Nero D'Avola red wine and in Almafi the drink of choice is of course, Lemoncello. (Take it easy though, this one is strong).
When dining out in Italy, it is completely acceptable to ask for a glass of the house red or white wine. I'd definitely encourage you to make sure to check out the regional specialities too. Italians take so much pride in their food, wine and hospitality that you can trust a restaurant to suggest a wine that will be compatible with your meal. Remember- in Italy wine is not a pre or post dinner drink or even something to drink on it's own. It's meant to complement and bring out the flavours of the food you are eating, so it will always be served with meals or at least snacks. When deciding what to order with dinner, house wine or "table wine" is a great choice. Before dinner- enjoy a cocktail or appertivo like an Orange Spritz (made with aperol). After dinner? Italians will reach for the liqueurs like Lemoncello or grappa. Me? I'd reach for the tiramisu. Yum!