Italian Wine Seminar at ICCC

My husband and I, both members of Houston’s Italian Cultural & Community Center (ICCC) and frequent guests at their wine tastings (read about past events here and here), were thrilled to attend their first ever Italian wine seminar in four two-hour classes over the course of four weeks, led by Master Sommelier Craig Collins (Meet the Sommelier at the bottom).  As I’ve mentioned before, I am a wine drinker, not a collector, and certainly not an expert.  So rather than regurgitating sommelier speak, wine terms I may or may not need to google, and tasting notes that include something more profound than smiley faces and hearts, I’d like to simply share some general guidelines from the seminar that I found particularly interesting, key points learned from each class, surprising stigmas I’ve abandoned after attending this seminar, and a few profound (I’m not exaggerating) words of wisdom from Master Sommelier Craig Collins.


Class Itinerary:

Tuesday, May 2, 2017: Wine fundamentals  (viticulture, oenology, Italian wine law and wine analysis)

Tuesday, May 9, 2017: Northern Italy  (types of grapes, geography, climate, history and top wine producers)

Tuesday, May 16, 2017: Central Italy  (types of grapes, geography, climate, history and top wine producers)

Tuesday, May 23, 2017: Southern Italy  (types of grapes, geography, climate, history and top wine producers)



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Wine Fundamentals  

In the first class we learned basic guidelines and fundamentals of viticulture, oenology, Italian wine law, wine tasting and analysis.  Craig Collins makes wine education less intimidating and more approachable, so the wine education was so easy to digest!  Here are some guidelines and key takeaways from the first class, some of which were repeated throughout the seminar:

  • Comparing Old World wines to New World wines, Old World wines are typically earthier and New World wines are typically fruitier
  • Get rid of wine glass charms…use Sharpie markers instead
  • You don’t need a variety of wine glasses, just one good glass (or two if you’re sharing)
    • This particular tip blew my mind, and Craig Collins would shake his head in shame at me if he knew we converted our laundry room to a wine pantry and purposely installed cabinets specifically for my wine glass collection…please don’t judge me, Craig!
  • Why decant red wine?
    • After you come home from vacation, your house smells stale, so you open the windows to air out the house…wine is the same
  • Tannins dry out mouth (cat tongue on top of mouth) and acid makes you salivate (watery feeling after sip)
  • Wine and food pairing can be either complimentary additions (“filling in the holes” as Craig Collins would say) or mirror match (like with like)



Standout Wines I Loved from the Fundamentals Class

  • Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc (don’t be afraid of the screw top!)
  • Bourgogne Cuvee Saint-Vincent Girardin
  • Ponzi Vineyards Pinot Noir



Northern Italy  

In the second class we learned types of grapes, geography, climate, history and top wine producers of Northern Italy (Val d’Aosta, Piedmont, Liguria, Trentino-Alto Adige, Friuli, Veneto, and Lombardy).  Here are some key takeaways from the second class:

  • Fun pairings: Prosecco with McDonald’s fries and Champagne with potato chips (not kidding!)
  • Pinot Grigio kings come from Alto Adige and Friuli
  • Barolo and Barbaresco are both 100% Nebbiolo, but Barolo is bigger and brawnier, while Barbaresco is more feminine and elegant
  • Barbera and Dolcetto are the best value for Italian reds
  • An orange rim is indicative of an old red wine or Nebbiolo



Standout Wines I Loved from the Northern Italy Class

  • Bisol Crede Prosecco Superiore
  • Suavia Suave Classico
  • Alois Lageder Pinot Grigio
  • Michele Chiarlo Barbera D’Asti



Central Italy  

In the third class we learned types of grapes, geography, climate, history and top wine producers of Central Italy (Emilia Romagna, Toscana, Umbria, Lazio, Marche, and Abruzzo).  Here are some key takeaways from the third class:

  • In Tuscany, “Sangiovese is King” (damn straight!)
  • Chianti is at least 70% Sangiovese and from a large area of Tuscany while Chianti Classico is at least 80% Sangiovese and from the original principality of Chianti
  • Verdicchio recommended price point is $25/bottle
  • Montepulciano (d’Alba or d’Abruzzi) is not to be confused with Vino Nobile de Montepulciano
    • Montepulciano is a grape from Alba or Abruzzo
    • Vino Nobile de Montepulciano is from the town of Montepulciano



Standout Wines I Loved from the Central Italy Class

  • Vecchia Modena Cleto Chiarli e Figli (Lambrusco)
  • Volpaia Chianti Classico
  • Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino



Southern Italy

In the fourth class we learned types of grapes, geography, climate, history and top wine producers of Southern Italy (Molise, Campania, Puglia, Sardegna, Sicilia, Basilicata, and Calabria).  Here are some key takeaways from the fourth class:

  • Aglianico is the “Barolo of the South”
  • Centonze Frappato is the “Italian version of Beaujolais” (summer or starter red wine)
  • Etna Rosso is “your red wine with fish” wine



Standout Wines I Loved from the Southern Italy Class

  • Redi More Irpinia Aglianico
  • Lamuri Nero D’Avola
  • Benanti Etna Rosso


Stigmas to Abandon

  • Screw tops are for every day drinking…there’s nothing wrong with them (so get over it)
  • Lambrusco is “glugable wine” and not that swill I remember being served at Olive Garden when I was in college
    • Excellent with spicy food, aperitifs, Texas heat, and bad decisions
    • Craig calls this wine “what I drink while I think about what I’m going to drink” (I can dig it!)


Words of Wisdom from Master Sommelier Craig Collins

  • “If it grows together, it goes together”
  • “I don’t want to drink 15% alcohol before noon”
  • “There are no rules”

And lastly:


Meet the Sommelier:  

Master Sommelier Craig Collins first became enamored with wine while working at a winery as an undergrad, an interest that led him to study abroad in Italy during his senior year at Texas A&M. He spent the next 20 years immersed in the beverage industry, from wineries to distribution and importing to restaurants. In 2011, Collins passed the esteemed Master Sommelier Exam, a feat mastered by just 200 people worldwide at that time. He now serves as the Beverage Director for ELM Restaurant Group in Austin, Texas, overseeing the offerings at nationally acclaimed hotspots 24 Diner, Easy Tiger Bake Shop & Beer Garden, Italic and Irene’s. He sits on the Board of Directors for the Court of Master Sommeliers and frequently participates as a speaker and judge at wine and food festivals across the country.


Thank you Craig and ICCC for a wonderful seminar!  This was the best seminar/class/wine tasting I’ve ever attended!

– Sheila


UPDATE (2/1/2018): This event is happening AGAIN in April 2018!!  Please see the details below and contact ICCC for registration.  Enjoy!!