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In one of many tense moments during the 1991 American thriller, The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal Lecter (played by Anthony Hopkins) tells Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) the story of how he ate the liver of an unwitting census officer, together with fava beans and a glass of Chianti.
With their firm acidity and grippy tannins, Italian wine is said to produce some of the world’s most food-friendly wines, which are capable of coping with the sharp tomato sauces and rich charcuterie that characterise Italian cuisine.
Although not necessarily a bad food pairing, the Drake Vine would recommend pairing pan-fried liver, not with Chianti, but with a Nebbiolo-based Barolo (see Pairing section of the website). As always, it depends on the style of the wine.
Although Sangiovese was cultivated in Italy for centuries, it was not until the 18th century that it became one of the most widely planted grapes in Tuscany. In the wines of Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (see Making section of website), Sangiovese grew in popularity during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Today, Chianti wines are among Italy’s most widely-exported, a statistic which hides the huge variations of quality that exist among Chianti wines.
Together with France, Italy is the world’s largest producer of wine, having more than one million vineyards under cultivation. However, this has been both a blessing and a curse, with the widespread availability of relatively cheap, mass-produced wines having contributed to a negative perception of Italian wine in international markets (how many of us have experienced disappointment in the presence of watery Italian white or an excessively acidic red?). In contrast to these negative experiences, the variety and quality of wines produced in Italy is truly extensive. However, many of the best wines don't even make it out of the country.
Although hundreds of different grape varieties are grown across Italy, a handful of varieties stand out as being popular and/or commercially significant. These include the white grapes such as Pinot Grigio, Cortese and Garganega (the latter two being respectively used to produce Gavi and Soave) and red grapes such as Sangiovese, Nebbiolo and Corvina (respectively used to make Chianti, Barolo and Valpolicella). In recent years, grapes from southern Italy such as Puglia's Primitivo and Sicily's Nero d'Avola have also been gaining popularity and commercial reputation.
I hope you enjoy this week's trek through Italy. Next week we're leaving the so-called "Old World" wine regions of Europe and heading to the first of the "New World" regions, South Africa.