ITALIAN WINES an interview with an expert


San Gimignano, Tuscany

San Gimignano views

Photo taken through an old window in a hotel in the ancient hill town, San Gimignano, in Chianti, Tuscany  just after a morning rain was clearing.

Italian Wines and ITALY, once you have visited,you may leave, but the beauty never leaves your heart. Wine Country is everywhere in Italy. The softly lit, green velvet rolling vineyards after a rain when the sun comes out. The unique light that brings artists from around the world to the sunny grape ladenTuscan hills. You want to stay always.

This land with its ancient warring regions of *Guelphs, Ghibellines and fiefdoms, has wine history dating to before the Etruscans built their hill towns with deep caves for storing food and wine, and for hiding from invaders more than 3,000 years ago. It’s possible that grape cultivation, and wine making in Italy date from long before then.

Italy boasts more than 1,000 different kinds of grapes. Many wines are produced that are never seen outside of Italy and some not outside the valley or village where they are grown. Vin Santo, is one popular in the region where it’s grown but not seen throughout the world. It is similar to sweet wines from France and Germany but different in that it is from Sangiovese and other grapes. Sangiovese grapes are used to make the famous Brunello di Montalcino wine as well as the Chianti wine that also comes from the Tuscany region.

Pictured below is a drying room where Trebbiono and other grapes are hung after harvest to dry. After drying they become very sweet and are made into the beautiful Montalcino dessert wine, Vin Santo.   **More about this wine below
















Sangiovese vineyard near the city of Montalcino, Chianti, Tuscany. Look at the chalky lime uncultivated soil in the upper part of the picture below. IPHOTO IMPORT 614











“Brunello di Montalcino is a red Italian wine produced in the vineyards surrounding the town of Montalcino located about 120 km south of Florence in the Tuscany wine region. Brunello, roughly translated as “small dark one” in the local dialect, is the unofficial name of the clone of Sangiovese (also known as Sangiovese Grosso grown in the Montalcino region. In 1980, the

Hilltop City of Montalchino

Hilltop City of Montalchino

Brunello di Montalcino was awarded the first Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) designation and today is one of Italy’s best-known and most expensive wines. The wine is made 100% from Sangiovese. Traditionally, the wine goes through an extended maceration period where color and flavor are extracted from the skins. Following fermentation the wine is then aged in oak. Traditionally, the wines are aged 3 to 5 years “in botte”, large Slavonian oak casks that impart oak flavors generally producing more austere wines. Some winemakers use small French barriques that introduce vanilla flavors and add a certain fruitiness to the wine. There is a middle ground where the wine is aged in small barriques for a short time and then spends a longer sojourn in the traditional botte.
Most producers will separate their production between a normale and riserva bottling. The normal bottles are released on the market 50 months after harvest and the reserve are released a year afterward. The current aging requirements were established in 1998 and dictate that Brunellos are to be aged in oak for 2 years and at least 4 months in a bottle before release. Winemakers who intentionally stray from these rules and regulations can possibly receive a conviction of commercial fraud accompanied by an imprisonment sentence of up to six years.” Quoted from Wickipedia.

If you plan to visit Italy, and have an interest in the wines of different regions there these videos below might be a great help in planning a trip.


Wine merchant Bruno Cumar, a Division Manager, at Maddalena Brands, along with Dr. Frederick Frye, have an informative discussion about the wines of Italy. Fred has traveled extensively in Italy and knows a great deal about the region’s wines. Bruno is a wonderful teacher, and talks at length about the different regions, and the grapes grown and wines made in those areas; many remote and unknown to travelers who visit the country.




They are made with the same grape type as in Chianti, (Sangiovese) but with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah and other non-native Italian grapes added. So, they had to be labeled the same as common table wines. In spite of that, the best of these wines have become incredibly expensive.
One of the most expensive is Sassicaia, a Bordeaux style
wine costing hundreds of dollars
a bottle.

However, you can go into an Italian Deli and buy wonderful Super Tuscan wines for five or six dollars a bottle. My wife and I have done that. So, inexpensive “Supers” are available and as they have become one of the latest of new blends that have taken the market by storm. Find an inexpensive one and try it.

Sassicaia was not even offered for sale until the late sixties and it is now in high demand in spite of it’s price. Perhaps one reason is it’s mostly Cabernet Sauvignon grape with a small amount of Cabernet Franc grape, and no Sangiovese. No native Italian grape types at all!

Siena, Italy  At the heart of Chianti District, Tuscany a charming hill-town founded by the by Etruscans.  They preferred settling on hills for defense against Invaders.  Romans settled on flat land arranging their towns on a strict North-South grid.

Before you take that trip to Italy! The wines there are confusing. We had no way to understand well what we were drinking when spending three weeks in and around Siena a few years ago. You will see the word ‘Enoteca‘. It means wine-repository or wine-seller. Some are large regulated wine-tasting bars that showcase many of the regulated DOC and DOCG wines. You need a book to take with you. We found it in Italy, but only in Italian. There is a wonderful English langiuage translation and it is a ‘must have’ to understand Italian wines better
and learn more about them.

The book is; ‘Enoteca Italia’, The list of Italian DOC and DOCG Wines’. Check Amazon, or other book sites to find one.

When visiting Siena, go to the old fort, Fortezza Medici. The President of Italy, established this particular Enoteca to be the primary showcase of Italy’s best wines for visitors to taste. If you love wine, this is worth seeing and if you take the book, understanding the wines will make for a much better wine-tasting experience.


Unique Vin Santo Wine
By Bruno Cumar

** ” Vin Santo is made in many parts of Italy, but the best of these come from Tuscany. There are three recognized DOC’s in Tuscany for Vin Santo. They are Vin Santo del Chianti (created in 1997), Vin Santo del Chianti Classico (1995) and Vin Santo di Montepulciano (1996). The wine is made from a blend of white grapes, specifically Trebbiano Toscano and Malvasia, with the occasional use of Grechetto. There is also a red version of Vin Santo made called Occhio di Pernice (literally “eye of the partridge”) that is made with a minimum of 50% Sangiovese.

The best Vin Santo is made in a very old and traditional method. To make a good Vin Santo, the grapes are harvested and then dried for three to six months in a traditional (appassimento) method. They were often tied to the rafters of the buildings in the past but now are usually laid on straw mats (or plastic ones) out in the sun to raisin. The raisiny grapes are now lacking in moisture and have much higher sugar levels than the freshly harvested grapes. The grapes are then vinified into small barrels made from cedar or oak called caratelli. These barrels, usually less than 500 liters, are filled 90% full to allow for the wine making process to complete. A yeast mixture is added to the grapes.

Although table wines can ferment with the local indigenous or feral yeast (or winemakers may even inoculate with specific strains of yeast), Vin Santo requires a special yeast, which has developed over time. The particular yeast strain used for Vin Santo is very dry and able to slowly ferment a wine with quite high natural sugar levels. This is mandatory because Vin Santo’s will spend a long time in the barrel fermenting. If this special strain of yeast is not utilized, the yeast cells will die long before their job is complete.
There is one other very unique aspect to the making of Vin Santo. The barrels do not sit in a cool cellar. Rather, they are stored in the hot attics of the winery where the wine is exposed to the heat of summer and cold of winter. Making good Vin Santo is truly an act of faith because the barrels are not opened until the wine is ready. The evaporated wine is not replaced.”

1.) There are at least 1,000,000 farm
properties in Italy with grapes under cultivation
2.) 2,100,000 vineyard Acres.
3.) Production of 1.6 Billion Gallons of wine/Year
Source: Italian Wine Institute

*”The Guelphs and Ghibellines (English pronunciation [gwɛlfs], [gɪbəliːnz]) were fac-tions supporting the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor, respectively, in central and northern Italy. During the 12th and 13th centuries, the split between these two parties was a particularly important aspect of the internal policy of the Italian city-states.”  Source:Wikipedia 



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