Author: Randy Hamilton, CSW
When we think of Italian wine, our minds often turn to prestigious styles like Chianti, Barolo, or Brunello di Montalcino wines. But there’s another side to Italian wine that’s equally intriguing and worth exploring – “Vino de Tavola” or Italian table wine.
Italian table wine lacks the prestige of specific regions and vineyards. This is when negative assumptions start to emerge. Many mistakenly assume that it’s subpar or inferior in quality. However, for an adventurous wine enthusiast who enjoys exploring less-traveled paths, Italian table wine is more than just an afterthought.
The connection between local restaurateurs and nearby vineyards is what sets Italian table wine apart. These unassuming wines are a tribute to this bond, devoid of extravagant labels and hefty price tags, yet possessing a unique charm all their own.
Local restaurateurs know the secret sauce to make Italian table wine shine. They have personal relationships with nearby wine producers who craft wines tailored to suit the tastes of the locals. This close partnership ensures that the wine served on the tables is, as it turns out, nothing short of spectacular.
During a vacation of a lifetime, I was so lucky to visit the ancient town of Taormina on the Italian Island of Sicily. It was here that I experienced the surprise delight of table wine. At lunch, in a small quaint restaurant, Kuttigghiu, slightly off the beaten path, I ordered a red table wine to pair with my dish (I was so taken with the wine, I have completely forgotten what the dish was even though it was fantastic in own right). What I got was a bright ruby-colored wine with a slightly transparent appearance, reminiscent of a cool climate Pinot Noir. It had a youthful and exciting palate when I tasted it – fruity, bold, and slightly tart.
This beautiful wine had the flavor I crave in a red wine. It was highly acidic and tannic with cherry, raspberry, and even a little strawberry coming through. I harken it to my childhood favorite candy, the cherry Jolly Rancher. My guess was that it was Frappato, but to my surprise, it turned out to be a Nero D’Avola. Everything about this specific wine was different than the norms for a Nero D’Avola. Nero is typically darker and more concentrated in color. Imagine ripe black cherries, plump blackberries, and a hint of plum – Nero is usually like a basket of dark, juicy fruits. It is even referred to sometimes as the “Sicilian Shiraz”. This Nero I was experiencing did not resemble a Shiraz in any way.
Maybe it was the location and the company of friends and family that influenced my fondness for this table wine. Perhaps knowing I could never purchase this wine at home, and I’ll likely never have it again, made it even more memorable. It will always remain in my memory as the best Italian wine I’ve ever had, and it was just a table wine.