Sunday, March 04, 2007

The Good, the Bad and the Unpronounceable

Odds are that you know only one word regarding Italian wines: chianti. And who could blame you? I'm convinced that the reason nobody knows anything about Italian wines is because Italian wines are confusing as hell. I mean, there's like 475 different wine producing regions in Italy. Every little village seems to have its own wine that nobody else produces.

For example, the montepulciano grape comes from Abruzzi in east-central Italy (somewhere above the Achilles tendon in the Italian boot), and wines called "Montepulciano d'Abruzzo" must be at least 85% montepulciano grape and come from the Abruzzi region. Fair enough. But Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is a wine that comes from Tuscany, and is made from the sangiovese grape (the same variety used in chianti), not the montepulciano grape. Huh? Now why would they go and do a thing like that? I thought Italians were nice people.

Where the French are very stuffy and uptight about their wines, I get the feeling that the Italians really don't care. They make great wines, no mistake about it, but they just don't care much about what's called what or defined how or made with what grape. Everybody just does their own thing. As a result, there are a million different types of wines, from barolos and barbarescos to brunello de montalcinos and buttafuocos (I kid you not. You really think I would I make up a name like that?).

It's a consumer nightmare.

I'll go into Italian wines in more detail once I've learned something about them, but today's column is about pronouncing Italian wine terms.

Italian words are easy to pronounce as long as you gesticulate wildly as you talk. OK, OK, that was a cheap shot, but for some reason it really does seem to help. Actually Italian wine terms wouldn’t be so bad if there weren’t so many weird tongue-twisters. Things like “Amarone della Valpolicella” and “Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro”. When it comes to big long names, the Italians are almost as bad as the Germans.

OK, the rules:

If a word ends in “e”, it’s pronounced as its own syllable.

Sangiovese = san-joh-VAY-zeh
Amarone = ah-mah-ROH-neh

If a word has “ci” in it, the letters are pronounced “ch”.

Montepulciano = mon-te-pool-CHAH-noh
Montelcino = mon-tall-CHEE-noh

If a word has “ce” in it, the letters are pronounced “che”.

Docetto = dole-CHET-oh
Valpolicella = vol-paw-lee-CHEL-lah

If a word has “ch” in it, the letters are pronounced “k”. Isn’t this all backwards?

Chianti = kee-AHN-tee

The letters “gna” are pronounced “nyah”, just like “lasagna”.

Albana di Romagna = ahl-BAH-nah dee roh-MAH-nyah
Carmignano = kahr-mee-NYAH-noh


Today’s homework is as simple as last week’s. Try a bottle of Italian wine. Strangely enough, you can probably find a better selection of Italian wines in Chico than French wines. Creekside Cellars, in particular, has an interesting (if sometimes pricey) selection. Cost Plus World Market also carries a small selection. Be forewarned that Italian reds (other than thin insipid chiantis) tend to be BIG wines that need some bottle aging or heavy pasta sauce to cut them down to size. They're not delicate sipping wines.

Wines of the Week

2003 Da Vinci Chianti

Rustic aromas, with lots of vanilla, a touch of herbs and spices, and a faint echo of blackberry bramble. On the palette, it's clear that this wine is past its prime. A bit flat, somewhat tart with just a faint echo of fruit that died a year or two ago. These cheap (uh, affordable) Chiantis are meant to be drunk the day you buy them, so holding it as long as I did was a mistake. Probably decent in its time. Just about anywhere, about $11. 2.5 stars.

2001 Canonico Negroamaro

This little wine hails from the heel of Italy and is actually pretty decent. Rich, with a hint of wood smoke and spice. Not fruity on the nose. Mild red fruit on the palette, but more earthy than fruity. Certainly different from your California fruit bomb. Light, smooth tannins, and a tartness that would go well with pasta. 3 stars. $17.00 at Vino 100.

2001 Allegrini Palazzo Della Torre

I had the 2000 vintage of this wine and it was stunning in its complexity and earthiness. In fact, I bought the last two bottles of the 2000 that Cost Plus had. The 2001, unfortunately, pales in comparison. It's not a bad wine - in fact, its very good - but the 2000 was an incredible wine. A bit of earthiness to this on the nose, and a touch of licorce and spice - oregano and green pepper. Not very fruity or dense, a nice tartness and assertive tannins...but nothing like the 2000. If you can score a bottle of the 2000, pay whatever it takes. Available at Creekside Cellars and Cost Plus for about $20. 3 stars.

1 comment:

Pronounce Wine said...

Here's a great blog that's all about pronounce Italian wine names...