Want to do wine tasting, language learning, and adventuring in Tuscany with The Iceberg Project team? Check out our upcoming Not Your Typical Tourist Language Immersion Retreat. Find out what other activities we do here.
Wine tasting can be intimidating.
I clearly remember my anxiety when I just started drinking wine and the waiter arrived at my table asking for my drink order. In the beginning, I had 1) no idea what the difference between a pinot grigio and a chardonnay was and 2) was completely confused by the whole tasting at the table thing.
What was I tasting and nodding my appreciation for, exactly?
Fast forward to life in Italy — wine all day every day (ha, just kidding, I have to work, people) — and I am now super comfortable ordering wine. In fact, I consider myself a bit of an informal expert.
It helps that some of my work takes me almost monthly into the glorious region of Chianti, and that I’ve learned tasting from professional sommeliers. It also helps that I happen to have access to some of the best wine in the world, and I take that privilege very seriously.
So, now I want to pay it forward. Below are 5 things to know about wine tasting (in Italy).
5 Tips for Wine Tasting in Italy
1) You’re tasting wine to see if it went bad, not to say if you like it or not.
When the cork comes out of the bottle and you’re asked, “chi assaggia (who is tasting)?” it’s done to be sure the wine hasn’t gone bad. Some people think it’s to taste and see if they like the wine, but unless the wine has gone bad, it shouldn’t be sent back. For other phrases that you can use or might hear during a wine tasting, click here.
CPF: History says tasting was also performed by the host during ancient dinner parties to demonstrate to the guests that the wine wasn’t poisoned.
2) If you’re in Florence, you’re already in Tuscany, because Tuscany is a region.
I hear this a lot, “I’m going to Florence then to Tuscany for wine tasting!”
Reminder: Tuscany is a region, Florence is a city within said region, so technically, that first drop of wine you tasted when you arrived in Florence could also be considered wine tasting in Tuscany.
3) Italians are super proud of their wine.
From Primitivo in Puglia to Nero D’avola in sicilia and Chianti in Tuscany, Italians love the wine they grow.
Educate yourself a bit on what is out there and enjoy sampling wines from the different regions (even if you physically can’t visit them all, your taste buds can!).
It’s worth it to familiarize yourself with the wines of the region you’re visiting also because that wine will likely pair better with the food, and therefore increase your general gastronomical satisfaction.
4) Chianti is a blend, not a type of grape.
A wine that is called a Chianti carries a certification and all aspects of this certifying process must be met, or it simply is not a chianti wine.
One of the most important rules is that a Chianti must be a blend of at least 80% sangiovese grapes. The other 20% can be a blend of whatever suits the wine maker’s fancy.
5) DOC or DOCG– What are those labels on the bottle?
You may have noticed your wine bottle in Italy sporting a fancy label with these letters printed largely for you to see.
The reason is these are types of verifications and classifications that are tightly controlled and regulated. DOC, for example means, Vino a Denominazione di Origine Controllata or Controlled Designation of Origin.
Wine with this label comes from a specific region, like Frascati that comes from Rome. DOCG or vino a Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (Controlled and Guaranteed Designation of Origin) is like DOC but even stricter.
Basically the wine must meet the requirements of a DOC plus the wine must be tested and verified. An example would be a Brunello di Montalcino, that, if I do say so myself, is usually a fantastic choice.
CPF: Italians will use DOC to refer to someone from a certain region or city when they are born and raised there, with generations coming from the same city. For example, I could say, “La mia amica Alice è fiorentina DOC.” “My friend Alice is Fiorentina DOC.” Meaning she is pure-blooded Florentine.
Stay turned for my next 5 tips, coming soon!