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Which one tastes like Shiraz?

This one is probably our most frequently asked question, and it’s the most fun to answer. The short answer is that none of them taste like Shiraz! Us Aussies all love our Shiraz, we make it so well here, and it is really well priced, it has almost become a native Australian variety, such is its immense popularity. Do Italians make Shiraz? Probably, but we’re not interested, why sell Italian Shiraz when ours is so great? We would much rather focus on native Italian varieties and styles, and offer something different. A style such as Shiraz is great if you’re in the mood for drinking, but how about with a light pasta dish? Salty fish? Peking duck? Many Italian wines give versatility and are often more food friendly compared to a big style like a Shiraz.

How good are the Italian varieties in Australia?

Australia has long been focused on producing great examples of French varieties which have become household names for us, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, GSM and the like. Now, with many winemakers traveling to other parts of the wine world, Italian varieties are leaking into our wine country. Sangiovese and Nebbiolo are slowly but surely making names for themselves down under, and lesser know varieties such as Montepulciano and Corvina are also producing interestingly different styles in Aus.

Here at La Cantina, we embrace the emergence of these styles in the Aussie wine scene, and it is good to see that our industry can be multi dimensional. However, Australian winemakers still have much to learn about Italian wine, and even though we may be using the same varieties, there is nothing like the 100+ years of experience that the Italians have had perfecting these varieties in their backyard. We encourage you to try the Australian offerings, just keep in mind that only the Italians do authentic Italian wine!

There are so many varieties, how will I ever work them out?

Don’t worry; in fact you’re in the same boat as many of us. There are over 1000 varieties in Italy alone, and nobody knows all of them! Start with the more popular varieties: Sangiovese from Tuscany (in the form of Chianti Classico), Nebbiolo or Moscato from Piedmont, Pinot Grigio from Friuli Venezia Giulia and Valpolicella from the Veneto. Once you get these basics down pat, the rest will come with careful evaluation (read; buying a bottle and drinking it). Don’t worry if it all seems a bit daunting, just keep reading, talking and most importantly, drinking Italian wine!

Explain the difference between Montepulciano and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano??

This is one of those things that could only happen in Italy, and it makes it ultra confusing for anyone looking to duck in somewhere, skim over a label, and know exactly what is in the bottle. Let’s call it uncommon sense. Montepulciano is a grape variety commonly grown in Italy, mainly the Abruzzo, Umbria and Le Marche regions. Montepulciano is also the name of a zone within the region of Tuscany, which makes one of Italy’s most famous wine styles, ‘Vino Nobile di Montepulciano’, along with the 2nd wine of the zone, ‘Rosso di Montepulciano’. Now, here’s the confusing part, both Vino Nobile and Rosso di Montepulciano have no affinity to the Montepulciano grape, they are in fact made predominantly with the Sangiovese grape (which they call Prugnolo Gentile, just to add to the confusion).

So, next time you read ‘Montepulciano’, if it is preceded by ‘Vino Nobile di…’ or ‘Rosso di…’ then you are getting a Sangiovese based, Tuscan red. If the label reads ‘Montepulciano d’Abruzzo’, or it is a blend with Montepulciano, you will be getting the grape variety, Montepulciano. Phew!

What is the big deal with the different regions?

Good question! Like France, USA or Australia, Italy has many regions, and zones within regions. There are 1000 page books about Italian wine regions, and then 1000 page books about each region, so this is a VERY brief run down. Think of it like this, In South Australia, we have the Barossa Valley, and in the Barossa Valley we have Nuriootpa, Tanunda, Angaston and the Eden Valley. In Italy, there is a region called Tuscany. Within Tuscany there is the zone of Chianti. Within Chianti, there is Montepulciano, Chianti Classico, Chianti Colli Senesi and Montalcino. All of these places produce very different wines to each other, and the main grape of Tuscany is Sangiovese. Move to the region of Piedmont, and there is a zone called the Langhe, and within the Lange lies Barolo and Barbaresco, where the main variety is Nebbiolo.

So there are many regions (basically states of Italy), many zones within the regions, and then there are even zones within zones. All of the regions are famous for a particular grape or wine style, and the zones within the regions are all individual too. As ever, the best way to learn is through experience!

Are Italian wines ok for other cuisines?

Italian wine is great for Italian cuisine, naturally, but we are often asked if that is the breadth of its talent. Of course not! Italian wine can be great with many other cuisines, from the great Aussie BBQ all the way through to a spicy Vindaloo, it’s all about taking into account the flavours, weight and acidity of the wine for your particular purpose. Thinking good quality fish and chips? How about a Pinot Grigio, or even a Prosecco for something different. Going Asian with a bit of spice? Try Brachetto d'Aqui or Moscato d'Asti.

How popular is Italian wine throughout the world?

You may be surprised to know that on the global scale, Italy produce about as much wine as France, around 5 billion litres every year which is nearly 5 times as much wine as Australia does. It is interesting to think that there are many big export markets for Italian wine, such as England and the USA, but we see barely any of it here, especially considering the amount of Italian culture running through our country! Maybe all of the Italians have been busy making Grenache in the back shed to notice!

What is an aperative/digestive?

Not content with drinking wine during the meal, Italian culture dictates that most meals should be preceded with a before-dinner-drink (aperative/aperativo), and ended with an after-dinner-drink (digestive/digestive). Common Italian aperatives are ‘Amari’, or bitters. Campari, Averna, Montenegro and our own Meletti Amaro all fall into this bracket. Traditionally, these are taken straight on ice, or with soda or tonic water, and can be had with finger food or just by themselves. 

After dinner, Italians are prone to ‘whipping out the grappa’, or something along these lines. The role of the digestive is to settle the stomach after a big meal, and warm the chest on a cold winter night. The digestive can take on many guises: grappa, Strega, sambuca, anisette or Centerba just to name a few. Grappa is normally drank straight, from a tulip shaped glass, whilst the rest are sipped from a tall shot glass.

I have a Nonno/neighbour/Italian guy down the road who used to make grappa, why would I want to drink that stuff?

So we all have that friend or relative that used to make ‘grappa’ in his back shed and put it in a vinegar bottle with the swing lid, only for someone to take a swig from it on a hot summer day thinking it was water! (or is that just me?) Nevertheless, grappa has come a long way from its humble origins of being (barely) drinkable methylated spirit. Nowadays, grappa is a booming industry, which, made properly, reflects all of the subtle nuances of the base wine. 

Made from the distillation of the pomace (leftover seeds, stalks, skins) of a base wine, grappa is a high alcohol spirit (40-50%) most often enjoyed at the end of a meal. In the past 10 years, a new method of distillation has made itself known to the Italians, resulting in a much more refined product, meaning it is nothing like the clear ‘firewater’ that has been so damaging to the reputation of grappa. Yellow grappe are aged in oak, which often makes the product smoother and further brings out the characteristics associated with the wine on which the grappa is based. We could talk for ages about why we love grappa, but the best thing to do is to get a bottle of real grappa yourself and see what all the fuss is about!