Wine in Italy is an every day, almost every meal occurrence. So, wine with lunch, wine with dinner and maybe also, wine between lunch and dinner; as appertivo. But it is rarely taken without food in this country. As my friend the extraordinary winemaker, Sergio Mottura reminds us at each wine tasting, wine is meant to be paired with food. Or at least that's how the Europeans savor what they imbibe. In fact, he goes further to say that most winemakers who export to the United States, where much wine is consumed without food pairing, will adjust their exported wines to be bigger and bolder. That can be done in a variety of ways, which I won't go into here, as I'm not an expert in that field. I do know that, the wine I drink with my meals in Italy does not make be me woozy or drunk and I've noted that I cannot really drink as much wine in the US as I might in Italy as it gives me headaches or hangovers. That leads me to believe, that wines produced in the US or imported have a higher sugar content, even if I take food with my drink.
So, different cultures do have different habits or traditions. I like having wine with my meals and the idea of pairing certain varietals with specific foods. It seems more of an art that way at least to my way of thinking. For instance, a big, bold wine like zinfandel or sagrantino are excellent with red meat dishes but overpower a salad, pasta with funghi or even chicken dishes. It is most often recommended to pair fish dishes with a crisp white wine like Orvieto's lovely greccheto but as Sergio says, one can also drink a very light pinot noir with strong fish. Once he sort of gave me permission to try out these different pairings it has become quite interesting and fun to explore.
One of the things I enjoy most about Italy's wines whether red or white, is the flavor of minerality which they possess. The intense mineral concentrates due to the volcanic nature of the soil also contributes to the tannin levels and tastes. This isn't always appealing to every wine drinker which may be why some people prefer sweeter or bolder reds. Anyway, it's an interesting approach to one's wine education, trying to figure out what best suits each person's taste. And let's not forget that each person has their own individual interpretation of how something tastes in their own body, so I advise guests who accompany me on tours not to get too stuck on what others say is a good wine or a particular description of a wine. It just may taste or react differently to each person's body chemistry. In fact, my own preferences and tastes have changed over the years when I stop to think about the wines I preferred twenty years ago and what I like now.
In conclusion, enjoy your wine, enjoy your food, together or not! But do enjoy the wine and food on one of our small group tours to the Italian countryside when you take your next trip to Italy. We will explore the food, wine, art, history and culture of places off the beaten path which will delight you and give you lasting memories!