UPDATE: Regrettably, master sommelier Jacob Gragg’s plans have changed and he will be unable to honor his longstanding commitment to host the wine tasting mentioned below. However, Jimmy Collins, district manager for Banfi in Tennessee and Alabama, has graciously agreed to step up to the plate. Jimmy holds a Certified Specialist of Wine Certification from the Society of Wine Educators. He is the host of “Wine Down Wednesdays” on the Nashville NBC affiliate’s version of “The Today Show.” He lectures for the University of Tennessee’s Culinary and Catering Program and is the former publisher of Nashville Wine Press Magazine. Jimmy will be pouring an array of Banfi wines and sharing his Italian wine expertise at Tyson’s weekly wine tasting from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Thursday.
After our own domestic wines, America’s most favored wines are those from Italy — although if the average American wine consumer should be asked to name their favorite Italian wine, they would likely be hard pressed to do so.
If pushed, they might name Chianti or Prosecco, but would be unable to name the grape (in this case, sangiovese and glera, respectively).
Italian wine labels do not necessarily help either. Rarely are grape varietals prominently indicated.
If not familiar with Italian grape varietals, it may be due to the fact there are 590 indigenous varietals that have been catalogued and when all is said and done that number may exceed 1,000.
Almost the entirety of Italy is covered with vines. Producers range from small family operations to conglomerates owned by families like Antinori, Frescobaldi and Mariani, which owns Banfi, a U.S.-based Italian wine conglomerate.
There are 20 identified wine regions in Italy, each divided into many sub-regions, each producing infinitely many wines from varietals not necessarily familiar to American consumers.
Within these growing regions are multiple governmentally identified levels of quality, starting with the highest — DOC Denominazione di Origine Controllata — followed by DOCG Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, then Indicazione Geografica Tipica, followed by the lowest classification, vini da Tavola.
As can quickly be seen, knowing Italian wines can be daunting even for wine experts, but many have stepped up to the plate to help mere mortals understand a wine culture that spans over 4,000 years. To that end, there are a plethora of books by experts on the subject.
Consider “Italian Wine Made Easy,” “Italian Wine for Dummies,” “Making Sense of Italian Wine,” “Decoding Italian Wine,” “Italian Wine Unplugged” and “Italian Wine Guide for Beginners” — not to be confused with “A Beginner’s Guide to Italian Wine.”
These books scratch the surface of the subject, but to truly decode Italian wine one must move to Italy and immerse oneself in the daily tasting and study of wine from the various regions.
If a move to Italy is not in your future, then the next best opportunity locally to immerse oneself in Italian wines is at Tyson Fine Wines and Things in Anniston on Oct. 18 from 5:30-7:30 p.m., when Jacob Gragg of Atlanta will be in town pouring an array of Italian wines by Castello Banfi.
Gragg holds the Advanced Sommelier Certificate issued by the Court of Master Sommeliers, the premier examining body for sommeliers worldwide. This advanced certification is a significant step higher than that of Certified Sommelier. He also holds a Certified Specialist of Wine certificate. Currently, Gragg is fine wine specialist for Banfi’s luxury brands.
Come to Tyson’s wine tasting on the 18th for a full immersion in Italian wines. Jacob Gragg will be pouring the following:
Maschio Sparkling Rose, $10.25. A light, pretty pink sparkling wine from pinot blanc, pinot noir and the unfamiliar grape raboso.
Banfi San Angelo Pinot Grigio. $13.50. From 100 percent pinot grigio, fairly typical example from Tuscany. Pleasant floral nose, citrus on the palate. Clean finish.
La Pettegola Vermentino. $16.50. Vermentino is a common Italian white grape varietal with a taste profile akin to sauvignon blanc. Clean and crisp with a just a hint of floral in the nose. Nice refreshing finish.
Col di Sasso Sangiovese Cabernet Sauvignon. $9.75. A red blend from sangiovese and cabernet. “Col di Sasso” translates to “Stony Hill.” Call this a baby super Tuscan, a toney name given to Tuscan reds that do not fit in a typical classification category because in this instance cabernet is in the blend. Easy-drinking red wine that sees time only in neutral oak. Light, refreshing, low-alcohol red. Ideal for a wood-fired pizza.
Banfi Cum Laude. $26.50. From a blend of cabernet, merlot, sangiovese and syrah. A true super Tuscan, but the words “super Tuscan” never appear on Italian wine labels because the term is not recognized by Italian wine governing bodies. Full-bodied wine with supple tannins, inexpensive in comparison to super Tuscans like Sassicaia and Ornellaia that command stratospheric prices in the $200 range.
Banfi Chianti Classico. $17.50. Art for this label is taken from a fresco circa 1492 in the Cathedral of Siena that was created by Sienese artist Pinturicchio and a team of assistants including Raphael. Classico is more site-specific than just Chianti. Fruit for Classico comes from a very small region in the middle of Chianti recognized as the original and historic growing region.
Pat Kettles writes about wine and spirits every other Wednesday. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.