I’m alone in the school this morning, pulling the non-Salentine wines from my personal cellar, lining up the bottles as I plan out the upcoming week dedicated to Southern Italian wine.
So as a wine teacher, what do I know about Italian wine that you may not?
First, that the south is the most dynamic part of Italy, paradoxically slow to change /changing faster than any of us can really contemplate. Yes, wine entered Italy through the south so it’s been here longer than up north. So, old. But the new technology – refrigeration, autoclaves, selected yeasts, etc- also makes it, new. And it’s this new/old interplay that fascinates.
Here are twelve Southern Italian wines to seek out, listed by their varietals as much as possible (the Old World prefers where it comes from versus what it’s made of):
- Nerello Mascalese. Etna Rosso. A subtle and sophisticated varietal. Recommend this to your pinot noir loving friends. Wine for grown up taste buds.
- Negroamaro. An all around food-friendly red. Especially excels with vegetables. A great candidate for your house red. Also makes the most famous and respected pinks in all of Italy. From the Salento (Southern Puglia).
- Gaglioppo. Calabria. The base of Cirò rosso. Vegetal and earthy. Sold as Barolo and Barbaresco for generations. Remarkably underpriced, consistently.
- Nero d’Avola. From the near coast of Sicily. Blended with frappato to make Cerasuolo di Vittoria. One of the South’s first DOCGs. Elegant as a blend. More rustic on its own.
- Susumaniello. An old varietal that has only been isolated lately. In a burst of enthusiasm, producers are making it into whites, pinks, reds, charmat and metodo classico. A wine to watch. And to drink.
- Perricone. The red of the far coast of Sicily. Sometimes known as pignatello. Oily herbs and middle-eastern spices. Only a handful of producers produce single-varietals. Growing like wild fire.
- Nero di Troia. Central Puglia. The muscle behind Castel del Monte Rosso. Elegant. Laughingly underpriced.
- Primitivo. Zinfandel’s Italian clone. Big and jammy. If you grew up on New World wine this is your European dream boat. It’s what to drink with grilled wooky.
- Grillo. Part of Marsala’s former blend. Salty and savory. A great food-friendly white. Usually way underpriced.
- Aglianico. Arguably the most impressive red grape of the South. Needs time in the bottle. Best after 5 years. It’s why I put down for my next round-numbered birthday. Sold as Taurasi and from the spent volcano that is Vulture.
- Fiano. Grows everywhere. Very aromatic. If your idea of white are those from Marlboro this is the wine for you. Best when grown on hills or in hilly regions. If you drink white wine as a cocktail, this is your wine.
- Greco. A flinty and pencil-leady white. Makes the world of whites much bigger. Calabria and parts of Sicily. Decidedly not chardonnay.
If you tend to return to the same wines over and over again, don’t.
We hope you can do it here next year. We’d love to show you a very special part of the world!
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