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AUGUST 10, 2009
Salute! Raise a Glass to Italian Wines
When many people think of Italian wine they think of Chianti Classico, but truth is, there are about 1,500 grape varieties in Italy--more than any other wine growing area in the world. Some, like Sangiovese (the grape grown in Chianti, which is a region and not a grape), Nebbiolo or Primitivo, are widespread and well known. Others are grown in small batches and produced by mom-and-pop growers who may only make enough wine for themselves and their friends and family.

Learning about Italian wines can be a heady undertaking, but if you grasp the basics, much of what you need to know falls into place. Many of the wines are named for regions or towns where they are produced, like Brunello di Montalcino (which is made of Sangiovese Grosso and grown in Montalcino in Tuscany) or Barbaresco (which comes from the Nebbiolo grape but is produced in the town or Barbaresco in the Piemonte region).

One way to dive into Italian wine is to drink a whole bunch of it. But to have some fun, I thought it could be interesting to compare some Italian wines to others you might be familiar with. I don't mean these are an exact match, but are similar in style and body and give you an idea of what to look for based on what you already like to drink.

TignanelloIf you like a meritage, check out Super Tuscans, which are often blended with Sangiovese, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and other Bordeaux-style grapes (like a meritage). These wines were first produced in the late 1960s and early 1970s after winemakers created wines that didn't fit within the DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) or DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) classifications set forth by the Italian wine governance. One winemaker in particular, Piero Antinori, whose family has been producing wine in Tuscany since the 1300s, created the first truly robust Super Tuscan in 1971. This was Tignanello (available at Binny's), and today is considered to be one of the best wines produced in Italy, if not the world. Since then, Super Tuscans, once considered mere table wines, have gained much respect around the world.

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