Happy Hour | Italian Wines 101

Wine can be an important element in the dining experience. Many wines can bring out the flavors of food, from rich meat dishes to wild game to rustic roasted vegetables.

I love pairing wines with dishes and trying new blends and trends from around the world. From the Willamette Valley of Oregon to colder, chillier Eastern Europe, there are so many exciting wines to explore.

But when it co`mes right down to it, Italian wine is what I’ll always reach for first.

Who doesn’t think of Italy when they think of wine? It’s a no-brainer for me, and so much of the wine we drink originated in this varied land of cultures, climates and soil types.

Rich, volcanic mineral-filled soils can create one type of grape while cool, coastal breezes and temperatures create another.

Recently I sat down with Gino Pizzi, owner of Italian restaurant Ambrosia, who moved to America from Italy when he was 14. He shared with me his knowledge of wine and memories of Italy, offering up advice on pairing wine with food and sharing some general tips for beginner wine enthusiasts.

For starters

Everyone needs to start somewhere, and if you aren’t a big wine drinker, then Gino advises starting with some along the lines of a Chianti.

The prototypical Tuscan wine, Chiantis are made predominantly from Sangiovese grapes, though other varieties are sometimes included.

Along with Chianti, Super-Tuscans – wines made with grapes unsanctioned by the Italian government – are also a good choice for beginners.

Pizzi also recommends those wary of taking big steps into varietals to head towards a good Italian Pinot Noir.

Pinot noir has a good reputation.  We can thank “Sideways” partly for its growth in popularity, but really, these Northern Italian wines are a perfect compliment to a heavy meat dish and won’t do battle with the flavors. Instead, this wine lays back and compliments the main course.

Barberas are a good place to take the next step, says Pizzi. Bolder with a bit more acidity, these wines pair well with food, especially richer, spicier dishes.
Overall, Italian wines were made to pair with food, and trying new vintages and regional specialties can turn a bland meal into a festive feast.

“In Italy, meals are events, and can last for hours,” Pizzi says. “Each course brings a new dish as well as a new wine to the table.”


What does unsanctioned mean?


From Food & Wine:

A certain proportion of Sangiovese is mandated by the government, but a 1996 change in the law gave producers more freedom to choose their grapes, and many opted to exclude white varieties. Previously, wine made from nonsanctioned grapes was officially termed vino da tavola, or “table wine.” But because these wines were often better than the regular Chiantis, they came to be known–first informally and then increasingly as a marketing device–as Super-Tuscans. With the loosening of the laws, the government has also granted Super-Tuscans some recognition and their own new designation, IGT Toscana (for Typical Geographic Denomination of Tuscany).
Gino’s recommendations:

IL Bruciato



Tasting notes:

Nose: Big fruit, earthy, spicy.

Taste: Sweet fruits and berries, spicy, deep.

Finish: Smooth, long.

Overall: Nice, low acidity.

Happy Hour

Pinot Noir


Tasting notes:

Nose: Smoky bacon, black cherry, oaky.

Taste: Sweet fruits and berries, spicy, deep.

Finish: Smooth, light, long.


Overall: Excellent balance of acidity and tannins.

Happy Hour



Tasting notes:

Nose: Smoky bacon, black cherry, oaky.

Taste: Sweet fruit, rich, lots of character.

Finish: Long, rich and satisfying.


Overall: Great balance.

Happy Hour

Check out wines and much more in our 2013 Cocktail Guide!


Twinkle VanWinkle has over 20 years of professional cooking under her apron strings, feeding thousands of friends, family and other folks. She baked apple pies for the “Oprah Winfrey Show” and has appeared on Food Network’s “The Best Of…” Along with producing dynamic lifestyle content for LIN Media, she is a mother, urban gardener, chef, musician and social media fanatic.

Find out more on TwinkleVanWinkle.com or  Foodspotting, Tumblr and Twitter.  by Twinkle VanWinkle

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