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  • Will 2003 Be a Vintage Year for Italian Wine?
    Our Paesani

    by Francesca Di Meglio

    A fine glass of wine and a good piece of bread are symbols of happiness or so goes the song "Felicita?" by Al Bano and Romina Power. At my house, that certainly is the case, but we don't put just any wine on the table. My family's preference is "the vintage" that ferments in our own garage, "the vintage" that my father, grandfather and cousins make with their own hands every October.

    In fact, as the paesani in Italy were facing a blackout on September 28, my parents were purchasing the grapes in New Jersey to make this year's batch of vino. My papà does not like to predict how the wine will turn out for fear of jinxing himself. But wine makers in the homeland are not as superstitious and have been dreaming out loud about the potential quality of the 2003 wines. Italy faced one of the hottest summers and worst droughts in history this year. The harsh weather meant wine makers would produce a smaller quantity of extremely high quality grapes. The heat protected the grapes from mold and allowed them to grow juicier and sweeter than usual. It still may be too soon to tell whether the 2003 wines will live up to the hype; some of the grapes (especially those for white wines) have been harvested. But others are still vulnerable to the weather, specifically the hail that typically arrives in Italy after extreme heat, according to a September 15 Reuters article by Jane Barrett. A light rain, on the other hand, would be ideal.

    Assuming all the grapes survive and avoid inclement weather, the 2003 Italian wines will be pricey. Vinitaly, a group that informs the public about Italian wine, last week warned Web site visitors that prices will rise this year, but connoisseurs will be paying for enhanced taste and quality. Italy is the biggest wine exporter in the European Union, and Vinitaly is planning to host events in San Francisco and New York - among other foreign markets - to raise the profile of Italian wine in the United States. Will you be opening your wallet for a swig of vino ottimo?

    If you are going to pay the hefty price, there are some interesting wines to check out this year. The heat and more recent deluge of rain hit the north much harder than the south, which had water on reserve during those dog days. As a result, southern producers were able to benefit from the heat and control the moisture more easily. Therefore, wines from Sicily and Sardinia, regions that are fairly new to wine production, are getting major buzz from the experts. Marsala, Merlot and Chardonnay are just a few of the varieties available from Sicilian makers. Sardinians have been making wine since Roman times, but were heavily influenced by Spanish techniques between the 15th and 17th centuries. The island is most famous for its dessert wines and is experiencing a burst of popularity, according to Wine Regions of Italy.

    Even my family's native Ischia - also known as Isola Verde (Green Island) for its vegetation - is finally getting recognition for its vineyards. White wines such as forastera and biancolella from Ischia's oldest wine producers, Casa D'Ambra, which dates back to the 16th century, are quite popular. A true Ischitano would tell you that the wine is only as good as the meal with which it is paired. In Ischia, you are likely to be tasting your vino with a dish of vongole (clams) or a plate of coniglio (rabbit). Yummy! If you ever get the pleasure of seeing Ischia for yourself, ask your waiters which wines are best paired with your meal of choice. They'll know.

    The wine making tradition on Ischia can be traced back to the Greek colonization of the island because Nestor's Cup from 757 B.C. bears an inscription already honoring the local wine, according to an April 2003 Alitalia magazine about the island. My papà, starting in his days in Buonopane, Ischia, has been making wine virtually his entire life. In Italy, wine making was a way for the family to make money. Here, landscaping is the family business and wine making is the hobby. But the gallon of wine that sits on our dinner table nightly is an homage to the life we once knew. It is one of the ways we keep Ischia in our home and in our blood. Saluti!

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