Slices of Italy: Wine

There is no way I can explain Italian wine in 20 lines. Impossible. First of all, I’m an abstainer, so I don’t drink wine, though friends insist it’s as much a food as it is a drink. Then, I’m not deeply into the culture of wine, as are so many Italians, who know the subject up-and-down, inside-out and backward-forward. The thing I know about is the competition between Italy and France with regard to wine. The French zing the Italians by saying, “You have grapes of gold and wine of silver; we have grapes of silver and wine of gold.” Those are fighting words!

The Italians, on the other hand, though proud of their wines, are seldom critical of wines from other countries. I know many Italians that are highly complimentary of the wine produced in Chile, in Spain and in the USA. I’ve talked with Italian friends after their return from the US and they often remark on the high quality of American wines. But Italian wine remains number one. Every region has its own special wine, such as Chianti in Tuscany, Marsala in Sicily, Barolo in Piedmont, Tocai in Veneto. But every region, every province, every vineyard is different … unique.

The growing of the grapes is a fascinating lesson in agricultural science. That’s because it’s far beyond simple science. It’s part science, part … art, part tradition, part experience. The growers know when to plant, when to irrigate, when to harvest and much more. Then, they experiment, learning amazing things, like freezing the grapes before pressing them, which gives them a unique flavor. They know the angle at which the rows should be planted, so as to maximize sunshine. They know when to prune, when to splice, when to re-plant.

Then, the consumer knows when and how to drink wine: usually red wine with meat and white wine with fish. They know how to taste it when the bottle is opened. If it doesn’t taste just right, the customer will send it back and the restaurant will not say a word, as they all want their place known for the high quality of their wine selection. How important is wine to any meal? Well, in any eating establishment in Italy, from a 5-star restaurant to the lowest trattoria, the first thing they ask is what will you be drinking. After that, they take your order for your meal.