Don’t get me wrong, I chose to study abroad in Rome for all the right reasons: I wanted to ride a vespa, eat my weight in gelato, and become Lizzie McGuire. Having said that, there have definitely been some perks that I didn’t initially factor into my location choice. I’ve fallen in love with the language, the people are overwhelmingly friendly, and the city is really just gorgeous. (Fun and completely true aside: On more than one occasion someone has said to me, “You’re a Religion major studying in Rome? You know the Pope lives like right there, right?!” For the record, that one wasn’t a coincidence.) Anyway, one of the biggest cultural differences that I hadn’t anticipated was Italy’s connection to wine.
When I told people last semester that I would be studying in Rome, one of the most common pieces of advice I got was to get nice wine. “You can get good wine for so cheap in Italy,” they said. “It’s worth it to spend a few more euro in order to get a nice bottle,” they said. So naturally, I’ve been buying whatever’s on sale at the grocery store, because a) I spend all my extra money on pastries, and b) I don’t know the first thing about wine.
Luckily, this week Temple ran a wine tasting program, bringing in a professional sommelier to teach us all we could ever want to know about wine. She started by showing us how wine is made, explaining the difference between the production of red, white, and sparkling wines, and teaching us about the proper glasses for each type. Along the way I learned that I’ve been using the word “champagne” incorrectly for my entire life; apparently champagne technically only refers to bubbly wines produced in the Champagne region of France, and everything else is really just sparkling wine (or vino spumante, in Italy). In other words, if you’re ever looking to come off as really pretentious, that’s a great fun fact to pull out at parties.
Then we got to matching wine and food, for which there are two approaches: accordance and opposition. The first strategy, simply put, consists of matching the intensity of the flavors in your wine and your food. That basically boils down to the concept of pairing a flavorful meat with a heavy red wine, as opposed to a blander fish with a lighter white wine. The contrasting approach has more to do with offsetting flavors to create a rounded experience. Salty foods, for example, should be paired with either a sweeter wine or a wine with a higher alcohol content, while fatty food goes better with a bubbly or acidic wine.
Finally, we got to the actual tasting. We were instructed to hold the wine glass by the stem, never the chalice, so as not to accidentally heat up the wine past its intended temperature, and to smell the wine before drinking it (I’m honestly not sure what the point of this is, other than shaming your friends for not being as in-the-know about proper wine drinking etiquette as you are). We tried three different wines—a sparkling, a white, and a red—according to the correct sequence of wine drinking, which is white to red, lowest alcohol content to highest, and youngest to oldest.
Moral of the story: drinking wine is complicated, but rewarding. Also, 12-euro bottles taste a lot better than 1-euro boxed wine.