There are several terms that must be printed on the label of every bottle of wine that denote the country or specific smaller region within a country where the wine was made, and that it met certain criteria which allow the wine to carry that (often prestigious) region's name on its label. Wines from tightly controlled regions demand higher prices than wines from larger regions which frequently require fewer specific production standards. The specifics of those winemaking standards can be daunting and geeky but it may be important to you to know the terms first.
The European Union has long ago, but updated in 2011, implemented a labelling system that can be generalized to indicate two levels of quality and production standards. Add to this, most countries also have their own designations that indicate even stricter minimum standards and the law permits those terms as well.
In the EU, top-level wines must display the term Protected Designation of Origin, or PDO, on the label. The next (lower) quality level is labeled as Protected Geographical Indication, or PGI. Of course, those are English words and so, to suit their language, Italy uses the acronym D.O.P. in place of PDO. France has its term as does Spain, Germany, and so on.
If this isn't confusing enough, individual countries are not required, and seldom do, use the EU terms to comply with this law. Instead, the European Union permits countries to use their own terms providing they indicate production standards at least as strict or stricter than what is mandated by the PDO and PGI terms.
So, more frequently, this is what you'll see.
Italy: PDO wines are labeled Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG), or Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC).
PGI wines are labeled Indicazione Geographica Tipica (IGT)
France: PDO wines are Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) or Appellation d'Origine Protégée (AOP) while PGI wines are labeled as Indication Géographic Protégée (IGP), or Vin de Pays (VdP)
Spain: PDO wines are labeled as Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOCa), or Denominación de Origen (DO) while PGI wines are labeled as Vino de la Terra.
Germany: PDO wines are Qualitätswein or Prädikatswein, and PGI as Landwein.
So, there you have it. One of the least knowable things in the world. But you have to be able to recognize all of these terms if you want some idea of what you're buying.
**Photo courtesy of Wine-Searcher.com
You know when you go to a music concert and there's an opening band before the headliner? Those are usually pretty well matched to please the fans of a certain kind of music. When they are mismatched, the show might suck. When ordering a plate of food, your wine characteristics should match the intensity of those of the food or they will be unpleasant together, even if the wine and food are quite good on their own. Salty, sweet, bitter, spicy...all have properties that match well with certain styles of wine. Another flavor, per WSET, is called umami. Foods that are classified as having umami flavors are things like mushrooms, cured meats, hard cheeses, etc. Not quite salty, but definitely not spicy or sweet either. This word is somewhat new to me as a taste descriptor and I think it's what we used to call "savory", but I guess that was too easy.
Foods described as savory, or umami, tend to accentuate the acidity of wines along with the drying or tannic characteristics while downplaying the sweetness and fruitiness of a wine.
Salty foods tend to bring out the fruit and body/weight of a wine while taming bitter tannins and acid.
Acidic foods, like tomatoes, mask bitter, drying tannins and acid while lifting sweet and fruity flavors in a wine.
Sweet foods, think dessert, make wines seem more drying, acidic and bitter while masking sweetness and fruit flavors. Sweetness in food and wine should be evenly matched most often.
Spicy/hot foods bring out the alcohol in wines. Not ideal. and foods with strong flavors, like some Indian and Asian foods, can overpower most any still (non-bubbly) wine. That's why Prosecco, Cava, Champagne, etc are often your best bet to pair with this food category.
And finally, fatty foods, are best paired with an acidic wine that cuts through the fats and oils and cleanses the palate with every sip.
So, this is the textbook, somewhat scientific, guideline to pairing food and wine. If it works for you, great. But if you prefer a big Cabernet Sauvignon with your banana split, then go with it. There are no penalties for enjoying what you do.
So, I took the WSET 1 course and exam with my buddy Melissa Bellini at the advice of friend, Robin Kelley O'Connor of www.RKOVine.com fame (and much more). We both got 100% of the answers correct. I thought a Level 1 wine class of any kind would be below my pay grade but the fact is there's plenty to take away from a wine basics course. I'm now, on lockdown, enrolled in WSET 2 and while I find it informative and somewhat more challenging, the course in many ways is not for me. I do enjoy what they call their SAT, the Systematic Approach to Tasting, as it instructs the student to establish and normalize a set of routine guidelines that allow wines to be rated and classified by character and against each other.
Some of these rating or descriptive criteria are as follows:
Colour (their British)
White wine: lemon-gold-amber
Aroma characteristics: eg, primary-secondary-tertiary
Flavour intensity: low-medium-pronounced
Quality: poor-acceptable-good-very good-outstanding
As you can see, it's well done and pretty standardized. Then along with these basic descriptors comes a long list of aromas and flavors to match to the wine like lemon, grapefruit, black cherry, leather, and all that.
Next in the study arsenal is a workbook of 25 "chapters" each dealing with a specific grape or two (or in the case of Italian grapes, 3 or 4), each chapter being only a couple pages of the book. There is a heavy slant in educating the student in French wines and wine regions and also Australia, South Africa, and South America.
While doing this, I'm also studying for two Italian wine certifications and my focus will return to those once I've completed my WSET 2 exam the first week of June.
Italy has historically thought to have been the home of nearly 1,500 types of grapes (aka grape varieties or varietals), but science has over recent years proven that many of these grapes were the same and just known by different names in various parts of the country. The fact is, there are about 800 grape varieties in Italy and, of them, about 200 that are used to produce commercially viable wines.
The single most grown grape in Italy is Sangiovese. With this variety several wines are made which include Chianti, Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and several lesser-known wines. Sangiovese is mostly grown in Tuscany, or Toscana in Italian, but it does also appear in half of Italy's 20 regions and is blended into many Italian wines. Take it slowly and you'll find your way through to the wines that stick with you. It's ok if the rest fall away from your memory. I don't know anyone who knows all there is to know about Italian wines, and not even the most accomplished professionals could claim that they do.
An NYC born and raised Italian-American in love with the world of Italian Wine. Former Buyer. Moving on to learn as much as I can and teach about the confusing and inspiring gifts sent to us by Italian winemakers.