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6:00am Saturday 19th October 2013 in Lifestyle
Fancy a drink? Our drinks columnist Sam Wylie-Harris rekindles a Latin love affair with Italy's food-friendly vino.
The Italian Job
Vines map all four corners of Italy, and part of the allure of its regional culinary specialities is the abundance of fine wines to match them.
From the Veneto region in the north, to Sicily in the south, Italy has been growing indigenous grape varieties for hundreds of years and the great thing is, you don't need to be an adventurous drinker (or diner) to enjoy all their distinctive flavours. In fact, the Italian wine and food culture is so popular that several decades of overproduction and overcropping resulted in lower quality wines - mass produced from bulk to bottle - that were not convivial to an Italian pantry, let alone the cellar.
But thanks to improved viticulture and winemakers focusing on local varieties and higher quality fruit, the country's characterful wines, from so many appellations, have inspired a renaissance and put Italy back at the top of our hit list.
One of the world's most recognisable styles and archetypal white wine, cool climate pinot grigio hails from the north-eastern part of the country. At its best, pinot grigio shows light, crisp, delicate fruit flavours with a hint of spice on the fresh finish, and Fiorile Pinot Grigio, Cesari 2012, Italy (£7.45 from £8.70, when you buy six bottles, www.tanners-wines.co.uk) is a delightful example from a respected producer.
The gargenega grape may not roll off the tongue, but it forms the basis for the Venetian white wine, Soave, and 'suave Soaves' from Verona are a far cry from the run-of-the-mill bottles we've grown accustomed to drinking in the local trattoria. From award-winning winemaker Graziano Pra, try Soave Classico Staforte Pra 2010, Italy (£19.99, www.virginwines.co.uk) which is gently floral with intense flavours of ripe, sun-drenched stone fruits, with hints of hazelnuts on the soft finish - utterly delicious.
Heading south past the rolling hills and terraced vineyards of central Italy, white wines from the volcanic Campania region are considered some of the finest in the country. Falanghia, fiano and greco are the three main varieties and wines such as Terredora Greco di Tufo, Terre degli Angeli 2011, Campania, Italy (£13.99, Waitrose) are full-bodied in style with a typical mineral character and rich palate of breezy citrus fruit and just the right amount of acidity.
Like a well-cut blazer, Italian reds are tailored to suit all seasons and with so many flavoursome varieties (some of which can be enjoyed slightly chilled) at different price-points, sometimes it's worth forking out a little bit more to see the true character of the region reflected in the wine.
From the north-west of the country, Il Cascinone Rive Barbera 2011, Italy (£15.99, www.virginwines.co.uk) is a big wine that's beautifully structured and the barbera fruit rewards the palate with velvety smooth black cherry and forest fruit flavours balanced by supple tannins and a long, lingering finish.
Deep in the south, sun-drenched Puglia is good hunting ground for plummy reds made from the native nero di troia grape and Torre del Falco Nero di Troia 2010, Puglia, Italy (£7.99, Waitrose) brings soft, ripe raspberry fruits to the table with violet notes and some savoury spice on the finish.
For a sense of place, terroir based wines from Sicily are all the rage at the moment and M&S is good hunting ground for these wines. Try Nicosia Etna Rosso 2011, Italy (£9.99, Marks & Spencer) which is a blend of 80% nerello mascalese and 20% nerello cappuccio grown on the mineral rich volcanic slopes of Mount Etna. The nerello mascalese grape gives the wine a tannic edge, with bitter cranberry and dried cherry flavours with earthy, spicy notes and musky aromas that cry out for a beefy plate of lasagne with a rich tomato sauce.
For wine lovers embarking on a grand tour, much of central Italy is planted with sangiovese and Tuscany is Chianti country and home to classic expressions such as Finest Chianti Riserva 2010, Italy (£7.99, Tesco) which is crafted for Tesco by leading producer Piccini. A medium-bodied, juicy red with fine tannins that can be enjoyed with or without pasta dishes, this terrific Chianti has generous strawberry and blackberry fruit with structure and good length.
At the top of the league, Brunello di Montalcino is the Godfather of sangiovese but these powerful (and pricey) wines require longer ageing to calm the tannins and acidity, and bring the wine to its full potential. To make the transition from everyday sangiovese to something special, a Rosso di Montalcino is an excellent intermezzo that's lighter in body than a Brunello, but still tastes like it's been blessed by the Pope. Try San Giuseppe di Stella di Campalto, Rosso di Montalcino 2009, Az, Agr, San Giuseppe, Castelnuovo dell'Abate, Tuscany, Italy (£29.50, www.bbr.com) which is a ripe, elegant style with a heady bouquet, seductive, sweet cherry fruit, accents of herbs and cedar wood with silky tannins on the long, exquisite finish.
:: Best buy
Under lock and key... To help protect your favourite premium vodka, or under-18's nosing your prize single malt, Tantalus (£8.99 for a single pack, or £24.99 for a triple pack, www.tantalus.co.uk) is a lockable alcohol security device that can only be opened with a key.
Designed to keep family and friends from helping themselves, or thirsty teenagers from accessing your top tipple, Tantalus fits most standard alcohol bottles and each model comes complete with its own individual key.
:: Liquid news
Well charted territory and hidden treasures... Dynamic wine-writing duo, Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson have collaborated for the third time and created the seventh edition of The World Atlas of Wine By Hugh Johnson & Jancis Robinson, £40, published by Mitchell Beazley, £40, available now from all good book shops.
A tome and tribute to the world of fine wine, the new edition of The World Atlas of Wine takes readers on a journey to more regions than ever before; chronicles the latest wine trends, local varieties, styles and topical issues facing producers and consumers with 215 specially designed maps; and gives an authoritative guide to emerging wine regions and up-to-date information on the world wine scene.
:: For more info visit www.worldatlasofwine.com
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