CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I have often suggested to friends that my obsession with wine and food can be attributed to at least one-half of my genetic composition -- the Italian half.
I suppose I should credit the other half (Irish) with my penchant for exposition, or blarney, as those Celts would describe my usually long-winded descriptions of things most normal people just simply consume.
But what the heck. To quote that world-famous seafaring philosopher, Popeye: "I am what I am and that's all that I am."
Ask an Italian what wine they consider to be best, and they will invariably suggest a local bottle produced from the vineyard on a hillside adjacent to their village. This is a country around which wine and food are the central components of everyday life.
As a wine-stained graduate of Whatsamatta U, I am understandably partial to the vino made in Italy. As a matter of fact, what I love most about Italian wine is its tremendous diversity. Within the geographic confines of its 20 states, Italy produces a virtual sea of wine from a dizzying array of grapes.
The most-famous wine states are Tuscany, in north-central Italy, and Piedmont, in the northwest. In Tuscany, great wines such as Brunello di Montalcino and Ornellaia share the stage with the ubiquitous Chianti, and whites such as Vernaccia Di San Gimignano.
In Piedmont, the prestigious vines of Barolo and Barbaresco (made from the nebbiolo grape) reign supreme, and are joined by Barbera and Dolcetto along with crisp whites such as Arneis and Cortese Di Gavi.
While these regions are the most-famous, there are others with wonderful wines. Be sure to try the vino of the Veneto, famous for Valpolicella, Soave and Amarone, or Apulia, where the zinfandel-like primitivo grape is a superb quaff. And Sicily has really come on strong as a quality wine-producing area too.