How do you solve a ‘problem’ like Italian wine? So many indigenous grape varieties, so many DOCs, so many difficult names to navigate yourself around, no generic Italian wine body… and yet there are so many fantastic Italian wines made that tasting your way through an Italian event is always a voyage of discovery. Such was the case with Bibendum’s most recent tasting – the first of a series of events called Tasting Editions, which allowed the company to show off their Italian portfolio – highlighting the indigenous grapes of Italy.
Bibendum’s Italian portfolio includes four new wineries – two from Tuscany, one from Puglia and one from Veneto.
There were so many fascinating wines to choose from at Tasting Editions: Italy, the latest trade tasting from Bibendum. Despite the recent (and resolved) problems with its parent company, it is clear that the Italian buying team at Bibendum has been busy beavering away in the background – adding five new wineries to the 11 already on show.
It was also good to see an importer highlighting indigenous grape varieties as the key way of navigating this often complex country. So many of the winemakers at the tasting related promising stories of seeking out special plots, saving near-extinct varietals, and letting the grapes speak for themselves rather than swamping them with technique.
If you couldn’t get to the tasting, do not fear I have picked out 6 of the best whites and 6 of the best reds that show a good spread of what’s on offer.
First, the key takeaways from the tasting were:
- The whites are textural, fresh white wines that are varietal-led and not by winemaking
- Italy’s North East – Veneto and Alto Adige – were on blistering form
- Indigenous varieties, some previously seen as blending grapes, are being allowed to dominate a blend or be 100% varietal, reveling in their uniqueness
- The reds were a mix of fresh, textural ‘house’ wines and more complex wines that demanded food (as so many Italian reds obviously do)
- The majority of the wines represented stunning value for money
Six whites to take note of….
Caruso & Minini, Terre di Giumara Grecanico 2017
Caruso & Minini is a good example of a small winery in the historical winemaking region of Marsala in West Sicily, using indigenous grapes, in this case 100% Grecanico from 2017 (the name for the Garganega grape outside Veneto). The nose is fairly shy but attractive – lime marmalade, orange blossom water; on the palate this is a dry, tangy, citrus food wine that cries out for shellfish; there is green orange pith, caper, with a dry textured finish. Share a bottle with raw prawn or swordfish sashimi. There’s some heat here but a refreshing 12.5% ABV.
Scala, Ciro Bianco 2016
The label alone from this certified-organic Calabrian winery – its original 50s retro label – is such an attraction and would look great in a variety of establishments. What’s good is that the wine delivers on the promise, both the white (made from 100% Greco) and red (100% Gaglioppo) at a keen trade price of £10.17. This white is dark gold/green; grassy, herbs and Cream Soda on the nose; the palate is bitter almonds, white spice, salty, fresh, focused. Needs time to open out in the glass and is a great food wine, by the bottle or by the glass.
Cantina del Vermentino, Funtanaliras Vermentino 2017
A 100% Vermentino from the co-op Cantina del Vermentino-Monti based in the region of Sardinia where it has cultivated this grape since the 14th Century – Vermentino di Gallura DOCG. Light straw; nose of blossom, fresh oregano and quince; the palate is spicy, salty, nicely textured with a confected fruity uplift on the finish that seems to last forever, almost in a Turkish Delight way, just about balanced by a nutty, bitter, dry clipped end.
Suavia, Massifitti 2015
100% Trebbiano Di Soave from this excellent producer, Suavia, which is a small producer working on the hills trying to restore ‘the real Trebbiano’. Suavia was showing four Soave at the tasting, two of which made my final six – the wines are that good. This is focused, linear, with that distinctive rasping texture you get from volcanic soil. Light straw in appearance; on the nose orange rind, white flowers and nectarines; in the mouth you get a mouth-watering bitter orange, citrus, fantastic acidity with a little lick of cream. Fantastic value at £15.32 trade price.
Suavia, Soave Le Rive 2012
A very special wine this. Suave Classico Superiore made from 100% late ripening Garganega. Ripe fruit plus time in the barrel (2012 is the latest release) makes this an opulent wine, rich, complex and utterly beguiling. Nose of confit orange, quince, barley sugar, mi cuit apricot; the palate is soft on the front palate then a ripe orange zest, mineral grip takes hold before a lengthy finish. With 10 grams residual sugar this would work well on its own, with hard salty cheese, or with a cherry tart. Only a small allocation so you need to be smart buying this.
Alois Lageder, Am Sand Gewürztraminer 2015
The whites of Alto Adige are singing in all the right places at the moment, particularly the Sauvignon Blancs and, in this case, Gewürztraminer from this biodynamic producer which is breaking up the traditional ‘monoculture’ vineyard and a creating a holistic ecosystem. With long skin contact, this has all the requisite pretty notes of lychee, stolen, crystalized ginger and rose petal, but sitting on a sturdy, textured structure with a long finish. People who say they don’t like Gewürztraminer will have their preconceptions challenged here. Also noteworthy is its Forra Manzoni Bianco which is a single-vineyard expression of Manzoni, a cross between Riesling and Pinot Blanc.
6 reds to take note of…
Marotti Campi, Lacrima di Morro d’Alba Superiore Orgiolo 2015
This is a 100% Lacrima from the La Marche region. Light ruby in appearance; intense, ‘wild’ nose of fresh oregano and juniper berries; the palate is distinguished by coarse, rustic tannin, with ample quantities of wild black fruit. Good to see a resurgence of this once important grape, especially at such affordable prices – £12.65 trade price. Would make a good by-the-glass with roasted meats and cheese, or thick-cut Italian sausage somewhere in the shade. The chorus of cicadas obligatory.
Tornatore, Pietrarizzo 2015
From one of the best Cru in the Etna region, this is Nerello Mascalese with a little bit of Nerello Cappucio to add colour, that has been vinified in concrete tanks and aged for six months in large format oak. Quite light ruby in appearance; on the nose you get a complex and heady mix of violets, smoke, plums, mace; on the palate you can find black raspberry, cherry, liquorice with a lovely, lean texture, dry edge and an almost lean Pinot grip. I liked the white too which is 100% Carricante.
La Dama, Valpolicella Classico 2016
La Dama is a 10-hectare Venetian estate, new to Bibendum’s Italian portfolio. Gabrielle Dalcanale and his wife Miriam Haylage try to go as natural as possible – mixing New Wave Valpolicella with tradition (they are not going for too much extraction). This Classico is very approachable in youth, it has an open fruity core (morello cherry), is dry, light, fresh, with a good backbone of acidity and well managed tannins. Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella, Molinara are the grapes as you would expect.
Rocca di Frassinello 2014
This is a joint project between Lafite Rothschild and Chianti Classico estate Castellare Di Castellina to make a Super Tuscan blend. Deep ruby, alluring nose of black cherry, baking spice, floral; on the palate blood orange, white cherry, dark chocolate, firm acidity and structure but with soft tannins and a great deal of heat on the finish, simply delicious.
Castellare Di Castellina, Chianti Classico Riserva Il Poggiale 2015
From the same Tuscan winery comes this pearl of a Chianti Classico, from Il Poggiale – a single estate DOCG. Castellare’s Governo 2017 is quite rightly ‘simplicity at its best’ using a mix of Sangiovese, Malvasia Nera and Canaiolo (£10.80), but this Riserva is on another level of complexity, using 90% Sangioveto (an original clone of Sangiovese), Canaiolo and Ciliegiolo. Ruby red in appearance; there are notes of fresh violets and red, ripe cherries, currants, earth, rose petals; on the palate the wines is full-bodied and structured as you’d expect with such a young Riserva, but the juicy fruit core and well-integrated tannins allow the wine to be drunk now. Nice one to tuck away and find in a decade’s time.
Castello di Ama, l’Apparita 2014
Forget all the Sideways jokes, Italy produces some of the finest expressions of Merlot worldwide and this cult wine shows how. Having been made by Marco Pallanti since 1985 this 100% Merlot was the first to be produced in Tuscany. A 26-day skin maceration is followed by 15 months maturing in French Allier barriques, the fruit having been left on the vines longer in 2014 on account of the cool weather in summer. The wine is massively concentrated held together with firm tannins and structure (arguably less broad than in previous vintages). The nose is an opulent and inviting mix of cassis, fresh tobacco, red cherries; on the palate it is red and black fruit, balsamic. A powerhouse of a wine with price tag attached (£119 trade price).