"Good wine makes good blood" A reflection on wine and Italian culture from CBC’s Italian office ….

The vino sciolto (or vino di casa – House wine) that you get in our local restaurants, collected from the local wine producers and best consumed fresh, tastes great and should cost very little. It’s only when you want to impress that you would choose something from the Wine list, for a wedding or big dinner where the bigger DOC wine names would come out and be teamed with the menu….

Have you seen the film a Walk in the Clouds – those ladies crushing the grapes, making offerings to the 4 winds, having their wine blessed? How about that other great scene in the film French Kiss, where Kevin Kline asks Meg Ryan to smell different bottles where are kept essences of lavender, raspberry, blackcurrant, oak, almonds etc, before she tastes the wine. A whole new world of taste comes into play, as she begins to recognise the different influencers of taste because they are also grown in the land and earth in which the grapes are grown. I don’t think that good taste is enough, I think you need to take it further… Taste and smell, memories of this…

For those of you who have visited Italy, there is a very strong inbred identity in Italians with the “region” where they are born – and this identity extends to their preferred cuisine and choice of wine. The family will all get together and spend a significant part of the day preparing food, eating it and talking about what they are going to have for their next meal, while enjoying locally produced wine – where the aim is indeed to enjoy and certainly never to drink wine on an empty stomach! They are proud of the regions that produce wine; cheap Table Wine is one thing, but the experience of drinking locally-produced wine which their father-in-law, cousin, and/or best friend has actually grown is much more enjoyable and quite anither thing! It’s part of being in the family…

The true and wholesome cuisine of Italy (which is nourishing and tasty) is to be found in the home of the smallholder, as opposed to what you find exported abroad or in the tourist restaurants of popular Italian destinations. Emphasis is on good quality, tasty, locally produced food and wine, all which best consumed as fresh as possible. Each region has its own specialities depending on terrain and local climate. The difference in temperature between the Italian Alps and the “African” climate of Sicily calls for different food and different wine. Carbohydrates and bulk needed in the North (and Grappa!), hot and spicy food in the South to dilate the blood vessels and cope with the heat! (And Limoncello if you to the Amalfi Coast!).

So Italy is not a united nation when it comes to its cuisine and each region’s wine has its own place, each region’s wine is the fruit of the terrain, climate, and the family businesses who have been continuing wine producing traditions for centuries. So Table Wine is cheap and may be drinkable but local wine and the link that it has with one’s life, family traditions and heritage is another.

Food and wine just go together in Italy. I have not come across people talking about wine on its own – it’s always associated with food. So for me when it comes to talking about wine, I find it quite hard to think of good tasting wine on its own (with no association with where it comes from) and without being associated with a particular dish. Talk to/Listen to any sommelier in Italy and they will deliver a poem on which wine works better with which type of cheese, ham, pasta sauce, fish, meat, pudding etc. The success of a lot of the UK TV programs that I have seen has been with showing the chefs go round the country, seeing the locals making their wine and sourcing and cooking their food, which is in itself a greater visual and salivating experience!

My husband was a big help in these ideas, he liked the wine we tried Pig in a Poke Old Spot Red by the way! We tested it with a plate of Bucatini alla Amatriciana – tomato and pancetta based sauce + fresh chillies.

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