What is it about a charred crust on a margherita pizza, a steaming, judiciously-sauced bowl of linguine Bolognese or a fragrant and bright salsa verde atop fish that always keep us coming back for more? Italian cuisine boils down to deceptively simple comfort food. The “boot’s” essential reverence for quality ingredients, used time and again with gusto, highlights the foods’ best flavors and characteristics and makes eating the familiar dishes of Italy a welcome experience in taste memory.
Italy’s excellent wines are just as easy and agreeable to commit to memory. Course three in Richard Vayda’s Wine Essentials series dove red sauce–deep into the native wines of Italy. Traveling from Piemonte, to diverse regions such as Umbria and Alba, Vayda introduced us to how excellently matched Italian wines are to the foods from the regions which we know and love. In my Culinary Arts classes, we’ve made many of these famed dishes. Now, tasting the wines in class I’m getting a better idea of what wine aficionados mean when they say an excellent wine and food pairing of wine can take each component to a whole new level — the sum is more than the parts.
Whether sipping a cocktail of Campari with soda and an orange twist, as we did to perk our appetites or tasting a rich and hearty Chianti Classico and visualizing it alongside a slice of pizza, Italian wines can be simply enjoyable and easy-going. But then, slurp through some Amarone della Valpolicella and it’s easy to see why the multi-faceted wine matches up with the flavors of complex ragus and braised brascioles, making them one of the hallmarks of Italian regional cuisine. It’s a clear example of how simple ingredients, or just a single grape, can ripen into so much more.
So far, at the conclusion of each week at Wine Essentials, Vayda leaves us with the closing words, “Go out there and drink.” Rest assured I will do my homework, but this time, when I grab a slice on the go for lunch, or whip up a quick and easy pasta for a weeknight dinner, it will be Italian wine that I select. Each bottle is like the food of Italy — seemingly easy-drinking, but at its heart, ingredient-driven and modestly complex.