Many oenophiles believe that the Italian wines are the most important in the world. We agree. Italy is the perennial #1 producer of wine in the world, surpassed by France in 2014 due to a poor growing season, but Italy regained this distinction in 2015 and has held it since. Italy is also the largest exporter of wine in the world and the number one producer of imported wines sold in the US. Italian wines are also among the highest in quality and value.
While we are certainly partial to southern Italian cuisine, and Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo from east central Italy (ours being from Lodi in the Central Valley, CA) is one of our absolute favorites, overall, the northern Italian varietals are among the best not only in Italy, but in the world as well. We produce some of these varietals at Papa Joe’s, although we procure them from California since reds are better fermented on the skins for a time, and logistics and customs often result in great Italian grapes that may degrade to mediocre by the time they get to our winery. Some wineries do make some very good wines from Italian juices, but they invariably lack a little of the full body that makes Italian wines Italian wines (if that makes any sense).
The major northern Italian varietals include Nebbiolo, Barbera, Dolcetto, Amarone and Valpolicella. The northern Italian wine regions include Piedmont, Liguria, Valle d’Aosta, Lombardy (not related to Vince), Trentino-Alto Adige, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, and Veneto. All of the Northern wine regions are at least partially mountainous, being part of the Alps.
Nebbiolo, the grape that constitutes Barolo and Barbaresco, produces the most expensive Italian reds. While not particularly dark in color, these wines are generally very full-bodied. Grapes grown in a cooler climate with less sunshine do tend to produce wines of lighter color and higher acid content. The higher acid content does lead to a fruitier taste as well, up to a point. The region is warm enough to result in adequate ripening of red grapes, and as the quality of the wine attests, the climate is ideal for Nebbiolo. Nebbiolo is grown mainly in the Piedmont Region in the northwest and Veneto Region in the northeast.
Barbera is another medium colored fairly full-bodied wine with a pleasant fruity flavor due to its high acidity and low tannins. It is a high producer as well, leading to ample crops and good value for a good wine. Dolcetto is generally grown on the less desirable vineyard sites, therefore selling for a very good price. The quality of the wine is reasonably good, but is best consumed within a year or two of harvesting due to the low tannins. Both Dolcetto and Barbera are grown predominantly in the Piedmont Region.
Valpolicella is a viticultural zone in the Veneto Region where Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara grapes are blended to produce the pleasant tasting lighter-bodied wines named Valpolicella and the very pricey full-bodied Amarone. The name Amarone means literally “the great bitter.” It is a great bitter indeed.
One of the lesser known Italian reds, although phenomenal in its own right, Teroldego, is grown primarily in the Trentino-Aldo Adige Region. We discovered this varietal at a vineyard/winery in the Clarksburg, CA in the Sacramento Valley, Heringer Estates. We bottled our first vintage, 2017, last fall and it rapidly became one of our most popular wines. Unfortunately, we started with a small batch that is almost gone, but in 2018 we doubled our production. We will likely bottle it in the late spring and begin serving it as a young wine out of necessity. We tasted it last week while racking it, and we believe it will be very good, even at its young age.
Our Rosso Alpino (Alpine red) is a blend of 75% Nebbiolo and 25% Barbera. These grapes are from the Lodi area in the Central Valley, CA. Growing conditions at the vineyard resulted in a lighter color than is characteristic of these varietals, but don’t let that fool you; it is relatively full-bodied with robust tannins.
Being an Italian restaurant, Piazza Talarico is especially proud to serve Papa Joe’s northern Italian varietals, although our Montepulciano, Tannat, Malbec, and Petit Sirah pair equally well with our red sauce selections.