Home-Baked Sourdough Bread – At Last!

Never would have thought I could obtain these results in my regular oven and without special equipment. But after 11 months of weekly baking, fresh sourdough loaves have become a reliable tradition in our family.

I’ve been thinking of posting my method for a while, but only now feel confident that it’s sufficiently streamlined and repeatable–hence this blog post today!

It all began when my co-worker, Jules, kindly gave me part of her sourdough starter, which came from a restaurateur she knew along with their recipe. Baking bread, though, is very much something that one has to tune to their own equipment, method, and of course liking. Over time, I’ve been refining my technique to the point where I’ve been getting consistent results. But by no means is this the only way to bake bread at home and it can certainly be improved.

First, though, you may be wondering – okay, where do I get my own starter? Well, unfortunately, I can’t really help you with that. It is possible to grow it from scratch, but it’s not easy because it is made of a stable symbiotic mixture of yeast and lactobacilli. My friend Mark Preston describes the process in detail, but as you can read it’s a very difficult route that will take a lot of time (and money!) Instead, I recommend asking a baker if they can sell you a piece of their levain starter – or a piece of their uncooked, unsalted sourdough. Speaking of which, there are different kinds of sourdough, each with a different flavor and level of sourness. I like a very mildly sour sourdough, but more sourness (possibly an acquired taste), is appreciated by many (famous is San Francisco’s sourdough, which also names its bacterial culture).

So, say you were able to get a hold of some good sourdough starter, what should it look like? The starter is made of living microorganisms that need feeding and produce by-products. The metabolic process is slower at low temperatures and accelerates with heat. If kept in the fridge, after 5-7 days your sourdough starter will be hungry–it will look bubbly, may have liquid on the top (left image below), and it will smell a bit like beer.

Ripe sourdough starter ready to be fed (left). Feed consisting of 100 g of strong flour and 100 g of water (right).

If you forget to feed your starter, after a couple of weeks it will start to go bad. It’s possible to rescue a starved starter by repeated splitting and feeding, but sometimes it may be too late. If one knows they’re not going to be able to feed for ten or more days, it’s possible to slow down the starter’s metabolism almost completely by freezing it. However, freezing, just like starvation, causes some damage and the thawed starter will need some repeated splitting and feeding to fully come back to life. If at all possible, I recommend treating your starter like a pet and either taking it on vacation with you or arranging for someone to care for it during your absence.



  • Plastic mixing jar.
  • High precision kitchen scale.
  • Air-tight tub for storing.


  • 100 g starter to be fed.
  • 100 g high-gluten ‘strong’ flour.
  • 100 g regular tap water, or non-carbonated bottled mineral water if your tap water is especially soft, or very chlorinated. The recipe below assumes water at room temperature.


  • Use or dispose of all but 100 g of starter.
  • Mix 100 g flour and 100 g water and stir energetically.
  • Incorporate the 100 g of starter into the mix, stirring from bottom to top.
  • Put the mix in an air-tight container and keep it in the fridge for 5-8 days undisturbed.

Now that your starter has been fed, you are left with some excess starter that is ripe and ready to be used! The instructions below assume you have about 150 g of ripe starter. If you don’t have enough, keep feeding your starter weekly until you have enough feed leftover to bake with.



  • Proving basket. Using a wooden (rattan) banneton is essential to allow the dough to undergo its final slow rise without drying out while forming a “skin” – the beginning of your bread’s crust. I use a 20 cm round basket, similar to this one. If the basket comes with linen lining, the latter can be used to smooth out the basket’s walls. Since I like seeing the basket rings in the final product, I use the lining as a lid during proving.
  • Cast iron casserole, a.k.a. Dutch oven. A 4.7 liters one will work perfectly for the recipe I’m about to describe. A casserole is essential when baking in a standard oven because it creates an enclosed space that fills with steam during baking, allowing the bread to do its final rise and cook through without burning. A double-dutch oven (resting on its shallow pan) or a spun-iron baking cloche can also be used and are preferable to the casserole because they allow easier access.
From left to right: cast-iron casserole, double-Dutch oven, spun-iron baking cloche.
  • Scoring blade (optional), similar to this one. A very sharp paring knife can also be used.
  • Cooling rack (optional). Two wooden spoons placed flat on a cutting board can also be used to support the loaf while it cools down.


NOTE: These quantities make a ~800 g loaf (about 20 cm in diameter, 12 cm tall) that fits in a 4.7 l casserole.

  • 150 g ripe sourdough starter.
  • 150 g strong flour and 150 g water for the first rise.
  • 330 g strong flour and 150 g water for the second rise.
  • 1 tablespoon rice or semolina flour as a coating for the proving basket.

NOTE: The quantities above correspond to a 67% hydration (the ratio between water and flour). Higher hydration (e.g.: 80%) results in a lighter sourdough with a thinner and crunchier crust. However, high hydration also means a stickier dough during preparation which requires a lot of technique! Since I posted this article, I have been practicing increasing hydration to 72% by reducing the amount of flour for the second rise from 330 to 300 g. The improvement is noticeable, but the proportions above still yield a fantastic product that is also very easy to obtain.


NOTE: I’m presenting the slow-rise version of this recipe. It can be shortened by reducing or removing the resting time in the fridge, replacing it with a shorter resting time outside of the fridge (8 hours in the fridge equal to about 1 hour outside of it). However, I should warn you that, for reasons beyond my understanding, slow-risen bread will look and taste better!

Day 1

  • Mix 150 g flour + 150 g water then incorporate 150 g starter and leave out of fridge 4-6 hrs (4 hrs on a hot summer day, 6 hrs in winter). After this time, the mix should look quite bubbly and have roughly doubled in size. Put it in the fridge overnight in an airtight container.
The first rise, before and after.

Day 2

  • In a large mixing bowl, combine 330 g strong flour and 10 g table salt. Then add 150 g water and the risen mix from Day 1. Mix as best as you can in the mixing bowl by using a big spoon (can use a food processor as well for this step.) Let it rest at room temperature for half an hour.
Strong flour and salt are weighed and combined. Then, the risen dough from day 1 is added, along with more water.
  • Place the dough on a stainless steel or stone worktop and knead every half hour for 2 additional hours.
  • Roll the dough onto itself to create surface tension as demonstrated in the video below.
  • Brush the proving basket generously and thoroughly with semolina or rice flour. These are preferable to regular wheat flour as the latter tends to become moist and stick to the basket during proving (a quite unfortunate event!)
  • Put the dough in the basket upside down (seam up), and leave in the fridge for 8 hrs or overnight to prove covered with a towel or linen lid. After this time, the dough should have increased in volume by about 50%.
Sourdough, second rise
The folded dough is placed in a proving basket. Then, after a slow rise at a low temperature, the dough is ready to be baked.

Day 3

  • With the proofing basket still in the fridge, preheat the oven with the cast-iron casserole inside for about 30 mins at 250℃ (480℉).
  • Take the proving basket out of the fridge, and flip it on a sheet of grease-free parchment paper.
  • Score the top with a sharp knife or razor blade. These cuts will expand during cooking allowing excess CO2 to escape and the crust to expand for the final in-oven rise. I like to make one big cut, at least 5 mm (1/4”) deep, and shallower cuts as a decoration. Bread scoring is a difficult and fascinating art, I only lately have started to obtain decent results – don’t be upset if your bread breaks in all the wrong places!
Sourdough scoring
Before baking, the risen sourdough is scored with a sharp blade.
  • Lifting by the parchment paper, place the dough into the super-hot casserole. This operation is easier if using a baking cloche or a double Dutch oven because they have a shallower bottom.
  • Immediately, put the lid on, put the casserole back in the oven, and bake for 40 minutes at 250℃ (480℉).
  • Remove the lid and bake for 10 more minutes lowering the temperature to 230℃ (450℉) if you have a fan oven, or maintaining 250℃ (480℉) otherwise.
Sourdough baking
The sourdough ball is placed in the hot casserole. After baking, the sourdough loaf is ready!
Baking in a double dutch oven
As an easier alternative, the dough can be baked in a cast-iron double-dutch oven (using its deep pan as a lid). The parchment paper is then optional.
  • After baking, lifting by the parchment paper, place the loaf on the wire rack to let it cool for at least half an hour before cutting into it. If the rise was sufficiently uniform, the scoring cuts will have uniformly expanded.
Sourdough cooling
The baked loaf cools down on a wire rack.
  • Allow the proving basket to dry in warm air (I leave mine near the oven as the bread bakes), then brush off the excess flour using a dedicated hard brush. If some of the dough is stuck to it, the basket can be washed in cold water without any detergents and then allowed to air-dry.
Sourdough slice
The resulting sourdough should have a spongy texture.

If things go well, your loaf should be fragrant, slightly chewy, and should have air bubbles of varying sizes trapped in it.

Using flour that is not very strong or mixing in whole-wheat flours will produce smaller, more uniform bubbles and a mealier texture. Small bubbles and a tougher, denser loaf may also result from an under proved or over proved fermentation, or the effect of machine kneading.

Home-Baked Sourdough Bread – At Last!

Total Time: 2 hours

Prep Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

Cook Time: 50 minutes

Home-Baked Sourdough Bread – At Last!


  • 150 g ripe sourdough starter
  • 480 g strong flour
  • 300 g water
  • A generous tablespoon of rice or semolina flour (recommended).


  1. Follow the steps above.

Preserving baked bread

If the loaf is left whole, the crust will provide a natural barrier that will keep the bread fresh for a day. A slightly stale loaf will regain its fragrance if warmed up in the oven, or in a toaster if sliced. If the bread is not going to be consumed within the day, I recommend freezing it in halves or quarters as soon as it has cooled down. Allow the frozen loaf to thaw at room temperature for one hour, or for 5 minutes in the microwave set to the lowest power setting before consuming it.

Other Sourdough Recipes

The recipe I described is very much like a blank canvas! Different kinds of flours can be mixed in (e.g. whole wheat, spelt, sprouted grains), as well as other ingredients added (olives, nuts, dried figs, shredded cheese.) A tablespoon of olive oil will result in a softer loaf that will stay fresh for longer.

Cheese sourdough bread
One of my favorite variations is to add half a cup of shredded sharp cheddar into the last fold!

What about sourdough pizza, pretzels, waffles, donuts? Yes, please! All of those and more are possible and delicious. I’ve been using my coworker Zoe’s pizza recipe with great results, please see below for the instructions. I’ve also experimented with other sourdough preparations, but my results are still inconsistent. I’ll report back when I’ll know more–please continue to send me your recipes!

Zoe’s Sourdough Pizza

  • Ingredients:
    – 30 g mature starter
    – 380 g strong flour
    – 250 ml water
    – 10 g olive oil
    – 10 g salt
  • Mix the starter, the water, and the olive oil together separately first. Whisk together.
  • Add to the flour and the salt.
  • Mix and leave uncovered for an hour or two.
  • Fold it a bit.
  • Cover and leave out of the fridge for ~24hrs.
  • Shape the dough into 2 balls and leave to rise for 2 hrs before cooking.
  • Stretching – it literally falls right out into a pizza shape.
  • Cooking:
    • If using a pizza stone, leave it in the oven for it to heat up slowly to 250℃ (480℉). Slide the stretched dough with toppings onto the stone. Bake for 2-3 minutes, turn it around, bake for another 2 mins.
    • If using a perforated pizza tray, bake for 7-8 minutes at 240℃ (460℉) or until the cheese is bubbly.

Sourdough Breadsticks

Breadsticks, or ‘grissini’ in Italian, are another, quicker, preparation that can make use of a sourdough starter.

  • Ingredients:
    – 150 g mature starter
    – 300 g strong flour
    – 50 g butter, melted
    – 5 g salt
    – 2 g sugar
    – 1 Tbsp rosemary (chopped, optional)
    – 1 tsp dried oregano (optional)
    – 1/4 tsp black pepper (ground, optional)
    – 1 Tbsp milk or beaten egg (optional)
    – 1 Tbsp coarse salt (optional)
  • Feed the starter with 150 g of flour and 150 g of water at room temperature.
  • Let it grow for 3-4 hours outside of the fridge until it almost doubles in volume. Can rest overnight in the fridge if unable to bake on the same day.
  • Add the rest of the flour, the salt, and the sugar, mixing as much as possible in a bowl.
  • Work in the melted butter, then continue kneading by hand on a working surface. If desired, add chopped rosemary, or oregano, and/or black pepper.
  • Divide the dough in half, then in half again, and again until you obtain 8 balls of roughly equal size. Roll them into cylinders.
  • Warm up the oven to 225℃ (430℉).
  • Let the cylinders rest for 10 minutes for the gluten strands to relax, then pull them gently to make them thinner and longer, and cut them in half.
  • Lay the cylinders on a baking sheet previously covered in parchment paper.
  • If desired, brush them with milk or beaten eggs, then sprinkle with coarse salt.
  • Bake for 15 minutes until the tips darken considerably.
bread sticks
Cracked pepper and oregano breadsticks, brushed with milk and sprinkled with coarse salt.

Oven-Roasted Vegetables Stripes

Roasted vegetables are nothing new, but this particular arrangement makes for a truly spectacular dish which can be served as a main course, accompanied with fresh and aged cheese, as well as a side dish.

When I lived with my parents, this preparation was a common Sunday meal feature. However, it didn’t start in my childhood. For some reason, one day my mother started roasting vegetables this way and ever since it has been pretty much her only way. Since the cooked casserole is incredibly beautiful, she would bring it to the table straight from the oven and ask people if they wanted a bit of all the vegetables or if they had their favorites. Since everyone likes potatoes, her casserole would always be generous with the popular tubers.

The striped arrangement, however, is not merely beautiful to see. By keeping the vegetables separate as they cook, each flavor remains distinct and intense. In fact, this dish works best when using vegetables of different flavor profiles and textures, as well as of differing colors. For instance, I decided to pair sweet bell peppers with bitter radicchio, and starchy potatoes with aromatic fennel. But yam, zucchini, eggplants, cabbage, mushrooms, endive, onion, green beans, and shallots can all be used as well.

Why radicchio and fennel?

I chose radicchio and fennel because they also happen to be quite obscure to many of my Canadian friends. They are often even obscure to the superstore cashiers who sometimes ask me what they’re weighing! If you have yet to try them, they’re both a bit of an acquired taste – but I guarantee they’ll quickly grow on you. Radicchio is quite bitter and astringent, but its flavor becomes milder with cooking, especially in the presence of salt. Fennel has a sweet anise-like flavor, though the roasting (and the resulting caramelization) brings out more of a well-rounded umami flavor.

Why pre-roasting?

As you will see, each vegetable is pre-roasted in the pan before going into the oven. This is to equalize cooking times. In the case of starchy vegetables like potatoes, pre-roasting also provides the necessary searing which will keep them separate and crunchy on the outside. The subtle layer of garlic flavoring and the oregano finish, along with the olive oil, all combine to bring the dish together.

Mediterranean Roasted Vegetables Stripes

Yield: 4 servings, or 8 sides

Total Time: 1 hour

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 45 minutes

Mediterranean Roasted Vegetables Stripes


  • 3 medium yellow potatoes, diced uniformly (1/2 inch edge)
  • 1 large fennel (or two small ones), sliced
  • 2 bell peppers (yellow and red), sliced
  • 1 head of radicchio di Chioggia (or 3 of radicchio Trevisano), sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, whole - just for rubbing the pan
  • 1/4 cup of vegetable broth, kept warm
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon oregano (dried or fresh)
  • salt


  1. Gather the ingredients.
  2. Rub a garlic clove, which you have previously cut to expose the pulp, vigorously on a dry, oven-proof casserole. This will give a very subtle garlic flavor to the whole dish.ingredients, potatoes
  3. Pat dry the diced potato with paper towel. Preheat a tablespoon of olive oil in a non-stick pan, roast the potatoes for 5-10 minutes at a high temperature, turning them from time to time to sear them on all sides. Note: don't add any salt at this time to avoid osmosis which would extract water from the potatoes, preventing proper searing. When the potatoes begin to brown, add a bit of salt, then put them in the casserole on one of the long sides (as in the finished dish above).
  4. In the same non-stick pan, roast the fennel for 5 minutes at medium heat. If necessary, add a little more olive oil. While it cooks, add a bit of salt. When the fennel begins to brown, remove it from the pan and lay it in the casserole on the side opposite to the potatoes.fennel, bell pepper
  5. In the same pan, now roast the bell peppers (separating the colors, or together) at medium heat for 5 minutes. If necessary, add a bit more olive oil. Start preheating the oven at 180 °C (350 °F). As the bell peppers cook, add a bit of salt. When the bell peppers begin to soften, add them to the casserole, as a stripe next to the potatoes.
  6. In the same pan, finally, roast the radicchio for a minute or two at medium heat until it starts to soften. Add a bit of salt.radicchio, garlic
  7. Lay the radicchio as the final stripe, next to the fennel. Place the casserole in the oven at 180 °C (350 °F) for 45 minutes.
  8. After 30 minutes of cooking, pour in the vegetable broth and sprinkle generously with oregano.casserole, broth

[Thoughts on the Table Transcript] The Italian Wine Culture, with Diana Zahuranec

Last summer, in a podcast episode Diana Zahuranec discussed the differences between Italy and North America in how wine is produced, as well as socially perceived. Diana also went over Piedmont’s native grape varieties and wine appellations. As part of Thoughts on the Table Transcripts, this post contains the textual version of Diana’s episode.


Listen to the original episode


Paolo Rigiroli
Hello and welcome to thoughts on the table, the audio blog on food and food culture. Paolo here back with a recurring guest today, with me is Diana Zahuranec! Hi Diana.
Diana Zahuranec
Hi Paolo, it’s great to be back!
Paolo Rigiroli
I’m super happy to have you back, Diana, people have been commenting on your podcast – one of the most successful podcast [we had] was the one on the mediterranean diet we just had in January, this year.
Diana Zahuranec
Oh, that’s great – yeah.
Paolo Rigiroli
You know, you have this amazing ability to capture Italian culture and describe the Italians better than I would be able to do, being maybe too Italian…
Diana Zahuranec
Well, that must be the anthropologist in me that can observe.
Paolo Rigiroli
Yeah, it’s possible – you’re studying us. That’s what it is. But, anyway, Diana has been living in Italy for 4 years now and she works at Wine Pass, an online magazine on wine in the Piedmont area, correct?
Diana Zahuranec
Yes, it’s exactly correct, it’s in Italian and English, and it’s geared towards wine tourists that are coming to Piedmont.
Paolo Rigiroli
Excellent, and so wine – we can say – is pretty much your job right now, right?
Diana Zahuranec
Pretty much, yes (laughs)
Paolo Rigiroli
Which is fantastic because we finally get on the topic. So, yes, wine is defining of the Italian culture itself and I’d love talking about wine [in this podcast]. But, how did you get to be interested in wine – how did it start?
Diana Zahuranec
Well, my interest in wine naturally started over here, in Italy, because I moved here after college, therefore most of my time in the US I was younger and didn’t actually drink wine. And so I came to Italy, I went to the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo [Piedmont] for a one-year masters program in Food Culture and Communications-
Paolo Rigiroli
That’s the Slow Food university, right?
Diana Zahuranec
Exactly, it’s the Slow Food university. And, during this year-long program, we had a lot of different kinds of classes and many of them would last just a couple of weeks because [we had several professors which] came from all over the world. And several kinds of these classes were tasting classes on salumi, or chocolate, or cheeses and there was also a tasting class on wine.
Paolo Rigiroli
Mhh, pretty tough there! (laughs)
Diana Zahuranec
Yeah (laughs)… “Difficult year” in Italy… And in these tasting classes there were black glasses set up in the classroom – they were opaque of course. Each one had a smell that you could find in a wine. And what we did we smelled these without looking inside and we would write down what we thought the scent was. Whether it was vanilla, or pineapple, or… something. And then we would look and see if we got it right. And it was incredible – the more we did it, after just a couple of lessons we started being able to identify it right away and we could even identify the same smell in the wines. And it was just incredible how much of a difference that made in tasting wines.
Paolo Rigiroli
Diana Zahuranec
Yeah, I don’t like how wine is often a very intimidating drink to people, because just knowing a little bit more about wine […] it makes it so much more enjoyable. And it’s not that difficult. So, that’s how I started getting interested in wine.
Paolo Rigiroli
It’s amazing. And now you work at Wine Pass, so I suppose you have been continuing to discover more and more about wine. And tasting more wines?
Diana Zahuranec
Yes, exactly. At Wine Pass I write a lot about the different wines of the region, or wine makers, or we go on itineraries for wine tourists and we write them out, we map them out, tell people where they could eat or buy a bottle of wine, and so forth. And the more I write about this, the more I learn about wines and wine makers in the region, and it’s very interesting. I’m always learning more about wine here.
Paolo Rigiroli
Yeah. I’m very interested to know if there is any differences in wine production between North America and Italy, for what you were able to observe there, in Piedmont.
Diana Zahuranec
There are huge differences! Of course I didn’t actually ever go and visit wineries in Napa, and I don’t know a ton about American wine, but I know a lot more about the differences in the American and Italian culture. And I do know… that a big difference is the size of wineries. In general, the average Piemonte winery is small – it’s a family production. I think that it goes without saying for all of Italy that a lot of the wineries here are small. You can consider a big winery to make about maybe 500 thousand bottles a year, and a really big one maybe a million bottles in a year, whereas in the United States a big winery could make several million cases, and in a case are 12 bottles of wine! So that’s a huge difference.
Paolo Rigiroli
I see, I see, so the size… Which I suppose goes with the size of the territory.
Diana Zahuranec
Yes, it does, definitely. And so that kind of gives a difference in the mentality. Because if you’re a small winery, you’re doing all the work, you’re doing everything. From the wine-making, you’re in the cellar, you’re in the vineyard. You are producing the wine, and you are promoting it too – you’re inviting guests into the wineries, so you’re doing everything. Whereas these big wineries [in the US] are great at accommodating people and making a profit off of it… because they can charge people when they come in and taste wines. These wineries in Italy, I can think of maybe one that would charge you to actually go on a tour…
Paolo Rigiroli
Well, I guess they’re proud of it. And they’re not used to having too many visitors as well, I suppose. It’s their family business. So, it’s not just a job – they will take you through and show you everything. As oppose to, you know, you [meeting] the public relations representative for the company. And maybe tours are one of the services offered – whether it’s for money or not – but it’s still just your job – right?
Diana Zahuranec
Exactly, exactly. There’s a lot of passion. It’s their life. It’s what they do all year round, all the time.
Paolo Rigiroli
Yeah, I remember my experience about Piedmont and wine is [that] my dad used to order wine from Piedmont, a place called Lu [in the Monferrato region] – a very small town. This maker was extremely small, and I remember every year we would go and he would order the wine and then he would get it shipped and then he would bottle it himself in my grandma’s basement. And, me and my brother, which we were like 8 and 4, were there to help bottling the wine. Which may sound crazy to North Americans… that kids are involved in the production… But that’s the thing – kids don’t like wine because it’s kind of an acquired taste and we were never interested… But, going back to Piedmont, I remember visiting this production and particularly the cellars – this super cool, dark place, and cool in temperature too – it was like, maybe 16 Celsius? – And then they would get a little bit of wine out of these kegs and pour it in a nice glass, and bring it upstairs, to taste it on the kitchen’s table. And this is how my dad would choose which wines to order.
Diana Zahuranec
Ohh, that’s so nice!
Paolo Rigiroli
Yeah. It was fantastic, that’s still my memory. So I’m imagining that this scales to the entire region, pretty much…
Diana Zahuranec
Paolo Rigiroli
And, what about the process itself… the actual production. Do you know of any differences, on the technical side?
Diana Zahuranec
I don’t know a lot about the technical processes of winemaking, in the two different countries, but I do know that California uses a lot of water and irrigation, whereas in Piedmont they don’t, it’s a lot of dry cropping. As of maybe two years ago, I think, they allowed certain regions to use water in extreme droughts… but I know that in general they don’t use irrigation at all. They kind of look at [irrigation] as “forcing the plant”, you know, it’s not its natural habitat, you’re forcing it to drink water when nature wouldn’t give it to it.
Paolo Rigiroli
Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Diana Zahuranec
And actually this is another thing that is different between here and the US, as much as I know. This goes hand in hand with their practices in the field, which are very often organic, but not actually certified. They’re organic and they are sustainable, but they’re not certified. Because they do it out of respect for the vine and for the vineyard, they don’t try to find loopholes in organic [food] certification where they can use a little bit of one chemical, or not, but they really try not to use any chemicals at all, many winemakers don’t. So this is good news…
Paolo Rigiroli
Yes, absolutely and I noticed this in general, in Italy and Italian products, ‘organic’ (or “agricoltura biologica” as they say) is present and you can find it even in supermarkets, there’s a section on organic food, but it’s not as trendy as it is here.
Diana Zahuranec
Paolo Rigiroli
I think that in general the consensus is that there isn’t much difference with respect to regular produce and there certainly isn’t much [difference] in flavor in Italy, I find.
Diana Zahuranec
Oh, no. No, there’s not a difference in flavor at all.
Paolo Rigiroli
Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Diana Zahuranec
Actually, the organic might even be not less flavorful, but “older” because people don’t really buy it and so the products get old quickly.
Paolo Rigiroli
Exactly. Not as fresh. Yeah. What about instead the differences in culture? What is your experience with that? How do you see Italians relate to wine?
Diana Zahuranec
Yes, that’s a very big difference from the US and Italy because wine is really a part of [the Italian’s] daily life and it always has been.
Paolo Rigiroli
Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Diana Zahuranec
Even a glass of wine at lunch time is not looked down upon and it’s always drunk with food. It’s not really this special drink for only special people during parties or other holidays, but it’s an everyday drink that you have with your food. The difference with that in the U.S. is that I see often in movies or television shows or pictures on Instagram, for example, people will have their full glass of wine by their computer as they work.
Paolo Rigiroli
Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Diana Zahuranec
Or they’ll have one right as they come home from work to unwind and de-stress and it’s seen … To an Italian, I think that would be like taking it out of its context. I’m not saying it’s bad to drink it like that, but it doesn’t make sense to an Italian to drink it like that. It makes sense to drink wine with food. It’s part of the meal.
Paolo Rigiroli
Yeah, appreciation of food itself is to have it with a little bit of wine and pair it. If you’re having fish, of course you’re going to prefer a white wine and red wine will go, of course, with meats and cheeses, especially hard cheeses.
Diana Zahuranec
Yes. And a lot of the times these reds, or these white wines, if you have it without food, it just isn’t the same. Piedmont is famous for having very tannic wines.
Paolo Rigiroli
Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Diana Zahuranec
Which is tannins are that feeling on your tongue of having a dry wine. It can get a little bit tiring on your palate if you just keep drinking wine after wine.
Paolo Rigiroli
Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Diana Zahuranec
Which I’ve noticed at different tastings with Nebbiolo, [which] is one in particular that’s very tannic. We can talk about that later, but… If you just drink this wine without having any food with it, you miss out on a lot of flavors and a lot of the enjoyment because… it’s just too much to handle, basically.
Paolo Rigiroli
Paolo Rigiroli
We already mentioned that you are based in Piedmont, of course, and Nebbiolo is one of the wines that you have been tasting. Would you say that that’s one of your favorites?
Diana Zahuranec
It is definitely my favorite. The favorite. It makes… several famous wines that come from Piedmont, such as Barolo and Barbaresco. But it also makes a lot of other wines, always from Piedmont, such as a Langhe Nebbiolo, there’s a Roero Nebbiolo, or different Nebbiolos from Alto Piemonte, like Boca, and Ghemme, and Gattinara.
Paolo Rigiroli
Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Diana Zahuranec
There’s so many, and every time you taste them, even though it’s 100% Nebbiolo grape, they all taste different.
Paolo Rigiroli
Diana Zahuranec
They all have a very different profile, and it’s so interesting and I just love Nebbiolo. Never disappoints.
Paolo Rigiroli
All these wines are based on the same grape and they’re just aged in different ways to achieve a different product, a different wine that is a different denomination, correct?
Diana Zahuranec
Right. Or maybe people would understand more appellation? I don’t which one is used more, but that’s right. Although the differences come also from the soil or altitude.
Paolo Rigiroli
Right. Nebbiolo itself is also an appellation. It’s not just the name of a grape.
Diana Zahuranec
Paolo Rigiroli
It’s also one of my favorites, by the way. I do like that family of wines as well. I don’t like wines that are too mellow. I don’t know, if I can describe that…
Diana Zahuranec
Yeah, it’s definitely … No, it’s definitely not a mellow wine. They’re very… At the same time, they’re elegant and powerful.
Paolo Rigiroli
Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Diana Zahuranec
It’s hard to explain that unless you actually drink it and understand how the wine is. It’s a really great wine.
Paolo Rigiroli
Yeah, and [about] Nebbiolo, also there’s a curiosity about the name, which I happen to know. I’m sure you want to talk about it.
Diana Zahuranec
Sure. Yeah, Nebbiolo comes from the word ‘nebbia’, which means fog in Italian and it takes its name from this because the fog is a big part of the landscape in Piedmont… And Nebbiolo is a late maturing grape that has a very long growing cycle. It’s harvested whenever the mists start to roll in, in the late fall. That’s why it takes it’s name from ‘nebbia’.
Paolo Rigiroli
Fantastic. It’s always fascinating to picture it. When I think of Nebbiolo, I do see the rolling hills covered in fog. It kind of makes it really magic. It’s really cool. What about other grapes in Piedmont?
Diana Zahuranec
Oh, yes. Piedmont has a lot of different native varieties. The big ones (that actually are produced even more than Nebbiolo) are Barbera [and] Dolcetto, two big red grape varieties.
Paolo Rigiroli
Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Diana Zahuranec
White ones are Moscato and Arneis. Then there are lots of others. I mean, tons of these obscure names, especially in the higher hills.
Paolo Rigiroli
Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Diana Zahuranec
But others that you might come across, for red wines are the Verduno Pelaverga.
Diana Zahuranec
And there’s Grignolino, Ruché and Freisa, these are all red wines. And red grape names as well, the wine is named after the grape. For other whites that you may find, there’s Gavi, Erbaluce, Nascetta, and Favorita. And these are all other names that you might find around. I think, Gavi and Erbaluce for the white wines, you will find more commonly abroad than the others, but obviously the Moscato and Arneis and the big names that I’ve already named, you will be able to find those abroad.
Paolo Rigiroli
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Do you have more information on any of these wines? Like Barbera or Dolcetto?
Diana Zahuranec
Yeah, Barbera and Dolcetto are the names of the grapes and then they make a lot of different wines and you’ll find them named after like Barbera d’Alba, Barbera d’Asti. The same thing with Dolcetto and that comes from where they’re made. So ‘d’Alba’ means ‘from Alba’, ‘d’Asti’, ‘from Asti’, which is in the Monferrato, a winemaking region in Piedmont. Dolcetto, for example, you might find Dogliani. It might just be called Dogliani, even though it’s Dolcetto di Dogliani. That’s another place where it’s made, or Dolcetto di Ovada, which is a really great Dolcetto.
Paolo Rigiroli
And all these are wines which are D.O.C., as we say in Italy, so that the denomination of origin is controlled.
Diana Zahuranec
Paolo Rigiroli
Which means that they are certified to be produced from grapes from that particular region that their appellation refers to. Is that correct?
Diana Zahuranec
Exactly. Yes, it also puts some different guarantees on the quality and the time that it’s aged.
Paolo Rigiroli
Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Diana Zahuranec
How many months or in what kind of material it’s aged in, wood or stainless steel. It depends of course on the wine. And then there’s D.O.C.G., which is, you could say one step higher.
Paolo Rigiroli
Diana Zahuranec
And of course you can find wines of great quality that aren’t even certified at all.
Paolo Rigiroli
Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Diana Zahuranec
But this is just a general rule to figure out what those letters mean on the labels.
Paolo Rigiroli
Yeah, absolutely. I think if you’re not familiar with the wine, it’s a good thing to look for the certification because it will give you certain guarantees. Diana, it has been fantastic, of course, talking with you. It’s so fascinating and I wish really to take a tour now in Piedmont and go through all those valleys and try all the wines that you mentioned, because I do know a few of them, but I can’t say that I’m an expert, so I definitely have work to do.
Diana Zahuranec
Oh yeah, you should visit. You’re invited and anyone listening to the podcast is invited to come to Piedmont.
Paolo Rigiroli
Absolutely. You’ll take them around personally.
Diana Zahuranec
Yes (laughs).
Paolo Rigiroli
That’s what Diana is promising you (laughs).
Paolo Rigiroli
So, for you listening, if you have enjoyed this podcast, please do us a favor. Go on iTunes or whichever podcast player you use and subscribe. It really means a lot to us, and if you’re inclined, please leave a review as well on iTunes. Feedback is always welcome. Leave your comments there or on the blog. We’re very happy to hear anything you may have to say and it’s really important to us. Diana, again, thank you so much. It’s been awesome.
Diana Zahuranec
It has been great – thank you.

Truffles Uncovered

I am very excited to announce that I have been invited to participate in a food lit event that will take place in Turin (Piedmont, Italy) this coming September. The event is titled “Turin Epicurean Capital” and will revolve around the universal meaning of food in life – naturally, a topic I feel strongly about.

When the organizer, Lucia Hannau, asked me to write a guest post for the conference’s blog, I immediately thought of truffles, since Piedmont happens to have the best in the world.

I must admit that I didn’t grow up eating truffles – as a child I only experienced a whiff of them in restaurants when a truffle dish was ordered by somebody seated at my table. And I can’t say that I loved it. As an adult, however, I had a chance to rediscover and develop a palate for them. But my love for truffles totally bloomed during my latest trip to Tuscany and Rome. Being truffles season, most restaurants were featuring truffle dishes, so I finally had a chance to try them in different preparations within a short period of time – an amazing experience!

My research for this article has been fascinating, and I managed to answer questions that I have always wondered: what gives truffles their characteristic aroma? Why do people use pigs to find them? When is their harvesting season? I also wondered: can I actually buy them in Vancouver? And the answer to this last question is: yes! I was able to get a gourmet supermarket to special order a single black summer truffle, which is what is in season right now and, luckily for my wallet, one of the most affordable varieties. You can see it showcased in the pappardelle dish above (for which you can check out the recipe at the end of this post).

But what are truffles? They are a unique kind of mushrooms that develop entirely underground, attached to tree roots, and which may be of great commercial interest due to their high demand and relative scarcity.

Summer truffle
Summer truffle

Like their tuber relatives, truffles are dense, rounded masses usually between 1 and 4 inches in diameter. In order to spread their spores, truffles produce pheromones that prompt animals to uncover and eat them – a behavior which has been exploited by truffle hunters who have traditionally made use of pigs to locate them. Particularly, truffles contain androstenone, a steroid also produced by boars when mating. Dogs1 can also be trained to search for truffles, with the advantage that they can be taught not to eat them upon discovery!

Flavor-wise, truffles are an acquired taste, containing several sulfur compounds (e.g.: bis(methylsulfanyl)methane) which may resemble hydrocarbons, and because of the presence of androstenone, which has an unpleasant smell described as woody/musky, to sweaty/urinous2. Even though a portion of the human population is unable to detect it3, there is evidence that repeated exposure to androstenone can cause sensitization4, leading to the conclusion that androstenone largely contributes to making truffles an acquired taste.

Truffles have been known since antiquity, with written evidence as early as in the 4th century BC. The Greek historian Plutarch thought that they were the result of lightning, while the Roman physician Dioscorides classified them as tuberous roots. Rarely mentioned in the Middle Ages, truffles became popular within the high classes during the Renaissance (legends say that they were a favorite of King Francis the 1st of France), and through the 18th and 19th centuries, their prestige kept increasing in high-cuisine.

The "Langhe" region, in Piedmont
The “Langhe” region, in Piedmont

Truffles only grow in very specific climates, in symbiosis with the right host trees. Because of this, they are very hard to cultivate with the most sought after demanding exorbitant prices. Most valuable is the white truffle (Tuber magnatum), especially the one found in the Langhe region (located in the Piedmontese provinces of Asti and Cuneo), but that can also be found in some parts of Tuscany and in central Italy. White truffles grow on the roots of oak, poplar, hazel and beech trees. White truffles mature in the fall, which is when the famous “Fiera del Tartufo” (Truffle Fair) of Alba takes place – a prestigious exhibition and trade show born in 1929 where the best white truffles can sell for over $400 per ounce. White truffles have a pungent, slightly garlicky aroma, and are best appreciated raw, freshly shaved on dishes before serving.

The second most valuable truffle is the black (winter) truffle (Tuber melanosporum), found in the hazelnut and oak forests in the Périgord region of south-western France. These truffles are harvested in fall and winter and have a delicate earthy flavor, which is known to be enhanced by light cooking. Another notable truffle is the Burgundy (Tuber uncinatum), which has an intense hazelnut flavor. It can be found in much of Europe and it is harvested in fall and winter. The Summer truffle (Tuber aestivum), instead, is harvested in the summer – it is molecularly identical to the Burgundy truffle, but has less intense flavor due to environmental factors.

Given the high price that truffles can reach, cooks often make use of truffle oils, pastes, kinds of butter, or even flour. Since oil-soluble bis(methylsulfanyl)methane can be easily synthesized at low cost, truffle-infused products are often completely artificial (also lacking any androstenone flavor, resulting in increased palatability for those who haven’t acquired a liking for it).

Some of the most known dishes using truffle as an ingredient include:

  • Risottos (often together with porcini mushrooms).
  • Various pasta dishes (especially egg pasta, such as tagliatelle, pappardelle or maltagliati, generally along with butter, cream, or mascarpone sauce).
  • Truffle omelets (for a stronger truffle flavor, the uncracked eggs can be kept in an airtight container along with the truffle for a couple of days before use).
  • Paired with Foie Gras.
  • Costolette alla Valdostana (cutlets as made in the Aosta Valley, located in the western Alps).
  • Sauces to pair with meats, including beef tenderloin.

Truffle dishes are often accompanied with medium to full body red wines, sharp enough to cleanse the palate of the sulfurous notes, and aged enough to develop a matching earthiness. E.g.: white truffles with Barolo, Nebbiolo, Barbaresco, or Dolcetto d’Alba; black truffles with Burgundy or Pinot Noir.

As a final remark, please note that the popular “truffle” gelato served as a dessert in pizzerie and restaurants has nothing to do with truffles! It owes its name to its shape and color, which resembles a truffle, and, just like truffles, can be found in white and black varieties:

  • “Tartufo bianco” – (white truffle), consisting in “fior di latte” (cream) and coffee gelato, sprinkled with white chocolate shavings.
  • “Tartufo nero” (black truffle), which consists in chocolate and “fior di latte” gelato, covered in unsweetened cocoa powder.
Pappardelle with Cream and Black Truffle

Yield: 4 servings

Total Time: 20 minutes

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

#Pappardelle with Cream and Black Truffle


  • 280 g (10 oz) fresh or dried egg pasta - I recommend pappardelle (one of the widest cuts), but tagliatelle, or fettuccine can also be used
  • 1 cup light cream (10% fat)
  • 30 g (1 oz) fresh black truffle (a small one)
  • 30 g (1 oz) unsalted butter
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • Nutmeg, salt, and pepper
  • Parmigiano Reggiano, grated (optional)


  1. Bring a large pot of salty water to a boil.
  2. In a skillet, melt the butter at low heat, add the garlic and allow it to soften without browning (upper image).
  3. Remove the garlic, add the cream and bring to a gentle boil. Sprinkle with grated nutmeg, adjust salt and pepper.
  4. Using a sharp grater, grate half of the truffle directly into the skillet; remove from the heat and let rest (lower image).
  5. Cook the pasta for 2-3 minutes (if fresh) or 5-6 minutes (if dried). Then drain it quickly and add it to the skillet with the truffle cream. Toss gently and finish cooking the pasta in the sauce for a couple of minutes.
  6. Using a truffle slicer or a mandolin, thinly slice the rest of the truffle.
  7. Serve the pasta in preheated bowls, and lay 5 or 6 truffle slices on each portion. Optionally, sprinkle with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano.
1 Here is a video on the life of a truffle hunter, and of his dog (http://vimeo.com/62704923).
2 Androstenone belongs to the urinous and musky primary odors (http://chemse.oxfordjournals.org/content/2/4/401.full.pdf+html).
3 Recent studies estimated that only 6% of adults can’t perceive its smell (http://chemse.oxfordjournals.org/content/28/5/423.full).
4 “Sensitization” is the increase of the ability to perceive a given stimulus (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2813372/).

Radicchio Risotto with Parmesan Rind – Yes, it’s Edible!

Part of the spirit of Cucina Povera (the Cuisine of the Poor) is frugality and eating anything that can still be eaten. For some ingredients, this even involves a special preparation or a process to make them more edible. And this is certainly the case with Parmesan rind, which is safe to eat, but too hard to chew.

I grew up in one of those northern Italian families that go through a lot of Parmigiano! It’s almost always sprinkled over pasta dishes and an essential component of risotto. Because of this, in our fridge, in the cheese drawer, there were always a couple of pieces of Parmesan rind which were saved for the next risotto. Parmesan rind can also be used to flavor soups, but in my family, we never used it that way.

For the use in risotto, the rind is added at the beginning of the preparation. As the stock is gradually incorporated, the rind releases flavor, while re-hydrating itself and becoming softer. When using a relatively young Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano (a different cheese, similar in flavor, but aged less), by the time the risotto is cooked, the rind will appear substantially thinned, and will be easy to cut with a knife or even the side of a fork. Although it might be an acquired taste for some, the rind will be absolutely delicious when eaten in small bites, along with the risotto. When using particularly aged Parmigiano Reggiano, instead, the rind will still be quite hard at the end of the cooking – if not chewable, of course, it should be discarded (in this case, the rind will be only used as flavoring).

Parmesan rind can be added to all kinds of risotto, but in the case of a radicchio risotto, it is even more desirable. Radicchio, a vegetable that belongs to the chicory family, has a bitter flavor which is especially pronounced when raw, but also present when cooked. Any bitterness can be dampened by adding some saltiness. Because of this, Parmigiano is a great pairing for radicchio. Some people, however, develop tolerance or even a liking for the bitterness of radicchio. If its bitterness is not a problem, thinly sliced fresh radicchio can be added to the finished risotto as a garnish.

Radicchio Risotto with Parmesan Rind

Yield: 2 servings

Total Time: 25 minutes

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Radicchio Risotto with Parmesan Rind


  • 2/3 cup of Carnaroli rice
  • 3 cups of vegetable or beef stock
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • ½ radicchio, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter
  • 1 glass of white wine (red can also be used for a stronger flavor and for color)
  • ¼ cup of Parmigiano, grated
  • 1 or 2 Parmesan rinds, scraped and washed
  • Some ground black pepper


  1. Bring the stock to a gentle boil in its own saucepan.
  2. Prepare the Parmesan rinds by scraping off the top of the rind, the part that would have been directly exposed to the air (fig. 1).
  3. In a second, larger, saucepan, sauté the onion in 2/3 of the butter until translucent, then add the radicchio and continue cooking at medium heat until softened.
  4. Add the rice and stir at medium heat for a couple of minutes.
  5. Add the wine and the Parmesan rind (fig. 2). Set the timer for 18 minutes.
  6. Keep stirring. When the rice dries out a bit, add some stock and go back to stirring (fig.3).
  7. When the time is up, turn off the heat, add 2/3 the grated Parmesan and the remaining butter (fig. 4). Keep stirring for 1 more minute.
  8. Serve in bowls, sprinkle with the rest of the grated Parmesan, some ground black pepper, and (optionally, if the bitterness of radicchio is appreciated) garnish with fresh thinly-sliced radicchio.

Pomegranate with Grappa

If you’ve only tasted grappa a few times and you found it a bit too dry, you will enjoy this spectacular after-dinner treat of pomegranate seeds soaked in pure grappa.

The sweetness and the tartness of the pomegranate perfectly balance the harshness of the grappa, which becomes sweeter and more palatable. In return, the grappa lends some of its alcohol to the seeds, giving them a pleasant “kick”.

Also known as ‘acquavite’ (“grapevine-water”), grappa was born as an unpretentious liqueur made from the byproduct of winemaking (grape skins, seeds, and stems). By the means of distillation and controlled aging, grappa became a more refined product (pun intended!), at par with other fine spirits. Grappa is popular in all northern Italy, and especially in the northeast, where the city of Bassano del Grappa (60 km from Venice) is home to the prestigious brand Nardini.

Straight grappa is traditionally used as a digestive, although its pronounced dryness makes it an acquired taste for most people. More widely appreciated is the use of grappa as a coffee add-in, called ‘correzione’ (“correction”) by the Italians. A caffe corretto (“corrected coffee”) is a traditional twist to the espresso ritual, an after-dinner favorite as it combines coffee and digestive. Aromatized grappa also targets larger audiences, especially in its fruit-infused varieties, such as blueberry (‘mirtillo’), pear (‘pera’), and pomegranate (‘melograno’).

Pomegranate with Grappa

Yield: 4 shots

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Pomegranate with Grappa


  • 1 pomegranate
  • 2 shots of unflavored grappa


  1. Extract the seeds out of the pomegranate, place them in the shot glasses.
  2. Fully cover them with grappa, let them rest for 15 minutes.
  3. Serve in shot glasses, along with coffee spoons.


Wine and Italy

With over 50 liters per person per year, Italy is one of the largest wine consumers in the world. It goes without saying that wine is deeply entrenched in Italian culture. Wine is standard on the dinner table of every family and it’s generally not seen as a decadent treat, but rather as a noble complement to the meal, at par with bread. And, right next to bread, wine is even “sanctified” by being an important part of the Catholics celebrations.

Even though Italians are exposed to wine from the time they are very young, children are generally not attracted to it. This is partly due to the fact that table wines tend to be an acquired taste, and arguably also because the wine’s appeal is demystified by its wide availability. As a result, generally, there is no need for the law to regulate wine commercialization or consumption based on age. Anybody can buy wine (or any other type of alcohol, for that matter) in regular grocery shops and supermarkets. The young generations, however, are nowadays getting more and more attracted to wine in a phenomenon that has seen the rebirth of ‘enoteche’. Literally meaning wine cellars, enoteche are wine-tasting bars that offer wine by the glass or by the bottle, usually along with cold cuts and cheese.

The passion for wine is big in most Italians, but excluding professional winemakers almost no Italian is interested in making their own – certainly, there are no wine kits available! This is because winemaking is considered a challenging process that is usually not worth the effort, given that in Italy basic wines are inexpensive and generally far more pleasing (to the refined average palate) than any amateur wines. Some people, however, order large quantities of wine from the makers and have it delivered to their homes by tanker. They usually store it in their own demijohns and then fill one flask at a time, or bottle it in glass bottles meant to be reused. This is a relatively common practice in certain areas, both and as a hobby and to save money on an item of everyday consumption, as wine is.

Vineyards in Tuscany
Vineyards in Tuscany

As we were saying, winemaking is complex. The process starts with the preparation of the grapes, which is different for red and for white wines. To make red wine, black or red grapes are machine crushed (no one stomps on the grapes with their feet anymore!) and allowed to have a first fermentation along with their skins. White wine is instead fermented grape juice, extracted by pressing grapes and discarding the skins. As a result, it’s technically possible to make white wines out of red grapes, though generally, this is not the case. Rosé wines are made by extracting juice from red grapes while allowing a minimal contact with their skins (and absolutely not by mixing red and white wines!) The reason why the skin makes so much difference lies in its high content of polyphenols, compared to the grape’s pulp. Not only do polyphenols affect the flavor and the color of the wine, but they are also responsible for the tannins (and the astringent mouthfeel that they bring). Polyphenols also act as antioxidants with a stabilizing effect that allows red wines to age far longer than any white wines.

The first fermentation starts when yeast is added to convert the sugars into ethanol (and CO2, which is released into the air), a process that usually takes a couple of weeks. If this transformation is incomplete, some of the sugars contained in the grapes remain in the must and the resulting wine will be sweet (the fermentation can be interrupted by lowering the temperature or by adding chemicals to kill the yeast). Wines then undergo a second fermentation: a bacterial process meant to reduce the wine’s acidity. White wines are generally fermented in stainless steel containers, whereas reds can be transferred to wood kegs to absorb additional flavors. To obtain sparkling wines, a third fermentation takes place inside of the bottle, where CO2 is trapped.

Because of their different composition, red wines and white wines have unique properties and different uses. White wines usually have a lower percentage of alcohol (10-12%), they are consumed slightly chilled (around 10 °C) and are paired up with appetizers, delicate first courses, white meats, and particularly fish and seafood. Red wines have instead generally higher alcohol content (11-14%), they are consumed at room temperature, or slightly below it (around 18 °C) and are paired up with strong first courses, aged cheeses, and red meats. Both white and red wines are also fundamental in cooking, and, generally, they are not interchangeable.

Most commercial wines are sold “ready to drink” and are not meant to be stored for a long time. Aging wine is a very difficult process that requires perfect conditions of temperature and humidity, conditions that can’t be easily achieved without proper equipment or environment. Storing wine is instead relatively easy: wine bottles should be kept away from direct sunlight and laying on their side to keep the cork wet (a dry cork will shrink and let some air into the bottle). Once opened, some wines need to rest briefly in a decanter both to allow sediments to deposit and to promote some “aeration.” Though slightly controversial, aeration is considered beneficial to “soften” strong red wines, reducing the harshness of their tannins. Aeration is generally not recommended for white wines and more delicate reds as it may disperse some of their aromas and is never recommended for sparkling wines.

Main types of wine glasses
Main types of wine glasses

Wine is best appreciated in proper stemware. The stem allows the wine to maintain its temperature by ensuring minimal contact with the hand of the person holding it. Red wines are generally served in larger glasses, with wide openings to allow for more aeration (large surface of contact between wine and air). White wines require less aeration and are usually tasted in taller, narrower glasses that also help the wine better maintain its temperature. Sparkling wines are instead served in very narrow and tall glasses (called flûtes) to reduce the contact with the air and keep the bubbles inside and towards the nose of the person drinking it.

Before introducing a list of the main Italian wines, let’s go over the denominations recognized by law:

  • Table wines that don’t follow naming regulations. Generally, these are lower quality wines where the grape and the year of production are not indicated on the label. In some cases, however, table wines can have very high quality and be sought by connoisseurs that don’t need any official certifications.
  • IGT – Table wines with Indicazione Geografica Tipica. The grapes are certified to come from a geographical area where the named grape is typical. Currently, there are about 120 wines under this category.
  • DOC – Wines with Denominazione di Origine Controllata. The exact location of the origin is certified. In Italy, there are currently about 300 DOC wines.
  • DOCG – Wines with Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita. The designation of origin is certified and guaranteed. Currently, only 35 wines belong to this category.

The law also specifies which qualifiers can be appended to the name and their exact meanings:

  • When a wine’s name contains the word ‘Classico‘ (e.g. Chianti Classico), the wine is guaranteed to be made in the core of its typical region. All ‘Classico’ wines are DOC or DOCG.
  • The word ‘Riserva‘ can only be used on wines that have been aged more than the time strictly required by their denomination. The label must show the year of production.
  • When a wine’s label shows the word ‘Novello‘, the wine is guaranteed to have been bottled within the end of the year of when (at least 30% of) its grapes have been harvested. The label must show the year of the vintage.
  • The qualifier ‘Superiore‘ can only be used to indicate a wine whose alcohol level is greater by at least 1% than the minimum established for its designation.

Finally, here is a list of some of the most renowned Italian wines. Many of them are named after the grapes that they are made of (highlighted in bold). Some other wines, instead, have their own unique names, usually to reflect their areas of origin.

Amarone -Veneto-, e.g.: Amarone della Valpolicella [DOCG]. Like the actual Valpolicella, it’s made with a grape called Corvina after it has been partially dried out (in a process called ‘passito’) to increase its sugar level and consequently the alcohol level of the wine (up to 15% and higher). Amarone is a well-known wine that improves when aged and can get quite expensive.
Barbaresco [DOCG] -Piedmont-. High-quality wine made with Nebbiolo grape, aged at least 2 years in kegs, and with an alcohol level of 12.5%. Its color is ruby with a burgundy tint, with a full body and hints of spices and bitter almond. It’s usually at its best after aging for 10 or more years.
Barbera -Piedmont-, e.g.: Barbera d’Alba [DOC], Barbera d’Asti [DOCG], Barbera del Monferrato [DOC], Barbera del Monferrato Superiore [DOCG]. Barbera is the most common grape in Piedmont, its wines are intensely ruby in color, quite dry and with relatively high acidity that decreases with aging.
Barolo [DOCG] -Piedmont-. Considered the best Italian wine, Barolo is made with Nebbiolo grape, like Barbaresco, but is aged at least 3 years, 2 of which in oak or chestnut kegs. With a minimum alcohol level of 13%, Barolo reaches its best characteristics after 10-20 years. It’s burgundy in color, full-bodied, complex and balanced in flavor, with berries and violet inflections and a spice aftertaste. Barolo can reach astronomical prices.
Brachetto -Piedmont-, e.g.: Brachetto d’Acqui [DOCG]. Brachetto is a grape used to make a red dessert wine. Sweet red wines are not very common, aside from Brachetto the only other renowned one is the somewhat similar Fragolino. The commercialization of Fragolino is however illegal in the European Union because it’s made with a grape not indigenous to Europe (called Concord grape, ‘uva fragola’) – it’s however sold in Switzerland, because not part of the EU.
Brunello di Montalcino [DOCG] -Tuscany-, made with the Sangiovese grape. Brunello di Montalcino is bright ruby in color, with dry strong tannins. It is aged a minimum of 4 years. It’s younger version is called Rosso di Montalcino [DOC], more fruity and with more moderate tannins.
Chianti [DOCG] and Chianti Classico [DOCG] -Tuscany-, made with a blend of grapes including Sangiovese and Malvasia. One of the most famous Italian wines in the world, Chianti has a dark ruby color, with burgundy hints, a very balanced dry and just slightly tannic flavor that turns more velvety with aging. It used to be known for being bottled in the typical ‘fiasco‘ (nowadays, however, this is no longer the case).
Dolcetto -Piedmont-, e.g.: Dolcetto d’Asti [DOCG], Dolcetto d’Alba [DOCG], Dolcetto d’Acqui [DOC]. The name means ‘cute little sweet’ and refers to the fact that the Dolcetto grape grows very easily and produces good everyday’s wines. Its flavor is fruity with hints of almonds and bitter herbs.
Grignolino -Piedmont-, e.g.: Grignolino del Monferrato [DOCG], Grignolino d’Asti [DOCG]. Grignolino has a light ruby color and a dry flavor, just slightly bitter.
Lambrusco, e.g.: Lambrusco Salamino di Santacroce [DOC] -Emilia-Romagna-, Lambrusco Mantovano [DOC] -Lombardy-. Lambrusco wines are sparkling, either dry or semi-sweet and have intense fruity perfumes and rich flavors, with low acidity and alcohol levels; their color is dark ruby, with violet foam. Lambrusco is usually enjoyed chilled and paired up with pasta and white meats.
Malvasia Bianca, e.g.: Malvasia di Grottaferrata -Lazio-, Malvasia di Cagliari [DOC] -Sardinia-, Malvasia delle Lipari -Sicily-. Malvasia Bianca is the most common variety of the Malvasia grape, used in the production of many white wines (including Frascati [DOC]). White Malvasia has a full body and fruity/nutty inflections. A red version (Malvasia Nera) also exists.
Marsala [DOC] -Sicily-. Marsala is a fortified wine similar to Port, made by adding ‘Grappa’ (an alcoholic beverage made by distillation of wine press residue) to elevate the alcohol level to about 20%. Different varieties exist (golden, amber, ruby), made with different Sicilian grapes.
Montepulciano -Abruzzo-, e.g.: Montepulciano d’Abruzzo [DOC], Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane [DOCG]. The Montepulciano grape produces intense dark wines, with moderate acidity and low tannins.
Moscato, a grape grown all throughout Italy used for making sweet, lightly sparkling or sparkling dessert wines. E.g.: Moscato d’Asti [DOCG] -Piedmont-, moderately sparkling, golden in color and Asti Spumante [DOCG] -Piedmont- sparkling, light yellow in color.
Nebbiolo -Piedmont-, the grape used to make several DOCG wines, including Barbaresco, Barolo, and Nebbiolo d’Alba [DOCG]. The wine commercialized under the name Nebbiolo is the youngest of all three, with a minimum aging of 1 year and a minimum alcohol level of 12%.
Prosecco, e.g.: Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene [DOCG] -Veneto-. Prosecco is a dry, very sparkling wine (‘spumante’ in Italian, which means foaming). Considered the Italian (cheaper) substitute of Champagne, can go from slightly sweet to very dry (‘brut’).
Sangiovese, e.g.: Sangiovese di Romagna [DOC] -Emilia-Romagna-. The Sangiovese grape is also used in the production of several renowned wines, including Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, and Rosso di Montepulciano.
Tocai, e.g.: Tocai Friulano Colli Orientali del Friuli [DOC] -Friuli-Venezia Giulia-. The grape is related to Sauvignon Vert, light yellow with hints of green in color, and hints of bitter almond flavor.
Trebbiano, e.g.: Trebbiano d’Abruzzo [DOC] -Abruzzo-, Trebbiano di Romagna [DOC] -Emilia-Romagna-. Trebbiano, pale in color and relatively light in flavor, is the most common white Italian wine. It’s used used to make several DOC wines including Orvieto [DOC] -Umbria-.
Valpolicella [DOC] -Veneto- made with Corvina grape and a blend of other red grapes. A very balanced wine, with inflections of almonds and spice.
Verdicchio -Marche-, e.g.: Verdicchio di Matelica [DOCG], Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi [DOCG]. The name comes from the word ‘verde’ (green). The wines made with Verdicchio grape have relatively high acidity and a nutty flavor.
Verduzzo – e.g.: Verduzzo Piave [DOC] -Veneto-, Verduzzo Friulano Colli Orientali del Friuli [DOC] -Friuli-Venezia Giulia-. Like for Verdicchio, the name also comes from ‘verde’ (green). Verduzzo wines are dry and slightly sparkling (‘frizzanti’).
Vermentino -Sardinia, Liguria, Piedmont-, e.g.: Vermentino di Sardinia [DOC], Vermentino di Gallura [DOCG] -Sardinia-. Vermentino is light yellow in color, with slight hints of green. Its flavor is dry, fresh, slightly sour and with a moderately bitter aftertaste.
Vernaccia, the name of several unrelated grapes, used in the production of many important wite wines, e.g.: Vernaccia di San Gimignano [DOCG] -Tuscany-, Vernaccia di Oristano [DOC] -Sardinia-, Vernaccia di Serrapetrona spumante [DOCG] -Marche-.
Cantucci con vin santo
Cantucci with Vin Santo

Vin Santo, dessert wine usually made with Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes, e.g.: Vin Santo del Chianti [DOC], Vin Santo del Chianti Classico [DOC], Vin Santo di Montepulciano [DOC] -Tuscany-. The name ‘santo’ (which means holy in Italian) possibly comes from the fact that it was typically used during the mass. The wine’s elevated sugars and alcohol level is obtained by allowing the grapes to dry out before fermenting. A common way to enjoy Vin Santo is to pair it up with almond biscotti called Cantucci, according to the Tuscan tradition.