The Art of Wine: Elevating the Ethiopian Dining Experience with Italian Wines

In an interview with the Italian Trade Agency Trade Commissioner Riccardo Zucconi, Laura Elena Pacifici Noja, Scientific Attaché at the Italian Embassy and the African Union, and Jacopo Faciulli, an Italian Wine Ambassador and a candidate for the master of Wine, the captivating event known as “The Art of Wine” was discussed. This event, organized by the Italian Trade Agency in collaboration with esteemed sommelier Jacopo Fanciulli, aimed to showcase and promote Italian wines that are already available in the Ethiopian market, which are Bottega, Zonin and Zinzula. Held at Dok Restaurant on Thursday, February 8, the exclusive evening provided a unique opportunity for key players in the Ethiopian hotel industry to indulge in a selection of fine wines while gaining valuable knowledge about their origins, characteristics, and perfect pairings.

With a focus on promoting Italian culinary traditions, the event featured exclusive tastings and short courses on Italian wines, facilitated by renowned importers serving the Ethiopian market. Participants had the privilege of savoring a wide variety of Italian wines, including some of the finest selections available. The event served as a platform for attendees to enhance their offerings and elevate the dining experience for their esteemed customers. Through this immersive experience, hoteliers and restaurateurs gained valuable insights into the characteristics, pairings, and cultural significance of these wines, discovering how they could complement their existing menus and contribute to an overall enhanced dining experience.

During the interview, Capital’s Groum Abate spoke with Riccardo Zucconi, Laura Elena Pacifici Noja, and Jacopo Faciulli about the significance and success of “The Art of Wine” event. The interview provided excerpts of their thoughts and discussions surrounding the event and its impact on the Ethiopian market. Excerpts; 

RICCARDO

Capital: What are some unique characteristics that set Italian wines apart from wines produced in other countries?

Riccardo Zucconi: Italian wines are celebrated for their diversity, with each region offering a rich tapestry of flavours and styles. This diversity is deeply rooted in Italy’s varied climate, geography, and longstanding winemaking traditions. The country is home to a vast array of indigenous grape varieties, many of which are not found anywhere else in the world. This, coupled with the influence of diverse microclimates and terroirs, gives Italian wines their distinctive flavour profiles. From the robust and tannic reds of Tuscany to the crisp and aromatic whites of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italian wines are renowned for their unique and complex character.

Capital: How does the Italian wine industry ensure quality control and maintain high production standards?

Riccardo: The Italian wine industry maintains strict quality control through a system of regulations and certifications. The Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) and Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) are integral to this process, serving as designations that guarantee the origin and quality of Italian wines. These designations ensure that strict guidelines are followed in grape cultivation, winemaking processes, and ageing methods. Furthermore, Italian wine consortia and regulatory bodies are actively involved in overseeing adherence to quality standards, thereby upholding the reputation of Italian wines.

Capital: Can you highlight some emerging Italian wine regions or lesser-known grape varieties that consumers should be aware of?

Riccardo: In recent years, several emerging Italian wine regions have garnered attention for their exceptional varietals and distinct terroirs. Regions such as Sicily, Umbria, and Friuli-Venezia Giulia have witnessed a surge in recognition for their unique contributions to the world of Italian wine. Within these regions, lesser-known grape varieties, including Aglianico, Vermentino, and Nero d’Avola, have piqued the interest of consumers for their intriguing flavours and potential for excellence.

Capital: What strategies or initiatives are being implemented to promote Italian wines in the Ethiopian market?

Riccardo: The promotion of Italian wines in the Ethiopian market should involve a multi-faceted approach, encompassing trade agreements, targeted marketing strategies, and collaborative efforts between Italian wine producers and Ethiopian distributors. Initiatives such as tailor-made promotions, participation in trade fairs, and educational events aimed at both consumers and industry professionals can play a crucial role in increasing the presence of Italian wines in Ethiopia.

Capital: What steps are being taken to increase awareness and appreciation of Italian wines among consumers who may be less familiar with them?

Riccardo: To build awareness and appreciation of Italian wines among less familiar consumers, targeted educational initiatives can serve as a means to showcase the rich heritage and diversity of Italian winemaking. Wine tastings, masterclasses, and collaborations with local restaurants and retailers are effective ways to provide firsthand experiences with Italian wines. Additionally, digital platforms and social media can be leveraged to engage a broader audience and share compelling stories about Italian winemaking traditions.

Capital: Are there any sustainable or organic practices being adopted by Italian wine producers, and how does this factor into their marketing and promotion efforts?

Riccardo: An increasing number of Italian wine producers are embracing sustainable and organic practices, reflecting a commitment to environmental stewardship and quality. These practices encompass organic farming, biodynamic viticulture, and eco-friendly packaging, all of which contribute to minimizing environmental impact. Highlighting these sustainable practices in marketing and promotional efforts can resonate strongly with consumers who prioritize eco-conscious products.

Capital: What are some current trends or consumer preferences in the wine industry, and how are Italian wine companies adapting to meet these demands?

Riccardo: Contemporary trends in the wine industry indicate a growing demand for organic and sustainable wines, as well as heightened interest in natural wines and indigenous grape varieties. Italian wine companies are adapting to these trends by emphasizing their organic practices, promoting unique grape varieties, and integrating technological advancements to enhance production efficiency and quality control.

Capital: Can you share any success stories or notable achievements of Italian wine companies in recent years?

Riccardo: In recent years, numerous Italian wine companies have achieved remarkable success, with some receiving international acclaim and accolades for their wines. These achievements include high ratings from esteemed wine critics, significant recognition at prestigious wine competitions, and successful expansion into key export markets. Such accomplishments underscore the exceptional quality and global appeal of Italian wines, thereby further elevating the reputation of the country’s winemaking industry.

LAURA

Capital: What are the primary health benefits associated with moderate wine consumption?

Laura Elena Pacifici Noja: According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020, moderate red wine consumption as up to two units of alcohol per day for men and up to one unit of alcohol per day for women significantly reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease which represents the major causes of mortality, and disability, in developed countries. We reviewed the available literature concerning the potential relationship between moderate red wine consumption and cardiovascular health. We searched Medline, Scopus and Web of Science (WOS) for randomized controlled studies and case-control studies published from 2002 to 2022. A total of 27 articles were selected for the review. According to epidemiological evidence, drinking red wine in moderation lowers the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Capital: Could you explain the role of antioxidants in wine and how they contribute to its potential health benefits?

Laura: Polyphenols and especially resveratrol largely contribute to CV prevention mainly through antioxidant properties. They exert beneficial effects on endothelial dysfunction and hypertension, dyslipidemia, and metabolic diseases, thus reducing the risk of adverse CV events such as myocardial infarction ischemic stroke and heart failure. 

Capital: Can you discuss the relationship between wine consumption and the risk of certain diseases, such as cancer or neurodegenerative disorders?

Laura: Resveratrol is a polyphenol that is abundant in grape skin and seeds. Food sources of resveratrol include wine, berries, and peanuts. This compound has many properties, including activity against glycation, oxidative stress, inflammation, neurodegeneration, several types of cancer, and ageing. Because resveratrol is generally well tolerated, it is believed to be a promising compound in preventing many diseases, such as diabetes and its complications. Unfortunately, this compound exhibits low bioavailability and solubility

Capital: Is there a recommended daily or weekly limit for wine consumption to maximize potential health benefits while minimizing any negative effects?

Laura: Epidemiological and clinical studies have pointed out that regular and moderate wine consumption (one to two glasses a day) is associated with decreased incidence of cardiovascular disease (CVD), hypertension, diabetes, and certain types of cancer, including colon, basal cell, ovarian, and prostate carcinoma.

Capital: Are the health benefits of wine attributed solely to its alcohol content, or are there other components in wine that contribute to these effects?

Laura: Experimental studies and meta-analyses have mainly attributed this outcome to the presence in red wine of a great variety of polyphenolic compounds such as resveratrol, catechin, epicatechin, quercetin, and anthocyanin. Resveratrol is considered the most effective wine compound in the prevention of CHD because of its antioxidant properties. The mechanisms responsible for its putative cardioprotective effects would include changes in lipid profiles, reduction of insulin resistance, and decrease in oxidative stress; of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C).

JACOPO FANCIULLI

Capital: What wines would you recommend to pair with a spicy dish?

Jacopo Faciulli: Pairing wine with spicy food can be tricky, but there are a few options that can work well. A slightly sweet Moscato or Gewürztraminer can help balance the heat of a spicy dish. If you prefer red wine, a fruity and low-tannin wine such as a Cannonau or a Pinot Noir can also complement the spice without overwhelming your palate. Additionally, sparkling wine like a Prosecco or a slightly sweet rosé can also be a refreshing choice to pair with spicy cuisine.

Capital: Can you suggest some budget-friendly wine options that don’t compromise on taste?

Jacopo: Italy offers a wide range of budget-friendly wines that are delicious and accessible. Here are a few options to consider: Chianti: Look for a Chianti from the Tuscany region. This popular red wine is typically made primarily from Sangiovese grapes and often offers a well-balanced profile with notes of cherry, herbs, and a hint of earthiness Montepulciano d’Abruzzo: Hailing from the Abruzzo region, this red wine is made from the Montepulciano grape. It tends to be fruit-forward with flavors of dark berries, and it often pairs well with a variety of dishes. Nero d’Avola: This red wine from Sicily is known for its ripe fruit flavours, medium body, and approachable nature. It can be a great option for those seeking a budget-friendly yet enjoyable Italian red wine. Pinot Grigio: If you prefer white wine, consider exploring Pinot Grigio from northern Italy. This light and crisp wine often features notes of green apple, citrus, and floral hints, making it a refreshing option. Prosecco: When it comes to sparkling wine, Prosecco from the Veneto region is often a fantastic value. It’s known for its light, effervescent character and lively fruit flavours, making it perfect for casual gatherings or celebratory toasts. These are just a few examples, but Italy offers a diverse range of affordable and flavorful wines that can elevate any occasion without breaking the bank.

Capital: What are some key characteristics to look for when evaluating a red wine?

Jacopo: When evaluating a red wine, there are several key characteristics to consider: Color: Check the colour of the wine. Red wines can range from light ruby to deep purple, and the colour can give you clues about the wine’s age and body. Aroma: Swirl the wine in your glass and take a sniff. Note the various aromas such as fruits, spices, flowers, or earthy tones. A complex and pleasant aroma is a good sign. Taste: Take a small sip and let it roll around your mouth. Pay attention to the wine’s body, acidity, tannins, and flavours. Look for a balanced and enjoyable taste. Tannins: Tannins create a mouth-drying sensation and are important in red wines, especially those meant for ageing. They add structure and complexity to the wine. Finish: The finish refers to the aftertaste that lingers after you swallow the wine. A long and pleasant finish is often a sign of a high-quality red wine. Complexity: A good red wine will have layers of flavours that reveal themselves as you drink. Look for depth and complexity in the wine’s taste profile. Balance: A well-balanced red wine will have harmonious levels of fruit, acidity, tannins, and alcohol. No single element should overpower the others.

Capital: What are some common misconceptions about wine that you often encounter?

Jacopo: Common misconceptions about wine include: Price Equals Quality: One of the most prevalent misconceptions is that expensive wines are always better. In reality, many affordable wines offer exceptional quality and taste. Older Wine is Always Better: While some wines improve with age, not all wines benefit from long-term ageing. Most wines are meant to be consumed relatively young and fresh. All Red Wines Need to be Aerated: While many red wines benefit from aeration, not all of them require it. Lighter reds, such as Dolcetto, may not need as much aeration as bolder, tannic wines like Cabernet Sauvignon. The “Right” Food and Wine Pairing: While traditional pairings are a good starting point, personal preference should also play a significant role. There’s no one-size-fits-all rule for pairing wine with food.

Capital: Can you suggest a wine that would be suitable for someone who prefers sweeter flavours?

Jacopo: For someone who prefers sweeter flavours, Italian wines offer several options to explore. Here are a few Italian wine suggestions known for their sweeter profiles: Moscato d’Asti: This sparkling white wine from the Piedmont region is well-known for its sweet, floral, and fruity flavours, often reminiscent of peaches and orange blossoms. Brachetto d’Acqui: Another sparkling wine from Piedmont, Brachetto d’Acqui is a red wine with a slightly sweet and aromatic profile, featuring notes of strawberries and roses. Lambrusco: This sparkling red wine hails from Emilia-Romagna and is known for its off-dry to sweet taste, making it a great choice for those who enjoy sweeter wine styles. Recioto della Valpolicella: From the Veneto region, this red dessert wine is made in a sweet style, with rich, ripe fruit flavours and luscious sweetness. These wines provide a range of sweetness levels and flavour profiles, offering a delightful introduction to Italian wines for anyone with a preference for sweeter tastes.

Capital: What are some emerging wine regions that you find particularly interesting or promising?

Jacopo: Some emerging Italian wine regions that are gaining attention for their unique and promising wines include Etna, Sicily: The volcanic soils of Mount Etna have been producing some exceptional wines, particularly from indigenous red grape varieties such as Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio, as well as white grape varieties like Carricante. The wines from this region often have a distinct minerality and complexity. Umbria: While Umbria has been traditionally overshadowed by its more famous neighbour, Tuscany, it’s increasingly garnering attention for its quality wines. The region produces a range of whites and reds, with a focus on indigenous varietals such as Sagrantino for reds and Grechetto for whites. Campania: Known for its ancient winemaking traditions, Campania is becoming recognized for its quality and diverse offerings. This region produces many unique wines, including the well-regarded Taurasi reds made from Aglianico, as well as aromatic whites like Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino. Friuli-Venezia Giulia: Situated in the northeast of Italy, this region is gaining attention for its high-quality white wines, particularly those made from the grape variety Friulano. The region also produces notable examples of orange wines and world-class sparkling wines. Liguria, known for its stunning coastal beauty, is also gaining recognition for its wines. The region is particularly noteworthy for its production of Vermentino and Pigato, white grape varieties that thrive in the Mediterranean climate. In addition to Vermentino, Liguria also produces a limited but interesting amount of red wines, often from grape varieties like Rossese, Granaccia and Ormeasco. Exploring wines from these emerging regions can provide a fresh perspective on the diversity and quality of Italian wine beyond the well-known regions.

Capital: Could you recommend a bottle of wine that would be appropriate for a special occasion?

Jacopo: For a special occasion, you might consider a bottle of Barolo from the Piedmont region. Barolo is often referred to as the “King of Wines” due to its exceptional quality and ageing potential. Made from the Nebbiolo grape, Barolo is known for its full-bodied, complex, and long-lived nature, often displaying flavours of dark cherry, leather, herbs, and truffles. It’s a wine that can impress with its elegance and depth, making it a perfect choice for a memorable celebration. Additionally, if the special occasion calls for sparkling wine, you might look into Franciacorta from the Lombardy region. Often referred to as the Italian equivalent of Champagne, Franciacorta is produced using the traditional method, offering a refined, bubbly experience with notes of citrus, green apple, and a delightful creamy texture. Both of these wine options are renowned for their quality and would be excellent choices to elevate a special celebration.

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