March has seen some incredible Italian wine tastings in London, both large generic and merchant-led. Suddenly it seems us Brits can’t drink enough of the stuff, with Italian wine knocking French off the top on-trade spot. Il Collettivo, now into its third year, was a bit of both – a focussed event that showcased the best and most interesting Italian wines from five of Britain’s most innovative wine importers – Astrum Wine Cellars, Flint, FortyFive10°, Sommelier’s Choice and Swig. Chris Wilson tasted his way through the wines and turns the spotlight on six of the most exciting producers he feels belongs on your list.
The discoveries include a true Alpine Lagrein, a Malvasia from 80 year-old vines, a dreamy blend of Montepulciano and Merlot, Super Tuscans made with Rhône varietals, and one that ‘defines Italian red wine’.
Consistently the best place to find off-the-beaten track Italian wines, the Il Collettivo tasting always impresses with its array of interesting wines and even more interesting winemakers. There’s passion here by the bucketful, and a real sense that now is the time for modern Italian wines to shine in the UK.
Tasting these wines is always a pleasure and, with a focus on the premium, the quality is always high. Here are six producers from the tasting who really shone, each one making wines that can’t fail to impress on a restaurant list or wine bar blackboard.
“Are you the winemaker?” I asked the man behind the table. “Er, I do everything,” he modestly replies. Of course he does, and as I ponder the stupidity of my question I can’t help but think of Withnail & I. “Of course he’s the fucking farmer, Withnail, stop saying that.”
Klaus knows his stuff, he makes racy, generous wines on the Austrian border in the Alto Adige. His Gruner Veltliner Eichberg 2016 comes from terraced vineyards with serious gradients and is elegant and spicy with white pepper and saffron characters and a zippy, brisk acidity.
The Gewürztraminer Amperg 2016 is equally as acid-charged, which helps as there’s a shedload of lifted floral and honeyed characters which need a bit of bite to roughen up the edges. This is a delicious and long wine that could easily reawaken an interest among Gewürz-wary drinkers.
There’s a red too – the Lagrein Riserva Amperg 2016– which is mineral and vibrant with berries and tender red fruits. A true Alpine wine that is stony, clean and as cool as ice. (Distributed in the UK by FortyFive10°).
I Clivi’s winemaker isn’t called Clive, and I’m not 100% sure he appreciated this particular line of questioning. Still, once we got talking and sipping all was forgiven. These wines come from Friuli Venezia Giulia from old vines planted across two sites, one near Corno di Rosazzo and one near Brazzano.
The Friulano San Pietro 2017 is a punchy and developed wine which spends 10 months on lees in stainless steel; there are mineral and pear notes and a refreshing, satisfying finish.
The vibrant, aromatic Malvasia 2017 comes from 80-year-old vines and is infused with guava and jasmine characters, while the Verduzzo 2017 is upfront and intense with waxy lemon, white peach and honeysuckle.
A beautifully balanced collection of wines that appear simple on first glance, but soon reveal themselves to be refined, structured and classy. (Distributed in the UK by Flint Wines)
Nicolas Ottin is my new hero; a tall, dark, top-knotted winemaker who moonlights as a ski instructor from his base in the snow-covered mountains of the Valle d’Aosta. His wines are incredible – there’s a passion and style which runs through them that’s as infectious as Nicolas himself.
The Petite Arvine 2017 comes from a vineyard planted with this Swiss variety back in the 1970s, it enjoys a 20-day cold fermentation in stainless steel which gives it purity and depth. There are lychee and pear notes and a generous sweetness of fruit which comes from the abundant sunshine that ripens the fruit some 600m above sea level.
Nicolas explains that the Pinot Noir 2016 is made in a ‘skinny style’, which means there’s a briskness to the cherry and raspberry fruit and a spiky acidity to pin the fruit to. There’s a hint of developed, leafy characters here and it’s as smooth as hell.
The wine of the day was the Fumin 2015 a smooth and complex beast with pomegranate fruit and a mineral crunch. Lush, rich and serious it defines in one sip modern Italian red wine. Find it, buy it, enjoy it. (Distributed in the UK by Flint Wines)
I’ve tasted these wines before at the Out The Box tastings and they never fail to impress. Winemaker Elenora Berluti and her brother Paolo make modern wines with a nod to the ancient traditions of the Marche.
The Mun Rosé 2017 is a delight; the Montepulciano grapes are harvested one month before the fruit for the red wines giving the wine just a dash of pale red colour, it’s almost orange in fact, as well as strawberry and cherry fruit and a grassy, glossy finish.
Clochard 2017 is a blend of Verdicchio (90%) and Chardonnay. It’s a textured, salty wine with a wonderful fruit salad hit, a bright, golden hue and a stylish long finish. The red wine which impressed most was the Il Cacciatore di Sogni 2016– which translates as ‘dream hunter’ – and it’s a dreamy blend of Montepulciano and Merlot that’s elegant with blackcurrant pie, liquorice and earthy notes. A lick of oak on the finish completes the picture. (Distributed in the UK by Swig)
Known for its Super Tuscans, famously incorporating Bordeaux varieties, the Bolgheri DOC produces some of Italy’s most revered and expensive wines. Michele Satta’s wines are no exception, but Satta takes a slightly different approach to the varieties used, favouring the Rhône grapes Viognier and Syrah to go alongside the native Vermentino and Sangiovese.
“They give more energy and light than the Bordeaux varieties,” explains Satta. The Giovin Re 2016 is a 100% Viognier which is weighty and honeyed with developed woody characters amid a canvas of flowers, honeysuckle and tropical lime.
The Piastraia 2016 sees Italy, Bordeaux and the Rhône all combine as Merlot, Cabernet, Sangiovese and Syrah come together. Each grape is fermented separately in 35 h/l casks then blended together in March following harvest (on the day of the Easter moon, to be precise). It then spends two years in barrel before release. It a complex wine humming with bold red fruit and dark chocolate; each sip feels like a reward.
The 100% Syrah 2016 is textbook; silky, warm and mouth-filling with rich plummy fruit and a dark, spicy edge. (Distributed in the UK by Sommelier’s Choice)
“Great things are done when men and mountains meet,” penned William Blake. Maybe he’s been to Etna and met David Bentivegna, the winemaker at one of Sicily’s most exciting wineries Etnella. Quitting his managerial job at German manufacturing giant Siemens he headed for the hills with a mission to make wines that touch the soul.
These are earthy, bright wines. The Kaos 5.0 2017 is a blend of Carricante, Catarratto, Malvasia, Grecanico, Minella and Inzolia – it’s a tangy, salty wine with sweet tropical fruit and a scrumpy apple acidity. Nerello Mascalese and Nerollo Cappuccio come together in the Tracotanza 2016 which is aged in concrete and has lush, fresh fruit, a mineral kick and a whiff of the farmyard.
Etnella’s top wine Notti Stellate 2016 is a blend of the two Nerollos plus Syrah and Grenache; it’s made from Bentivegna’s oldest vines (70-150 years old) and just 1,600L was made. It’s a cherry fruit-spiked joy; bursting with fresh fruit, bright acidity and red liquorice. (Distributed in the UK by Swig).