Let’s face it, choosing wine for a dinner party can be tough. Step into a wine aisle and all the bottles start to blend together. Add a mix of those miniature signs we store folks call "shelf talkers" and mobile apps that turn the wine into a cartoon character, and the confusion multiplies. Then there are ratings – one wine earned five stars, while another on the same shelf isn't rated at all. What to do? Pick a bottle you vaguely remember enjoying at your office Christmas party?
Here's a two-word solution: go Italian.
Nothing says gourmet like Italian food and wine. Here are some great Italian wines that are native to their regions and are great expressions of the vintner's craft. There's no way you can mess up with these selections, and you'll be a rock star serving them at dinner! These are some great wines to set a foundation of wine knowledge to boot!
Just remember the age-old adage: "if it grows together, it goes together." In addition, with the most successful food and wine pairings the food will make wine taste better and vice versa.
1. The wine: Indigenous Nero d'Avola
Grape variety: Nero d'Avola (“nair-oh davo-la”)
Italian wines are representations of their homeland, and we're starting with Sicily. Sicilians have been making wine since 1100 B.C, so there's some history to be found here. Sicilians love their meats, and whether you're serving a platter of charcuterie filled with capocollo and salami; a meat heavy red sauce with pasta or toast points; or an unctuous piece of meat like braised oxtail, this is the wine for you! Think the body and tannin of Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah. Nero d'Avola will satisfy your red wine needs with lip smacking fruit.
2. The wine: Peter Zemmer Pinot Grigio
Grape variety: Pinot Grigio
Many people don't know that Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are the exact same grape variety. The difference is place and style. Grigio is the Italian name and Italy is homeland for this grape, and I'm not talking about the name brand stuff that's on every wine list of every restaurant, diner and airplane between the two continental lines that form our country. I'm talking about Pinot Grigio from one of the best places to grow this grape: Alto Adige. Bordering Austria and Switzerland, this is the most northern growing region for grapes in Italy. These steely, crisp refreshing white wines will make you think you're breathing in cool air from the banks of a river lined with slate; and the nose is reminiscent of visiting the cold Little Red River here in Arkansas. Wines from Alto-Adige classically pair with fish dishes. Pairs brilliantly with sardine dishes (anything from a salad to a flatbread) or white fish with risotto. If you catch anything fly fishing on the Little Red River, definitely give this wine a try!
3. The wine: Antico Sigillo Primitivo Di Manduria
Grape variety: Primitivo (pree-mee-TEE-voh)
A grape with a very Italian name, Primitivo is related to a grape very familiar to us here in America: Zinfandel. This is a full bodied red, filled with delicious fruit, baking spices, herbs, leather and smokey characteristics. Ringing in at 15% abv, it's not a shy wine. This grape finds its home in Puglia Italy – the heel of the peninsula's boot. Primitivo grapes love warm weather and they get just that in this agriculturally renowned region. You'd typically see lamb dishes in Puglia paired with this wine, but let's not forget about its newest pairing trend: pizza and burgers! Host homemade pizza night and grab some arugula, prosciutto, Italian buffalo mozzarella, burrata, sun dried tomatoes, and spicy olive oil or any Italian ingredients of your choosing. Create your own Italian pizzas and pair them with some Primitivo.
4. The wine: Michele Chiarlo Gavi
Grape variety: Cortese
The Cortese grape finds its home in a sub-region named Gavi, in the much bigger region of Piedmont. Piedmont is known for world class red wines like Barolo and Barbaresco. Unfortunately, these red wines overshadow a white wine that should get much more attention – Gavi. Gavi is a citrusy, zesty wine full of mouthwatering acidity that makes it a hit for food pairings. If you're a Chablis fan, Gavi will resonate with your palate. It pairs wonderfully with white fish dishes with herbs. An herbed sauce, like pesto, is a natural pairing. So are pasta, roasted vegetables and shellfish. If you want to go off the beaten path and do a modern pairing, braised pork or chicken with fresh herbs would complement Gavi quite well. The zesty acidity cuts through the fattiness of the meat and go very well with the fresh herbs added to the braise.
There you have it: four wines that are a terrific introduction to the depth and diversity of Italian wine-growing tradition. I hope that my suggestions will inspire you to delve into these Italian delicacies for your next gathering of friends.
I am officially hungry after writing this! Since it's my first blog of 2018, Happy New Year, and cheers to a year filled with good food and wine!