Heading off the Beaten Track to Some of Italy’s Less Known Wines
The 1990s brought us Pinot Grigio, the late noughties gave rise to Prosecco and the twenty-tens has seen the steady growth of a plethora of other northern Italian white wines. Some made from International varieties and some from indigenous grapes.
But it’s not just Italy’s sparkling and white wines that have captured the world’s attention, rosés are on the up and reds from the famous appellations like Valpolicella (especially Amarone and Ripasso), Chianti and Barolo have also benefitted on the back of the country’s rise to prominence, as well as a new wave of younger, fruitier wines.
Early indicators show that 2020 consumers are starting to venture off the beaten track to explore more of Italy’s vast range that covers the entirety of the country’s mainland as well as its islands. Let’s take a closer look at a few.
The other white wine beginning with ‘P’
You may only know Pecorino as a popular Italian cheese made from sheep’s milk, but it’s also a white wine grape variety that can be found in the eastern provinces of Marche and Abruzzo as well as further north in Tuscany, Lazio and Umbria too.
It’s a more delicate variety that seems to particularly prosper in Abruzzo, where it favours the higher altitudes on the eastern side of the Apennine mountains or on the rolling hillsides down towards the Adriatic coastline.
The wines have a characteristic freshness and purity, almost as though they’ve captured the mountain and coastal air inside the bottle, while the flavours resemble citrus and yellow-skinned stone fruits, attractive floral scents and hints of dried herbs. It’s also a great translator for the soil on which it’s grown, serving to accentuate the wine’s freshness, so it makes a perfect pairing for the abundant fish and seafood restaurants up and down the east coast.
Conscientious family estates like Carminucci have chosen to follow organic principles which further enhances the wine’s green credentials. Their ‘Belato’ Offida Pecorino is a fun labelled, elegantly structured example that’s tangy and refreshing.
The other great red from Piedmont beginning with ‘B’
The north western province of Piedmont is perhaps most famous for the full-bodied red wines from Barolo, closely followed by neighbouring Barbaresco. Both wines are made from the native Nebbiolo grape and have the capability of ageing and improving for many years. The best producers can command prices on a par with the elite of Bordeaux.
The other regional variety, Barbera, used to be the second most planted red wine variety in Italy until a scandal in the mid-1980s put the brakes on and it has since slipped to fifth place. However, it’s been experiencing renewed interest over the past 15-20 years, in part thanks to the promotion of the high-quality DOC Barbera d’Asti to the top DOCG status in 2008.
Barbera ripens earlier than Nebbiolo and can give higher potential yields although the DOCG rules limit crop size and even more so for the highest quality sub-zone of Nizza. What they lack in tannin and structure versus Nebbiolo, they more than make up in youthful approachability and opulent fruitiness. The best can still evolve nicely over 10—20 years in the bottle, if you have the patience! Like Carminucci, Tenuta Olim Bauda have been working organically for many years and are currently towards the end of their official conversion period. They should be certified with the 2022 vintage, which should hit the UK market in 2024. Their Barbera d’Asti ‘La Villa’ is serious for the money with amazing depth and concentration.
A new wave of richer reds
One of the most recent success-stories for Italian red wines are those in the Appassimento category. The process of partially dehydrating the grapes before fermenting them. This not only intensifies the colour, aromatics and flavours but adds some residual sweetness too. Think Valpolicella Ripasso, which is perhaps the benchmark and was awarded its own DOC status in 2009.
There are now variations on a theme made from all over Italy, especially in the warmer south and Sicily too but we’ve been seeing great success with a version made in the northern region of Emilia-Romagna.
The strikingly packaged ‘Enigma’, made by the famed Veneto family of Biscardo, sees Sangiovese grapes left to partially raisin on the vine before being carefully harvested. They’re then stored in special baskets to dehydrate further until December before a slow fermentation commences at low temperatures. The resulting wine has an incredible scent of red and black berried fruits and it feels voluminous yet beautifully balanced with soft and sweet tannins. This is currently on offer and is a steal so it’s worth snapping up a bottle or two while stocks last!
As the world’s number one or number two volume producer, depending on the strength of the vintage, and around 350 authorised grape varieties for commercial winemaking, Italy provides almost endless opportunities for us to explore new and exciting flavours. To see our full Italian range please click here.