Giro d’Italia – the exciting tour of Italian wine
Learning about Italian wine is like trying to solve a puzzle without an answer. The geography is fairly easy to understand as Italy’s twenty wine regions correspond to the country’s twenty recognised administrative regions. Then we get to the classifications. At the top of the pyramid are the DOCGs (Controlled and Guaranteed Designation of Origin); there are 73 of these, spread across 15 of the designated regions, but the majority can be found in the famous vineyards of Tuscany, Piedmont and Veneto. There are a further 332 DOCs (Controlled Designation of Origin) at the next level spread all over the country.
The problem for newcomers to Italian wine are the grape varieties. Sure you’ll find Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and the like… but not in the famous appellations (let’s not even get in Super Tuscans here!) The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has authorised over 350 grapes varieties but there are more than 500 other documented varieties, most of which are indigenous to Italy. You would think that all of the progress that has been made with DNA testing would simplify the situation and identify many of these different grapes as the same thing… but no; if anything it has highlighted even more differences and mutations! Does it say Trebbiano on the label? Is that Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, Trebbiano di Aprilia, Trebbiano di Arborea, Trebbiano di Capriano del Colle, Trebbiano di Romagna and Trebbiano Val Trebbia dei Colli Piacentini or Trebbiano di Soave? See what I mean??
The labels aren’t much help either. Like in France, the Italians assume you know what comes from where and what varieties are permitted. The appellation is usually the main label designation; Barolo, Soave, Chinati etc. so it must be obvious to all that they contain mostly Nebbiolo, Garganega and Sangiovese. But what about Montepulciano, which is both the name of a grape and region… but guess what, the Montepulciano grape isn’t grown in the Montepulciano district (Sangiovese grapes for the wines from Montepulciano, Montepulciano grapes in the wines of Abruzzo you nit-wits!!)
But that’s not all! The word “Classico” on an Italian label doesn’t necessarily mean its better, it just means the vineyard is in the originally defined area. The Chianti region, for example, has grown over time so “Classico” simply means it is produced in the original area. “Riserva” on the label means it’s been aged before release… But the time required is different by region. Superiore on the label generally should mean better as the wine will be made from grapes with stricter yield and will have 0.5% more alcohol that the guidelines from it’s designated DOC.
But do you want to know the most ridiculous thing about Italian wine? It really is worth the effort. There is no country in the world that produces such a pallet of colours and plethora of flavours. Food and wine is intrinsic to Italy; the wines of regions are designed to be drunk with food from the same area… or it may even be the other way round. So sometimes it is great to taste your way around the country, which I did recently at a tasting held at the West London Wine School:
Cà dei Frati Laguna 2012, Veneto (The Wine Society £12.50)
Rich aromas of stone fruit, apples, even a touch of citrus, all combining beautifully with an engaging floral note and a hint of yeast. On the palate, the texture is rich, with great body; there are lots of peaches and apples, a lovely creamy texture and bright acidity. This is a lot of wine for very little money; complex, long and beautifully balanced. 92 points
Vesevo Fiano di Avellino 2012, Campania (Slurp £12.19)
For a second I think someone has bluffed me with a glass of Gewurztraminer; lychees, citrus, sweet spice and blossom; also something sweet reminding me of pear drops. Lots of texture on the palate with apple and pear fruit along with some floral notes and jasmine. This is the kind of wine I describe as “interesting” (e.g. I don’t really like it) but lacking in balance. 86 points
Pieropan La Rocca Soave Classico 2012, Veneto (Wine Trust 100 £25.00)
This is one of those expensive smelling wines; feels like some money has been spent on new oak (very little as it happens!). The aromas are bruised apples, some peach and a touch of sweet spice’ lovely nose. The attack is tense and rich, reminiscent of a good village Puligny, and there is plenty of peachy and apple fruit. But the finish is short and a little warm; shame, as I was really starting to like it! 88 points
Isole e Olena Chianti Classico 2011, Tuscany (Slurp £19.95)
On first whiff I get that beautiful smell of a bonfire that has just run it’s course… smoky and enticing. Then come the cherries, even a touch of cranberry, all mingling beautifully with the smoke, spice and worn leather earthiness. Lovely tight tannins and great acidity; beautiful fruit, smoke and spice. 92 points
Bruno Rocca Barbaresco Rabaja 2010, Piedmont (Slurp £57.36)
Initially I got something a little medicinal, then the layers of cherries and musty earth took me to a serene place. Beneath the fruit are layers of herbs and forest floor; the nose seems to give more every time I stick my nose in the glass. The tannins are right in your face and very drying, but beneath the texture are layer upon layer of red fruit and sour cherries. There’s lots of oak and a deliciously savoury finish that is very, very long. All this wine needs is another 10 years and it will be fabulous! 94+ points
Da Vinci Brunello di Montalcino 2007, Tuscany (Slurp £33.24)
Delightful balance of fruit and earth on the nose; cherries, raspberries, leather, smoked meat and wild herbs, which really defines this deliciously aromatic wine. Lighter on the palate than expected; a wine of delicacy and elegance. The acid is fine and the fresh fruit takes hold before giving way to dried, then leather and earth. Lovely wine with lots of finesse and class. 93 points
Vesevo Taurasi 2008, Campania (Exel Wines £24.90)
You can smell, even see the sun in this wine; almost black in the glass, with fruit smells of plums and blackberries, liquorice, dark chocolate and some dried fruit; you could easily mistake it for a Barossa Shiraz. The palate is super-ripe and concentrated with clack cherry and cassis, but hidden underneath are hints of raspberry and cranberry giving a great lift. The tannins are big and grippy, providing great structure and length, with a fresh acidity that keeps the palate beautifully clean. A blockbuster wine that is perfect for a glass in front of a winter fire, possibly even better in a few years. I need to check out more wines from Taurasi. 93 points
Allegrini Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2009, Veneto (Slurp £45.60)
Huge liqueur-concentration on the nose; dried fruit, liquorice and chocolate. The attack is super-rich with stewed and dried red and black fruit and some bitter chocolate, but there is an astringency I just cant get on with. I love a good Amarone… but I’m convinced this is a good one. I love Amarone and I’ve tried Allegrini before and loved that too, so maybe this was a slightly flawed bottle; I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt. No score, flawed
Santa Cristina Vin Santo Della Valdichiana 2008, Tuscany (Waitrose £11.99/375ml)
Sweet raisined fruit – I was sure this had been fortified, but no, just 5 months of drying out. The aromas are grapey and nutty, with treacle and marzipan notes and something very savoury. The palate is sweet with honey and treacle, combined with prunes, raisins and savoury almonds. I wasn’t so sure at first, but this wine is very moreish, especially with a piece of Gorgonzola. 90 points