My years in Italy have certainly turned me into a wino. I liked wine before I started traveling to Italy, but I really didn't appreciate it or know much about it. I am still no expert, but I have definitely acquired enough knowledge to look like I know what I am doing!
One of the first things they teach you when you visit a winery in Tuscany is the proper way to taste wine. Italians are very particular about wine and have a lot of rules when it comes to trying, holding, and pairing wine. For example, you always hold the glass by the stem (I am constantly chastised for this one lol)! So the easiest way to to look like you know something about wine is to change the way you hold your glass! Holding the bowl of the wine glass will change the temperature of the wine and effect the taste, which is a definite no-no.
Begin by pouring a little bit of wine into your glass and swirling it around to coat the entire inside of the glass, and then dump out that bit of wine (I know, I know, it's hard to waste wine). If you really want to look fancy, you can then press the empty cup over your nose and mouth and inhale to judge the smells and flavors of the wine.
Now, fill your glass again. Once filled, you should judge the color of the wine against a white backdrop. You can even swirl it again, being careful not to spill, and judge the "legs" of the wine (this refers to how the wine drips down the side of glass as it settles back to the bottom). When you finally sip the wine be sure to breath in a bit through your nose as the wine enters your mouth, this will aerate the wine and enhance the flavor. Fun fact, the longer the wine's flavor persists, the higher the quality of the wine.
The sequence of wines typically follows the order on the menu (it's like a cheat sheet). Sparkling wines, like prosecco, are served first with appetizers or before dinning, white wines are served with first courses, lighter meals, or fish, and red wines are served with second courses and heavier meals.
Wine is such an important aspect of Italian culture, and it's delicious! If you ever find yourself traveling to Italy you should definitely visit a winery or sign up for a tour of the countryside that includes wine tasting (like this one, or even one that includes vespa riding and wine tasting!).
Obviously, I am particularly fond of Tuscan wines and you can even purchase some of my favorites here in the states! You can definitely find prosecco everywhere and it's a great alternative to champagne. Chianti is an excellent everyday wine (I love this one) and if you want something fancier, try a Tuscan Nobile or a Brunello. Another quick tip - when buying Italian wines, like Chianti and Nobile, you want to look for the pink and green certification labels on the neck of the bottle. Never buy one without this!
Over the years, I have really enjoyed learning about, and of course tasting, Italian wine, however, my goal is to start learning more about French and even Californian wine.
Salute! And cin, cin (as the Italians say)!