Italy reminds me of Israel, and not just because of the similarities between the
Italian and Jewish mother. Italy is a long, thin country with many micro
climates. Northern Italy has its head in the Alps, and the far south is
more or less North Africa.
It is also a patchwork of regional diversity,
partly because unification took place only in 1861. It can be said that Italy is
a country of individuals bound together by a common language. Many would say the
same about Israel.
Italy is famous for countryside and agriculture, art
and architecture, history and fashion, music and love, luxury and
authenticity. It is also known for taste, flavor and
Italy was the mother of Western cuisine, and the roots of
French gastronomy came from there. When Catherine de Medici left Italy to marry
the future king of France in the 16th century, she introduced a new elegance and
refinement to French cuisine. Yet it is the use of natural ingredients like the
tomato, garlic and olive oil that has given Italian cuisine the simplicity and
purity for which it is known.
Tuscany is the region that most often comes
to mind. We automatically describe any beautiful wine region here as “The
Tuscany of Israel.” I have a painting at home of a typical Tuscan scene of
vines, olive trees and cypresses. What does that remind me of? Israel, of
course! Furthermore, the holy trinity of cuisine in Tuscany is bread, wine and
olive oil. Remember, Eretz Yisrael was described as “A land of wheat... of
vines…., a land of olive oil….” The dietary staple of the ancient Israelites was
bread, wine and olive oil, too.
Italy is not just a country of pasta,
pesto and pizza but also the land of Chianti and Barolo. Italy vies with France
for being the world’s largest producer of wine. The Greeks had it right. They
named Italy Oenotria, the land of wine.
However, Italian wine is
complicated. President Charles de Gaulle once said of France that it was
impossible to run a country with so many cheeses. Maybe the same could be said
about Italy, as there are so many wines, grape varieties and
The three main grape varieties are Barbera, Nebbiolo and
Sangiovese. Barbera is the second-most planted red grape variety in Italy and is
particularly dominant in the Piedmont region of northwest Italy. Barbera wines
run the full spectrum of style, from light, fruity and refreshing to quality
wines aged in small oak barrels. The finest are usually called Barbera d’Asti or
Barbera d’Alba. The wines have concentrated flavors of ripe berry fruit,
plums with a hint of spice. Like many Italian wines, Barberas usually have an
excellent acidity, which makes them successful food wines.
the most exclusive Italian variety, responsible for making Barolo, the king of
Italian wines. The word nebbiolo translates to “little fog,” as a light fog
covers the vineyards. Nebbiolo is the Pinot Noir of France. It is moody,
difficult to grow but unique. The wines have a delicate aroma of tar and roses,
with a whiff of violets, backed by earthier notes of wild mushrooms and
truffles. They are also very tannic with a high acidity. Once, Barolos had to be
bottle aged for a minimum of 20 years before even considering opening a bottle.
Today, they are more fruit forward but still with real potential to
Barbaresco wines are also made in Piedmont using the Nebbiolo grape.
This is a region revived and brought to the world’s attention by the legendary
Angelo Gaja. Barbarescos are more feminine than Barolo. Their
Nebbiolo tends to ripen earlier, the tannins tend to be softer, the fruit more
red than black, and it is slightly more approachable. However, the wines
are no less in demand from connoisseurs the world over.
Italy’s most planted variety. The word means “the blood of Jove.” It is
at its most popular in the wines of Chianti in Tuscany. Simple Chianti can be
light, with a sour cherry aroma, an attractive earthiness and, again, the
refreshing acidity. The better wines are called Chianti Classico. The
Sangiovese grape is at its most regal in the age-worthy Brunello di Montalcino
wines made near the hilltop town of Montalcino in Tuscany. These wines are rich,
opulent with blackcurrant fruit. Not far behind are the wines called Vino Nobile
di Montepulciano, made from the village of Montepulciano, south of Siena. Good
value Sangioveses from other regions are Rosso Piceno from the Marche region and
Sangiovese di Romagna.
On the west coast of Tuscany are the socalled
Super Tuscans. In some cases, these are wines that are blends of an
international variety such as Cabernet Sauvignon with Sangiovese. Examples are
Solaia and Tignanello. Others don’t use Italian varieties at all, such as
the legendary Sassicaia.
Other worthwhile Italian wines include the
popular sour cherry Valpolicella from Veneto, the juicy Dolcetto from Piedmont
and the good-value chewy Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (this time, Montepulciano is
the name of a grape). Also from the hotter south are the quality Aglianico from
Campania, the deep full-bodied Negroamaro from Puglia and the spicy Nero’Avola
Whites tend to be blander than the reds. Pinot Grigio
is by far the most popular in overseas markets, followed by Soave from Veneto,
Frascati from Rome or Orvieto from Umbria. My favorite is the lime fresh,
grassy, almost nutty Verdicchio from the Marche region on the Adriatic coast.
Those looking for interest and variety should go for the flinty Vermentino from
Sardinia, peachy Fiano or fuller bodied Greco from Campania.
As far as
sparkling wines are concerned, the sweet and grapey Asti Spumante produced in
Piedmont has taken a back seat because of the new success of
Prosecco. These light, fruity, unpretentious wines from northeast Italy
are becoming more and more popular also in Israel.
Amongst the frizzante
wines are Lambrusco from the Emilia region and Moscato d’Asti from Piedmont.
Moscatos are the new “in” thing. In America, they call it Moscato
madness. These wines are aromatic, light, semisweet, slightly sparkling
Wines made using ancient methods include the
bitter-sweet, chocolatey flavors of an Amarone or the sweeter Recioto. These are
made from dried grapes hung or laid out on straw mats. Or there is the delicious
Vino Santo, a rich, luscious marmaladey dessert wine also made from dried
Italy has a small Jewish community. Rome must be one of
the oldest Jewish communities in the world, as it dates back to the second
century BCE. There are kosher wines made in Italy. The best are those made under
the Ovadia Estates label, such as Barbera d’Alba, Chianti and
Barolo. However, there is a full range of very pleasant food wines under
the Bartenura label, including a Prosecco, Pinot Grigio, Valpolicella, Chianti
and the best-seller Moscato in a blue bottle.
Local Italian-style wines
As far as Israel is concerned, Sangiovese is the main
Italian variety planted, and there are tiny amounts of Barbera and Nebbiolo.
Certainly, Italian varieties show best at home, but the Israeli versions there
are give a good opportunity to sample something other than Cabernet and Merlot,
and they do pair well with food. If you want to drink Italian, these
wines are recommended.
BEST VALUE: NIS 40-NIS60
Lightish, very fruity and easy drinking. Good
Gamla Sangiovese 2009
A good food wine with aromas of raspberry
and strawberry, backed by good acidity. Refreshing.
BEST QPR: NIS
Galil Mountain Barbera 2010
Medium-bodied wine with cherry fruit and
plums on the nose, caressed by soft vanilla notes.
Gamla Shmura Nebbiolo
A good opportunity to taste Nebbiolo. Delicate aromas of
blackberries and cherries with an underlying minerality.
SPECIAL PURCHASE: NIS 100 +
Ramat Naftaly Barbera 2010
Not yet tasted by me but
recommended by others as one of the best Barberas in Israel.
Adam Montefiore works for Carmel
Winery and regularly writes about wine in Israeli and international