12/03/2012 12:13 EST | Updated 02/02/2013 05:12 EST

Best Italian Wine for the Holidays


There are several different wine-making regions across the globe, with new "hot" areas popping-up all the time -- even in Canada. But if numbers tell us anything, it's that we like our classics, our tried and true, our comforting favourites; and a lot of that comes from Italy.

Italy is one of the world's leaders in the production of wine. In 2012 the production was estimated at 40.8 million hectolitres (4.080 billion litres) on a total area of 650,000 hectares (approx. 1.62 million acres) of land. According to 2011 data, Italy exported €4.4 billion worth of wine, or the equivalent to 2.35 billion litres. Around three per cent of that quantity (or 5.8 per cent of the dollar value) came to Canada.

Italy has the largest biodiversity when it comes to grape varieties with 355 autochthonous varieties, more than any other country in the world.

But why so popular with us?

Quality of life combined with the role that food and wine play in everyday lives is rich in Italian tradition. In these parts of the world, we work to live and we look upon the Italian way of life in awe and envy.

We've also seen the rise in finer Italian eateries over the last several years. The food and wine are delicious, we can (sort of) recreate an Italian dining experience at home, and maybe -- just maybe -- we can chalk some of it up to us being good boys and girls and following a healthy Mediterranean diet.

On the other hand, maybe it's the power of PR. Italy has inspired writers to gush about everything from tourism to romance to luxury vehicles. In turn the fruits of their written labour have helped Italian trade grow.

Italy holds the largest number of food specialties under the DOP (designation of origins protected). Meaning all those succulent Italian cured meats, knee-buckling cheeses, juicy and salty (yet healthy!) olives, among so many other delicacies are carefully governed. Only the superior are shared with the public; each unique from its originating region and labelled to indicate so.

As Italy prides itself on exceptional wines, this careful governing applies here too. Italy has 517 different wine designations, 317 are called DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata or controlled designation of origin), 70 DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita or controlled designation of origin guaranteed) and 118 IGP/IPG (Indicazione Geografica Protetta or protected geographical indication). In short, all of these designations identify the regions, the makers and ensure excellent quality assurance.

The Italian Trade Commission recently held wine tasting events across Canada -- in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal. With more than 450 wines from 79 different winemaking regions, the events drew more than 3,300 attendees comprised of sommeliers, restauranteurs, hospitality workers, wine writers and wine agents. This is one of the biggest wine tasting events in the world, which helps tell you how serious this craft is for the country.

As the holidays approach, why not bring some Italian tradition to your table?

Here are some favourites from the region that you can pick up at your local liquor store (in Ontario at the LCBO):

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Gifts For The Boozehound

Brachetto d'Acqui a red is a pleasantly sweet sparkling wine from Piedmont. It has aromas of wild strawberry and fruit berries and is excellent with Panettone or other light desserts.

Available in Ontario at VINTAGES

• Brachetto D'Acqui (Corte Dei Balbi Soprani) -- $16.95

Vin Santo and Passito di Pantelleria are dessert wines served best with Tuscan cantuccini biscotti or simply on their own after a meal.

Available in Ontario at VINTAGES

• Castellani Sommavite Santovino -- $10.95

• Ruffino Serelle Vin Santo Del Chianti 2008 -- $24.95

• Sorelli Vinsanto Del Chianti Classico 2003 -- $25.95

• Donnafugata Ben Ryé Passito Di Pantelleria 2008 -- $34.95

• Pellegrino Pantelleria Passito Liquorso 2010 -- $17.95

Prosecco is the perfect start to any party -- informal or formal -- and is served best either alone or with small appetizers

Available in Ontario at LCBO:

• Blu Giovello Prosecco -- $15.75

• Bottega Gold Sparkling Prosecco -- $22.95

• Bottega Vino De Poeti Prosecco DOC -- $13.00

• Il Prosecco -- $11.65

• Val D'Oca Prosecco DOCG -- $14.60

• Villa Sandi Prosecco DOC -- $14.15

• Zonin Prosecco Brut 1821 DOC -- $13.95

For hearty meals or courses with bold flavours, here are some delicious reds:

• Fontella Chianti DOCG -- $11.95

• Castellare di Castellina Chianti Classico DOCG -- $18.05

• Zonin Ripasso Valpolicella Superiore DOC -- $15.10

• Zonin Amarone Della Valpolicella DOC -- $35.30

• Umberto Fiore Barbaresco DOCG -- $15.95

• Barolo Vinum Vitae Est DOCG -- $24.00

For appetizers and salad courses, here are some crisp whites:

• VOGA Pinot Grigio IGT -- $13.80

• Masi Modello Delle Venezie Bianco IGT-- $10.95

• Masi Masianco Pinot Grigio & Verduzzo IGT -- $14.95

• Tommasi Le Rosse Pinot Grigio IGT -- $14.95

It's always great to speak to a consultant at your local liquor store before choosing your wines. They can expertly guide you to the best pairings and can help you select the best gift for your host or hostess. In Ontario, ask your local LCBO product consultant for suggestions.