Italy produces a lot of wine, not all top quality, but each year it vies with France as the world’s largest producer. In a country where wine is part of everyday life, Italian winemakers commonly placed quantity over quality by producing jugs of table wine rather than fine wine. Lucky for us, that attitude has changed. Gone are the wicker-covered bottles of Chianti that doubled as candleholders. Today the quality of Italian wines has never been higher making it an exciting time to sip, savor and explore. Yet with twenty wine regions and hundreds of different grape varieties to choose from, deciding where to start can be difficult. Best bet, start small. Some of the country’s most interesting wines come from artisan producers that receive little attention. These are the boutique wines of Italy. Limited in production (a few thousand cases or less), boutique wines come from small estates that are rich in family history and hand-crafted to express the passion of the winemaker. How do you find these artisan gems? Look for specialty boutique importers such as Small Vineyards on the label. A relatively new company, Small Vineyards is dedicated to helping Americans explore Italy’s undiscovered, family-owned wines. To do so, they provide retailers and consumers with lots of information. For example, each bottle carries a gold sticker on the front indicating that it is a boutique wine making Small Vineyard wines easy to identify. Further, bottles are marked as either Discovery Wines crafted from one single estate or Grand Estate wines produced from larger parcels of land. This information provides a bit of additional insight into the style of the wine. While both are good, Discovery Wines are very limited in production and offer a greater expression of the grapes, culture and tradition of the region. To learn more, the company’s website ( invites you to “Meet the Winemakers” with printable notes on production and wines styles to have on hand next time you shop for wine.Whether you are sipping Sangiovese with pasta, Barbaresco with red meats or a bubbly Prosecco on the patio, the boutique wines of Italy are as varied as the country’s cuisine. After all, in Italy it is food first – wine is there to simply wash it down. Mangé.   

NV TreTrevisiol Prosecco Extra Dry, Veneto ($17): Off-dry, light body with tiny frizzante bubbles. Crisp acidity, low alcohol balanced by white peach and citrus aromas offer a clean finish. Perfect starter wine for large or gatherings.  2007 Ronco Della Rocca Pinot Grigio,Friuli ($15): Dry, light body with high acidity, moderate alcohol and concentrated lemon, green apple, mineral and floral aromas. Try with a salad, fish or anything you would squeeze a lemon on.  2006 Forte Canto Salice Salentino, Puglia ($12): Dry, medium plus body with moderate acidity, mouth warming alcohol, soft tannins and a long, juicy finish of black cherry, stewed red plums, herbal aromas and brown spices. Try with grilled red meats or sipped alone.  2004 Poderi Elia Serracapelli Barbaresco, Piedmont ($53): Dry, full body with intense aromas of roses, tar, vanilla and black fruits. Medium plus acidity, medium alcohol and high tannins provide a long finish that dries your palate. Sip with fatty meats or cellar for a few years to soften.  2007 Fattoria Bibbiani Poggio Vignoso Chianti, Tuscany ($13): Dry, medium body with pronounced aromas of dried roses, sour cherries and spice. Crisp acidity, moderate tannins and moderate alcohol result in a medium plus clean finish. A classic food wine to pair with tomato-based dishes.  2007 Tre Donne Moscato d’Asti,Piedmont ($21): Medium sweet, medium light body with intense floral aromas and bright grapey fruit. Low alcohol and moderate acidity coupled with a good dose of sugar makes this wine a great dessert wine paired with a simple biscotti.