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How to Find the Best Italian Wines

One of America’s foremost experts in Italian wines offers tips for how to discover bottles from your next favorite Italian wine region.

When it comes to Italian wine, there are few people who know more about it than Bobby Stuckey. 

As the cofounder of Frasca Food and Wine, which focuses on the cuisine and wines of Friuli, in northeastern Italy, Stuckey has been a champion of Italy’s lesser-known wine regions. Stuckey recalls, “When we started in 2004, no one knew what Friulian wines were. When I said what I was planning to do, friends in the business used to say, ‘Dude, we have to have an intervention.’ They were like, ‘What? You’re moving to Boulder and opening a what?’”

These days, the rest of the world has caught up with him. Thanks to a renaissance in Italian winemaking and a surge of interest among American wine-lovers, there’s never been a better time to explore the world of Italian wines.

“Italian wine has changed so much,” Stuckey says. “Think about the renaissance that’s been going on in Chianti. Or Mount Etna! When I started, Mount Etna didn’t even exist. There were like four producers. The only thing people knew was that it was a volcano.”

Stuckey has noticed that his seminars have changed, too, because American wine-lovers know so much more about Italian wine these days. “Look at how many more people travel to Sicily now or travel to other parts of Italy,” he says. “And Italy’s this amazingly special place. If someone goes and lives in Paris for a year, they’ll never in a million years think they’re Parisian. An American can go to Sicily for a week, and they’ll decide they’re an expert — and I say that with total affection. That’s just the way Italy makes people feel. The country just bear-hugs you so much.”

Stuckey has four basic tips for people who want to start feeling that big hug from Italy by drinking Italian wine:

Start with a wine you already love

The best thing you can do is tell people — sommeliers, the staff at a wine store — what wines you know you love, even if it’s not an Italian wine. If they’re paying attention, you’re going to get great guidance. If you love Champagne, try a Franciacorta the next time you’re in a restaurant. Pinot Noir fans should absolutely check out Etna Rossos from Sicily. Like bright, unoaked whites? Vermentino from Liguria is great, or Pecorino from Abruzzo, or Friulano from, of course, Friuli. 

Remember that Italian reds have a different edge to them 

You can be a Burgundy lover, a California Pinot Noir lover, and then when you have a Barolo for the first time, it might freak you out a little. Italian reds tend to be a little more tannic and tart; they’re always at their best with a meal.

Revisit Chianti! 

The renaissance of quality going on there is just wild. It sounds boring to say it, but really, there is so much happening in Chianti right now: a lot of young, talented winemakers; single-vineyard wines that really express where they’re from. It’s an exciting time. Look for producers like Tenuta di Carleone, Monteraponi, Istine, Le Boncie … The list really goes on and on.

    Don’t forget sparkling 

    Italians drink more sparkling per capita than anybody. But don’t just stick to Prosecco. Franciacorta is great, but there’s even more out there than that. The Trentino region has some excellent sparkling. Benanti and Murgo, down in Sicily, are making great sparkling wines.

    Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey cofounded Colorado’s Frasca Food and Wine in 2004 and has been a speaker at wine seminars at the F&W Classic since 2001. Before that, he was the wine director at The Little Nell in Aspen, Colorado.

    Top Illustration by VISBII

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