From the effervescent tickle of bubbles escaping a frosted glass of Franciacorta, to the tannic beauty in a full-bodied swirl of a heady, rich Barolo, wine is an integral part of an Italian meal. While in the rest of the world wine is considered a form of luxury (or just another alcoholic drink for leisure time inebriation) in Italy drinking wine is historically considered another form of food.
Italians regard wine an essential expression of their culture, it’s in every Italian’s DNA! As a fundamental testimony to the land’s incredible biodiversity and ultimately a part of any meal, Italians – even the non-connoisseurs – give great importance to their vino and respectfully drink it accompanied with delicious regional dishes.
So when in Italy, drink wine like an Italian. But what’s the best way to enjoy vino like a local? Here are some wine-drinking tips that will add a little Italian flair to your next glass.
Visit a vineyard
Italians make it a point to know where their food comes from. It’s no different with wine. And though you don’t have to be a sommelier to appreciate the basics of a wine, it does help to learn more about winemaking to treasure the final product. The best place to do this is from the source! Walking down the rows and picking a grape straight from the vine, as well as tasting different varietals right in the cellar and talking to the winemaker can further increase your appreciation of wine.
Consider the “cantina sociale”
Italy’s wine-producing regions boast a variety of vineyards and estates, varying in size and core philosophy. But did you know about cantine sociali – social cellars – places where you can purchase wine on tap? Buying wine here, straight from the cask belongs to an age-old tradition that has never really spread beyond Italian borders. A large number of these places make average wine and are an important part of wine making history where several like-minded producers come together to bottle their wine to abate costs. Customers can just drive up, bring their own bottles (or in my case, demijohns) and pay for the wine by the liter, at a fraction of the cost.
Drink wine paired with food
Wine is meant to go well with food, like a good marriage. Matching food to wine can follow a few basic “rules” but it’s also good to base pairings on what feels right. Trust your instinct, be bold, dare to mix! It’s equally wise to keep trying new wines to broaden your “nose” and refine your palate through experience. And don’t be afraid to break the rules!
Just like not adding ice or other garnishes to a glass of vino is a form of respect in regards to the simple beauty of the genuine product, drinking wine with food is the best way to honor it.
End the meal with dessert wine
Different wines are made for different purposes. A crisp white with nice acidity helps balance the flavor of a fatty, roasted lamb dish. A berry-forward red will exalt a magnificent plate of pasta amatriciana. But a sweet wine, like Marsala or Passito di Pantelleria is better enjoyed at the end of the meal. Ever wonder why we eat dessert last? Because after sugary foods our palate cannot easily discern any other savory flavor. So it’s important to save that delightful sweet dessert wine to go with your tiramisu, not sooner during the meal.
Any Italian will tell you the same, the only thing aside from food that makes a glass of wine taste better is good company. Toasting to health at the onset of a fine dinner is not just superstition, it’s customary. Next time you’re at a table with Italians, wait until everyone’s glass is filled, look everyone in the eyes as glasses clink, and say “Salute!” before taking your first sip. Don’t put your glass down before taking that first sip though, because that DOES bring bad luck!
Interested in visiting a vineyard or taking part in our relaxed and informal wine tastings? Check out our wine tasting adventures offered in several Italian cities.
Eleonora Baldwin is a TV host, freelance food and travel writer, and culinary connoisseur based in Rome, Italy. Her writing appears in several food and travel publications. Her shows “ABCheese” and “Uazz’america” are broadcast on Italian food network Gambero Rosso Channel. Her podcast “iCheese” is recorded live on the Radio Food Live network.