In this Wild and Wonderful wine backwater, I am hailed by many of my friends (?) as THE West Virginia wino. So it always comes as a shock when folks consider me an expert. This aversion to any type of recognition is probably the result of my Catholic school education, where guilt was the only attribute held in higher esteem than humility.
Anyway, several years ago I was introduced, by the overly exuberant host at a wine dinner, as a connoisseur and a gourmet. After smiling uncomfortably and bumbling through the event, I quickly excused myself and rushed to the nearest dictionary to find out just how those terms are defined by Mr. Webster. Webster’s New World Dictionary defines connoisseur as “one who has expert knowledge and keen discrimination, especially in the fine arts.” A gourmet is described as “one who likes and is an excellent judge of fine foods and drinks.“ In looking up ‘gourmet,’ I spotted the word ‘gourmand’ right above it in the dictionary and quickly decided that term more accurately describes my approach to eating and drinking.
A gourmand is defined as…
Ask an Italian what wine they consider to be best, and they will invariably point to a winery down the street or to a vineyard on the hillside adjacent to their village. This is a country around which wine and food are the central components of everyday life, and citizens are justifiably proud of what is grown in the fertile soil of this ancient land.
As a wine-stained graduate of Whatsamatta U, I am understandably partial to the vino made in Italy. As a matter of fact, what I love most about Italian wine is its tremendous diversity. Within the geographic confines of its 20 states, Italy produces a virtual sea of wine from a dizzying array of grapes. The most famous wine states are Tuscany in north-central Italy and Piedmont in the northwest. In Tuscany, the great wines of Brunello di Montalcino and Ornellaia share the stage with the ubiquitous Chianti, and whites such as Vernaccia Di San Gimignano. In Piedmont, the prestigious vines of Barolo and Barbaresco (made from the Nebbiolo grape) reign supreme, and are joined by Barbera and Merlot along with crisp whites such as Arneis and Cortese Di Gavi. Both of these regions are in the northern part of the country where the wine produced is considered to be the best.