Episode #013: An introduction to Italian wine

introduction to italian wine

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Are you a devoted wine drinker or simply interested in learning about Italian wine? In this introduction to the wine of Italy, we are joined by expert and accredited sommelier Brandon Shaw.

Brandon takes us through the regions, grape varieties and styles of wine you can expect to find in Italy. He helps you understand which wine you should order depending on your preferences and what to expect at a restaurant, wine bar, winery and on a wine tour.

Show notes

This episode was recorded well before the current crisis started to impact Italy and the world. In it, Katy refers to a trip that never eventuated but that she hopes will happen very soon. We hope that, as we all stay inside and wait out this crisis, our episode on Italian wine provides a little escape and something to look forward to in the not too distant future. If you would like to follow along with the adventures we had planned, join our free Italy travel community. We’re posting our trip itinerary virtually each day so you can find ideas for your trip to Italy.

It was such a pleasure to talk to Brandon, who is an accredited expert on Italian wine. We discussed the best ways to try wine in Italy (spoiler alert – try it all!) and what to look for if you prefer a particular style of wine. Brandon shared the varieties to look for if you prefer a certain type of wine at home, how much to pay for a bottle of wine in a restaurant and in a store plus much more.

By the end of this episode you’ll know about nebbiolo grapes, a sparkling wine that is made with the same method as champagne and what to look for on a bottle of wine or on a wine list. Cin-cin! (that’s cheers in Italian).

Wine regions and varieties mentioned in this episode 

  • Tuscany – Chianti, Super Tuscan, Brunello di Montalcino
  • Piedmont – Barolo, Barbaresco, Barbera
  • Veneto – Prosecco, Amarone
  • Umbria – Orvieto, Torgiano, Sagrantino di Montefalco
  • Lombardy – Franciacorta
  • Puglia – Primitivo
  • Sicily – Nero D’Avola

Wine tours and experiences with The Tour Guy (also known as The Roman Guy)

Small group tour

Private tours

Bespoke experiences can be arranged via Finelli and Shaw

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What you’ll learn in this episode

  1. All about the different styles, grapes and regions of Italian wine
  2. Where to go to taste and experience wine in Italy
  3. Which wines to choose depending on your tastes and preferences.
  4. What you can expect to pay for a bottle of wine in Italy – at restaurants, bars, wineries and in stores

You can read the full episode transcript below

About our guest – Brandon Shaw from the Tour Guy / the Roman Guy

The Tour Guy Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer Brandon Shaw began his career in the kitchen of his mother’s fine dining restaurant in Florida where he learned the basics of food, wine, and exceptional service. After graduating college, Shaw had his eyes set on Europe landing his first job as a concierge at the Hotel Sofitel in Paris.

Over the next 20 years, Shaw pursued his passion for fine wine and dining in cities across Europe including Rome, Bologna, Amsterdam and St. Petersburg all-a-while mastering six languages, earning accreditation at the Italian Association of Sommeliers, and opening his private vineyard in Italy with the first crush expected in 2021.

It was his love for wine and historical knowledge of the continent that led him to co-found The Tour Guy and become a certified tour guide in Russia and Italy. Now residing in the company’s global headquarters in Philadelphia, PA, Shaw creates gastronomic experiences and unique tours at beloved tourist destinations around the globe.

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Transcript

Prefer to read along as you listen? Below is a full transcript of our episode conversation. Unfortunately it does not pick up our lovely Australian accents however!

Click here for full episode transcript

Intro (00:04):
Ciao and benvenuti to Untold Italy. I’m Josie and I’m Katy and we’re here to help you plan your trip to Italy. Between us, we have many years of travel experience and we want to help you uncover your own as yet untold stories and adventures in Italy. Each episode you’ll hear practical advice, tips, and ideas to help you plan your own trips to the magical land of history, stunning landscapes, and a whole lot of pasta. We’ll have interviews from experts and focus on local destinations and frequently asked questions about travel in Italy. Thanks for listening and make sure to subscribe to our show. Now let’s get started on your regular dose of Bella Italia.

Katy (00:51):
Ciao everyone. It’s Katy here and today we’re going to be talking all about one of my favorite topics, Italian wine. I’ve invited along a special guest who is a sommelier and an expert in Italian wine to help guide us through the many questions we all have about enjoying vino, both in Italy and at home. And it’s very exciting because today’s guest is Brandon Shaw, one of the founders of one of our favorite tour companies in Italy, the Tour Guy, which is also known as the Roman guy. Brandon began his career in the kitchen of his mother’s fine dining restaurant in Florida, in the United States where he learned the basics of food, wine, and exceptional service. Now, after graduating college, he headed over to Europe where he landed his first job as a concierge at the very fancy Hotel Sofitel in Paris. Over the next 20 years, Brandon has pursued his passion for fine wine and has earned accreditation at the Italian Association of Sommeliers He is a certified tour guide in Italy and has even opened his own private vineyard in Puglia with the first crush expected in 2021. As cofounder of the Roman Guy, Brandon creates gastronomic experiences and unique tours in Italy and now with the parent company, the Tour Guy at tourist destinations all over the world. If you’re headed to Italy soon, then do check out the Roman Guy tours. We’ve done several on our trips to Italy, including their very popular, Vatican Gold tour and Trastevere food tour. You can always count on their guides to share the history and culture of Italy in a super fun way. They use lots of stories and anecdotes to make the places you visit come alive. Now I can’t wait to chat to Brandon about wine. So without further ado, let’s begin our interview.

Brandon Shaw (02:30):
Welcome to the Untold Italy podcast, Brandon. Talking about and drinking wine and some of my favorite pastimes. So I’m so excited to have you on the show to give our listeners an introduction to Italian wine. But first, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what your experience is with all things vino?

Brandon Shaw (02:48):
All right, Katy, thank you for having me. I’m very excited. So it’s kind of a strange start of life especially as far as Italian wine goes. My story begins in Amsterdam, which is not really a place known for wine in general. I was 20 years old, I was living in Amsterdam and I actually started working in an Italian wine bar in the East part of the city. And that’s where my first love came because the owner of the shop was a Dutch guy, but he knew wine really well. He kinda took me under his wing and we started going to wine shows and really expensive cool tastings and that’s how it started, strangely enough. And then I moved to Rome, finished my degree and kept, at that point I was so involved with wine and I was in the perfect place for it. I just kept drinking and studying and learning more until I decided to actually take a sommelier course and I became an official sommelier with the Association of Sommeliers, which is the most recognized association for sommeliers in Italy. And then of course the top it all off. I started a vineyard, so I have my own vineyard with a friend of mine in Puglia in Southern Italy.

Brandon Shaw (03:59):
Oh wow. That sounds amazing. I’m actually going to Puglia later this year. We’ll have to get the details from you on that one. Now. Brandon, you’re not just an expert on wine, but you also run a very popular tour company in Italy and in Europe. Do you want to tell us a little bit about that?

Brandon Shaw (04:17):
Yes. So the name is the Tour guy. We started off giving tours just in the city of Rome and then we expanded to Florence and then to Venice and then to Pompeii and the Amalfi coast. We then opened up in Paris and Barcelona and now we’ve opened up in London. So we’re really excited about that. And yeah, it’s going really well. People who want to come and learn in a fun way. We are the people for you.

Brandon Shaw (04:42):
I 100% agree. It’s always fun on your tours. So Brandon assume that we know nothing about wine or Italian wine. How can our listeners begin their Italian wine journey on their trip to Italy?

Brandon Shaw (04:55):
Well, the first thing is drink everything. So what I mean by that is try as much as you can. The reason I say that is because everyone has different tastes. Maybe there’s a wine that I like that you don’t like. So try as much as you can. You know everyone has different taste buds. Before you leave and come to Italy of course, go to your local wine shop and see if they organize tastings. They’re the best ones that can help you out with that. And then before you come as well, I would actually start with an easy drinking wine sot what I mean by that is something that’s not too strong and not too many tenants, which I’ll explain tannins maybe a little bit later to you, but some easy wines like a Primitivo, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and Nero Davola. These are all easy drinking wines, which means it doesn’t require, I guess too much effort to drink it. So it goes down pretty easily.

Brandon Shaw (05:48):
Okay. And so when you go to Italy though, and when you, when you first arrive maybe you might be there for about 10 days, so you probably don’t want to be going and buying full bottles. So can you, when you go to a restaurant, can you just try one glass at a time? Is that possible?

Brandon Shaw (06:06):
Absolutely. So when you go to a restaurant, you can try it by the glass. They also have something if you like wine that is perfect. They’re called enotecas. And so an enoteca is a wine bar and they’re extremely popular and you can go in and kind of have an aperitivo. So before dinner you go to an enoteca and you sit down, have a glass of wine and they usually have many bottles that are opened. So you can, it’s a good spot to try many different kinds of wines and maybe nibble some cheese or some prosciutto or something like that before you go to dinner.

Katy (06:37):
Well, that’s one of my favorite things to do. It’s amazing. So, when you arrive at the bar, you’ll probably have to give the sommelier or the bartender a little bit of an idea of what you like. How would you describe some of the popular wines maybe in the United States or in Australia? We love those big hearty reds. How, how can we help describe what we like so we can help the sommelier help us.

Brandon Shaw (07:04):
This is a good question because especially in what we call the new world, so in the United States and Australia, a lot of the wines that we drink go by very specific names with the grape. So in America it’s very common. You say I like a Cab or like a Merlot or like a Shiraz. Whereas in Italy you don’t go so much by the name of the grape. Most regions have actual specific names for their wines where you don’t know the name of the grape inside unless you’ve studied it a little bit. So an easy example, you go to Tuscany and you’ll go into an enoteca and you’ll sit down and it’ll say Brunello di Montalcino and you’re like, Oh, you’re not much. You know what is that? So it’s actually, it’s not the name of the grape, it’s the name of the actual wine which is made from the sangiovese grape. So I guess to better answer your question, if you’re in the enoteca, the easiest way, most people differentiate, you can go to sommelier and say, “Hey, I like a fruity wine,” or “I like a dry wine,” or “I like a little bit of a sweeter wine. And they can usually accommodate you. Like I said, because they have so many different wines that are open, you should definitely be able to find a wine that you like. Just one thing when you said bold, so bold is an interesting word because bold usually means a full flavored and also a strong alcohol content. So you can say that as well when you go inside.

Katy (08:28):
So how would I say bold in Italian?

Brandon Shaw (08:31):
When you say bold, you would say “forte”

Katy (08:34):
Ah, forte.

Brandon Shaw (08:35):
Yeah, you can practice your Italian.

Katy (08:37):
Well, it’s always a good idea especially when it comes to wine. So I think the alcohol content is an interesting topic because in Australia, I know our alcohol content in our wines is a lot higher. What’s the alcohol content in Italian wines generally?

Brandon Shaw (08:55):
It varies so much. So it depends on where you are. Wherever you have more sun, you’re going to have stronger wines. So for example, in the north of Italy, the words tends to be around the mountainous area and it’s a little bit colder. Also, not as much sun, more of a foggy kind of like burgundy, you know, in that area the wines tend to be around 12 to 13%, whereas you go down South into Puglia, you can drink a primitivo, which in the United States. I think also in Australia it’s called the Zinfandel. And those come up to 16% alcohol. So almost like a port wine.

Katy (09:30):
Wow, okay. That’s really different. And so what about the method of production? So in Australia we do use a lot of sulfates in our wine. And so I was just wondering in Italy are the wines, mainly organic or biodynamic? And how do the production techniques impact the wine?

Brandon Shaw (09:51):
Well, you have a little bit of both, I would say. So you have some wines that don’t use sulfates in it, but you have to remember that the reason sulfates were created was to allow wine to travel. Because without sulfates in the wine, the wine will go bad quite quickly. And so even some of the most respected producers will put a little bit of sulfates inside of the wine just to make sure that it stays fresh and make sure that it’s allowed to travel from one country to another. You can find some wines, like you said, biodynamic or organic wines that don’t use them in there. And it’s becoming a little more popular. So you can, you’d have to, I would say more search for it when you’re in a specific area. Have to actively search to find a place that does not put sulfates in the wine or table wine. A lot of times don’t use sulfates, homemade wine you can find.

Katy (10:40):
Ah, and so that’s another question that people had. So I actually asked our Facebook group, if they had some questions about Italian wine so I could hit you up with them. So one of the questions that I had is, you know, is it okay to drink the table or the house wine in Italy is a good wine?

Brandon Shaw (11:00):
So in Italy I tell most of my customers to always go with the house wine. And let me explain why, because there’s actually a few interesting reasons. The original concept of wine drinking was just to drink at dinner. Very common, very not a very complex wine. So even a hundred years ago, or even 50 years ago, wine was produced for the main, the principle reason of just drinking and meditating over the wine. It was made to go with food. And so as a result of that, especially in the old world, so in Spain, in Italy, and in France, the majority of wine produced is a very simple table wine, no complex notes. It just something very easy that goes down well with food. So the other reason is that when you go to a restaurant and you choose their house wine, it’s usually grown locally. So especially if you’re in Rome, you want to have a house wine, it’ll be grown in the local areas called the Castelli Romani, which is 20 kilometers outside the city. And there’s a high chance that this wine will go well with the food because in many cases, local, regional wines that go well with that particular food and vice versa. So I guess to better answer, it’s almost always good to go with the house wine. It’s always a lot cheaper. And I would, if anything, if you’re there for 10 days, do a little bit of both. If you have a specific one you like, go for that. If not, or the house, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Katy (12:22):
And how much can we expect to pay for a glass of house wine? I think people like to know these questions.

Brandon Shaw (12:29):
So in many typical Osteria, you know, or local restaurants you go to, they don’t even sell by the glass. They’ll sell it by a quarter of a liter or half a liter. And surprisingly, especially compared to United States, I know you can, some places get a liter of red wine for five to seven euros.

Katy (12:49):
I know. It’s amazing. It’s cheaper than a soda often.

Brandon Shaw (12:53):
It’s cheaper than Coke, Coca-Cola. It’s cheaper than a bottle of water. It’s amazing. It’s hard to explain, but it tastes really good.

Katy (13:04):
Yeah. And why not drink wine? I mean,

Brandon Shaw (13:06):
exactly my thoughts. Exactly.

Katy (13:08):
Yeah. And it’s always, as you said, it’s so much better as it is designed to go with food. So that matching and enjoying the wine with the food, it’s one of those experiences that you have to have. People I think often go to Italy, you know, wanting to see the sites, et cetera. But I think, you know, having those meals and enjoying the wine and the food together, that’s probably my number one experience that I would recommend to people going to Italy for the first time.

Brandon Shaw (13:33):
What’s better than that? Yeah, that’s the ideal situation.

Katy (13:38):
Okay. So part of the fun of traveling is to have new experiences and try new things. And that includes wine. Okay. So, but what if our palettes have been trained to appreciate certain styles? So for example we have a lot of readers who prefer sweeter wines. So what would you suggest to them if they wanted to try something in Italy?

Brandon Shaw (14:03):
Okay, so when we talk about sweet wines, a lot of times the first thing that comes to my mind, if you say I would like a sweet wine, and this is also important for all of your listeners. If they go to Italy, if they say I want a sweet wine. Many times in Italy they think they want a dessert wine. So it will be something that’s very, very sweet and usually goes with an actual dessert. So I would maybe recommend that if they’re going to go out they don’t use the word sweet, they just might say less dry only for this reason. They might end up with a really super, super sweet dessert wine. What I always recommend instead is that there are some wines that are produced that are fairly high in alcohol content and as a result the tannins aren’t very strong, so creates a much smoother wine and it’s a little bit, I would say sweeter in that sense. So that’s something, for example, like an Amarone, which is from the Veneto area, which is a heavy wine but very amazingly good or primitivo down in Puglia. So both of these wines are produced in a way that the grapes are left on. With Amarone the grapes are left on the vines a little bit longer, so they shrivel up a little, almost like raisins. And then they squeeze them down, which creates a really thick juice. And you know, instead of a grape, there’s only two real ingredients. You have sugar and water. So if you take away the water, it’s more sugar. So it’s more concentrated. So it’s going to have a sweeter taste to it, which as a result has a stronger alcohol content as well. So both of these can actually have alcohol contents up to 16 degrees or 16 percent alcohol.

Katy (15:39):
Okay. And so how do we say, less dry in Italian?

Brandon Shaw (15:44):
So, so the word dry is secco. And then you say “menno secco”.

Katy (15:53):
menno secco

Brandon Shaw (15:54):
Okay, perfect. That was good pronunciation.

Katy (15:57):
I’m trying, I’m learning.

Brandon Shaw (16:02):
And again, please anyone who goes to Italy, do not be afraid to make a mistake, just give it a try. Try and speak Italian and nobody will make fun of you. They’re not going to laugh at you. If anything, they’ll be relieved that they can at least speak in Italian and not have to try and speak themselves in English.

Katy (16:20):
Yeah. So I totally agree with that. People respond, usually with a big smile, I think because you’ve really made an effort to, to have a go at and speak the language. I, I do like that. So I guess people can do try some wine in an enoteca in the cities and there’s some amazing ones all over Italy. And it’s one of my favorite things to do is seek them out. However, another thing that’s really popular is to go on a wine tasting experience in the countryside and people often want to do that in Tuscany. What’s, what’s that like? Because I guess in, I know in the United States and in Australia you can basically jump in a car and just go from winery to winery and you could probably visit five or six in a day. Is that possible in Italy?

Brandon Shaw (17:13):
Well, I guess anything is possible in theory, but five or six wineries, that’s a lot of wine drinking. So I guess it is possible. Also in Italy you’ll see they give more liberal pours, I guess you could say. So it’s not just a little tiny taste. A lot of times they’ll fill your glass up to taste the wine. The best example I could give is, we offer quite a few different wine trips, either from the city of Rome to Tuscany, or from actual from Florence itself into the Chianti region. And what we find most people want to do is they want to be immersed into a real wine house experience. And so if you think Italy, you think Tuscany, you think beautiful wine villas with these massive vineyards. That’s what it’s really like. And so everything you see in the movies that’s real. So we want to bring the most authentic experience possible. And most of the wineries you’ll visit, you’re going to meet the owners as well. So you’re going to meet the dad and then the wife comes out and the kids, and you’ll understand that it’s a real family experience. You’ll first get a tour of the winery, they’ll explain their methods, how they produce the wine, and then you’ll sit down, have a nice lunch and taste different wines. And they’ll explain it all to you and you’ll see the passion that comes out of them, what you need to have, to produce something beautiful.

Katy (18:39):
Absolutely. And you know, it’s not an easy profession really, is it? Because e to, you know, you’re working with the seasons and things that are completely outside of your control. So those generations of people that have been making wine there, it’s really impressive I think.

Brandon Shaw (18:56):
Not to mention that I know this is about wine, but at most wineries, they usually produce their own olive oil as well. It kind of goes hand in hand. And until you’ve had fresh olive oil from an actual place where they make it onsite. It’s like nothing. It’s like nothing you’ve ever had. It’s amazing.

Brandon Shaw (19:16):
The only problem is with these wineries, Brandon, is that you just end up wanting to buy all of it.

Brandon Shaw (19:20):
Yes, yes. But the great thing is that most of them ship, so they’ll ship it back for you. So you tasted the wines, you love it, and then have them ship back as much as possible. Which strangely enough, I’m not sure in Australia how it is, but there’s quite a high tax in the United States on imported wine. So a lot of times it can be cheaper for you to ship it instead of buying the same bottle in the supermarket or in the wine shop in America.

Katy (19:47):
Wow. So if you’re shipping back to the States, you don’t have to pay tax, is that right?

Brandon Shaw (19:52):
You pay a shipping charge on it. But no, we don’t pay anything else on top. It’s from what? In my experience. And I’ve always found that it’s cheaper to ship it back like that instead of buying the same wine in the supermarket. Like, but, but it’s $30 here, but I bought it for eight euros in Italy. And then with the shipping, it’s like usually a few euros extra on top per bottle.

Katy (20:16):
Well, I know, and it’s funny cause I always go and I think, Oh, I’m only going to buy one or two bottles. And I have like those wine wings. I don’t know if you’ve seen them, but they’re like these special packing cases so you can get them in your checked bag. So it doesn’t explode all over your stuff. But I don’t know why I bother because I might as well just ship everything

Brandon Shaw (20:39):
One or two bottles. Katy, you know, that’s not enough. It’s not, that’s not going to be enough. And I definitely want more. And also what’s really good is that when you open that bottle it makes you think about your experience you had in Italy. So you need to have the ability to relive that many times over.

Katy (20:53):
I know I’ve just got my box sitting downstairs waiting for me to open it. I’ve got a few sitting there from my trip in November. I’m excited to open soon.

Brandon Shaw (21:04):
What kind did you get ?

Katy (21:06):
We were in Chianti, so it was a lovely Chianti. I actually also got a Super Tuscan too. And people were asking me about that. Is that the term that Italians use for that style of wine?

Brandon Shaw (21:24):
Yeah. Yeah. It’s also used – Super Tuscany. It’s a term that’s used in Italy as well.

Katy (21:29):
Okay. That’s good to know. It’s quite a new wine, isn’t it? That one.

Brandon Shaw (21:36):
Absolutely. Yeah. So this is when the whole revolution happens. So just to explain what super Tuscan means and then I won’t go too into the technical side of it. But in Italy you have something of like 500 or 600 different varieties of grapes. It’s some ridiculous amount. And they keep discovering new random ones that are very obscure. And a lot of people are trying to bring these back into vogue again. So in certain areas in Italy you have very typical grape varieties. So sangiovese or montepulciano and sagrantino. So what they decided to do since Tuscany is such a fertile area, it’s perfect for wine growing. In the 60s they decided, “Hey, you know what? Let’s plant some international varieties. Let’s try Cabernet or let’s try Merlot and see what happens.” And so what they did is they were able to use these international varieties and make these wines that are some of the most expensive in the world. They’re not local, they’re not native to that area. And so what they decided to call them, is called super Tuscans. They excluded them in the typical canonical wine growing denominations. So they had to be outside of that. But they’re this, they’re just an amazing, amazing taste. So yeah, it’s something new. Sixties, 1970s. That’s when it started.

Katy (22:53):
I think there is 20 wine growing regions. Is that right? in Italy. And there’s hundreds and hundreds of grape varieties. You know what one of my favorites is? I discovered Franciacorta when I was in the Brescia region and I’ve never looked back. I love that stuff. it’s a sparkling wine made with two fermentations in the bottle like champagne.

Brandon Shaw (23:24):
That’s exactly right. Good Katy. A lot of people don’t know that. That’s good.

Katy (23:28):
Well, at least in very hard on my wine tour.

Brandon Shaw (23:30):
Yeah. But a lot of people don’t know Franciacorta either. So it’s obviously, it’s my favorite sparkling wine that you can get in Italy. And because the houses, I mean, if you’ve been there, so the houses, they’re very small, they’re not these big extensive wine producing areas and a lot of them are still not used to tourists. So you go there and we’ve brought groups to them and they don’t really know how to act in front of the tourists. They just, they’re a little bit awkward. So we have to explain, listen, we’re going to bring a group, can you let them try the wine? Can they see how you produce it? And they’re always like, well, why do they want to see it? It’s like, well, because people are curious and in the end they’re like, okay, it’s just something a little bit foreign to them. But the wine is, I agree. It’s, very, very good.

Katy (24:14):
Yeah, it’s excellent. And you know, I’m also a big fan of Prosecco too, so, you know, I’m not fussy, really.

Brandon Shaw (24:21):
No prosecco is good. Prosecco is good as well.

Katy (24:24):
Okay. So now we know a bit more about what type of wines are out there. When we go into the store to buy some wine because, I think everyone wants to go see it on their balcony and have a glass of wine and enjoy the ambiance and what’s happening around them. What would we be looking for when we go into a store to buy a bottle of wine?

Brandon Shaw (24:46):
Okay, so there’s a few things. Obviously you walk into a store and there’s hundreds of different wines that you can try. So I think the first thing you want to go, let’s go “Do we want a white wine, do we want a red wine?” And then at that point you’re going to look at a bottle and a few things to look out for it. You can find there’s a few different, it’s called denominations on it. You’ll see it’s a DOC, DOCG and IGT. These are the three of them. And again, I won’t get too far into it, but what Italy had to do around 50 years ago is they wanted to protect certain wines. So for example, if you want, so you said you were in the Chianti region, right? And so you want Chianti great. So if you’re going to get a Chianti, you know that it’s going to be written there – DOCG which means that it’s produced in a very special place. There’s no grapes brought from outside and it’s put in the barrel for a certain amount of time. It’s put in the bottle for a certain amount of time. And so the quality is going to be assured, let’s say it like that. So I would go either with a DOCG wine, a DOC or an IGT. Does that make sense?

Katy (26:01):
Yes, it does. And then obviously go with the region that you’re interested in as well. So how much would we pay for a bottle of wine? What are the price ranges?

Brandon Shaw (26:13):
I think to get a decent bottle of wine, between 8 to 15 euros and you should get a a very good wine. Well, no, obviously it depends on the wine you get because if you want to get a Brunello, then Brunello for 15 euros is not going to be possible. Brunello will be more like 30 to 40 euros range. If you want a Barolo as well. Again, 30 to 40 range. But the majority of wines that are really good you can get between 8 to 15 euros.

Katy (26:49):
it’s so well priced really. And in a restaurant if you were buying a branded name rather than a house one it’s probably a little bit more expensive than that. Right?

Brandon Shaw (27:01):
20 to 30 I think between 20 and 30 euros you can get a good bottle. So in the United States they mark up the wines sometimes three times, three to four times even. But in Italy, usually it’s marked up maybe twice. Just because Italians know the wine so much. You could only mark it up a certain amount. Or else Italians wouldn’t buy the wine in a restaurant.

Katy (27:23):
It’s nice. So civilized, isn’t it?

Brandon Shaw (27:24):
I mean, this is why it was hard for, it’s hard once you move there, it’s hard to leave after.

Katy (27:33):
I know. I can imagine. Right. So I guess, so for our readers or listeners who have a bit more experience in wine, can you recommend a few up and coming areas and varieties that we should look for?

Brandon Shaw (27:46):
Well, one of them would be Franciacorta, that’s for sure. So the region is Lombardia. It’s where Milan is, in that area, like you said, and Brescia. And if you haven’t tried Franciacorta, I highly recommend that. It’s a very well produced champagne method wine. Definitely try it. Absolutely. So if you want, I can kind of maybe start up top geographically and work my way down so we can take a long time. Katy, you know, we should open up a bottle together to really discuss this but I’ll start, I’ll start from the top to make it easier. So, you know, now we’re in Northern Italy, so let’s start in Piemonte. So Piemonte is right at the beginning of the Alps. And so in this area you have some of the most storied wines, so Barbera, Barolo and Barbaresco. So these are very heavy wines. They are very powerful wines. They can last 15 to 20 years at least sometimes, if not longer. And they’re made from the Nebbiolo grape. So this is what I was telling you before, where the actual grape variety is not always used on the bottle, but people will say, “Hey, I want to Barolo, hey I want Barbera, I want Barbaresco and people that know that that’s usually made from this grape or from that grape. So we would start up there and I was just there last year. It’s a beautiful area. It’s also not got many tourists. I wouldn’t say it’s a well-trodden area of tourists that go there. So if somebody has a little bit of experience, they’ve maybe been to Tuscany already and they want to try something different, definitely go to Piemonte. It’s a beautiful wine region and there are excellent wines to drink.

Brandon Shaw (29:39):
So then we move our way over east to the Veneto area. Okay. Where Venice is. So Venice of course, has the Amarone around that area I was telling you about. It’s made from many different grape varieties, kind of Chateauneuf de Pape. It’s a very thick, heavy wine. It’s extremely good. A little more on the sweeter side because this is one of those wines that the grapes are left on to dry. So it’s almost crushed like raisins and it’s just a very thick, just explosion of flavor inside your mouth. It’s amazing. Next to there you have the Prosecco area. So Katy, you know, one of your favorite wines is the Prosecco. I have a really funny story, I’ll tell you, just share with you real fast and it has to do with Australia. So I was in the Prosecco wine area and we’re driving down, this is 20 years ago.

Brandon Shaw (30:24):
So the Prosecco area is very lush area, lots of little forests and there’s a big major wine road. And as we’re driving down the road, we see a sign at one of the wineries and it says “Australian spoken here”. And so we were like, what does that mean? We have to go see what that is. So we walk, we pull up, and meet an older gentleman who meets us outside. It’s the owner of the winery and we’re speaking to him in Italian and we try some Prosecco. And then I, at one point I say, “listen, I’m sorry, can you say what does that mean, the sign?” And he’s like, “Oh, I’m from Australia.” And I said, “Oh, I’m from America.” And then he busts out with this perfect Australian accent in English. And I was just shocked. And that’s how I learned that a lot of Italian immigrants moved to Australia and his family had, and then he moved back a long time after that. So it’s a funny little story, but I learned a little bit about Australia.

Katy (31:18):
We have a wine region right near here in Melbourne where I’m based and it’s called the King Valley and they make some amazing Prosecco there. So we’ve definitely imported some of the techniques.

Brandon Shaw (31:33):
Yeah. Yeah. But Prosecco is easy. Light wine. I was just fascinated to find an Australian in the middle of like an Italian wine region. So another interesting area that a lot of people don’t know about or don’t know a lot about is Umbria. It’s a very nice area and it’s so everybody goes to Tuscany because of course Tuscany is beautiful. It’s amazing. You have the Chianti, Super Tuscans, Brunello wine. But right next to Tuscany, you have a smaller region and it’s called Umbria and it has some really amazing wine. And it has the same beautiful landscapes you can find in Tuscany and you get some really good wine like a Sagrantino di Montefalco, which is a very strong wine, like a bold wine. So it’s similar to a Cabernet. You have, if you like white wine, an Orvieto wine, which is named after the city, which is kind of perched up on a hillside. You have Torgiano, which is a DOCG. So it’s a very controlled quality wine. It’s something a little bit different. It’s also much cheaper than in Tuscany because Tuscany has been a little bit more invaded with tourists. While Umbria is like the quieter cousin, I guess you could say. So you could stay out there for a week and rent a villa. It would probably cost half the amount and you can still enjoy amazing food, amazing views and amazing wine of course.

Katy (33:00):
Well we’re, going there for a few days in April actually. So,

Brandon Shaw (33:05):
Oh, let’s see. Perfect, perfect. Where are you going?

Katy (33:10):
Perugia actually. And I was in Orvieto for a day last year, but I have to agree with you. It’s such an amazing, beautiful area and it is relatively untouched actually. It’s lovely.

Brandon Shaw (33:26):
Yeah. It’s not too wild west like, so I say that because you still have some areas in Italy which are a little bit more difficult to navigate. For example, if you go to Calabria or you go to Basilicata, or even Puglia certain areas in Puglia, you know, you have great wines down there as well, but it’s just more difficult to get around. Most people don’t speak English and so it can be a little bit more difficult. Less tourist friendly maybe. I guess it’s still a little bit, it’s not touched as much by tourism, but it’s a little bit easier to navigate.

Katy (34:02):
Okay. And so how about the wines in Puglia? What can we expect down there?

Brandon Shaw (34:07):
It’s my favorite. I don’t usually give favorites, but it is my favorite because my favorite wine is primitivo. And it’s in Puglia that I have my vineyard. We always joke that living in Rome for so many years and it’s a big city, you go to Puglia and everything tastes better, cheese tastes better, the tomatoes tastes better, the fruits taste better, everything just is better down South. And Puglia is a very big region, so you have a lot of different areas, but you know, now you’re in the South. And so primitivo is made in a place called Manduria, which has similar conditions to Africa. So you have these huge, massive fields, very flat, no mountains around. It’s a reddish soil. And it doesn’t rain very much. So it produces these hugely bold, massive explosion of flavor bursts in your mouth and it’s very high alcohol content andit’s just great. It’s the type of wine that I like. So expect powerful, strong wine, with lots of fruits, lots of flavor and it’s not expensive.

Katy (35:21):
Oh you’ve got to love that. But where it’s the nearest town to that region Brandon ?

Brandon Shaw (35:30):
So you have Bari and Brindisi and Taranto. These are the three main, I guess cities, city areas around there. But I would definitely recommend not to stay in the cities. I would go into the countryside. So a beautiful little town is, Cisternino. It’s a beautiful little town all in white and right in the outside of there, it’s all just vineyards and olive oil. That’s all they do in that area of Puglia. You have the sea not far away. You have vineyards and you have actually very old olive trees up to 500 years old, massive olive trees. So the olive oil is great. The food’s great, the wines. Great. Katy, this is what you want.

Katy (36:29):
Well, I’m very excited. I’m going to change my whole itinerary now!

Brandon Shaw (36:33):
If you go, please let me know in advance and I will guide you exactly where you need to go when you’re there

Katy (36:39):
I appreciate that. Alright, Brandon, this has been such a fantastic introduction to Italian wine. I’m getting very excited about my trip coming up and I’m sure others are doing the same. Just so we can wrap it up here, I just wanted to ask you if you could tell us a bit more about the tours that you offer in Tuscany and I think it’s Umbria, isn’t it?

Brandon Shaw (37:05):
Yes. We offer a private tour in Umbria and Tuscany. We offer mostly wine tours. We just started another wine tour that actually also goes to San Gimignano, which is a little tiny town. It’s called the Manhattan of Tuscany because it has all these medieval towers that kind of go up all over the city. We go to Siena, which of course is famous during the middle ages for the horse races, which they still do today. And we visit wineries. We have around three different wineries that we can visit down there. Plus we have another winery we go to, which is a little bit off the charts in Chianti area. And then for those that are really adventurous and don’t have a lot of time and have a little bit extra money to spend, we do helicopter trips from Rome up to Tuscany. And there we go to the Montalcino part of Tuscany where the Brunello wine is produced and it’s just, it’s fabulous. It’s amazing.

Brandon Shaw (38:07):
That sounds like the ultimate adventure that I would love to go on one day. Yes, for sure. Amazing. Okay, so grazie mille. Thank you so much Brandon, for joining us on the podcast and getting us up to speed on Italian wine. I know many of our listeners are excited to go to Italy and discover the amazing Italian wines and also join your fun tours. I know I always love them when I go on them. What I’ll do is I’ll put the links to the tours and the information that you’ve given us on to our podcast site and our website. And, thanks once again, it’s just been really fantastic. Appreciate it.

Brandon Shaw (38:47):
Thank you. We are ready to help in any way we can – with tours, with wine, with food. It’s the best things in life.

Katy (38:54):
It really is. Thanks Brandon.

Brandon Shaw (38:57):
Thanks Katy.

Katy (38:58):
We really hope you enjoyed our talk on all things wine with Brandon. If you’d like to know more about the Tour Guy and the Roman Guy, head on over to the show notes at Untold Italy episode 13 where you can access a full transcript of our conversation and get details of the wines and tours mentioned. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, we would really appreciate it if you gave us a beautiful review. Thanks so much for listening and we’ll be back next time with another virtual trip to Bella Italia. Ciao for now.

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