When many people think about Italian food, they think of red sauces and red wines, but Italy’s food – and drink – is much more varied than that. There are delicate and refreshing white wines, bold and powerful reds, subtle fruit-forward red wines, and, of course, sparkling wines. Learn which ones accentuate popular Italian fare.
Before the Meal
Italy, as most of Europe, eschews American-style before-dinner cocktails in favor of an aperitif or a glass of wine. Particularly refreshing is the “Bellini,” a mixture of sparkling wine, peaches, and peach liqueur, created by Venice’s “Harry’s Bar.” Another favorite is a glass of Franciacorta, Italy’s premier sparkling wine, and the only one crafted in the classic “methode Champenoise,” or try a glass of light, sparkling, and delicious Prosecco.
Another singularly Italian starter is Vermouth, a distillation of herbs, spices, and bark. Primarily used in North America as an ingredient in the perfect Martini, Vermouth in Italy is drunk alone in a small cordial glass.
Northern Italian Cuisine
The northern region of Piedmont is famous for its pungent white truffles, found in everything from soups to egg dishes, during the season from October to December. The region also favors braised beef, lamb, and rabbit dishes. All are perfect accompaniments for a full-bodied Barolo or Barbaresco.
Northeastern Italy’s hearty Amarones are ideal when paired with winter foods, such as roasts and game meats, or even hard cheeses like asiago and parmesan. Prosciutto, some of the best of which comes from the northern Italian province of Fruili, is enhanced by a glass of fruity, floral white wine, such as Tocal or Ribolla Gialla. Seafood, fish, and light summer dishes are best paired with the region’s light and drinkable Soaves. Delicate trout pulled from Lake Garda or the fish stews popular in Liguria pair well with Trebbiano-based Lugana wines.
Tuscan Specialties with Wine
Tuscan food revolves around the trio of bread, olive oil, and wine. Tuscan bread is some of the best in the world and the region finds dozens of uses for it, including a peasant bread salad, panzanella, and bread soup. Tuscan bread is peppery and slightly salty, perfect for the region’s Sangiovese-based wines.
The Tuscan meat specialty is bistecca alla fiorentina, a large slab of grilled beef, ideal with a full-bodied Chianti Classico Riserva, Brunello di Montalcino, or Vino Nobile di Montalcino.
Red Sauces and More
Chianti, made with Sangiovese grapes, is the quintessential tomato-sauce wine. The spicy and slightly salty wine stands up, and even adds to, the taste of tomato sauces and dishes, such classics as osso bucco and chicken cacciatore.
Desserts and After Dinner
Italy produces a wide variety of after-dinner libations. Among them is Tuscany’s Vin Santo (literally “holy wine”), a distilled grape product that ranges from dry to sweet. Another perfect ending to a meal is a glass of sparkling, semi-sweet Moscato d’Asti, the traditional Piedmont Christmas toasting beverage