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Italy is home to some of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world and Italian wines are known worldwide for their broad variety. Italy, closely followed by France, is the world’s largest wine producer by volume. Italian wine is exported around the world and is also extremely popular in Italy: Italians rank fifth on the world wine consumption list by volume with 42 litres per capita consumption. Grapes are grown in almost every region of the country and there are more than one million vineyards under cultivation. Italy’s twenty wine regions correspond to the twenty administrative regions. Understanding of Italian wine becomes clearer with an understanding of the differences between each region and their cuisines.

The Italian Wine Regions

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In 1963, the first official Italian system of classification of wines was launched. Since then, several modifications and additions to the legislation were made (a major one in 1992), the last of which, in 2010, established four basic categories, which are consistent with the last EU regulation in the matter of wine (2008–09). The categories, from the bottom level to the top one, are:

  • Vini (Wines – informally called ‘generic wines’): These are wines that can be produced anywhere in the territory of the EU; no indication of geographical origin, of the grape varieties used, or of the vintage is allowed on the label. (The label only reports the color of the wine.)
  • Vini Varietali (Varietal Wines): These are generic wines that are made either mostly (at least 85%) from one kind of authorized ‘international’ grapes (Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Sauvignon blanc, Syrah) or entirely from two or more of them. The grape(s) and the vintage can be indicated on the label. These wines can be produced anywhere in the territory of the EU.)
  • Vini IGP (Wines with Protected Geographical Indication): This category (also traditionally implemented in Italy as IGT – Typical Geographical Indication) is reserved to wines produced in a specific territory within Italy and following a series of specific and precise regulations on authorized varieties, viticultural and vinification practices, organoleptic and chemico-physical characteristics, labeling instructions, etc. Currently (2014) there exist 118 IGPs/IGTs.
  • Vini DOP (Wines with Protected Designation of Origin): This category includes two sub-categories, i.e. Vini DOC (Controlled Designation of Origin) and Vini DOCG (Controlled and Guaranteed Designation of Origin). DOC wines must have been IGP wines for at least 5 years. They generally come from smaller regions, within a certain IGP territory, that are particularly known for their climatic and geological characteristics and for the quality and originality of the local winemaking traditions. They also must follow stricter production regulations than IGP wines. A DOC wine can be promoted to DOCG, if it has been a DOC for at least 10 years. In addition to fulfilling the requisites for DOC wines (since that’s the category they come from), before commercialization DOCG wines must pass stricter analyses, including a tasting by a specifically appointed committee. DOCG wines have also demonstrated a superior commercial success. Currently (2014) there exist 332 DOCs and 73 DOCGs for a total of 405 DOPs.

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1 Abruzzo
Abruzzo produces one DOCG – Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane – and three DOC wines: Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Controguerra and Trebbiano d’Abruzzo.

The region vineyards cover 33,252 hectares or 82,166 acres.; yearly wine production is 4,184,000 hectoliters or 110,541,611 gallons of which 17.6% isDOC.

2 Aosta Valley
In this small region in the Western Alps along the French border, the grapes are grown up 800 meters above sea level. The Valle d’Aosta DOC zone includes seven sub-zones.

Vineyards cover 635 hectares, or 1,569 acres; yearly wine production is 22,000 hectoliters, or 581,241 gallons; 10% white, 90% red; 22.8% is DOC.

3 Apulia
Apulia economy is based mainly on wine production and counts 25 DOCs, including Aleatico di Puglia, Cacc’e Mmitte di Lucera, Primitivo di Manduria, Salice Salentino and Rosso di Cerignola among others.

Vineyards cover 107,715 hectares or 263,693 acres; yearly wine production is 7,236,000 hectoliters or 191,175,693 gallons30% white, 70% red; 3.8% isDOC.

4 Basilicata
Basilicata produces only one DOC wine, the Aglianico del Vulture.

The region is 9,992 Km2 or 6,205 square miles, vineyards cover 10,848 hectares or 26,825 acres; yearly wine production is 481,000 hectoliters or 12,708,058 gallons; 27% white, 73%red; 2.4% isDOC.

5 Calabria
Calabria produces 12 DOCs including Bivongi, Ciró,Greco di Bianco, Pollino and Verbicaro among others.

The region vineyards cover 24,339 hectares or 60,142 acres; yearly wine production is 753,000 hectoliters or 19,894,319 gallons; 9% white, 91% red or sosé; 2.4% is DOC.

6 Campania
Campania produces one DOCG wine – Taurasi – and 19 DOCs including Aglianico del Taburno or Taburno, Campi Flegrei, Cilento, Fiano di Avellino and Vesuvio among others.

The region vineyards cover 41,129 hectares or 101,630 acres; yearly wine production is 1.971,000 hectoliters or 52,073,976 gallons; 36% white, 64% red; 2.8% is DOC.

7 Emilia – Romagna
Emilia–Romagna produces one DOCG wine – Albana di Romagna – and 18 DOCs, including three kind of Lambrusco – di Sorbara, Grasparossa di Castelvetroand Salamino di Santa Croce – in addition to Sangiovese di Romagna, Colli Bolognesi Pignolettoand Bosco Eliceo among others.

The region vineyards cover 58,237 hectares or 143,904 acres; yearly wine production is 4,733,000 hectoliters or 125,046,235 gallons; 43% white, 57% red; 21.4% is DOC.

8 Friuli – Venezia Giulia
Friuli–Venezia Giulia produces one DOCG wine –Ramandolo – and 9 DOCs including Colli Orientali del Friuli, Friuli Aquileia, Collio Goriziano or Collio andLison – Pramaggiore among others.

The region vineyards cover 18,704 hectares or 46,218 acres; yearly wine production is 1,018,000 hectoliters or 26,895,640 gallons; 52% white, 48% red; 60.5% is DOC.

9 Latium
Lazio produces 25 DOCs including Castelli Romani, Colli Albani, Montecompatri-Colonna, Est! Est! Est! di Montefiascone and Velletri among others.

The region vineyards cover 47.884 hectares or 118,321 acres; yearly wine production is 2,940,000 hectoliters or 77,675,033 gallons; 84% white, 16% red; 6.5% is DOC.

10 Liguria
Liguria produces 7 DOCs: Cinque Terre or Cinque Terre Schiacchetrà, Colli di Luni, Colline di Levanto, Golfo del Tigullio, Riviera Ligure di Ponente, Rossese di Dolceacqua or Dolceacqua and Val Polcevera.

The region vineyards cover 4,837 hectares or 11,952 acres; yearly wine production is 165,000 hectoliters or 4,359,313 gallons; 66% white, 34% red; 13.9% is DOC.

Wine-Map-wine-folly

11 Lombardy
Lombardy produces two DOCGs wines – Franciacortaand Valtellina Superiore – and 15 DOCs includingGarda Classico, Oltrepó Pavese, Cellatica and Botticino among others.

The region vineyards cover 26,951 hectares or 66,593 acres; yearly wine production is 1,665,000 hectoliters or 43,989,432 gallons; 38% white, 62% red; 47.3% is DOC.

12 Marches
Marche produces 12 DOCs including Bianchello del Metauro, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, Rosso Cònero, Lacrima di Morro or Lacrima di Morro d’Alba and Falerio dei Colli Ascolani among others.

The region is 9,694 Km2 or 4,330 square miles, vineyards cover 24,590 hectares or 60,762 acres; yearly wine production is 1,815,000 hectoliters or 47,957,443 gallons; 62% white, 38% red; 19.6% isDOC.

13 Molise
Molise produces only three DOC wines: Biferno, Molise or del Molise and Pentro di Isernia.

The region is 4,438 Km2 or 2,756 square miles, vineyards cover 7,650 hectares or 18,903 acres; yearly wine production is 360,000 hectoliters or 9,511,228 gallons of which 3.9% is DOC.

14 Piedmont
Piedmont produces seven DOCGs wines – Asti, Barbaresco, Barolo, Brachetto d’Acqui or Acqui, Gavi o Cortese di Gavi, Gattinara and Ghemme – and 44DOCs including three Barbera – d’Alba, d’Asti and del Monferrato – two Freisa – d’Asti and di Chieri, seven Dolcetto, Erbaluce di Caluso o Caluso and Roero among many others.

The region vineyards cover 57,487 hectares or 142,050 acres; yearly wine production is 3,405,000 hectoliters or 89,960,369 gallons; 30% white, 70% red; 55.8% is DOC.

15 Sardinia 
Sardinia produces one DOCG – Vermentino di Gallura– and 19 DOC wines including two Malvasia – di Bosa and di Cagliari – three Moscato – di Sorso-Sennori, di Cagliari and di Sardegna – Vernaccia di Oristano, Cannonau di Sardegna, Nuragus di Cagliariand , Carignano del Sulcis and Mandrolisai among others.

The region vineyards cover 43,331 hectares or 107,070 acres; yearly wine production is 1,062,000 hectoliters or 28,058.124 gallons; 43% white, 57% red; 15.6% is DOC.

16 Sicily 
Sicily produces 19 DOCs including four Moscato – di Noto Naturale or di Noto, di Pantelleria Naturale or di Pantelleria, di Passito di Pantelleria or Passito di Pantelleria and di Siracusa – Marsala, Cerasuolo di Vittoria, Malvasia delle Lipari and Sambuca di Sicilia among others.

The region vineyards cover 133,518 hectares or 329,923 acres; yearly wine production is 8,073,000 hectoliters or 213,000,000 gallons of which 2.1% is DOC.

17 Trentino – Alto Adige
Trentino-Alto Adige produces 8 DOCs including Alto Adige or Südtirol which has six subzones, Valdadige or Etschtaler, Teroldego Rotaliano, Casteller and Lago di Caldaro o Caldaro among others.

The region vineyards cover 12,810 hectares or 31,653 acres; yearly wine production is 953,000 hectoliters or 25,178,335 gallons; 45% white, 55% red; 79.1% is DOC.

18 Tuscany
Here they say that grapes preceded mankind …

Tuscany produces seven DOCGs wines – Chianti which includes seven subzones, Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino, Carmignano, Vernaccia di San Gimignano and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano – and 44 DOCs including Bolgheri or Bolgheri Sassicaia, Valdichiana, Bianco della Valdinievole and Ansonica Costa dell’Argentario among many others.

The region vineyards cover 63,633 hectares or 157,237 acres; yearly wine production is 2,156,000 hectoliters or 56,961,690 gallons; 30% white, 70% red; 55.5% is DOC.

19 Umbria
Umbria produces two DOCGs wines – Montefalco Sagrantino and Torgiano Rosso Riserva – and 11DOCs including Rosso Orvietano or Orvietano Rosso, Colli del Trasimeno or Trasimeno, Assisi, and Colli Altotiberini among others.

The region vineyards cover 16,503 hectares or 40,779 acres; yearly wine production is 740,000 hectoliters or 19,550,858 gallons; 58% white, 42% red; 30.5% is DOC.

20 Veneto
Veneto produces two DOCGs wines – Recioto di Soave and Bardolino – and 11 DOCs including Soave, Valpolicella o Recioto della Valpolicella, Lessini Durello, Bianco di Custoza and Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene among others.

The region vineyards cover 73,314 hectares or 186,101 acres; yearly wine production is 6,785,000 hectoliters or 179,260,237 gallons; 55.4% white, 44.6% red; 29.1% is DOC.

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Vendemmia

While the majority of tourists prefer to visit Italy during the summer months, for wine lovers September and October is the time the magic happens. The vendemmia – Italian for grape harvest – takes place every year during these months (the exact dates vary between vineyards, depending on the weather and the grapes reaching their peak of ripeness). During the vendemmia, wine festivals take place across Italy, though Tuscany remains the home of winemaking. The Festa dell’uva in Impruneta is the oldest and most revered festival in Italy. Featuring local wine tasting, fresh local produce, music, dancing and parades, it is their biggest event of the year. The Italian grape harvest is underway as you read this, with grower organizations promising less quantity but more quality from the 2014 vintage.

The first grapes were picked in Franciacorta in Lombardy last week, 10 days earlier than in 2013, despite variable weather in the lead-up to harvest. Sicily also started picking around the same time. The total Italian harvest is expected to be smaller than last year’s bumper crop, which yielded 49 million liters of wine, according to Wine-Searcher.

What To Serve With Italian Wine?

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Homemade Ricotta & Spinach Filled Ravioli

Ingredients

Filling:

  • 3/4 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 pound fresh spinach, chopped
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • A pinch freshly grated nutmeg

Sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 chopped shallot
  • 4 ounces lean ground beef
  • 4 ounces lean ground pork
  • 4 ounces sweet Italian sausage
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1/2 cup beef  broth
  • 1 (28-ounce) can Italian crushed tomatoes
  • A pinch of fresh sage, rosemary and 2 bay leaves
  • Salt and pepper

Dough:

  • 2 cups All-Purpose flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Directions

The filling:

In a large bowl, combine the spinach, ricotta, one egg, half of the Parmigiano, some grated nutmeg, salt and pepper. Mix well. Refrigerate until reading to make the ravioli.

The sauce:

Heat a skillet over low heat; add the olive oil and then the shallot. Stir for 2 minutes, then add the herbs, meat and sausage—breaking up the sausage with a wooden spoon. Raise the flame to medium-high and cook for 5 minutes or until the meat is cooked through. Add the wine and season with salt and pepper. Cover and continue to cook on a low flame. Add broth to keep the mixture moist. Cook for 1 1/2 hours, stirring often. Add the crushed tomatoes and continue to simmer for another 30 minutes.

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The dough:

Combine the flour and salt on a flat work surface; shape into a mound and make a well in the center. Add the eggs and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil to the well and lightly beat with a fork. Gradually draw in the flour from the inside wall of the well in a circular motion. Continue to incorporate all the flour until it forms a ball. Or you can mix the ingredients in the food processor.

Wrap the ball in plastic wrap and let rest 30 minutes.

Cut the ball of dough in 1/2, cover and reserve the piece you are not immediately using to prevent it from drying out. Dust the counter and dough with a little flour. Press the dough into a rectangle and roll it through a pasta machine, 2 or 3 times, at the widest setting. Pull and stretch the sheet of dough with the palm of your hand as it emerges from the rollers. Reduce the setting and crank the dough through again, 2 or 3 times. Continue tightening until the machine is at the second narrowest setting; the dough should be almost paper-thin.

Cut two long rectangular strips of equal size, a little more than 3 inches wide. (Keep the rest of the dough covered with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel.) Spoon a generous amount of filling every 2 to 3 inches along the dough. Place the other sheet on top and press it lightly all along the edges. Using the wheel cutter, first trim off the four sides of the rectangle; then cut out each square. Seal each one well with your fingers or a fork. Lay them on a tray with some semolina flour on the bottom to avoid sticking.

Continue this procedure, preparing as many ravioli as you can, balancing the amount of filling with the remaining dough.

To cook:

In a large pot, bring a gallon of water to boil; add a half handful of salt and then add the ravioli one by one. Stir them very gently and cook for 8 minutes. Drain them with a colander or a sieve and then place them in a warm pasta bowl, alternating them with the hot meat sauce and Parmigiano cheese.


Italian white wines are crisp, soft and highly acidic. They are made to accompany food, not overpower it. Even Italian wines made from grapes popular elsewhere, such as Chardonnay, take on a slightly different, richer character when grown in Italian soil. Italy’s best white wines are grown, primarily, in three regions, “Tre Venezie”, literally the three-Venices: Veneto, Trentino Alto-Adige and Fruili-Venezia-Guilia, as well as in Piedmont. The cooler northern climate of these areas adds a crispness to the wines.

Pinot Grigio

Probably the most well known Italian white wine is Pinot Grigio. This light, dry white has become a summer staple in the United States. Produced in Veneto, Pinot Grigio at its best, has a subtle lemony, slightly nutty flavor and goes well with grilled fish, salads and seafood.

Soave

Soave is similar to Pinot Grigio and is also grown in Veneto. Soave is a light, straw-colored, slightly sweet and fruity wine. Named after a small town in the region, Soave is made from Trebbiano and Garganega grapes. Soave, Italy’s best selling white wine, is best consumed young, no longer than three years from the vintage date.

Gavi

Little known in the United States, Gavi is a very dry, delicate wine with strong acidity. It has delicate aromas of grapefruit, honey, flowers and minerals. Gavi is named after a town in the Piedmont region. Produced from native Cortese grapes, Gavi goes well with fish. It is best drunk within three to four years of the vintage date.

Orvieto

Orvieto is made in Umbria and has been made in the same way since Roman times. Umbria’s central Italy location and the slightly warmer climate imparts an earthiness not found in the Piedmont and Veneto wines. The chalky, limestone soil gives a unique character to this wine. Orvieto, named after a village near where it is produced, is a dry wine also made from Trebbiano and Grechetto grapes. Very affordable, Orvieto goes well with grilled chicken or fish.

Verdicchio

Produced in eastern Italy, near the Adriatic coast, Verdicchio is a light, dry wine with a pleasant acidity made from grapes of the same name. Verdicchio, unlike most Italian white wines, is capable of aging, but it has a fruity freshness when drunk young. Verdicchio has the flavor of fresh apples and lemon. Relatively inexpensive, this wine is good with seafood and fish.

Arneis

Arneis, the name means “rascal” in the local dialect, is a product of Piedmont. Light and easy to drink, Arneis is goes very well with summer food: such as salads, prosciutto and melon, or a light pasta primavera. Arneis is also refreshing as an “aperitivo,” a small glass at the start of the meal. Named after the grape from which the wine is made, Arneis is a medium dry wine with hints of peaches, apricots and pears. It is best consumed when it is young.

Chardonnay

Chardonnay is most often thought of in conjunction with French or California wine production, but Italy also makes Chardonnay. Most Italian Chardonnay is made in the Alto Adige region in mountainous northern Italy, near the Austrian border. In general, Italian Chardonnays are more crisp than those made in other countries. Most are un-oaked with a light fruit taste that pairs well with lobster, crabmeat and cream sauces.

Asti

Asti, named after a town in southeastern Piedmont, is Italy’s most famous sparkling wine – “spumante” in Italian. Made from Moscato d’Asti grapes, Asti is an aromatic, semi-sweet wine. Sometimes called a poor man’s Champagne, Asti Spumante, when well made, can be fruity with hints of ripe peaches and apricots but is quite light when compared to Champagne. Serve Asti well chilled or combine Asti with fresh peach juice to create Venice’s most famous cocktail, the Bellini.

Italian white wines offer variety and unique flavors. The next time you visit your neighborhood wine store, think Italian, try something different and plan your menu around one of these wines.

Herbed Mushrooms with White Wine

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds fresh mushrooms, quartered
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

Directions

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Place mushrooms in the skillet, season with Italian seasoning and cook 10 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add the wine and garlic to the skillet and continue cooking until most of the wine has evaporated. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with chives. Continue cooking 1 minute.

Pasta with Turkey White Wine Ragu

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 pound lean ground turkey breast
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon chopped thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon chopped rosemary
  • 2 tablespoons small capers, rinsed
  • 3/4 pound penne or any short pasta
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Directions

In a large, deep skillet, heat the olive oil. Add the chopped onion and minced garlic, cook over moderately high heat, stirring frequently, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the turkey, season with salt and pepper and raise the heat to high. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the turkey is no longer pink and any liquid has evaporated, about 8 minutes.

Add the white wine to the skillet and boil over high heat until nearly evaporated, about 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock, thyme, rosemary and capers and simmer over moderate heat until the liquid is reduced by half, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Drain the pasta well and add it to the skillet along with the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, chopped parsley and butter. Cook over low heat, stirring frequently, until the sauce is thick and creamy, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to serving bowls.

MAKE AHEAD: The ragu can be covered and refrigerated overnight. Rewarm the sauce before using.

Fish Fillets in Herbed White-Wine Sauce

Serves: 4

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup bottled clam juice
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 medium shallot, minced
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped thyme
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped marjoram
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Four 6-ounce skinless mahi mahi fillets or any firm thick white fish fillets
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for rubbing
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Directions

In a small saucepan, toast the pine nuts over moderate heat, shaking the pan a few times until the nuts are fragrant, about 1 minute. Transfer to a plate.

Add the clam juice to the saucepan and boil over medium heat until slightly reduced, about 5 minutes. Add the wine and continue to boi,l 5 minutes more. Add the shallot, thyme and marjoram and season with salt and pepper. Cover the sauce and keep warm.

Light an outdoor grill or heat a stovetop grill pan. Rub the fish fillets with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Grill over high heat, turning once, until grill marks appear and the fish is cooked through, about 3-4 minutes per side. Transfer the fish to a serving plate.

Stir the parsley into the wine sauce. Coarsely chop the toasted pine nuts. Spoon the sauce over the fish and sprinkle with the pine nuts.

Chicken Cutlets in a White Wine Sauce

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 8 thin chicken cutlets (about 1 1/2 – 2 pounds total)
  • All-purpose flour for dredging
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoons garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup white wine (dry)
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon, plus lemon slices for garnish
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley

Directions

Heat oil in a skillet. Pour flour into a shallow dish. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Dredge the chicken cutlets in the flour and place into the skillet.

Depending on the size of your skillet, you may need to do this in two batches. Cook for about 4-5 minutes per side. Remove the chicken to a platter and cover with foil.

Add butter to the pan with the garlic. Let the garlic cook for 1 minute. Add the wine and cook for 2 minutes. Add the zest and juice of the lemon. Add the parsley and season with salt and pepper. Stir together.

Pour the sauce over the chicken and garnish with lemon slices.

Italian Wine Cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup white wine
  • 3/4 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cups olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon anise seed or cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 orange zested
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 egg
  • 4-1/2 cups all purpose flour

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line cookie sheets or jelly roll pans with parchment paper.

Mix the first 8 ingredients together in a large bowl and then add the flour. Knead dough on a floured board.

Separate into 1 oz. pieces. Roll each piece into a 6″ long and 1/2-3/4″ thick rope. Then make a loop and pull one end throug;. like a pretzel.

Place cookies on prepared pans. Sprinkle with additional granulated sugar. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Cook on a wire rack.


Wine has a long, rich history as a cooking liquid. One of the early “cookbooks,” compiled in the first century, “De re Coquinaria” (“On Cooking”), included dozens of recipes that used wine. Since the beginning of recorded history, wine has been considered one of the essential ingredients in cooking. The ancient Greeks used wine and there are numerous references to its use in their meal preparation. When the Romans came along, they spread the practice of cooking with wine throughout Europe and developed special varietals, such as Marsala. The Romans also prepared a concentrate of grape must (unfermented grape juice) called defrutum, which was kept around the hearth and used both to color and sweeten foods. In the East, centuries of Japanese and Chinese cooks have made wine from fruits or rice and used these liquids in cooking.

Italians take wine very seriously and, just as they eat regionally, Italians drink regionally. Go to Tuscany where you will find Chianti, Vernaccia di San Gimignano and Brunello di Montalcino. Head to Abruzzo and you will find Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo or Trebbiano d’Abruzzo on the table. The characteristics of a given wine are reflective of the culture in which it is made. Each of Italy’s 20 wine-producing regions proudly claim their own sub-cultures and cuisines, leading to many variations of wine. Piedmont and Tuscany are the Italian leaders in quality wines. Italy is respected as a wine-producing country and no other country can boast as many varieties. They use their 350+ varieties of domestic grapes, along with international varieties to produce wines in a class of their own. Approximately one-fifth of the world’s wine comes directly from Italy’s vineyards and there are over one million throughout the entire country.

The Major Types of Italian Red Wines

Amarone is made from air-dried Corvina grapes and is produced in the northern Veneto region near Venice, using the “recioto” method. This technique involves picking the grapes that grow on the outside of a cluster and have the most exposure to the sun. The result is a full-bodied wine in a style more common to warm growing areas. Amarones are aged for five years or more before bottling. Some, but not all, are aged in oak barrels. Amarone (the name means big, bitter one) has a powerful, concentrated, almost Port-like texture with hints of mocha. Amarone is ideal with roasted beef or pork and also with cheese.

Barolo is a powerful and full-bodied wine with a complex mixture of tastes and textures – wild strawberry, tobacco, chocolate and vanilla. Barolo gets better with age and is frequently referred to as “the king of wines”. Barolo requires many years (three years minimum by law) of aging to soften it and it is improved by decanting. Barolo is made in the Langhe Hills region of Piedmont, entirely of Nebbiolo grapes. Nebbiolo is a difficult grape to grow well. It thrives in the region’s clay, limestone and sandy soil, preferring to be planted on sunny, south-facing hillsides. Barolo is a perfect accompaniment to meat, rich pastas and creamy risottos.

Chianti has come a long way from its image of wicker-wrapped bottles with candle drippings alongside a plate of spaghetti. Today’s Chiantis are produced in Tuscany, in central Italy near Florence and Chianti has a government-controlled wine designation. That means all of the wine called Chianti has to be made within the Chianti area. Chianti is produced from primarily Sangiovese grapes, sometimes combined with Cabernet Franc, Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon. It has high acidity with hints of plum and wild cherry. Chianti and any tomato-based sauce are a classic wine and food pairing, but Chianti also goes well with steak or other grilled meat.

Barbaresco is also produced from Nebbiolo grapes, but tends to be a more softer wine than Barolo. There are just three, small growing regions for Barbaresco compared to Barolo’s eleven regions, so there is less Barbaresco available each year. Barbaresco, too, requires aging – a minimum of two years and up to twenty years – to meet its full potential. It also pairs well with red meat and the rich food of Piedmont.

Bardolino is a light, fruit-filled wine made in the Veneto region of Italy. Named after the town of Bardolino on Lake Garda, this wine has faint cherry flavors with a hint of spiciness. Like Amarone, Bardolino is crafted, primarily from Corvina grapes. Sometimes made into a dry, rose or sparkling wine called “chiaretto,” Bardolino is best served chilled and goes nicely with fish, seafood, light meat entrees, pasta and pizza.

Montalcino is Tuscany’s second most famous wine zone, after Chianti. Montalcino is a small, medieval town just outside of Siena. The wine district there is a warm, sunny, hilly area with few extremes in temperature. The cool evenings  insure high acidity. Brunello di Montalcino is created entirely from Sangiovese grapes. By Italian wine law, Brunello must be aged longer than any other wine – a minimum of four years. Brunello is subtle with overtones of blackberry, black cherry, chocolate and sweet vanilla. Drink it with the hearty dishes of Tuscany.

Cooking with Wine

Using wine in cooking is so natural, it probably would have occurred anywhere grapes could be grown and turned into wine. Wine can accent, enhance and intensify the flavors and aromas of food. The ways of using wine in cooking are numerous: marinate, saute, poach, boil, braise, stew or deglaze. Some cooks use wine for stir-fries, steaming or blanching. A splash of it straight out of the bottle is an added flavor in vinaigrettes or sauces.

Cooks use wine instead of water because wine adds flavor. But just as the four vinegars made from cider, sherry, red wine or white wine differ from each other, so do wines differ in what they add to a recipe. “Wine adds acidity to sauces,” says Jeff Mosher, chef for the Robert Mondavi Winery. “Food that has a level of acidity goes better with wine than food that is flat.” A careful cook, however, needs to consider the cooking preparation when utilizing wine. For example, wine could concentrate and become too tart after boiling down a marinade into a sauce. So, likewise, would any sweetness in wine; too much can be cloying. “It’s best to use red wines that don’t have huge tannins,” says Mosher. “When reduced, they leave a bitter flavor. I usually cook with merlot or pinot noir … never all cabernet sauvignon. Avoid wines labeled “cooking wine.” Not only are such wines often oxidized, but they are also packed with salt.

Finally, it isn’t necessary, as the old adage has it, to cook with the same wine that you will serve. According to Mosher, the flavor compounds and nuances of a very fine wine simply don’t survive the heat of most cooking. For example, preparing boeuf bourguignon or coq au vin doesn’t require an expensive red Burgundy. For these dishes, any of well-made, balanced, medium- to full-bodied red wine will do.

Red Wine Bagna Cauda

Ingredients

  • One 750-milliliter bottle Italian dry red wine, such as Nebbiolo
  • 1/4 cup marinated anchovy fillets, drained and chopped
  • 4 oil-packed anchovy fillets, drained and chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 1/2 cups good quality extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Assorted crudités, such as carrots, radishes, fennel and bell peppers, for serving

Directions

In a large saucepan, boil the wine over high heat until reduced to 1 cup, about 20 minutes. Let cool.

In a blender, combine the reduced wine with the anchovies, garlic, lemon zest and lemon juice and blend until smooth. With the machine running, add the olive oil in a thin stream. Season with salt and pepper.

Transfer the bagna cauda to a medium saucepan and rewarm over low heat. Pour into a serving bowl and serve with the crudités.

Red Wine Glazed Meatloaf

Ingredients

  • 2 slices of sandwich bread, torn into pieces
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped sage
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped thyme
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1/4 cup plain dry bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 pound lean ground pork
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tomato, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon molasses
  • Chopped basil for garnish

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Brush a medium oval baking dish with oil.

In a large bowl, combine the bread pieces with the milk and mash to a paste. Add the egg, chopped parsley, sage, thyme, salt, black pepper and cayenne and stir until smooth. Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano and dry bread crumbs and stir until thoroughly combined.

In a medium skillet, heat the oil. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat until softened, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook just until fragrant, 1 minute longer. Let cool, then transfer to the bowl with the bread mixture. Add the meat and knead in until evenly combined.

Transfer the meat loaf mixture to the prepared baking dish and pat it into a 4-by-12-inch oval loaf. Bake for about 50 minutes or until firm but not quite cooked through.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, combine the red wine with the honey, chopped tomato and molasses and bring to a boil over moderate heat, stirring to dissolve the all the ingredients. Boil until the glaze is thick and syrupy, about 10-12 minutes.

Brush half of the glaze over the parially cooked meat loaf. Continue baking for about 20 minutes longer until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center registers 150°F; brush once more with the remaining glaze. Let the meatloaf rest for 15 minutes, garnish with chopped basil, slice and serve.

Red Wine Risotto with Mushrooms

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 pound fresh porcini or cremini mushrooms, sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 5 cups chicken stock
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 cup arborio rice (6 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine, such as Amarone
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • One 2-ounce piece Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for shaving
  • 2 teaspoons chopped mixed herbs, such as basil, chives, parsley, etc.

Directions

In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of oil. Add the mushrooms; season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook over moderate heat until tender, about 5 minutes. Uncover and cook, stirring, until browned. Transfer the mushrooms to a plate.

In a medium saucepan, bring the chicken stock to a simmer; cover and keep warm over low heat.

In the skillet, heat the remaining olive oil. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the rice and cook for 2 minutes. Add the wine and simmer until almost evaporated.

Pour in 1 cup of the hot stock, or enough to cover the rice. Cook, stirring constantly, until the stock has been absorbed, about 5 minutes. Repeat, adding 1 cup of stock at a time and stirring until all of the stock has been absorbed.

The risotto is done when the rice is cooked al dente, about 25 minutes. Stir in the butter and mushrooms and heat until the butter is melted and the mushrooms are heated. Season with salt and pepper, if needed. Spoon the risotto into serving bowls and shred Parmigiano-Reggiano over the risotto, sprinkle with herbs and serve.

Chicken Parmesan with Red-Wine Pasta Sauce

Ingredients

  • 4 ounces uncooked linguine
  • 1/2 cup unseasoned breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 4 (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breasts
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Large pich of crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 2 cups homemade or store bought pasta sauce
  • 4 teaspoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • Chopped Basil, optional

Directions

Sprinkle chicken breasts with 1/4 teaspoon black pepper and the salt. Combine bread crumbs and Italian seasoning in a shallow dish. Dip chicken in egg and dredge in breadcrumbs.

Heat oil in a large skillet with a cover over medium-high heat. Add chicken; cook 3 minutes on each side. Remove chicken from pan; keep warm.

Add wine to the pan and remaining 1/4 teaspoon black pepper and red pepper, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Cook 1 minute. Add pasta sauce; cook 1 minute or until bubbly.

Combine the mozzarella and parmesan cheeses. Arrange chicken over sauce; top each breast with a portion of the cheese and a spoonful of sauce.

Cover the pan, reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes or until chicken is cooked and cheese has melted.

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain. Serve chicken and sauce over pasta. Garnish with basil, if desired.

Chocolate-Red Wine Cake

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter or butter alternative, softened
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar or the equivalent of a sugar alternative
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups Italian dry red wine
  • Confectioner’s sugar, for dusting

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter and flour a 12-cup bundt pan.

In a bowl, whisk the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter with the sugar at medium-high speed until fluffy, 4 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until incorporated. Add the vanilla and beat for 2 minutes longer.

Working in two batches, alternately fold in the dry ingredients and the wine, just until incorporated.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn it out onto a rack; let cool completely. Dust the cake with confectioner’s sugar and serve.



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