A few months ago I came to love Italian wines. I can even narrow down the experiences that led to this epiphany. First was a tasting of, among other Italian wines, a 2000 Barolo from the Roagna Family Estate. The wine was rather romantically named La Rocca e la Pira and I was fascinated how a wine could be so deep, so complex, so alive and continuously changing in the glass. Especially as we were informed the wine had been decanted over 8 hours ago, and could easily stand being decanted overnight to let it breathe even more! This excellent tasting was given by Hector Scicluna of HS Fine Wines in Cambridge.
Secondly, a trip to Italy over the last Easter break revealed to me the true variety and authenticity of Italian wines. Every village it seems has its own style of wine-making, its own specialities. I was very impressed in the Chianti region how strict the control is of what can go into the wine. No herbicides, no pesticides, the grape content is strictly monitored, you couldn’t even water your vines in times of drought. Economic suicide perhaps in dry years, but it shows a commitment to producing a wine that reflects its origins in the soil, and in the weather conditions of the vintage. A wine that comes, as much as is possible, solely from nature.
As might be imagined, reds were the staple diet on this Italian trip, and doubtless I will be returning to Italian reds again and again in this blog, for their infinite complexities, their power, and the sheer numbers of styles that originate from a relatively small geographical area.
However, at another recent Italian wine tasting in Oxford, I was pleasantly surprised by some Italian whites. What do you know about Italian whites? Well, for me, most of my experience had been limited to the seemingly ubiquitous Pinot Grigio, a variety I’m sure I’ll return to at some stage.
However, it was some relatively unknown white Italians that really caught the attention of my palate that evening. First up was a Prosecco, Italy’s take on fizz. This particular sample was Treviso Frizzante, and at £9/bottle from the Wine Society, is great value. There are creamy, vanilla notes underlying a crisp honeyed-apples flavour. A hint of peardrops on both the nose and palate complement this wine, and is for me the ‘marker’ that tells me this wine is Italian. Makes for a very refreshing and enjoyable aperitif.
An orvieto is a style of (still) wine native to Umbria that is a blend of the Grechetto and Procanico grapes. Orvieto Classico Superiore, ‘Castagnolo’, from the Barberani Estate, 2009 vintage, includes a little bit of Chardonnay and Riesling in the blend. This makes for a deliciously aromatic wine with notes of apricot, honey, white flower petals. There is also a herbaceous grassy-ness thanks to the Grechetto, and a very subtle kerosene note due to the Riesling. This wine has a firm ‘backbone’ of acidity, fairly high alcohol, although this doesn’t detract from the wine. It would go very well with a delicate white fish dish. It’s about £10/bottle. grapes.
Verdicchio is another overlooked Italian white. Pale and crisp like Pinot Grigio and Orvieto, it has a more complex and vegetal approach, as opposed to fruity and/or floral lines. The Verdicchio that stood out for me was made by Monte Schiavo, and was their Palio di San Floriano, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, Classico Superiore (yes, a bit of a mouthful!). This was of 2009 vintage. Qualifiers that came to mind when describing the nose were crabapples, asparagus, along with a smokiness, and underlying floral hints. The alcohol was high (it’s 13.5%), and perhaps stands out a little from the body, and there was a herbaceous finish to the wine. Perhaps not a typical tasting note to get the average punter enthused, but believe me this was a fairly complex wine that is a little bit different, a little bit challenging to those of us on a standard fruit-driven white wine diet. This wine would go excellently with most fish dishes and vegetarian meals in particular. And at only £8.50/bottle it’s worth branching out a bit.
I guess the moral of Italian whites for me is that there’s a lot there to be surprised by. How about you look out for an orvietto, a verdicchio to go with your meal? (Good Italian restaurants are good places to start to try a glass). Or indeed a prosecco for a refreshing summer aperitif?