Italian wines are as diverse as the country that produces them

When you think of Italian food, what comes to mind? Spaghetti or lasagna? Garlic bread? Anything with tomato sauce? Going to the Olive Garden?

Those tend to be very American ideas of Italian food. The fact is, Italy is an extremely diverse country, and its regions produce a plethora of foods and wines that largely go untasted on this continent. Even to attempt to define "Italian food" boggles the mind.

Each of Italy's 20 regions boasts its own unique cuisine. The local wines are equally diverse, and most are unheard of in the United States because they are rarely exported.

From the seafood of Sardinia to the Piedmont's truffles, from the German influences of Alto Adige to Veneto's polenta, there is truly something for every palate. And you thought it was just pasta.

Italian wines are produced in an astonishing 900,000 registered vineyards, and each local region produces wine made from its own local grapes. Over the centuries, a natural affinity between local foods and wines developed, but much of that remains Italy's own best-kept secret.

The vast majority of Italian wines that are sold in the United States come from Tuscany, Piedmont and Veneto. One of the better producers from Tuscany is Avignonesi from Cortona, the home town of Frances Mayes of "Under the Tuscan Sun" fame.

Avignonesi boasts some of the oldest cellars in Italy, with Vin Santo being the best of their offerings. I served their Vino Nobile di Montepulciano with Veronese-style gnocchi at a recent dinner with great success.

Simply known as Vino Nobile in the region, this wine is a dark red, full-bodied wine that can accompany roast meats, wild game and tomato-based dishes. Tannins are present but not overpowering. This wine ages well and can be served with Sunday dinner or everyday meals.

Write me at goodellwineguy@sbcglobal.net with your thoughts, questions, or just to talk wine. Until next time, happy pours.

Veronese-Style Gnocchi

4 ounces fresh mushrooms

5 ounces prosciutto

3 tablespoons vinegar

1⁄2 cup butter

1 whole onion

3⁄4 cup brandy

1⁄2 cup stock

1 pound gnocchi

21⁄2 cups Bechamel sauce

3⁄4 cup grated parmesan cheese

3⁄4 cup bread crumbs

Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Heat butter in a pan over low heat. Add chopped onion and mushrooms. Cut prosciutto into small pieces, add to the mixture in the frying pan with the brandy, season with salt and pepper, mix in the stock and cook for about 45 minutes. Cook the gnocchi in a saucepan with plenty of salted water. Drain them and place them in a buttered oven-proof dish. Cover with Bechamel sauce and mixture from frying pan and sprinkle with a generous amount of grated parmesan and bread crumbs. Bake for about 20 minutes.