Tomorrow is the start of Giro d’Italia.
In 2010 I started to search for wines along the Tour de France route. It was virtual searches. I searched for wines from the areas, I did not travel in all these areas. (But I would like to do). In 2011 I followed up with Giro d’Italia. Although I did choose French and Italien titles (“Les vins du Tour de France” and “I vini del Giro d’Italia”), they were written in Norwegian. The idea was simply to make Tour the France and Giro d’Italia my plan for learning more about Frenh and Italian wine. But even though France and Italy are the two countries in the world with the highest production of wine, there are still areas where wine is not produced. When the riders are in these areas, we have to search for interesting beer or something else.
This year I have decided to do versions in English, in addition to the Norwegian versions. I have learned a lot about French and Italian wines by writing these blog series. But still it is easier for me to research the French than the Italian wines. We have an appartement i France, and spend many weeks there — of course drinking french wine while we are there. I read French, but not Italian, meaning that it is easier for me to find information on French wines. I am not pretending to be an expert. It is more like inviting you to join my journey of learning.
When approaching a country, I like to start with a topographical map, some geography and geology. Politics change, and European borders have been changing a lot over the last few hundred years. But mountains, valleys and rivers are usually more stable. And they influence local climate and growing conditions more than politics and political borders do. This is Italy including the Alps and parts of the countries north and east of the Alps, as well as the Charpatian mountains. The Alps protect Northern Italy form the cold winds from the north. The Appenines is a kind of back bone of the Italian peninsula. But if we stick to the boot metaphor, it should rather be called leg bone.
The map above should give an idea about the variety of the Italian landscape, with high mountains in the north, the Po plain protected by mountains on all sides but to the east, and the whole boot divided by a mountain range.
Africa is putting pressure on Europe, both in political and geological sense. The African continental plate collides with the European continantal plate. Africa is pushing the two European peninsulas, Italy and the Iberic peninsula (Spain and Portugal). Where these peninsulas collide with the continet, high mountains are raising: The Alps and the Pyrenees. We will come back to the Pyrenees and have another visit to the Alps when we come to Tour the France in July. If I have got it right, the Alps are still rising. But because of the errosion, it does not get higher.
The Alps are part of the Alpide-belt, a belt of mountain ranges going from the Atlantic to Java and Sumatra along the southern rim of the Eurasian tectonic plate. It includes the Pyrenees, the Alps, the Charpatian mountains, the Atlas mountains in north-west Africa, Anatolia, Iran and Himalya. In geologial sense, it is an unstable and seismic region, the scond most seismic after “The ring of fire” aournd the Pacific. 17% of the world’s largest earthquakes takes place in the Alpide belt. Some severe earthquakes have hit Italy.
Add to this that Italy is a young country. Italy has only existed as Italy since 1861, with some border disputes that were not solved before the 1970s. There is much local and regional pride in Italy. Sometimes it keeps a good traditions, but i also prevents learning from others.
There is an enormous variety among Italian wines. Many are produced from native grapes that are not grown other places. This makes Italian wines difficult, confusing and fascinating. Forget that I said difficult. Just enjoy the wines.
Italian wine classification
Italian wines are classified into several categories. The classification does not say as much about as we as consumers could have liked.
We can start with the classication DOC "Denminazione di Origine Controllata": Controlled origin. It was introduced in 1963, inspired by the French AOC-classification.
The rapes must come from a specified area, and be of specified varieties. There are also more technical rules, such as maximum yield, amount of alcohol, etc.
One step up is DOCG "Denminazione di Origine Controllata a Garantita." When it has a controlled igin, this guarantee should not be necessay, and it does not mean anything. The rules are of the same kind as for DOC, but stricter. And there shall be a sensoric test, meaning that an expert committe will taste the wines.
There is an informal hierarchy of classifications that are formally on the same level. High quality areas will be more limited with stricter rules. But there is no "grand cru" system with classification of vineyards s and producers, like we find in Bordeaux and Burgundy.
A producer of Barolo can use the classification Barolo DOCG, given that the wine is made from the grape Nebbiolo and other criterias in the classification are met. Barolo is located within the Langhe area, and the wine could be classified as Langhe Nebbiolo DOC, given that the wine is made from Nebbiolo grapes. And it could be classified Langhe DOC if other grapes are used. Langhe is in the Piemonte region, and the wines could be classified as Piemonte DOC. And it could be classified in one of the lower IGT or VdT classifications, see below. But usually the producer will get a higher price with higher classification, in this case Barolo DOCG.
DOC and DOCG classifications are often labeled with the name of the area, such as Barolo, Barbaresco and Chianti, and more often with [grape] + [area], such as Barbera d'Asti, Dolcetto d'Alba etc.
Often we can see the word "Classico" added to the classification, such as in Chianti Classico. The classified areas have been expanded over the years. Classico designate the original classified area, which is sometimes regared as the best area, at least by the producers of Classico-wines.
On the level below DOC is IGT: "Indicazione Geografica Tipica", typical for a geographic area. The rules on this level are of the same type as for DOC, but less strict. In this classification, the producers are allowed to experiment. Gaja, one of the leading producers of Barolo and Barbaresco, planted a vineyard with Cabernet Sauvignon, a grape with no tradition in this area. The wine, called "Darmagi", fell ouside of all classification and was sold as Vino da Tavola, table wine. But the classification caught up with the development, and it could eventually be sold with IGT classification. Today it is classified as Cabernet Sauvignon Langhe DOC.
The lowest classification level is VdT "Vino da Tavola". And there are of course unclassified wines.
The classification system can be a system to ensure a minimum level of quality and specificity. But it can also be a "straight jacket", hindering experimentation and product development. I have already mentioned Gaja's "Darmagi". But more well known are the so called "Super Tuscans". Quality producers in Tuscany planted vines that had no tradition in Tuscany, mainly Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine produced were excellent, but fell outside of all classifications. Two well known Super Tuscans are Sassicaia from Tenuta San Guido, and Tiganello from Marchesi Antinori. We got the strange situation that some of the best and most expensive wines from the region were sold as VdT Vino da Tavola.
These are excellent wines. But I find wines produced on traditional grapes from the region more interessting than those who are competening to make the best "Red Bordeaux" outside of the Bordeaux region.
This year Giro d’Italia starts in the Netherland, and stay there for three days. We do not find much Dutch wine, at least not quality wine that is available internatoinally. So we have to start with three days of Dutch beer.
In 2012, Giro d’Italia started in Denmark. One of the stages passed in front of one of my friends’ house in the town Lemvig. We were sitting in her garden, drinking pink champagne while waiting for the cyclists. It should of course have been pink Franciacorta rahter than champagne, but I could not find it when shopping for the event.
When arriving in Italy, the cyclists will ride the entire length of the peninsula, from south to north.
Wine is grown all over Italy, except from in the high mountains. The map below shows the main wine regions in Italy.
But if we look into the details, it becomes much more complex.
Some books on Italian Wines
Knowledge enhance the experience. Those who know something about art will enjoy an art exhibition more than those who now next to nothing, and only can say if it is beautyful or not of if tey like it or not. Those who know something about cycling will enjoy the race much more than those who do not understand what is happening during the race. And those who know something about wine will enjoy the wine more than those who can only say if they like it or do not like it.I want to know where the wine comes from, from which grape(s) it is made, and other information. But reading is not enough. We must not forget to taste the wines.
My main reference books to Italian Wines are some books published in Norwegian, and I see no reason to list these books in this English version. But I have included some books in English. There are books covering spesific regions, which will be mentioned when relevant.
Italian Wines For Dummies
I do not pretend to be an expert on Italian Wines. But I like to think that I am no longer a dummie. I have read several "For Dummies" books, and have liked many of them. But I have not read this one.
It may be a good introduction to Italian Wines, but as I have not read this one, I cannot really recommend it.
It is available in Paperback and Kindle version.
Decoding Italian Wine
Decoding Italian Wine is a book I have not (yet) read. It is a book of 108 pages, which should mean that it is fairly easy reading. But it will also mean that there cannot be very much information in the book.
You can get is in a paperback or Kindle edition. As I do not know the book, I have no opinion on which version to choose.
The World Atlas of Wine
If you will have only one book on wine, “The World Atlas of Wine”, by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson is the one you should have. It is a classic, and it is now in its seventh edtition. It is a beautiful book with nice maps and excellent content. It covers the entire world, but still with an emphazis on "The Old World".
Italian Wines 2016
Italian Wines is published yearly by Gambero Rosso. This is a detailed guide to Italian Wines. 22 000 wines from 2 400 producers are listed in the book. If you want to fine the best wines from the various regions of Italy, this is your guide. This is a type of book I usually use when I am visiting producers, to find the producers to visit.
The book is available in a paper edition and a Kindle edition. One year, I bought the Kindle edition. But for this kind of book, I prefer the paper version. It is available from Amazon UK on paper and for Kindle. And from Amazon US in paperback and as Kindle edition.
The Oxford Companion to Wine
If you want to have a more encylopedic book on wines, Jancis Robinsons and Julia Child: The Oxford Companion to Wine is the one to have. It is an encyclopedia of wine, with articles on not everything, but as close as you can get in one volume. It is written by on of the world's leading experts on wine.
I have the third edition, published in 2006. It is now in its foruth edition, published in 2015. A lot has happened in the wine business since 2006. So maybe I should get myself a copy of the most recent edition. It is available in hardcover edition and Kindle edition. When reading a book from beginning to end, I like Kindle. But when jumping around from one article to another, I prefer the paper version. An e-version of a book like this should be organized like a database, not as a "book".
A complete guide to 1,368 vine varieties, including their origins and flavours
Wine is made from grapes. A product will never be better than the raw material, and an agricultural product will get its basic taste and character from its raw material: The grapes. If we want to know wine, we must know the grapes, at least some of them.
Frankly, this is a book for nerds or professionals. 1 368 grape varieties. Where do they come from, where are they grown and what do they taste like? I use this book quite frequently.
This book too is available in a Kindle edition and in a hardcover edition. For an encyclopedie like this, I prefer the hardcover paper version, over the Kindle edition.
Grapes & Wines: A comprehensive guide to varieties and flavours
If you want to know more about grapes, but think that Jancis Robinson's book is a bit too much (or a bit too expensive), you can choose Oz Clarke and Margaret Rand's Grapes & Wines: A comprehensive guide to varieties and flavours. This book was one of my favourites until I bought Jancis Robinson's book. There is a new edition since the one I have.
You can get it in a Kindle versions and a Hard Cover version. For a book like this, I prefer the paper version.
Mountain High: Europe's 50 Greatest Cycle Climbs
If you, like me, want to know more about where they are cycling, particularly about the climbs, Mountain High: Europe's 50 Greatest Cycle Climbs by Daniel Friebe and Pete Goding is the book to have. The book covers 50 of Europe's greatest climbs, among them several of the Tour de France and Giro d'Italia classics. We get description, history, technical details and stunning pictures.
Mountain Higher: Europe's Extreme, Undiscovered and Unforgettable Cycle Climbs
If you like "Mountain High", and want more, there is a follow up by the same authors. The format is the same. But it covers less known mountain climbs.
Wines (and some other drinks) of Giro d'Italia 2016
- Stage 1: Prolog in Apeldoorn. Dutch beer
- Stage 2: Arnhem -- Nijmegen. Dutch Trappist beer
- Stage 3: Nijmegen -- Arnhem
- Stage 4: Catanzaro -- Praia a Mare. At last some Italian wine.
- Stage 5: Praia a Mare -- Benevento
- Stage 6: Ponte -- Roccaraso [Aremogna]
- Stage 7: Sulmona -- Folgino
- Stage 8: Foligno -- Arezzo
- Stage 9: Chianti Classico -- Wine stage of the year
- Stage 10: Campo Bisenzio -- Sestola
- Stage 11: Modena -- Asolo
- Stage 12: Noale -- Bibione
- Stage 13: Palmanova -- Cicidale del Friuli
- Stage 14: Alpago (Farra) -- Corvara
- Stage 15: Casterotto/Kastelruth -- Alpe di Siusi/Seiser Alm. Up hill time trial
- Stage 16: Bressanone/Brixen -- Andalo
- Stage 17: Molveno -- Cassano d'Adda
- Stage 18: Muggió -- Pinerolo
- Stage 19: Pinerolo -- Risoul
- Stage 20: Guillestre -- Sant'Anna di Vinadio
- Stage 21: Cueno -- Torino
Tour de France