When Vino Roma invited me as their guest to one of their wine tours in Rome I thought it would be rude to say no and promptly almost bite their hand of saying… Yes please! I opted for their wine and cheese lunch as I was fascinated to learn about pairing food and wine together.
When I arrived at Vino Roma’s wine studio, which is just a short walk from Rome’s Colosseum, I was delighted to find out that there would be just two other people taking part in the tasting (the maximum allowed at any of Vino Roma’s tastings is just 10 people). Hande (sommelier, founder and owner of Vino Roma) immediately made us feel very welcome and relaxed and I soon discovered that my fellow wine tasters were just as uncertain about wines as I was, as although I have drunk a fair amount of wine in my time I know very little about it. I tend to only drink red wine as I’ve never found a white I like (not until earlier this year in Italy that is) and all I know is whether a wine is light, medium or full-bodied. I tend to like medium bodied European wines but that’s about as far as my knowledge goes.
Wine is an important part of Italian culture and they would never drink it without food whether a meal of many courses or at the very least a few bite sized snacks so this particular tasting sounded the perfect way to find out about Italian wine.
An angel’s fart!
The first wine we tried was a sparkling rosé from Lombardi. As the bottle was opened that familiar popping sound filled the room but Hande proclaimed that the sound should have been quieter ‘like an angel’s fart’ as it is sometimes described. This means that less pressure has been lost.
All wines have the ideal temperature that they should be served at so holding the wine glass by the stem, so that we did not affect the temperature of the wine, we popped our noses just inside the glass and sniffed.
I’ve heard wine specialists on the TV describing wine in sometimes quite bizarre ways and I’ll admit I thought it all sounded quite pretentious but as Hande pointed out if someone wants to sell a wine or write about a wine they can’t just say it was delicious which is a very fair point. Also if you can learn what types of wine you like and how to describe them when you are shopping for wine the merchant will be able to point you in the right direction.
With Hande’s encouragement we were soon describing the smell and taste of this wine ourselves. Pears, flowers, fruits, spices, a summer’s day all came to mind.
She also asked us whether our mouths reacted to the wine by producing saliva. This is a common reaction to acidic wines, which keep longer and go well with greasy food (in much the same way as we English like putting vinegar on our chips).
A sign of a good quality sparkling wine is that the bubbles keep rising for quite sometime after the glass has been poured.
This wine was the perfect accompaniment to cold cuts of prosciutto, salami and mortadella. It would also be ideal with the typically Roman dish of zucchini flowers, stuffed with cheese and deep fried or indeed artichokes, which I have heard are very good, but sadly these were not in season when I visited.
A wine with good legs!
The second wine, a Sicilian white, was actually quite a strong yellow colour showing that it came from a warmer climate where the sun is hotter and it did indeed remind me of sunshine in a glass. In all that glorious southern sunshine the grapes produce more sugar and more alcohol. Northern wines tend to be paler, more acidic and lower in alcohol.
Have you heard of a wine having good legs? For those who aren’t familiar with the term it is the lines of wine that run down the inside of a glass after you have swirled it around. It is a misconception that these legs are an indication of the quality of the wine but they do show you it viscosity or thickness which in turn is an indication of the alcoholic content of the wine, thicker wines being more alcoholic.
This wine reminded me of woods and wet moss, with hints of peach. It was a more complex wine meaning that there were more layers of flavours. The pebble beach just a few minutes walk from my home also came to mind (were we getting the hang of this?).
This was a less acidic wine from the volcanic soils of Sicily with a slight salty almost briny taste. This mineralty in wine is a feature of Southern Italian wines. A point to note is that Italian wines rarely show the variety of grape on the label as it is felt that the soil, climate and method used in making the wine is considered far more important.
With this wine we ate buffalo mozzarella made that morning and a wonderful selection of sheep, cows and goat cheeses.
A young southern red
Wine number three was another Sicilian wine. Hande poured us each a little and asked us to tilt the glass to about a 45 degree angle. If you imagine that the wine is a lake, then the shores of the lake will give you a clue as to the age of the wine. Young red wines, like this one, turn pink and them completely clear at the edge whereas older wines will have a rusty orange colour at the edge.
This wine reminded us of forest berries and chesnuts. It made your tongues dryer and when you rubbed your tongue across the front of your top teeth there was a slight roughness. This is a sign of how tannic a wine is. More tannic wines being rough, gritty and dry. They go well with juicy steaks to counteract this dryness.
This particular wine was not very tannic but even so it did not go well with the aged dry, crumbly cheese and it over powered the mozzarella completely making it utterly tasteless. It was perfect though with the soft, gooey and wonderfully smelly cheese from Apulia. It was also divine with dark chocolate!
…and for dessert
Lastly we tried a local dessert wine. It was light, sweet and spicy with some acidity and perfect with a blue cheese, gorgonzola piccante. Such sweet wines would also be ideal with Indian or Thai curries Hande pointed out.
It was a real eye opener to discover how the different cold cuts and cheeses mixed with different wines tasted. One combination would taste delicious but the same wine with a different food just wasn’t good at all! I thoroughly enjoyed this tasting and it has left me eager to learn more.
I would highly recommend these tastings to the wine novice as well as the aficionado. It opened up a whole new world for me, has given me the confidence to spend that little bit more and to try different wines. As I sit here writing up about this wonderful experience I couldn’t resist a glass of full-bodied Sicilian wine… I’m getting hints of berries with a warm touch of spice!
Follow Hande on Twitter @VinoRoma
For more information of wine tasting in Rome visit Vino Roma’s website.
Hande also writes a wonderful food blog Food Vagabond.
For anyone interested these are the wines we tasted:
Sparkling, Rosé 2007 from the Ferghettina winery, Lombardia.
Appellation: Francaicorta DCCG
Grape variety: Pinot Nero
White, Chardonnay 2008 from Planeta winery, Sicilia.
Appellation: Sicilia IGT
Grape variety: Chardonnay
Red, Argile di Tagghia Via di Sutta 2010 from the Centopassi winery, Sicilia.
Appellation: Sicilia IGT
Grape variety: Nero d’Avola
Sweet, Frascati Cannellino 2009 from the Villa Simone winery, Lazio.
Appellation: Frascati Cannellino DOC
Grape varierty: Malvasia Bianca, Trebbiano Toscano, Malvasia Puntinata