With a busy exhibitors workshop and a first rate Masterclass on the wines of Southern Italy, all held on a beautifully clear day on top of London’s Leadenhall Building, Borsa Vini Italiani 2017 was the place to be to catch up with recent developments in Italy’s Mezzogiorno.
I remember an Italian sommelier in a top end restaurant in Venice telling me that I wasn’t alone in finding Italian wine difficult.
Not only are there a bewildering amount of different grapes, many thousands of (often tiny) producers, too many DOCs and within those regions (that often seem arbitrarily delineated) a good deal of variation both climatically and topographically.
But to compound it, getting allocation off the best or fast-rising estates can be next to impossible.
It’s unlikely that Italian wine is suddenly going to make itself clearer to the outside world any day soon but one thing is for sure, based upon the wines on show at Borsa Vini Italiani 2017, the wines particularly from Southern Italy are looking like supremely good value with quality to match.
The day was split between Masterclass and tasting – with 70 wine producers showing – only 64 of them with UK distribution.
In the masterclass titled New Discoveries from Italy’s Mezzorgiorno, Peter McCombie showed off his versatility as a wine educator (a few days earlier he displayed his expertise on New Zealand Pinot Noir) with an in-depth look at eight wines using different varietals that he had picked to demonstrate four of the main wine regions of the South – Campania, Calabria, Sicily and Puglia.
Throughout this session and the day as a whole there were a number of threads that we returned to:
- Grapes that were once blending components or poorly regarded are finding elevated quality in the right hands
- Greater structure and texture are being found in wine styles where fruit power used to be the style
- There are too many DOCs – many seemingly about local politics rather than distinctive styles
- Riccardo Cotarella is the ‘Michel Rolland of the South’ and his influence is found on hundreds of wines
- Most of the wines on show demand food (not a revelation but you can’t ignore it)
- There is plenty of innovation happening with the, often dynamic, wine-making
- There is a masses more to discover about the wines in the South
Three wines worth considering for your list
Devon Greco di Tufo 2015, Caggiano, (Enotria&Coe)
From the Campania region, an area roughly to the North and East of Naples, this is where lots of exciting viticulture is happening, and should be better placed on the map. It is a hot area with volcanic soils but the elevation and the inshore winds have an important cooling effect.
This wine is made with Greco Bianco, the most prestigious grape in South Italy. It produces a complex wine that in the wrong hands can produce wine that has ugly phenolics. The Devon is no such thing. It has earthy and floral aromatics. On the palate there is stone fruit, a richness, and a touch of honey but the acidity is quite apparent, now and for the next 2-3 years. There is a weight on the wine and a terrific texture. Great with seafood or as an aperitif with fresh olives. £13.58 DPD.
Imprint Susumaniello 2015, A Mano (Liberty Wines)
Puglia has always been Southern Italy’s key volume wine-growing area. Puglia comes from the Latin for ‘lack of rain’ although the iron oxide in the soil (above a calcareous base) does retain moisture well. In recent years a lot of old bush vines have been pulled up and replaced with international varieties. However, this is an area where interesting things are happening.
This wine is made with 100% Susumaniello, a grape that used to be a blending component and, when translated, means ‘little donkey’, ie. it can bear a heavy load. The winemakers are American and Italian who have sourced the fruit from 70-100 year old vines and immediately cut back the yield. Their skill is immediately apparent.
On the nose it is floral, rose petal, dried herbs and spice. On the palate it has similarities to Nero d’Avola – high acidity with a slight sous bois. The wine has wonderful freshness and youthful but not over-bearing tannins. Needs food, pasta with a fresh tomato sauce would be perfect. £9.95 DPD.
Allegracore 2014, Fattorie Romeo del Castello (Tanners)
A lot of good things are happening in Sicily particularly with Etna Rosso and Bianco. Etna is a strictly controlled national park with the bush vines hailing up to 100 years old.
The Nerello Mascalese vines that help make up this punchy blend are indeed 100 years old and were literally at the point the lava stopped the last time Etna erupted with profound lava flow.
The winemakers favour low intervention – no added yeast, open wooden fermenters and ageing for 14 months in old oak casks. There is quite forceful tannin here but balanced by the acidity aided by the 700m elevation.
To look at you’d swear you had a Pinot in front of you, on the palate there is plenty of ripe red fruit, but not over-ripe or ‘dead’ jammy fruit, just bags of red fruit. You could quite happily put this on a restaurant list now but waiting a few years (ha ha!) will pay dividends. Serve with pasta and wild boar ragu or big-flavoured fish dishes. £19.95 DPD.