Our first encounter in our Italy vs France series, even though the Six Nations (Rugby tournament) is over these countries are constantly at war, mostly with their culture, history and produce locked in a vie to entice travellers from all over the world. We start with a look at their wines and the regions they have to offer.
French and Italian wines trade knockout blows year after year. Italy has the likes of of the Tenuta San Guido, who produce one of the most sought after Cabernet Sauvignons in the world, the Sassicaia. There are over 300 grape varieties in the country and the rich soils and warm climate makes growing grapes effortless. France has the likes of Châteauneuf-du-Pape a small wine region that produces some very rustic wines of intense character, using a selection of 13 grapes grown within stones throw of the village.
In recent years there has been some crushing evidence suggesting that Italy was the first country to produce wine, a blow to France’s ego suggesting they mere copied and took wine to be their tainted crown. A study published in 2013 called the beginning of viniculture in France highlights how in 500BC the Etruscan people exported amphoras (essentially a wine drinking vessel) full of wine to the South of France. Archaeologists found traces of these vessels and biological evidence links them to wines from Italy and there is no known history of wines before this era recorded in France. Thus the presumption is made that it was Italian traders that first introduced the wine to southern France.
It’s a smile, it’s a kiss, it’s a sip of wine … it’s summertime!
Key Differences Between France and Italian Wines
The first key difference is the class, and by this is mean the way in which the producer introduces the wine to palate. The French tend for a much more softer and eloquent wine which is smooth, aged in oak barrels and is quite likely to be from the grapes of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Grenache, Syrah and Pinot Noir. The Italians have much more variety and tend not to favour soft gentle wines and many critics observations highlight their bold nature. Their views are changing and to compete on the international wine market, whom most prefer a more gentle wine they are ageing in oak barrels and ensuring the bring back their signature grapes, Pecorino, Passerina, Lacrima di Morro d’Alba to name a few because they are very hard to grow in regions outside Italy.
Differences can also be distinguished through the environment, the wines are grown at different latitudes and elevation, which affect their daily exposure to sunlight. The activity within the wines from water flow and finally the weathering of the grape, which only the finest connoisseurs will be able to tell apart.
This wouldn’t be a travel blog if I didn’t suggest some places to visit and why.
I have a strong belief that the atmosphere and climate can contribute a lot to a wine tasting experience and from this alone, two identical wines sampled in different countries one being hot and the other cold, the wine tasted in the hot country will win.
Best Time to Sample Italian Wines
April to June
Average Temperatures: 19 -27 Celsius
In the beginning of the wine tasting season which typically spans from April/May until October when the wine for the year is harvested, Italy is an ideal destination in the early season. It’s temperate climates and luscious spring time blooms bring the area to life and you’ll beat the tourist rush of high summer.
Top Two Italian Wine Regions to Visit
A wine tasting trip to Italy has to start in Tuscany. From Florence head south into the Chianti region, this extends from Florence to Siena and is littered with bespoke vineyards which have been in families for generations. It’s a 17’000 hectare region our favourite vineyard and resort is (Quoted from our previous article) the Castello de Casole. This vineyard initially caught our attention because it specialises in organic wines. Here at The Luxe Travel we truly appreciate organic produce. This vineyard also offers the most amazing luxury accommodation and boasts ample amounts of character and breathtaking views of the Tuscan landscape.
A rising trend in this region is the adoption of historic techniques, i.e. organic cultivation to produce a more ecologically considerate wine and also ensuring the heritage of the local Sangiovese grape doesn’t get forgotten.
It’s suggested that the Sangiovese grape can be dated back to the era of Roman winemaking. The literal translation of the grape’s name, the “blood of Jove”, refers to the Roman god Jupiter because of their intense purple colouring. Key features of the Sangiovese grape include; hints red cherries, tea leaf as well as a earthy texture, they are also usually high on the acidity scale and contain a moderate amount of tannins.
While in the region you’ll want to visit some of the smaller vineyards, one key winemaker you must visit is Villa Pomona which is run by Monica Raspi, who’s crash course in taking over the vineyard in 2007 is very inspiring and you’ll instantly feel her enthusiasm for the wines when visiting villa. A typical bespoke plot with 4 hectares of grounds which grows both olives and grapes. The wines are aged for 20 months before being sold and she follows the traditionalist approach, adding the local colorino grape to 95% sangiovese Chianti.
Tuscany is without a doubt the most popular region to visit in Italy and while it produces some amazing wines it’s production is far below that of Apulia which is the Southeastern “heel” of Italy.
Known in Italian as Puglia this region of Italy has a rich heritage and large annual production of wine that eclipses that of Tuscany. It’s sadly one of the poorest regions of Italy but has amazing views of the adriatic and wonderful turquoise bays. For a while the focus was one mass producing cheap wines that would feed the growing desire for low cost alcohol throughout Europe. This ended up not being a poor decision, with many wine producers now reverting back to high quality, classical wines. When it comes to owning a vineyard, there are no shortcuts to success, a new plantation will take years to mature and we’re glad producers in the region are reverting back to historic trends and producing some fantastic wines.
Grapes local to the region include Negroamaro which is commonly considered the best grape in the region, whilst Primitivo is probably the most recognised grape, thanks to its close genetic twin, the Zinfandel of California. Nero di Troia comes up number three in grape notoriety.
Our Pick of Vineyards
Villa Castelli is a comune in Itria Valley at the borderline with north Salento. Its main economic activities are tourism and the growing of olives and grapes. The castle was built 1000 years ago and was laid in ruin by the 16th century, it’s been rebuilt with the castle and the church being the main attractions aside from the vineyards. They have small vineyards which focus on producing really high quality, special reserve wines. Santacroce is one of their flagship wines, it’s defined as a Super Tuscan. It’s made up of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes and 50% Sangiovese grapes and is aged for 18 months in oak barrel. Grappa fans, who must be in the minority as I really deteste the stuff. This experience is everything you’d want from a local small scale wine producer.
Torrevento is quite contrasting to Villa Castelli as it is one of the largest Puglian wine producers, with around 400 hectares of land under vines. Like most large Puglian wineries, they started out selling cistern wines which were really strong wines that the northern more established vineyards would use to blend with their wines.
It wasn’t until 1990 when the younger generation began to help out that they decided to put their own name on the bottle which turned out to be a good decision in the long term.
The vineyard works mainly with Nero di Troia, a northern Puglian grape that is currently attracting a great deal of attention. It hasn’t always, however, because, by comparison with some of the other southern red varietals it gives low yields: At the most 95 quintals/hectare, while decent for the northern territories when making a higher percentage of blended wines this yield is on the low side.
The vineyard itself is pretty spectacular with a stunning position overlooking the vines and can be seen from miles around, a true historic stronghold.
This concludes the first look into Italian wines and set the standard for the French how will have their wines demonstated and then a winner will be decided!