Most house wines here in the Veneto are exceptional. Restaurant owners take a pride in offering a house wine that the locals will happily drink. You have to remember that the village restaurants are not ones frequented by tourists who only visit once and never more. These locals know a good wine from a bad and will be vocal about a bad house wine.
One major type produced in the Veneto, called Prosecco, is something I enjoy. Italians cannot and do not want to call it champagne. It is not aged in oak casks or stored in underground tunnels for many years. It is priced much cheaper than French champagne, and every bar has it on tap. I can buy a jug of prosecco in my local supermarket. They even provide the bottles. When ordering in a restaurant you can get it in liter or half liter pitchers. Sounds funny to order this sparkling wine by the “jug”, but this is Italy. They are quite proud of producing prosecco, and I am sure you will agree that it is exceptional.
Not often will I find a weak or bad house wine. The big problem is that wine is forced from a cask to the tap by CO2 and this process makes the wine cold. This was a real shock to me the first few times I ordered house red. Now I have learned to let my glass sit awhile to warm it, and I have become more used to this cooler serving. If I will be with my Italian friends I will be naturally sitting longer, so my glass will become warmer through time. Of course you can always order a bottle of red which won’t be cold, and you can trust the waiter’s suggestion on wine. Don’t be afraid to explain you are looking for a medium priced wine.
Something surprising is that the wines from Colli Euganei, south of Padova, can be quite exceptional. Grown on the sides of sunny volcanic hills, there are many good years of fine wine. When I lived in the states I had the mistaken impression that white wines such as pinot grigio and soave were the only great wines produced in the Veneto. A few trips to the local enoteca in the tiny village of called Arqua Petrarca set me on a new path. Actually I am pleased that these wines are not famous in the states as the result would be a rise in prices and hard to obtain vintages. It is bad enough that some enotecas try to buy up the whole supply leaving what is left to be found by diligent buyers.
One last remark about wine in Italy. When I first moved here I brought, in my suitcase, a bottle of cabernet from Silver Oak of Napa Valley. I was invited to a dinner and thought that this would be an appropriate time to enjoy it. While I was opening the bottle I gave a little dissertation about Silver Oak and Napa Valley. I poured some in my host’s wine glass. My jaw dropped to the floor as he reached for the bottle of fizzy water and poured some in his wine glass. I was speechless! I expected the swirling and sniffing of wine, after all, aren’t these Italians who love wine so much? No one at the table seemed to react as I did. He did not look at the color or check for legs. There was no discussion of what a great wine we were drinking. End of Silver Oak, end of my stereotype of Italians with wine. If you ever consider bringing wine to Italy, go back and read this post.
There are Italians who appreciate good wines, and there are shops in Padova that feature great wines. However, most of my Italian friends drink wine without all the hoohah and flourish. They will probably only drink one glass. I have never seen any of them drink more than two glasses, and this over a period of several hours. I know that part of this is the strict driving and drinking laws in Italy, the other part, I believe is that they are “normal”. We Americans and our wine, we are not so normal in behavior. We have learned what is fashionable. Italians are not so into “fashionable” when it comes to wine. The hard truth is that in 7 years living here I cannot remember anyone, except myself, swirling a glass and sniffing it. When my friends see me swirling, etc., I can expect a few laughs.