There’s a strange phenomenon in the world of Italian wine.
While we all know that the country creates hundreds of amazing wines, there’s always a particular type of wine that seems to get just a little more respect than the rest.
We are talking, of course, about red wine.
For some reason, these are the types of wines that people think of when they imagine the best of Italy. And that should come as no surprise with the likes of Barolo, Chianti, Tignanello, and so many others vying for the hearts and money of wine lovers everywhere.
However, this belief that red wine is always somehow better can also give rise to a misconception.
With so much praise being lavished on the best red wines that Italy has to offer, you may make the mistake of thinking that all Italian red wines deserve praise.
Unfortunately, that isn’t the case.
As with any industry, there are products that deserve to be lavished with praise and products that perhaps don’t reach the level of quality that you would hope them to.
Your big task comes from separating the quality products from the also-rans.
This is especially the case when you’re buying one of the lesser-known Italian red wines. In these circumstances, you can’t rely on the type of wine alone to guarantee quality. You’ve got to be able to sniff out a good wine based on what you can learn from the bottle.
And that’s where this article comes in.
To answer the question we posed at the top of the piece, no you do not need to praise every Italian red wine. And by looking for these signs of a low-quality wine, you will also know exactly which reds to avoid.
Sign #1 – Search for Balance
There are four key components that make up any bottle of Italian red wine:
The great task of the winemaker is to incorporate all four of these qualities in a balanced way. A wine that is too sweet may lose some of the complexity that red wines are known for. Too much acidity can make the wine taste off, whereas too little will leave it feeling flat and lifeless.
Balance is the key.
How do you know a red wine has achieved balance?
It occurs when none of these four components sticks out from the rest.
For example, a wine that makes you wince as though you’ve just drank something sour is out of balance because its acidity is too high. Conversely, if a wine makes you feel like you’re drinking a spirit, that means the alcohol level is higher than it needs to be.
Balance is one of those intangible things that you can’t perfectly place a finger on. You just know that it isn’t there when you taste the wine. If something feels a little off with your red wine, this suggests that the producer didn’t do enough to achieve balance.
Sign #2 – A Low-Quality Label
Pride is a defining factor of many Italian red wines. The great producers absolutely adore the wines that they create. They take great pride in crafting drinks that they know people will love. And that pride extends to how they present the drinks to consumers.
This is why the label is something to look out for when you’re trying to determine if a red wine isn’t as good as you hope it to be.
A slapdash label suggests that the winemaker takes very little pride in their product. This is an anomaly in Italy, with that lack of pride suggesting that the wine isn’t very good. Look for labels that provide as little information as possible. These labels tell you that the winemaker isn’t especially keen on you knowing who they are, which is another sign that the wine they produce isn’t particularly good.
The best wines have no problem telling you everything.
You’ll be able to learn the grape variety, origin, and age just by scanning the label. The producer may have even inserted a little blurb telling you more about themselves and what they do. A good label tells you everything you need to know about the wine, without making you feel like you need to go away and do extra research to figure out where the wine came from.
Sign #3 – Good Length
Length is one of those confusing Italian wine terms that you may hear a lot without really knowing what it is.
The length is all about how the wine feels on the tongue.
A quality Italian red wine will have a long length. This means it will feel like the wine stimulates every area of the tongue. You will experience different notes of sweetness, bitterness, and everything in between, creating a complex blend of flavours that remain dancing around your tongue even after you have swallowed.
A short wine doesn’t have that effect.
Instead, you’re likely to experience a more intense flavour in one area, such as a high level of sweetness, with not a lot more going on elsewhere. It almost feels like the wine is incomplete, having stopped short before you’ve had the full experience of tasting it.
We can extend this concept to talking about the wine’s finish.
The finish is the impression a red wine leaves in your mouth. We can also call this the aftertaste. And it’s in the finish that elements of imbalance will really come into play. For example, a hot finish tells you that a wine has too much alcohol. Too bitter and the wine is too heavy in tannins.
The Final Word
There are some signs that a red wine may not be of high quality on the label. A particularly shoddy label tells you that a wine should probably be avoided.
Beyond that, it all comes down to what you detect when you taste the wine.
Length and balance are both key to creating an Italian red wine that deserves praise. If either is off, the wine doesn’t deserve praise when there are so many better examples out there.
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