03/07/06 – Oenotria (the south of Italy)

By Jesse on March 7, 2006

People people people,

Almost a thousand years ago, Christopher Columbus set sail from Spain and discovered Italy.  While that particular sentence isn’t entirely true, what IS true is that the ancient Greeks had a word for Italy: “Oenotria,” which basically means “the land of wine” in ancient Greek-talk.  And according to Karen MacNeil, author of the Wine Bible, the crazy drunk Greeks were specifically referring to the southern portion of Italy — “the toe, heel and ankle of the Italian boot” — which featured rugged, sunny, mountainous terrain with scores of fascinating grape varieties.  This week, we wrap up our Italian experience with a visit to “Oenotria,” the southern provinces. 

It seems that Piedmont, Tuscany, and the Tre Venezie are Italy’s most prestigious wine areas.  The southern provinces are known for producing the most wine by volume in all of Italy, but much of it is simplistic and forgettable (apparently, a lot of the wine from this area is not even bottled, but is sold directly from the cask to local consumers who bring their own jugs).  That said, there are definitely several noteworthy wines, so rather than buying just anything from the southern regions, lets see if we can focus on the ones that are generally regarded as the best examples.  Most of the noteworthy wines from this area are red, so this will be a red day, I’m thinking.

Here’s a list of a few of the southern provinces, along with a suggestion of what to buy for the best example of wine from that area:

UMBRIA — look for either Torgiano (especially Torgiano Rosso Riserva), or Sagrantino di Montefalco
ABRUZZI — this region’s famous wine is Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, which is widely exported, and should be easy to find (remember, be careful not to buy a bottle of a Tuscan wine with a similar name, Vino Nobile de Montepulciano, which has no relation)
CAMPANIA — produces the south’s most famous red wine, Taurasi, from the unique Aglianico grape
CALABRIA — produces a spicy red called Ciro, made from ancient grape variety Gaglioppo
SICILY — Italy’s largest wine producing region, both by size and by volume.  Look for any Sicilian wine made from the grape Nero d’Avola.

Hopefully most wine shops will have at least a few of those possibilities.  If you can’t find any of them, it shouldn’t be too hard to find something else from one of those regions, especially Sicily.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Unless you’re a guy.  Because then it would be kind of gay, y’know?

We’ll be meeting at Tom’s house in Van Nuys (remember Tom??).  One note about punctuality: it seems to have become the habit of most of you winos to come wandering in anywhere between 9:10 and 9:35.  To encourage the demise of this practice, from this point on anyone who comes in after 9:10 will be subject to the indignity of having to describe one of the wines we’re tasting entirely on their own for 60 seconds, while the rest of us sit in silence and try to suppress giggles.  Don’t let that happen to you…. see you tomorrow at 9 PM.