Fabled flavours of Italy's new wine renaissance
Where do the best Italian wines come from? Well, yes, Italy. Ha ha. But where in Italy?
The answer to that one isn't so simple. The most-familiar names come from Tuscany – that's (expensive) Chianti – and Veneto, the province of Venice where they make a lot of (uninspiring) Pinot Grigio. The really interesting wines need a little more seeking out.
For members of the Wine Society, this is no problema. The Society's buyer for Italy, Sebastian Payne, knows exactly where the nation's best wines come from. "Italy's most go-ahead and intelligent producers have rediscovered a belief in their native Italian grapes," he says, and those are the grapes "that make their most attractive wines."
This bold and wise declaration is made by Mr Payne in his introduction to a wide-ranging current offer of "Italian Renaissance" wines to the society's membership. There are dozens of wines, reds and whites, from all over the country, with tempting offers of mixed cases at useful discounts on the individual prices.
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The sheer diversity is impressive enough. There are wines I have barely heard of, and wines I know will be very difficult to find anywhere else. But it's the distinctive character and sheer quality that really counts. As a member I have lately been buying small selections of the wines, and have been bowled over.
My point? I believe no true enthusiast should be missing out on this extraordinary resource. I strongly suggest to any reader of this page not already a member of the Wine Society that joining will be entirely justified, merely by gaining access to the Italian range. There are, of course, formidable ranges of wines from everywhere else too.
It's a simple process. You pay £40 for a lifetime's membership, and there tends to be a discount off your first purchase. Just look at the website (thewinesociety.com), and have a scroll through the Italian range. You'll soon see what I mean. Last word on the Society. It's a mutual organisation, non-profit-making. So the prices are competitive. Very competitive.
And so to the Italian wines from the current offer. The mixed-case discounts end tomorrow (members please note), but the wines continue at the prices I've quoted here.
Severino Garofano Copertino Eloquenzia 2010 at £6.95 is from the Salentino peninsula, the "heel" of Italy. Made entirely from negroamaro grapes, a variety known for producing strong, dark and age-worthy red wines, this one lives fully up to its varietal billing. It is simply fascinating, earthy and savoury with a richness and texture to put you in mind of extra-dark chocolate but with an easy, delightful weight. It's sweetly ripe in the best possible sense, and seems madly underpriced for this sort of quality and interest.
Bricco Rosso Suagna Langhe Rosso 2008 at £7.25 is a remarkable five-year-old red wine from Piedmont made from a blend of the region's premium grape nebbiolo, the variety that makes serious, long-lived Barolo, with dolcetto, the variety in the juicy, bouncing everyday reds often sold as Dolcetto d'Asti. This wine certainly has bounce; it's full of plummy fruit and youthful vigour, with the keenest, almost citrus acidity. The best imaginable match for sticky starchy pasta and rice dishes.
Ciro Barone di Bolaro 2011 at £7.25 is as picturesque a wine as you could hope to find anywhere. It's from Calabria, the "toe" of Italy's boot-shaped peninsula, and one of the first wines identified in ancient literature. Milo of Croton, invincible Olympian wrestler, soldier and son-in-law of Greek giant of mathematics Pythagoras in the 6th century BC, so the story goes, drank two gallons of Ciro wine daily. The wine is no doubt a little altered since Milo's day, but it's still inspiring stuff, dark, spicy and bursting with juicy blackberry fruit. Made from the cheerily named gaglioppo grape, this one is also silky, deliciously gripping and savoury.
Camillo de Lellis Biferno Rosso Riserva 2009 (£7.50) is a red from central Italy's Adriatic side. The district of Biferno, just south of the much better-known Montepulciano di Abruzzo, produces fascinating flavours from a combination of aglianico and montepulciano grapes, leavened with trebbiano toscano, a white grape variety. The wine is dark, dense, plummy and smooth with warm highlights of cloves and other exotic flavours. This is a deeply fascinating and satisfying red of unique character.
Janare Sannio Greco 2012 (£7.25) is from the Campania, the province of Naples. The Greco is an exotic white grape so-called in the belief that it was a vine variety imported with the Greek immigrants who first settled this region 2,500 years ago. This is an exotic dry wine with big gold colour and a fleeting petillance in the glass; it's a food wine, gently oxidative, herbaceous and full-flavoured, a grand match with creamy pasta, roasted vegetables and poultry rather than with delicate fish dishes, I'd say.
Contesa Pecorino Abruzzo 2012 (£9.50) is a discovery. Pecorino is a grape variety native to the Marches of Adriatic Italy lately rescued from extinction and now well on its way to cult status in the Abruzzo, a region hitherto much better known for red wines from montepulciano grapes. This one has a fine gold colour, exotic tropical aromas and fruit, and a very distinctive dry, crisp style.