Family Wine Making in Italy. Beautiful words. I am proud to say that I have PERSONALLY experienced it, drinking it at least. I wish I could say I had been part of the process but enjoying the final product will have to suffice.
Rome, Florence, Venice I must say are insanely beautiful but are wine tourist traps. But, it doesn’t have to be that way but you have to be a savvy consumer and learn a couple important Italian words – Nonno del vini or vini di famiglia. These are your keys to the BEST FAMILY WINES of Italy. You will find it is also the best price, if you get charged at all!
Making Wine the “FAMILY WAY”
Typically it all starts with a discussion over a healthy serving of Sopressatta, Copa, Proscuitto, Romano, Asiago, Fontina and Focaccia. Typical Italian Charcuterie and cheeses. There are many topics to cover. Where will we get the fruit, who will do the various tasks of de-stemming, crushing, pressing and bottling. The process usually looks like this:
Source the Grapes: Mamma, Papa or Grandpa knows best.
There are over 3,000 different Italian varietals. Basically any area can lay claim to their own grape because it is grown there (Of course, classifed wines may differ but this discussion is for family home made wines). Given the number of varietals, very little time is spent on that subject… it is just “known” that Aunt Sicilia has good grapes on her property or many other “known” sources. Who cares what you call it, just call it GREAT WINE!
Crush: Italians like their women FULL BODY just like their wine.
The crush is a BIG DAY in the life of a wine and YES they still stomp grapes. Of course the contemporary new generations of people have opted for newer methods but there are still MANY home wineries that STOMP the grapes. WHY? Well, it’s actually better for the grapes. The soft tissue of the feet “cushion” the press of the grape that minimizes bruising of the skins. The desired result is to extract the juice without pulverizing the skins and releasing what you don’t want. Bigger women, Bigger softer feet, Bigger and more balanced wine – you get the picture.
Fermentation: The NOBLE ROT.
Many Italian family wine makers have no idea about all of the contemporary and sophisticated yeast strains. They simply allow the grapes to use organic wild yeast that is natural to the vinicultural area and the decomposition of the grapes, hence NOBLE ROT. In fact a widely used practice was to let the grapes go to a mild rot on the vine to get the fermentation started. Yes, fermentation actually started the initial phase on the vine. Today, there are fine examples of this used for higher brix level dessert wines. Wine families do have their own yeast strains that have been passed for generations.
Aging and Bottling: What do we have to put this wine in?
This is probably the most varied part of the Italian Family process. The most popular ageing and bottling methods include demijohns which are 5-7 gallon glass jugs (hence the moniker “JUG WINE) glass bottles, glass jars and wine bags. These wines are meant to be consumed SOON after the process is complete, therefore not much use of further aging methods such as wine barrels.
Ordering Wine in Italy: Tourist wine or Lafamiglia Vini?
My first few days in Italy I learned a valuable lesson. You are either a dumb wealthy tourist or Uno dei bravi ragazzi (one of the god guys). The waiter will ALWAYS assume the former. You will be presented an English written menu and wine list. Here is your GOLDEN TIP. Ask for these menus printed in Italian (c’mon- you know the word Lasagna!). Of course unless you really do speak Italian you won’t be able to understand the wine list…. but you don’t have to. Just look it over carefully, then look at the waiter and say one of these two phrases: Nonno del vini OR vini di famiglia. You are asking for GRANDPA’S WINE or THE FAMILY WINE. I like to use both phrases one after the other… and chuckle. Your phrase will be met with a warm smile, probably the best wine you will get in Italy, and a check that may not even have a charge for wine! ENJOY MY FRIENDS!
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