A Glimpse Inside Italy’s Wine Regions: The Wines of Montalcino & Gorizia

A Glimpse Inside Italy’s Wine Regions

Italy is a popular travel destination that attracts thousands of wine lovers each year. In 2014, Italy ranked second next to France in wine production. According to the International Organization of Vine and Wine (OIV), Italy holds the record as the world’s largest wine producer in the past decade. With thousands of wine varieties from 20 diverse regions, each of Italy’s wine regions boast a distinctive charm and “Old World” winemaking style.

Tuscany Region – Montalcino

Tuscany is known for its high-quality wine including Chianti, Montepulciano and “Super Tuscans.” Located in the Siena province, the small, quaint town of Montalcino sits on a hill surrounded by olive groves and is famous for its lush vineyards that produce the world famous wine, Brunello di Montalcino.

Alex Josephy, a retired university lecturer, lives in Montalcino in the town of Val D’Orcia. She has immersed herself in the local winemaking culture. Over the years, she and her husband, David, have gotten to know local winemakers and have assisted with grape harvests at wine farms (aziende). As a poet, Alex was inspired to write about the wine in her poetry.

“It’s like everything else – it has its stories, and it’s such a central part of the culture here – then there’s the language of wine – not the wine-tasting words so much, but the words they use and the things they do when they’re growing and tending the vines,” Alex shared. “The places and the people, their ideas and their histories and endurance are in the wine, and the wine is in the people, the places, and the history. So it seeps into my writing, like everything else in a culture, I feel I’m just beginning to explore.”

The microclimates are perfect for growing Brunello grapes and Montalcino’s weather is hot enough in summer to ripen the grapes along with salty evening breezes that blow in from the Tyrrhenian Sea (west of the town). The particular weather pattern for each year becomes a part of the wine.

“This has been described as a climate where ‘Mediterranean meets continental.’ Montalcino sits in exactly the right position to get the best out of these factors. There’s the well-balanced soil (said to contain, in places, the bones of dinosaurs), and the effect of our local mountain, the extinct volcano Monte Amiata, which attracts clouds and prevents too much rain from reaching Montalcino.”

According to Alex, the production of Brunello di Montalcino is very strictly controlled and inspected, making sure that vines are not artificially irrigated and all stages of vinification are regulated. Local winemakers are very particular about how they make their wine. Purists insist on ageing the wine in large “botti” (barrels) of Slavonian oak, and argue that the more modern and smaller French “barriques” impart too much oak and mask Brunello’s distinctive flavor.

Alex pointed out that Brunello is aged for at least four years, at least two of which must be in the barrel. Most traditional winemakers opt for a longer aging process. Another popular varietal is Rosso di Montalcino, Brunello’s ‘little brother,’ which is aged for a shorter period. Alex feels it is a delicious, lighter and less demanding wine compared to Brunello for everyday drinking.

“But what is it that makes the wine so wonderful? People talk of its ‘eleganza’ – elegance, its structure, and complexity. A mouthful of Brunello tells a story – a story with a beginning, a middle and an end, all linked to the place and its traditions, and to the year the wine was made; from the careful local producers, no two years are the same. I love all the small producers and their different ways with the wine – it’s so individual.”

Friuli-Venezia Giulia Region – Gorizia

Gorizia is one of four provinces located in the northeastern region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia with several wine areas located within the region.

“My hometown of Gorizia is one of the smallest Italian provinces, bordering Slovenia. The wine-producing areas are Collio (the name comes from ‘colle,’ i.e. hill,) which is hilly, with Cormòns at its center, and Isonzo, the valley of the river Isonzo, whose main center is Gradisca d’Isonzo,” explained Massimo Soranzio.

In Cormòns and Gradisca you can find enotheques – “wine libraries” – where you can sample the wine or take wine-tasting courses. Another well-known region in the area is Colli orientali del Friuli, located near the town of Cividale, where the Bastianich family, of Masterchef fame, owns vineyards and a restaurant.

Italy is commonly known for its delicious red wines, but Collio produces some of the best white wines in Italy. Massimo shared that the area is very small compared to other wine regions in the country. In terms of production, the quantity could be seen as irrelevant and the region is mostly known by wine connoisseurs. However, it is hard to find a poor quality wine in Gorizia due to the excellent growing conditions. Gorizia’s microclimate is very favorable, and the soil is ideal for growing grapes. The region is temperate due to the presence of the Alps in the north and the Adriatic Sea to the south.

The most common wines made in Collio are Pinot Grigio (Pinot Gris), Pinot Bianco, Friulano, Ribolla Gialla (also called Ribolla), and Malvasia Istriana (or just Malvasia – not to be confused with a sweet wine of the same name produced in other regions). Some of the best wines in the region are produced by small wineries (40,000 to 50,000 bottles). These smaller wineries rely on organic culture and traditional methods. They approach their winemaking as a “craft” and in the traditional Italian way of doing business, they work alongside family members.

Damijan Podversic is a well-known vintner in Gorizia known for his Malvasia 2010 and was named among the world’s best 100 wines. Traditional winemakers such as Paraschos make their wines in amphorae instead of the common “barriques.” Amphorae are large containers made from clay that are used to store and age wine and protects wine from the oxidation process. Amphorae are commonly buried or half-buried in the ground during the aging process.

“Radikon is another ‘little’ but great name, producing the typical Ribolla and Pinot Gris, but also their excellent ‘home wine’ Oslavje (the name of the locality, Oslavia, in Slovenian, as the whole area is bilingual), which is made out of Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Sauvignon grapes.”

Massimo said the only way to truly experience the wines of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, or any of Italy’s wine regions, is to visit the region and taste the wine. If you want to sample amazing Italian white wine he recommends checking out the many fine quality enotheques that Gorizia has to offer.

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Therese Pope is a freelance copywriter located in Northern California who writes for the restaurant/food and hospitality industry. She is a die-hard foodie and wine lover with a passion for cooking. Check out her Facebook page, The Gold Country Foodista https://www.facebook.com/goldcountryfoodista.

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