Tag Archives: Italy

Italy’s Sparkling Wines

As I have mentioned before I really like Italian Prosecco as far as sparkling wines go. But Italy has more than just Prosecco. Most people don’t realize that Italy actually produces more different types of sparkling wines than any other country in the world! No joke! They have been producing spumantes (sparkling wines) since Roman times! This was way before Dom Perignon discovered champagne in France! I am going to cover the basic sparkling wines Italy is proud of. There is Prosecco, Franciacorta, Asti, Moscato D’Asti and Bracchetto. Italian sparkling wines are usually less expensive than the French and California varieties.They are perfect anytime so put aside those memories of the 1970s and those really campy Asti Spumante commercials and try Italian sparkling wine again, for the first time! I will always choose a Prosecco over a Champagne for sure!

Almost all of Italy’s sparkling wines are produced in the cooler, northern regions of Italy. The regions of Piedmont, Veneto and Lombardy are the primary regions. As I mentioned in another post the method to making Italian sparkling wines is called Charmat which is very unlike the Champagne method . This method has the second fermentation being done in a tank instead of in the bottles. This results in a wine that is bottled much younger. This also means they should be consumed when young and not saved for a special occasion years later. I believe you should drink sparkling wine as you would any wine, whenever you want! Don’t save for a special occasion, drink it now! So everyday is a celebration that way!

PROSECCO: This light sparkling wine from the Veneto region of northern Italy is made for summer drinking. Which is why I have it all the time here in Florida! It’s summer almost all year! Prosecco is light, refreshing and can have slight hints of melon, pear and almonds. I have actually had a sparkling almond wine. It was delicious. It tasted like sparkling amaretto! Prosecco is made from a grape of the same name and is excellent with calamari, pasta, or salad. But if you ask me, it’s excellent with everything or just by itself! Traditionally, Prosecco is an off-dry (slightly sweet) wine, but there are many that are dry and crisp. If you like a more dry sparkling wine look for the labels that say “brut”. If you remember from my past posts you will know that Prosecco is the star of the Bellini cocktail which is made from fresh white peach juice/nectar, which was created at Harry’s Bar in Venice, Italy!

Prosecco Grapes

FRANCIACORTA: This is Italy’s sparkling wine star. Unlike other sparkling wines, Franciacorta is made using the Champagne method. It’s fermented in the bottles which need to be rotated every day. This leads to smaller, more abundant bubbles and a more subtle taste. Franciacorta is a name of a place, a region in the Lombardy Lake District. This wine is made from a variety of grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco (Pinot Blanc) and Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir). It is usually a dry wine with hints of vanilla, almonds and yellow ripe fruit. It is a much stricter process of aging as well. Italian Wine Law says that it must be aged for at least 18 months and vintage Franciacorta for 30 months! That is a long time for aging! Franciacortas are great with risotto, seafood, white meat and baked fish.

Chardonnay Grapes

Pinot Noir Grape

Pinot Noir Grape

Pinot Bianco Grapes

ASTI: I remember the days as a kid hearing all those commercials for Asti. It used to be called Asti Spumante but now it’s just Asti. Remember Asti Spumante, that’s nice? It was once a popular sweet wine for those college days of drinking inexpensively! Asti now produces a large number of excellent sparkling wines. Asti is also a place name, a lovely town, set in the gentle rolling hills of Piedmont, in northern Italy of course! The rugged, limestone soil in this region is ideal for growing grapes. Grapes don’t seem to do well in “perfect” soil! Who knew? Other than the usual Asti sparkling wine Asti also produces the light and crisp Moscato d’Asti as well as a red sparkling wine called Brachetto. Asti is usually a light, slightly off-dry wine with hints of peach and is made from 100% Moscato (Muscat grapes). It is very high in acidity and this helps to balance out its sweetness. Asti is a non-vintage wine, which means it doesn’t have a year on the bottle and is best to drink within 1-3 years from when it’s bottled. If you are buying a bottle I wouldn’t buy the one that is all dusty on the shelf. Most likely it’s been there way too long and will not be any good. Asti is great with gorgonzola cheese (also from the Piedmont region) and by itself as a before dinner drink!

Moscato Grapes

MOSCATI D’ASTI: Moscati d’Asti is also made from the Moscato grapes. It is technically what they call a fizzante, which is a fizzy or lightly sparkling wine. Moscato d’Asti has less bubbles than Asti does. It is light and crisp and actually pretty low in alcohol, about 5%-7%! It’s best to drink this with the traditional Italian wafer, biscotti or in the summer with a nice crisp salad! In Piedmont, Italy it’s tradition to drink a glass in celebration on Christmas Day! Nice!

BRACHETTO: This is a lesser known sparkling wine because it’s a ruby-red sparkling wine! Very pretty! It’s made from the Brachetto grapes. This wine is festive and light and ready for a party! The hints of strawberry and cherry are subtle and it’s excellent when consumed with fruit and cheese or a light dessert! A cannoli perhaps? I hear it’s even great with pizza! So try and find some of this and see how you like it! I am definitely going to try and find this as I’ve never had it before. Sounds like another good sparkler for summertime!

Brachetto Grapes

Italian Summer Wine Trilogy

Summer is officially here tomorrow. But for most of us it’s been here for weeks already. Especially in Florida. And when the heat of the summer takes over and everyone is enjoying outdoor parties, barbecues, deck parties etc. the last thing we want is a heavy wine. Which many Italian wines can be. But Italy also produces many varieties of lighter more refreshing wines which are perfect for a hot summer day on the veranda! I have only listed three wines which I think are best for the summertime. There are a couple other wines that are less known here in the U.S. and they are pretty hard to find so I will not list them. If I had to choose one of these three over the others, my vote is for Prosecco. Riondo Prosecco is our favorite.

Riondo Prosecco

PROSECCO: My favorite Italian wine for any season is actually a sparkling wine, Prosecco. Prosecco should be on everyone’s summer wine list, in my opinion. It’s made for the most part from the Prosecco grape which grows in the northern Veneto region of Italy in the foothills of the Alps. Sometimes the Prosecco grapes are mixed with a small amount of Pinot Grigio or Pinot Blanc grapes as well. Prosecco is made using the Charmat method rather than the Champagne method that the French use. The Charmat method lets the wine go through the second fermentation in pressurized tanks rather than in the bottles like champagne is done. No turning the bottles everyday like champagne. This method preserves the freshness and flavor of the Prosecco grapes!

Prosecco Grapes

Prosecco is usually very affordable, light and fun. Much easier on the wallet and palate than Champagne. The fizz in Prosecco is not overwhelming, it’s just right. It is usually dry with citrus (lemon and grapefruit) overtones and just a hint of honey. Did I mention I love Prosecco? You can serve it with pastas with light sauces, fish, seafood, salads etc. Pretty much everything goes with Prosecco if you ask me and John! It should be served well chilled! It’s best to serve Prosecco within 3 years of its vintage date but the higher quality ones can be aged up to seven years! Not in my house! We’re lucky if a bottle lasts a few days before we open it and drink it! The Venetians say Prosecco is an ideal appertivo or ombrette (pick-me-up). Remember you can also add fresh peach nectar to it and make…Bellinis!!! There are many brands on the market in all price ranges from $7+ usually. We have many favorites in all price ranges.

Pinot Grigio Grapes

PINOT GRIGIO: Pinot Grigio is one of the best known Italian white wines. It’s a light, dry wine with an almost lemony flavor with slightly nutty overtones. The Pinot Grigio grapes are also grown in the Veneto region (like Prosecco) as well as the Fruili region, both in northeastern Italy. Pinot Grigio is usually pale in color, almost straw-like and it’s best to drink it close to its vintage year. It’s not a wine you want to age. It’s best served with seafood, light pastas and cheese. I would stay away from acidic dishes such as vinegar-based salad dressing and citrus-based sauces. It’s not a good combo. It’s a great wine to have before dinner. In the United States Pinot Grigio is usually a summer favorite. It’s another wine that is very reasonable in price. You can get a good bottle for as low as $5 or $6 and of course the prices can get much higher.

Trebbiano Grapes

SOAVE: Soave is another well-known Italian white wine here in the United States. When I hear Soave I usually immediately think of Soave Bolla. The Bolla vineyards have made Soave a household name here. Soave is a light, crisp wine. It’s made from the Garganega and Trebbiano di Soave grapes that again grown in the Veneto region in northeastern Italy.  I’m sensing a trend here. Soave is produced as a still wine as well as sparkling or sweet wine as well. Most of the imported Soave we get here in the U.S. is the still variety. Soave usually has a slightly green color with very distinct perfume-like tones. It goes great with light pastas, salads or fish. Or just drink it on its own while sitting on the patio relaxing after a long hard day! I tend to favor the Soave over the Pinot Grigio myself.  It’s a little more fruity than the Pinot Grigio which is why I like it. Soave gets its name from a small town nestled among the vine-covered hills in the shadow of a handsome and well-preserved castle. Pretty cool! It is also a wine that should not be aged. Drink it no more than three years from its vintage year.

Garganega Grapes

The Italian Kitchen (Part 1)

Italian cooking is one of the most popular types of cooking around. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like some kind of Italian food. I love pasta in any shape or form. Ravioli has to be my favorite though. From the sauces to cheeses to herbs to wines to olive oil it seems  almost too much to comprehend at times. Everyone knows the basics like spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna, baked ziti, ravioli, chicken parmigiana, veal parmigiana, eggplant parmigiana. And the desserts! My favorite of all time is tiramisu. It’s very hard to find authentic tiramisu. Most restaurants try but don’t come close. The best tiramisu I’ve ever had was actually in Montreal, Canada of all places. Go figure. And of course everyone loves cannolis! I’m getting hungry just thinking about them!

Ok, to start our little journey today I am going to start with a glossary of Italian cheeses. I love cheese. Growing up we always had ‘stinky’ cheese or really sharp provolone. Really sharp provolone is hard to find these days. Another staple in our house growing up was Locatelli Romano cheese. No green can that you keep in the cabinet in my house! On to the cheese! Remember this is just a basic list. There are actually hundreds of different Italian cheeses! But for us Americans this is a good start!


You can find low-fat versions of these cheeses at your local supermarket or Italian specialty store as well.

Ricotta: Ricotta cheese is usually made from cow’s milk, though it can also be made from sheep’s milk, which has more flavor. The one made from sheep’s milk is not readily available in the United States so you’ll probably always be buying the cow’s milk version. Ricotta is usually a bit grainy in texture with a mild sweet flavor. Depending on whether the milk used in making the cheese was whole or skim, the fat content of ½ cup (4 ounces) ranges from 0-15 grams. FYI: When fresh Ricotta goes through its natural aging process, a hard, pungent cheese, suitable for eating or grating results. This is called Ricotta Salata and is almost white in color.

Whole milk Ricotta (1 oz.): 50 calories/4 grams fat

Part-skim Ricotta (1 oz.): 40 calories/2 grams fat

Fat-Free Ricotta (1 oz.): 20 calories/0 grams fat

Mozzarella: Mozzarella is best known as a pizza topper. It is made from either cow’s milk or in Italy, from water buffalo’s milk. It is milk in flavor and can be found in low-fat varieties as well! Fresh mozzarella is a real treat. It’s made from whole milk and has a softer texture and sweeter, more delicate flavor than regular, factory made mozzarella. It has 4-7 grams of fat per ounce, depending on the fat content of the milk used to make it.

Whole Milk Mozzarella (1 oz.): 80 calories/6 grams fat

Part-skim Mozzarella (1 oz.): 72 calories/5 grams fat


No Italian meal is complete without freshly grated cheese. Or in my house it’s any meal, not just Italian meals. We like it to snow on our food!

Pecorino: This is made from sheep’s milk and the flavor of pecorino will depend on the area where it was made in Italy. It ranges from a firm, sharp, salty cheese to a milder, semi-firm variety. It has about 110 calories and 7-8 grams of fat per ounce. Locatelli is a pecorino romano cheese and the choice at my house. Has been since forever!

Pecorino Romano: Pecorino Romano is made from sheep’s milk. It is straw-white in color and has a sharper flavor than the other cheeses listed here. Although it is sometimes called “Locatelli” Locatelli is a brand name of Pecorino Romano. Pecora in Italian means sheep and Pecorino Romano is one of Italy’s oldest cheeses. Legend has it that a shepherd filled his flask with sheep’s milk before a long trip and the motion during the trip caused the milk to naturally ferment. The idea for a new cheese was born. Today most Pecorino is made in Sardina Italy. With its fine flavor Pecorino’s popularity as a grating cheese has grown significantly in the U.S. Since sheep only give milk for 6-7 months a year all production must satisfy the public’s demand for the entire year.

Parmesan Cheese: Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese is the Ritz of parmesan cheeses! It is an aged hard cheese made from cow’s milk and is strictly regulated in Italy. This is to control the quality. In the U.S., this cheese is often limited, but the results are different from the Italian cheese. Older, aged varieties from Italy have a stronger flavor and are drier. Stick to freshly grated aged varieties for the most flavor. You’ll be able to use less due to the more intense flavor. It has about 110 calories and 7 grams of fat per ounce. Parmigiano-Reggiano is also very expensive. I have found excellent varieties at a few places, such as BJ’s. The price is still high but a little less painful. Same goes for the Pecorino cheese. In Italy it is so valuable that trucks carrying a load of Parmigiano have been hijacked at gunpoint!


Asiago Cheese: Asiago is made from cow’s milk. It’s a semi-hard to hard cheese. (My cat Gus loves it! Really!) It is full of many time holes and has a rich flavor and creamy texture when it hasn’t been aged for very long. As it ages, the cheese becomes firmer and can be grated easily. It can also be eaten by itself. It’s similar in fat content to Parmesan cheese. Asiago is from the Veneto region.

Fontina: This is a delicious delicate, sweet, semi-soft cheese with a nutty flavor. It’s also made from cow’s milk and melts easily and smoothly. The more aged the cheese, the richer the flavor. One ounce has about 110 calories and 9 grams of fat.

Gorgonzola: Gorgonzola is a blue-veined cheese made from cow’s milk and has a creamy texture with a slightly pungent, rich flavor. When aged for more than six months, the flavor can become very strong. It’s a great match with fruit, such as apples or pears. It also can be melted into sauces or crumbled over salads. For a milder variety, look for torta di Gorgonzola. This layers Gorgonzola with sweet marscapone. Gorgonzola has about 100 calories and 8 grams of fat per ounce.

Marscapone: Marscapone is super-rich and  tastes like a cross between cream cheese and whipped butter. It’s usually used in desserts but it’s also great as a spread for delicate crackers or fresh fruit, such as strawberries and pear slices. It’s a soft cheese made from cow’s milk and has about 124 calories and 13 grams of fat per ounce. Not exactly a cheese for diets!

Provolone: Provolone is another cow’s milk cheese. It is delicate and creamy when aged for up to two months. When it’s aged longer it begins to take on a spicy, sharp flavor. Most people use provolone as a table cheese with crackers, pepperoni, apples etc. but it’s also an excellent cooking cheese. Aged provolone can be used for grating. One ounce has about 100 calories and 8 grams of fat.

Blog update

Hi everyone. Just letting you know I will be posting later today. I am putting together a series of Italian Cooking posts. I love Italian food and I’m sure most people when asked will say that Italian food is their favorite. There are so many regions in Italy that have such a diverse range of foods. I am going to give everyone a little insight into different types of foods and what they are, different terms in Italian cooking, Italian pantry basics and other fun stuff. It’s taking a bit to organize all the information so I will be doing that later today, promise! I know the #1 place I want to visit next is Italy. Especially the Tuscany region. And call it a “chick flick” if you want but I just loved the movie “Under the Tuscan Sun”. It introduced me to that lovely liqueur Limoncello! So I will of course touch on that region for sure. Maybe while sipping some Limoncello! So sit back and relax and I’ll be back shortly!

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