Sunday, October 7, 2012

Wine in Italy - 147 bottles and counting

An occasional post for the wine enthusiasts...

Vino di Casa
When eating out in Italy, there's always a choice to be made regarding wine.  Vino di casa (house wine) or choose from the winelist? Occasionally, the choice isn't necessary as a few restaurants don't offer vino di casa, while a few only serve vino di casa!

I think the answer depends on a number of factors, including: your wine preferences, who you're dining with and their wine preferences, the type of food (if you're ordering bistecca di fiorentina, you don't want to gamble on house wine), and the type of meal ie is it a special meal or just a quick bite to eat.

From our experience, vino di casa ranges from the undrinkable to being a good wine, and the trick is learning who serves what.  At one popular Luccan restaurant, we know that the house wine is awful, and so we always order from the wine list. However, unless there is some clue as to the lack of quality, we generally prefer to go with the house wine, and then not order it in future if it doesn't come up to scratch.

House wine may be sourced from a family friend who makes the stuff, to commercial 5 litre flagons bought from 7 euros per flagon at supermarkets (recently I saw about 10 empties of these stacked in an alley besides a Florence restaurant) to a proper quality bottle of wine that the restaurateur has selected after extensive testing.  If I see house wine offered by the 750ml bottle (instead of the more common quarter/half/full litre), I always choose it as it's a clue that it doesn't come from a flagon, and is from a 'proper' winery.

If you're eating in the best piazza in town, invariably surrounded by 4 or 5 other restaurants, beware - not only is the food likely to be average and overpriced (you're generally paying for the view) but the vin di casa is likely to be low quality as well.  In Lucca, the beautiful Piazza Anfiteatro that appears in many psotcards suffers from this complex - the 6 restaurants in the piazza all serve mediocre food, and the best nearby restaurant is in the street behind the piazza - Osteria Baralla, whose vin di casa incidentally, is perfectly good.

Of course, if you only have a few days or a week in Italy, then by all means ask for the wine list, and select something you're more likely to enjoy.

Vino di casa - What we're drinking at home.... 
Finally, with autumnal weather arriving, we're back onto the red wine! Summer was white wine, and more white wine.  As a result of 2 months of every day being hot, we generally started the evening with an aperitif  - either the popular, refreshing and relatively low alcohol Aperol spritz, or Campari spritz or white wine or Moretti beer. But with dinner (and lunch) it was always white wine, and usually Tuscan - OK, the occasional chilled bottle of red wine sometimes snuck in.  Tuscan white wine means vernaccia (we seemed to drink endless bottles of Vernaccia di San Gimignano) or vermentino.

Vernaccia di San Gimignano DOCG
Various wineries
3 to 6 euros.

100% vernaccia grapes, grown in the San Gimignano region about 70km from Lucca.  Vernaccia is a hardy grape that grows well in warmer climates.  In the glass, it's pale yellow.  Being from a warmer climate means there aren't any aromatics, some hints of straw. On the palate, some stone fruit, crisp finish and slight oiliness are apparent.  It's good with most foods, not a true aperitif style

 .....and Something Better

Clemente VII Chianti Classico 2009 from Castelli del Grevepesa, south of Florence
10 euros.

Being Chianti Classico, it's at least 80% sangiovese, with the balance being other local red grapes, usually canaiolo and colorino - it's not specified on the bottle.

In the glass, it's dark red with a purple tinge. Characteristic cherry on the nose.  The palate is medium bodied,  with well balanced cherry and agreeable tannins. The finish is long.  Excellent with pasta with meat sauces, meat or robust dishes.

* 147 bottles and counting.... is the number we've consumed at home (excludes restaurants) since arriving on 12 April.

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