My Summer Project: An Exploration of Italian Wine

One week from today, my students will be taking their final exam. After that, I will have five days to grade like a mad woman and then I will be done. It will officially be summer! And because I like to keep myself busy, I decided I needed some sort of summer project. Thus, I present to you the newest edition of my weekly blog: An Exploration of Italian wines.

I will be posting twice a week now. The first blog will be stories about life, as usual, and the second post will be highlighting my latest adventures in researching Italian wines and pairing them various foods that I will also share the recipe for.

Thanks to my sommelier manager at Parker's Lighthouse, I have learned quite a bit about the wines of Napa Valley and Sonoma County. I can recommend Chardonnays and describe traditional  flavor characteristics of a Pinot Noir, but Italian wine--well, that's a whole other beast of a completely different variety.

When I first went to New York about a year and a half ago, my friend and I decided to have dinner at one of Mario Batali's restaurants in the West Village. We wanted to order a bottle of wine, and when we opened up the menu, I was shocked to find that it contained nothing but Italian wines that I had never heard of. At the very least they could have tossed a Pinot Grigio in there, I thought to myself. Neither of us had any idea what to choose. It was frustrating and foreign and we had no point of reference to help guide us.

Therefore, this summer, I will be doing a little research of my own. While last summer's project was training for a triathalon and was all about running and swimming and biking galore, this summer's project will be completely the opposite-- it will be dedicated to indulging myself on delicious wines and foods. What could be better?

I figured I may as well bring the rest of you along with me for the ride. So, raise your glasses and join me as I drink my way through the regions of Italy!

I would also love to hear your comments if you have any favorite Italian wines that I should try, if you know anything at all about Italian wine, or if you happen to try out any of the bottles I suggest or the recipes I post, then feedback in that general direction would be appreciated, as well.

Week 1 of my wine exploration: Bolla Soave ($7.99 at BevMo)

Since wine tasting is always progressive--it starts with the mellowest tasting whites, and ends with the heaviest tasting reds-- I decided to start with a very mild white wine that is produced in the Soave region of Italy, which is just east of Verona. Verona is the city where Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet took place, and it is also the setting one of the latest summer chick flicks, Letters to Juliet. It is in the Northern Part of Italy and highlighted in red below:

Soave (pronounced SWAH-VAY) means "suave" in Italian, and its taste is generally described as being smooth and suave (because apparently even the wine in Italy can have an attitude). There are different grades of Soaves: the regular plain old Soave, which is described as being "cheap and bland" in my Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil, and there is Soave Classico, which is produced on the hilltops of Soave and is of a higher quality and taste. But, if you really want to get fancy, then go for the Soave Classico Superiore--the Soave to top all Soaves.

 I went ahead and chose a plain old Soave for several reasons. First, it was produced by Bolla, which is a well-known vineyard in the Veneto region and they are specifcally know for producing good Soaves. It also had high ratings on the Internet and was only $7.99 at BevMo. The Classicos and Superiores were $15.99+ and I figured I would save my splurging for the red wines, thank you very much.

In terms of taste, I would say it was decent-- not something I'm going to rave about for hours, but at the same time I can't deny that it tasted really good with the sauteed fish recipe I made for dinner. It reminded me a lot of a Pinot Grigio in that it is very light and refreshing. Even though white wine is generally supposed to be served chilled, I actually preferred the Bolla Soave after it had been sitting out for a while and had reached more of a room temperature. It tasted less acidic that way, and was a great compliment to my dinner.

Speaking of which, here is the recipe:

                                 Lemony Peppered Sole

1 cup white rice
1 package, 4-5 Sole filets -- I used frozen ones from Trader Joes (or you can use tilapia, cod, or some other mild, flaky fish)
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
3 large cloves garlic
1 red pepper, chopped
1 Anaheim chili, chopped (don't worry, it's not spicy)
3 tomatoes on the vine
1.5 lemons (juiced)
1/4 cup dry white cooking wine
1/4 tsp. Lawry's Seasoned Salt
Black pepper to taste

Put 2 cups of water in a sauce pan and allow it to boil. Once it starts boiling, add the rice and cook for 20 minutes.

While the rice is cooking, sautee garlic and onion in olive oil until it is translucent. Then add the red pepper, anaheim chili, and lemon juice. Next, add the sole filets. As the fish starts to cook, it will naturally break apart into small pieces, so just keep breaking it up as you go.

Lastly, add the tomatoes, white wine and a bunch of crushed black pepper, plus the Lawry's Seasoned Salt. Start with 1/4 tsp. and then add more as needed. (Honeslty, I don't really measure seasonings very often.)

Let all of the flavors simmer together until everything is cooked, then serve the peppered sole dish on top of the white rice, and of course, don't forget your glass of Bolla Soave to go with it!