Italian Wine for the Holidays

Branch out from the traditional whites and reds this holiday season.

It’s time to stock up. ‘Tis the season of merriment, and packed schedules have you jetting from one holiday party to another, passing hours at the table or gathered ‘round the buffet with friends and family.  Each of these parties requires at least the standard gift for the generous hosts: a bottle of wine.  You’re thinking you’ll do the usual, swing by the closest grocery or beverage store, grab the most recognizable bottle (sporting a penguin or un-shoed foot), and present the Merlot or Chardonnay to be popped and consumed. Consumed, I said – not particularly enjoyed – for these mediocre bottles have made their rounds. This year, however, we’re going to let you in on a little list of Italian wine secrets to switch up this lackluster cycle and brighten your merry days. Ecco your Italian wine holiday shopping list:

1. Your Holiday Red Wine: Barbera

Most wine stores carries several varieties of Italian wines.

This wine is my little secret. Hailing from the Piedmont region, famous for its excellent food and wine, Barbera is my favorite, and one of the most drinkable, everyday Italian wines. I bring it to most parties and suggest it to all who will listen to my rants about how good it is….and I have yet to meet a person who does not like it. Barbera is well-balanced, low in tannins with a light-medium structure, often fruity, but not sweet, and delightful to drink. And although traditionally it pairs well with poultry, lamb, braised meat, mushrooms, and tomatoes, I would personally take the point of view that it can be appreciated when consumed alone or with just about any dish. Another plus is that even though it is not extremely well-known in the United States, Barbera is becoming increasingly more available.

2. Your Holiday White Wine: Gavi

Tired of the common choice between a common Chardonnay and a lackluster Pinot Grigio that calls to mind yellow-tinted stale water? Me too. And even though I’ll lean towards rosso more readily (or should I say “red”-ily?) than whites, Gavi has won my heart. It’s an extraordinary Italian wine – dry, full-bodied, fruit-forward, and perfectly pairs with poultry, grilled vegetables, and goat cheese. In addition, if you’re making pasta this holiday, Gavi marries well with not only tomato-based sauces, but also cream and pesto flavors.

 3. Your Holiday Bubbly: Franciacorta

Italian whites, such as Gavi or Soave, are elegant alternatives to the usual Chardonnay.

Sure, I’m well aware that Champagne is the New Year’s drink. But I don’t often opt for it. Why? I find its Italian alternative, Franciacorta, more flavorful, consistent, and, honestly, way less pretentious. Italy’s answer to France’s sparkling wine is made by using the Classic Method in the Lombardy region (not too far from France) and contains Pinot Nero, Pinot Bianco, and Chardonnay grapes. So try popping a bottle of this to ring in the New Year – I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

4. Other Alternatives

While looking for Italian wines to pair with your dishes, remember two things 1) wines from a region pair best with dishes from a region; and 2) wines from the North, Central, and South taste like the terrain on which they are produced (see this article for an in-depth explanation). That being said, here are some other alternatives for you to try:

  • If you are looking for a big, bold red that would stand up to an expensive Napa Cab, consider Brunello di Montalcino (Tuscany) or Barolo (Piedmont).
  • A light red comparable in body to Pinot Noir would be Valpolicella (Veneto).
  • Alternative whites are the quality Pinto Grigio wines from the Alto Adige region and Greco di Tufo Bianco (Campania).
  • Prosecco (Veneto) is a relatively widespread, less-dry bubbly that will tickle your taste buds and not break your bank.

Did we leave any wines off the Italian holiday list? Share your thoughts and comments below!