Leslie Williams: Why Northern Italy is king for wine lovers

I was asked recently which wine region I would opt to live in given an endless budget and unlimited resources. After much deliberation I picked Piedmont in Northern Italy, home to the Slow Food movement, white truffles, hazelnuts, and wines made from Nebbiolo, Barbera and Dolcetto, writes Leslie Williams

I admit that my choice would likely change from day to day and having just returned from a joyous trip to Ribeira Sacra and Rias Baixas in Spain (courtesy of O’Briens) Galicia would also be a strong contender — especially given my near-obsessional love for empanadas (savoury fish or meat-filled pastries), and my love of the textured wines of the region made from Albariño and Godello and Mencía. I’d also have to consider Burgundy (assuming I had endless resources) or Beaujolais or the Languedoc or the Loire or the Dalmatian Coast or Jerez or Alsace or Mendoza or the Barossa Valley... you get the idea.

In this thought experiment I am actually living in these places so food would have to enter the equation and this gives Italy a slight advantage as the utter insistence on seasonality in Italian cooking would mean I’m rarely bored by the food.

In recent weeks I have been making use of my recently acquired pizza oven while there is still some light left in the evening and also slow-cooking ragus. The pizza oven came from Aldi earlier in the year and I hate to admit it, but it works far better than my old handmade, dome-shaped oven that got damaged beyond repair in Storm Ophelia.

Pizza needs bright, juicy flavours and all my selections this week are suitable for pizza and also those meaty pasta dishes which seem so appropriate for autumn.

Try making a low-acid true Bolognese sauce with pork and beef, white wine, and just a little tomato purée (no tomatoes), as it works beautifully with Chianti, Montepulciano, or even Nebbiolo.

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is often the cheapest wine in the Trattoria and while some is thin and acidic, from a good producer it can have a joyous juiciness. Throw in a little Sangiovese to the mix as in Rosso Piceno from Marches and you get one of Italy’s most underrated wines.

The Veneto is the other region featured below, long considered in the top three regions in Italy thanks to Amarone but check out the rare Super Venetian Capo di Stato made from Bordeaux grapes or the fun inexpensive wine I found in Centra.

UNDER €15

Velenosi Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2016, Abruzzo, Italy — €14.49-€15.49

Stockists: JJ O’Driscolls, Vintry Rathgar, Selected CarryOuts, Karwigs Carrigaline www.karwigwines.ie

This is one of my go-to Montepulcianos and a wine I buy regularly from Karwigs. Karwigs have a long relationship with this producer and their violet-scented Lacrima di Morro and their cherry-infused dessert wines are also excellent. Bright, juicy, dark-fruit aromas with a touch of spice.

Gran Ventino Rosso 2016, Veneto, Italy — €12

Stockist: Centra

The Veneto is famous for using ‘appassimento’ dried grapes to add richness to their wines but this simply uses a late-harvest ‘long-hang’ to add a little extra depth and density. Bright, ripe cherry fruits, supple and juicy, with raisins and plums on the palate (and a touch of allspice), fruity and fresh with good acidity and tasting beyond its offer price.

Fantini Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 20, Abruzzo, Italy — €13.99

Stockists: Cinnamon Cottage Rochestown, Egans Portlaoise, Searsons Dublin

I have featured a previous vintage of this wine, plus other wines from this producer, including its Opi. Bright and fruity with ripe berry fruits with plums and prunes on the palate and a touch of liquorice, uncomplicated pleasures, and all the better for it — try with bolognese.

OVER €15

Loredan Gasparini Capo di Stato 2007, Veneto, Italy — €43.49

Stockists: Karwigs Carrigaline www.karwigwines.ie

From Treviso in the Veneto, this estate has been producing wine since the 1300s and Capo di Stato is considered one of the region’s “Cru” wines since its first vintage in 1964. A blend of Cabernet, Merlot, and Malbec grown in their 1946 vineyard and even with 12 years age this has huge concentration, supple but textured blackcurrant and blackberry fruits.

Teruzzi & Puthod Terre di Tufi Bianco 2015, Toscana IGT, Italy — €30.99

Stockists: 64 Wines, Karwigs Carrigaline.

Aiming to be a white ‘Super Tuscan’, this is a blend of Vernaccia, Chardonnay, Malvasia, and Vermentino from the hills around San Gimignano (famous for its Vernaccia). Aromas of white flowers, lemon oil, and vanilla, textured and relatively full bodied but with a lithe supple character and layers of complex confit fruits.

Ascheri Langhe Nebbiolo San Giacomo, Piedmont, Italy — €21.95

Stockist: O’Briens Nationwide, www.wine.ie

I mentioned the Ascheri Barolo a few weeks ago but I’m not sure I have ever featured their standard Langhe Nebbiolo which offers many of the same pleasures. Liquorice and red fruit aromas, textured black cherry fruits on the palate but with a pleasing lively character on the palate and enough structure to make it interesting.


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