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Perfect as an aperitif, or with appetizers, legumes, soups, seafood, fresh cheeses, white meats and fish.
Named “Oenotria” by the ancient Greeks for its abundance of grapevines, Italy has always had a culture that is virtually inextricable from wine. Wine grapes are grown just about everywhere throughout the country—a long and narrow boot-shaped peninsula extending into the Mediterranean and Adriatic Seas. The defining geographical feature of the country is the Apennine Mountain range, extending from Liguria in the north to Calabria in the south. The island of Sicily nearly grazes the toe of Italy’s boot, while Sardinia lies to the country’s west. Climate varies significantly throughout the country, with temperature being somewhat more dependent on elevation than latitude, though it is safe to generalize that the south is warmer. Much of the highest quality viticulture takes place on gently rolling, picturesque hillsides.
Italy boasts more indigenous varieties than any other country—between 500 and 800, depending on whom you ask—and most wine production relies upon these native grapes. In some regions, international varieties have worked their way in, but their use is declining in popularity, especially as younger growers begun to take interest in rediscovering forgotten local specialties. Sangiovese is the most widely planted variety in the country, reaching its greatest potential in parts of Tuscany. Nebbiolo is the prized grape of Piedmont in the northwest, producing singular, complex and age-worthy wines. Other important varieties include Montepulciano, Trebbiano, Barbera, Nero d’Avola and of course, Pinot Grigio.
Equal parts festive and food-friendly, sparkling wine is beloved for its lively bubbles and appealing aesthetics. Though it is often thought of as something to be reserved for celebrations, sparkling wine can be enjoyed on any occasion—and might just make the regular ones feel a bit more special. Sparkling wine is made throughout the world, but can only be called “Champagne” if it comes from the Champagne region of France. Other regions have their own specialties, like Prosecco in Italy and Cava in Spain. Sweet or dry, white or rosé (or even red!), lightly fizzy or fully sparkling, there is a style of bubbly wine to suit every palate.
The bubbles in sparkling wine are formed when the base wine undergoes a secondary fermentation, trapping carbon dioxide inside the bottle or fermentation vessel. Champagne, Cava and many other sparkling wines (particularly in the New World) are made using the “traditional method,” in which the second fermentation takes place inside the bottle. With this method, dead yeast cells remain in contact with the wine during bottle aging, giving it a creamy mouthful and toasty flavors. For Prosecco, the carbonation process occurs in a stainless steel tank to preserve the fresh fruity and floral aromas preferred for this style of wine.