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Enoteca 101: An Easy Guide to Ordering Wine in Italy

Bottle, cheese and glasses of wine

The term enoteca is commonly used to describe a special type of wine shop that allows visitors to buy or taste wines. These establishments were created as a way to spread the local and regional culture of wine, as well as provide a wide selection of various wines for people to sample. Some of these shops work in conjunction with larger wine producers, who can sell their wares in large quantities to people who have tasted their wine at an enoteca.

Wine connoisseurs have benefitted greatly from these establishments by making a variety of wines readily accessible to them. Even novice wine tasters can appreciate going to an enoteca to sample specific wine brands from all across Italy.

If you’re worried about getting your order wrong when visiting one of these places, we’ve prepared a few helpful tips to help you with your wine tasting adventures.

Wine Basics: Reading the Label

You can get a lot of information about the wine you’re drinking from the label alone, and Italian wine is no exception. Wines here are subjected to strict classifications, which tell you which regulations they uphold and where they come from. Entry level wines usually have the label of VdT (Vino da Tavola), whose only requirement is that they be produced somewhere in Italy. The blend of this type of wine does not matter either.

The next step up the classification ladder is IGT (Indicazione di Geografica Tipica), which tells you from which specific region the wine came from while still being open to the type of blend used in its production. Next, the DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) requires that the wine be produced from a specific zone and follows strict regulations. Finally, DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) are made in special DOCG specified zones and follow the strictest of regulations.

It’s interesting to note, however, that the classification of wine does not necessarily mean that they are better the higher up they are on the ladder. Tuscany wines are considered one of the best wines in the country while belonging only to the IGT category.

Know Your Wines

Italian Nebbiolo Red Wine Grapes on the VineEducating yourself on the general types of wines and their names can be very helpful when ordering at an enoteca. Each regional wine has its own distinctive color and flavor, thus giving tasters a good idea of what to look for once you’re familiar with them.

Barolo – These are usually DOCG classified wines and are considered to be of the highest quality. Produced in the northern region of Piedmont, this flavorful red is one of the most expensive wines made in Italy.

Brunello di Montalcino – This DOCG category wine is a top quality product from Tuscany and is highly praised for its full bodied taste. Made entirely from Sangiovese grapes, it is considered  one of the best wines in the region.

Chianti – Another red wine that is native to the region of Tuscany. It is primarily made of Sangiovese grapes that are readily found in the region.

Asti Spumanti – If you aren’t a fan of reds, this sparkling white wine from Piedmont is a good contrast to the red wine produced in that region.

Prosecco – This white wine hails from the northern region of Italy known as Veneto. It is usually a served before dinner to help whet people’s appetites.

Super Tuscans – While this particular wine does not follow any of the strict standards normally found in Tuscany, it can still be considered one of the highest quality wines in the country.

Wine Etiquette Explained

Remember that the origin of the enoteca is a place for people to taste different types of wines, so don’t expect these places to serve a full meal to go with your wine like a regular restaurant. At best, these places can serve some snacks like cheese to complement your wine tasting experience. However, some high quality wine shops and bistro-type restaurants have taken to calling themselves enoteca these days as well. You might want to have a quick peek at their menu to see if they do indeed offer other foodstuff just to be sure.

The actual serving and tasting of wine is not so different from other places around the world. After ordering your choice of wine, the server will approach your table and usually ask you who will have the first taste of the wine. Even if you don’t speak the language, a simple gesture towards the person who will take the first taste is enough to prompt the server to pour the wine. As the taster, it is your obligation to say whether or not the taste of the wine is to your approval. A simple “buono” will signify this, and then you can thank the server for the wine.

If you have to pour the wine yourself, don’t fill it to the brim – halfway or just under it is more than enough for a glass.

Senior couple having dinner in a restaurant, candles on the tabl

Call Ahead

Finally, it’s always a good idea to find out the opening and closing hours of an enoteca you plan on visiting. This way you can more easily schedule your wine sampling excursion. Different establishments have varying hours so make sure to give them a call in advance. If you’re looking for a particular type of wine, you can also find out their availability by phoning ahead.

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By Priscila Siano (266 Posts)

Priscila Siano is the Marketing Director of Tour Italy Now, an online tour operator specializing in Italy travel. She's a respected expert on making dream Italy vacations a reality for clients.

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