(This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Italian Trade Commission. All opinions are 100% mine.)
Fall is here. The crisp, crackling air, jumble of amber-toned leaves making inviting messes all over the streets, long, pale-gold slant of sun, if it’s even out here in the gloomy PNW. With the seasonal shift, I start an ambitious regimen of hygge-inspired coziness like my life depends on it. I dream of all the cozy foods that I want to make and all the lovely dinners that I want to share with friends. And at dinner parties, folks usually want a good bottle of wine at the table.
As a person drawn to new-to-me things (novelty keeps us young, they say!), I’ve been really intrigued by the emerging natural wine movement. What is natural wine? At its most basic, natural wine is rooted in sustainable practices that preserve the health of the vineyard. It’s like sustainable ranching or farming: a more holistic system that takes the health of the soil into account, along with strict production that eschews added sugars, commercial yeasts, anything more than the barest minimum of sulfites. Essentially, it’s a response to many prevailing contemporary wine-making processes. Sometimes using biodynamic farming practices, or sometimes organic farming practices, natural wines dig into older wine-making practices for inspiration. They explore and celebrate regional grape varietals and apply traditional methods to contemporary wines. Many who are passionate about natural wine speak of it as a practice that is hands off, allowing fermentation to happen naturally and letting wild yeasts to do what they want to do. (Not unlike working with wild yeasts to make sourdough – though with wildly different results.)
Natural wines really celebrate terroir, the unique expression of minerals and soil and place that have a notable impact on many of the tasting notes in a glass of wine. Natural wine producers believe that less interference with the fermentation process allows these nuances to really flourish. And there are a lot of fantastic natural wines is being made in Italy! Perhaps because there is such long tradition of wine-making in Italy, it makes sense that many contemporary producers would be curious about historic practices that have fallen out of fashion in recent years. I stopped in at a couple of my favorite local wine merchants and peppered them with questions about Italian wines produced naturally.
Learn more here! wines of Italy
Rosso di Valtellina: Made from Nebbiolo grapes grown in the Valtellina valley in Lombardy, this region backs right up against the Rhaetian Alps in Northwestern Italy. If you are a fan of dynamic, medium-bodied reds, give this a try. Tannic, with washes of red fruit and a little bit of peppery spice, this is a great wine for any cooler weather dinner. This wine will be happy alongside pizza which is exactly what I made to eat with it: a gluten-free pizza with late-season tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, and Fontina cheese. Simple and perfect.
Chianti: So many classic, well-loved Italian wines can be found that are made by by vintners producing wines naturally. So, too, Chianti! There are some beautifully produced Chiantis with the DOC certification, including some low-intervention Chiantis, made in a natural wine style. It’s a fantastic wine at the dinner table, with its fruity, lighter-bodied characteristics matching well to many meals that might find themselves at your fall and winter dinners, such as hearty soups, pastas, and risottos. I made a light meal of butternut squash noodles with lots of tomatoes, onion, garlic, basil, and ricotta salata to pair with this wine.
Pinot Grigio: White wines are usually made by separating the juice from the skins immediately after crushing. However, those made with extended skin contact are part of the orange wine movement and are a big part of the emergence of natural wines in Italy, especially northeastern Italy, where Pinot Grigio is prevalent. They are dynamic, versatile, and crisp. Often, the fermentation happens in clay amphora, a centuries-old tradition that is being resuscitated in orange-wine production. There is a whiff of magic to the narrative of orange wine, with its ties to ancient wine practices. Also, orange wine is novel to our palates. That is the fun of orange wine for me: trying to decipher what’s familiar about it, what’s different, why it reminds me of something other than wine, or recalls elements of both whites (the acid) and reds (the tannins.) The flavor profiles of orange wines are wildly variable – sometimes deeply tannic like a full-bodied red, sometimes light, yeasty, and effervescent like a cider or kombucha. Because they are so different, they’re a great wine to consider for meals that are sometimes hard to match with wines, like spicier dishes and curries. Because orange wines vary so wildly, definitely ask your local wine merchant for the best pairing!
Follow this link to learn more about Italian wine.