Italian wines, as varied and multifaceted as they are plentiful, are perfectly suited for the seafood extravaganza.
Rouses goes directly to the source for its Italian wine selection. Christian Havener, a sommelier and wine buyer for the Rouses Market on Tchoupitoulas Street in Uptown New Orleans, and Rouses Wine & Spirits Director Sally Culver recently attended Vinitaly, the international wine competition and exposition that is held annually in April in the Italian wine region of Verona in Northeast Italy. While at the competition, which is considered one of the premier international wine events in the world, Havener and Culver met with key producers and sampled Italian wines from 20 wine regions.
The boot-shaped country, which varies widely by climate and terrain, is home to hundreds of grape varieties and is considered one of the top wine production regions in the world.
From the northern highlands and the high-altitude Alps to the wine-growing regions hugging the Mediterranean in the South, the country boasts an incredibly diverse production of reds, whites, rosés and sparkling wines. The wines of Veneto, Tuscany and Piedmont are considered the highest-quality drinking wines in the country.
While there are no hard-and-fast rules about what to serve for the Feast of the Seven Fishes, there is no time of year more perfectly suited to oysters, which are a natural bedfellow to bubbly whites like prosecco, which is made in the Veneto region of Italy around the city of Treviso.
Char-grilled oysters bobbing in their own individual swamps of garlic, butter and Parmesan beg for a crisp, sparkling white like the Ferrari Brut NV Trentodoc. The grapes for this aromatic sparkling wine are grown on hills along the Adige Valley in the Dolomites, aged in steel tanks and produced by méthode champenoise, which requires a secondary fermentation in the bottle that results in champagne quality for a fraction of the price.
Another option is the Riondo Prosecco, which carries a hint of green apple and a crisp finish. This bubbly wine would also pair nicely with creamier menu items, or a lightly fried seafood dish like frito misto.
Lighter dishes with flavors of fennel and garlic pair beautifully with crisp whites, including pinot grigio and orvieto, the star of the white wines hailing from the Umbria region of Italy. A dish of linguine with clams, white wine and garlic or a plate of crabmeat drizzled with brown butter and capers would both pair beautifully with the Zaccagnini Pinot Grigio or the Ruffino Orvieto Classico, which carries notes of green apples and has a slight mineral finish.
An easy-drinking wine like the Ca de Medici Lambrusco, a fruity and fizzy wine from the Emilia-Romagna region in Northern Italy, also pairs well with heavier seafood dishes.
Rosés are another nice middle ground, and Havener suggests pairing them with dishes featuring a little spice. He recommends the 12 e Mezzo Rosato del Salento — a wine he first sampled at Vinitaly — which features light lime notes with hints of peach and a slightly effervescent finish.
In Italy, there is a common saying: “What grows together, goes together.” It’s an adage that chefs and wine lovers alike adhere to; it refers to a region’s terroir, a term used to describe the set of environmental factors and habitat, from altitude, soil type and climate, that influence and shape the characteristics of a wine.
Dishes with Sicilian roots pair perfectly with Sicilian wines, and the Mediterranean island features varied terrains with topical diversity that drive the production of a variety of different wines and an industry over 3,000 years in the making.
A dish of shrimp served with eggplant caponata — Sicily’s most beloved dish — would be a lovely match with the Stemmari Nero D’Avola, a wine carrying the name of the grape most widely planted on the island.
When you move into the heavier, tomato-based dishes, try migrating to bolder, rustic wines like the 12 e Mezzo Primitivo del Salento or the Demarie Langhe Nebbiolo, a wine from the Piedmont region that carries notes of spice, blackberries and plums.
Though the general rule of whites with seafood and fish prevails, some of the heavier courses — and some of the meatier fishes — lend themselves wonderfully to lighter reds, Havener says.
“Salmon, sardines, octopus — some of those can go great with lighter red wines,” he says. With fishes like tuna, also known as the red meat of the sea, you can go even bolder.
Whatever wines find their way to your holiday table, just make sure they keep flowing. After all, no real Italian meal is complete without plenty of wine.