The Food and Wines of Italy

After a recent post on the Wines of France, several subscribers asked about wine produced in Italy, especially since that was one of our most recent travel destinations.

It only took a moment to consider the idea.  So after a little research, here is an Italian wine summary by region along with a note on each region’s cuisine.

I cannot think of a better way to explore this list than to seek out a few good wine shops and sample the various regional wines first hand.  Although I like the idea of an extended stay in Italy to “research” the wines in person.  Something to contemplate no doubt…

Cheers!  Enjoy!!

 

Piedmont

Main Cities: Alba, Asti, Biella, Cuneo, Novara, Turin

Cuisine:  The Piedmont Region is the most French of the Italian regions.  Lots of butter, cream and dairy products.  This is a cheese lovers heaven, where gorgonzola is a favorite.  This is also white truffle country.  Common ingredients include: rice, polenta, potato gnocchi, agnolotti (little ravioli) and simple flavorful broths.  Sweet red peppers, mushrooms, hazelnut and chestnuts round out local favorites.  The locals love their breadsticks, mixed fried meats and intense condiments.

Wine Regions:  Langhe, Monferrato

Reds wine:  Barbaresco, Barbera, Barolo, Dolcetto lead the pack.

White wines:  Asti Spumante, Chardonnay, Cortese di Gavi, Moscato d’Asti are among the most popular.

Aosta Valley

Main Cities: Aosta, Cogne

Cuisine:  This is a mountainous region that produces a hearty variety of dishes using rice, chestnuts, polenta, potatoes, cabbage and apples.  Cured meats are popular.  Salted beef and smoked pork (speck) are favorites along with a hearty rye bread and fontina cheese.

Wines: Local wine production is limited.  There are excellent Chardonnays and Syrahs from the Les Crete area.

Lombardy

Jim roof of the Duomo, Milan 1988
Jim on roof of the Duomo, Milan 1988

Main Cities: Bergamo, Brescia, Cremona, Mantua, Milan, Pavia

Cuisine:  Similar to the Piedmont region, small stuffed pasta is popular as is pizzoccheri, a buckwheat and wheat noodle often layered with potatoes, leeks or cabbage and cheese.  Meat lovers will like ossobuco or breaded veal chops, beef roasted or slowly braised.  There are several cow’s milk cheeses including gorgonzola, grana padano, marscarpone and taleggio.  Popular spices are clove, nutmeg, white pepper and cinnamon along with saffron and gremolata (a mix of garlic, parsley and lemon zest).

Red wines: Erbusco, Franciacorta, and Oltrepo Pavese.

White wines:  Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Resling

Historical note: Compari, a mildly bitter rose scarlet beverage was first marketed in Milan in the nineteenth century.

Trentino and Alto Adige

Main Cities: Bolzano, Trento

Cuisine:  This is a cold mountainous region in Northern Italy where the cuisine is a hearty mix of Lombardy and the Veneto.  Polenta, buckwheat, barley, dumplings, cabbage, mushrooms, game, sausages and dark bread are highlights.  Spices include cumin, poppy and caraway seeds.  Olive oils tend to be lite and cheeses are made in the alpine huts.

White wines:  Chardonnay,  Gewurztraminer, Muller-Thurgau, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, and Sauvignon Blanc.

Red Wine:  Cabernet, Lagrein, Marzemino, Merlot, Terldego.

Veneto

John, the Grand Canal, Venice 1988
John, the Grand Canal, Venice 1988

Main Cities: Padua, Venice, Verona, Vicenza

Cuisine:  It is all about seafood!  Fish and shellfish, crab, scampi, cuttlefish (not a personal favorite), salt cod, octopus, eel.  Meats include turkey, duck, squab and other game birds.  White polenta, rice, beans, artichokes, asparagus, radicchio.  Pine nuts, raisins, pomegranate, cinnamon, and cloves.  Cheese include asiago, Monte Veronese, and ricotta.

White wines: Bianco di Custoza, Cortese di Gavi, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, Prosecco, Soave, Tocai

Red wines: Amarone, Bardolino, Breganze, Cabernet, Corvina, Merlot, Valpolicella.

Friuli-Venezia Giulia

Main Cities: Gorizia, Trieste, Udine

Cuisine:  Influenced by the Slavic table, sauerkraut, sausages, game.  Tyrolean and Austrian ingredients: speck, poppy seeds, gulasch, dumplings, paprika, cumin, horseradish, mustard, as well as Venetian foods.  This area is famous for its prosciutto, crisp cheese fritters, gnocchi, stuffed cabbage, cured meats, pork dishes and seafood stews.

White wines: Muller-Thurgau, Picolit, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Sauvignon, Tocai Friulano, Verduzzo.

Red wines:  Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Refosco, Schioppettino

Liguria

J&J Portofino, Italy 2009
J&J Portofino, Italy 2009

Main Cities: Genoa, Camogli, Imperia, La Spezia, Lerici, Rapello, San Remo, Savona

Cuisine: Ligurian diet is defined by its narrow mountainous coastline.  Most meals are seafood oriented.  Fish stews and soups, salt cod, calamari, pizza with anchovies.  Focaccia, rice, polenta, gnocchi and ravioli with walnut sauce. Creamy ricotta, fruity olive oils, and lots of fresh herbs are common with most dishes.

White wine: Bianco della Cinque Terre, Pigato, Trebbiano, and Vermentino.

Red wines: Cilegolo, Ormeasco, Rossese di Dolceacqua, and Sciacchetra.

Emilia-Romagna

Main Cities: Bologna, Cremona, Ferrara, Modena, Parma, Piacenza, Ravenna, Reggio Emilia, Rimini

Cuisine:  The “big three” foods are Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, prosciutto di Parma and balsamic vinegar.  Cured meats including pork rump, mortadella, and sausages are popular.  Butter, cream and braised meats fill many menus.

Several egg based pastas include pappardelle, fettuccine, tortellini, and tortelloni.  Polenta, aged Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and a creamy mascarpone are considered staples.

White wines: Albana, Pignoletto, Trebbiano

Red wines:  Cabernet Sauvignon, Lambrusco, Sangiovese di Romagna

Tuscany

J&J Pisa 1988
J&J Pisa 1988

Main Cities: Cortona, Florence, Livorno, Lucca, Pisa, Siena

Cuisine: Simple and straight forward.  Lots of beans in the soups, salads and side dishes.  A saltless bread is used to thicken soups or in “bread salads”.  Game is popular, especially wild boar, hare, pigeon and rabbit.  Bistecca alla fiorrentina is a trademark dish, typically a large thick marbled steak with bone in grilled over an open flame.

Porchetta (roast pig) is another mainstay dish, typically served with wild mushrooms, tomatoes, artichokes, fennel or kale.  Calamari and tuna are seafood options.  Most towns make their own peppery olive oil and pecorino toscano cheeses.

White wines: Trebbiano, Vermentino, Vernaccia

Red wines: Brunello di Montalcino, Carmignano, Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and the “Super Tuscans”, Cepparello, Fontalloro, Grattamacco, Luce, Saffredi, Sassicaia, Solaia, Summus, and Tignanello.

Desert Wine: Vin Santo

Umbria

Gourmet foods, Norcia, Umbria 2009
Gourmet foods, Norcia, Umbria 2009

Main Cities: Assisi, Foligno, Norcia, Orvieto, Perugia, Spoleto

Cuisine:  Known for its black truffles, wild mushrooms and a variety of beans.  But Pork eclipses all other foods in this region.  Porchetta is pig roasted with fennel, rosemary and other fresh herbs.  Cured pork products of all kinds are right in line behind.  Roasted birds are next in line, pheasants, squab, duck, and guinea fowl are favorites.

The olive oils are a deep green and the most cheeses are produced from sheep’s milk.

White wines: Chardonnay, Grecchetto, Orvieto, Trebbiano

Red wines: Rosso di Montefalco, Sagrantino di Montefalco, Sangiovese, and Toriano.

Note:  This is our favorite region in Italy.  While we adore Rome, Florence, Venice and Sicily, Umbria feels like home.  The good news is it is less expensive and less crowded than most of the popular destinations in Italy.  J&J

The Marches

Main Cities: Ancona, Macerata, Pesaro, Urbino

Cuisine:  Look to the sea, saffron fish stews, baked sardines, and raw fish.  Rabbit, pig, poultry and game follow right behind.  Primary seasonings include garlic, rosemary and fennel.  Pastas are often stuffed.  Olives are also stuffed and fried.  Black truffles are popular as are prosciutto and sheep’s milk cheeses or part cow’s milk and part sheep’s milk cheese.

White wines: Trebbiano, Verdicchio

Red Wines:  Lacrima, Montepulciano, Rosso Conero, Rosso Piceno

Lazio

John, Old Quarter, Central Rome 2016
John, Old Quarter, Central Rome 2016

Main Cities: Frosinone, Rieti, Rome, Viterbo

Cuisine: Primarily a pastoral pallet including sheep, lamb, and pork.  Pasta sauces range from tomato based with spices all’amatriciana, egg and cream alla carbonara, cheese and pepper cacio e pepe.  Artichokes, peas, asparagus, favas, chicory and celery are the most common vegetables.  Antipasti range from fried rice balls filled with mozzarella, toasted bread with olive oil and garlic often followed by grilled meats, cheese and prosciutto.

White wines: Colli Albani, Est, Frascati, Malvasia, Trebbiano

Red wine: Mostly imported from other regions.

Abruzzo and Molise

Main Cities: Avezzano, Chieti, L’Aquila, Pescara, Sulmona, Teramo

Cuisine: Similar to Lazio but also adding lamb stews and lamb pasta.  Pecorino cheese is made here.  Mozzarella is popular as well.  Cured meats and sausages are prolific.  Semolina pasta is dominant in this region.  Potatoes, sweet red bell peppers and celery are common vegetables.  Local saffron is excellent.  Clams and fish stew are popular.  Soups and stews typically will include lentils, dried beans or farro.

White wines: Trebbiano

Red Wines: Cerasuolo, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

Campania

Main Cities: Benevento, Capri, Caserta, Naples

Cuisine:  With its long coast, seafood stews and salads are common.  Steamed clams and mussels are popular.  World famous mozzarella di bufala and San Marzano tomatoes are prized ingredients.  Some of Italy’s best pasta comes from this region.  Stuffed vegetables are a staple.  Pizza was born in Naples.  Lemoncello is both an apertif and an after dinner drink as lemons are abundant.

White wines:  Fiano d’Avellino, Greco di Tufo, Lacrima Christi

Red wines:  Aglianico, Falerno, Taurasi

Calabria and Basilicata

Main Cities: Catanzaro, Cosenza, Matera, Potenza, Reggio

Cuisine: Calabrian seafood is bountiful here.  Fish Stews, tuna, swordfish.  Basilicata is mountainous where pork and pork sausages, lamb stews, soups and pastas include beans and vegetables.  Eggplant with tomatoes and mozzarella and double crusted pizzas are common dishes.  Burrata, mozzarella and provolone cheeses are the most popular.  Garlic, oregano and chiles are added to broccoli and other green vegetables

White wines: imported from other regions.

Red wines: Aglianico del Vulture

Apulia

Main Cities: Altamura, Bari, Brindisi, Foggia, Lecce, Otranto, Librandi

Cuisine: This is wheat country.  No surprise the crusty breads from Altamura, olive bread and pretzel crackers are known throughout Italy.  A variety of pastas and abundant vegetables are served together.  Seafood is also served raw, in stews and steamed or grilled.  Lamb and pork are common and cheeses like aged ricotta, burrata and provolone are served most with meals.

White wines: Bombino Bianco, Chardonnay, Verdeca

Red wines: Aleatico di Puglia, Malvasia Nera, Negroamaro, Primitivo, Salice Salentino

Sicily

Overlooking the vineyards, Sicily, Italy 2016
Overlooking the vineyards, Sicily, Italy 2016

Main Cities: Agrigento, Catania, Messina, Palermo, Syracuse, Taormina

 Cuisine: Close to Africa, the Arabic influence shapes much of Sicilian cooking.  Vegetables are central to the diet.  Fennel, tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, zucchini, cauliflower, eggplant are seasoned with spices and onions, garlic, pine nuts and raisins.  Surrounded by the sea, swordfish, tuna, sardines, octopus, sea urchins, mussels and clams can show up in any number of preparations.  A variety of olives, citrus fruits, and nuts are paired with local cheeses from cows and sheep.

White wines: Chardonnay, Catarratto, and Inzolia blends

Red wines:  Cerasuolo di Vittoria, Nerello, Nero d’Avola

Fortified and Desert wines: Malvasia di Pantelleria, Marsala, Moscato di Pantelleria

Sardinia

Sardinia 2009
Sardinia 2009

Main Cities: Cagliari, Nuoro, Olbia, Sassari

Cuisine: Sun-dried tomatoes, mint, saffron, fennel and bay leaves are the main flavors added to pastas, seafoods, lamb and pork dishes.  A crisp flat bread is a staple for most meals.  Sheep’s milk cheeses include ricotta and pecorino.  Almonds and honey are common ingredients in deserts.

White wines: Vermentino di Gallura, Vermentino di Sardegna, Vernaccia di Oristano.

Red wines: Cannonau.

 

2 thoughts on “The Food and Wines of Italy”

  1. What an awesome read! The 1988 picture was a hoot! The things you seen and done. Thanks Jim and John! Keep blogging! Ed

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