Like all of you reading this I suspect, I’ve been watching far too much television in recent months and a current fad in our house has been for 'spaghetti westerns'. Sergio Leone used Italian and Spanish locations and we have worked our way through his oeuvre while sampling various Italian and Spanish wines (both Spain and Italy were used as locations).
Prior to writing this column I watched the two Enzo Barboni ‘Trinity’ comedy westerns which are available on Youtube:and . These were shot in Central Italy — the latter in Abruzzo and the former in Lazio. Massively successful when released in the 70s, I must admit they are not as hilarious as I thought when I first saw them aged about 14 but are still pleasingly escapist and worked very well with a couple of glasses of Montepulciano D’Abruzzo and takeaway pizza.
Abruzzo has a long Adriatic coast and stunning mountain views with national parks and more green landscape than virtually anywhere in Italy. Abruzzo is considered to be a part of Southern Italy despite being due-east of Rome and geographically more Central than South. Wine has been made here since at least the Etruscans in the 4th century BCE but due to the rugged mountainous landscape grape growing is confined to the lowlands and coast.
Montepulciano is the main grape of course but you will also find plenty of Sangiovese and imported varieties such as Cabernet and Merlot. For whites expect to find local grapes like Trebbiano and more importantly fragrant Passerina and Pecorino — the latter having gone through a significant revival in recent years (the name means ‘little sheep’ so also refers to a cheese). Pecorino has good sugar levels and high acidity so can cope well with heat and also at altitude and is a grape worth seeking out — it is a fine match for creamy pasta dishes.
Selections this week are mainly from Abruzzo plus a value Spanish red from the Aldi summer range. Like spaghetti westerns, they won’t tax your brain but offer a lot of pleasure while transporting you to a place a long way from pandemic lockdown Ireland.
Friday, April 23, 6.30pm: Winemaker Tasting of Conde Valdemar Rioja conducted by head winemaker Antonio Orte. Cost for the 75-minute tasting and 6 bottles of Rioja is €125. Limited to 90 places. wineonline.ie
Cariñena is a small but useful wine region in Aragon around 40 minutes south west of Zaragoza, the capital of Aragon. Named for the Carignan/Cariñena grape but these days you are just as likely to find Garnacha or Merlot. This is a fun lively fruity red for barbecues that will also work chilled: spice and red fruit aromas, fruity and soft with extra spice on the finish.
Like the wine above this is a fun fruity wine suitable for barbecues and Tuesday night pizza. Tierre di Chieti is an IGT (Indicazione Geographica Tipica) in Abruzzo for grapes grown in the hills around the city of Chieti, capital of Abruzzo. No blend is given but I’m guessing Montepulciano and maybe some Sangiovese and Merlot. Dark cherry fruit aromas, fruity, supple and ripe with a hint of clove on the finish.
Stockists: Cinnamon Cottage Rochestown, wineonline.ie
This is one of my favourite Montpulcciano d’Abruzzos and it seems it is equally popular among the customers of Cinnamon Cottage — apologies for the extra euro but it’s worth it. Bright ripe berry fruit aromas with plums and baked cherries on the palate, a touch of liquorice and a pleasing, vibrant, fruit-driven finish. This is the ultimate pizza and pasta wine — try with Cinnamon Cottage Lasagne.
Stockists: D6 Wines, Wine Pair, Deveneys Dundrum, Blackrock Cellar - www.blackrockcellar.com (delivery nationwide), Baggot St. Wines baggotstreetwines.com (delivery nationwide)
Cataldi Madonna (yes this is the family name) is a family-owned organic producer in the heart of Abruzzo near the city of L’Aquila. A 'malandrino' is a rascal or reprobate and the wine does have a playful quality with gobs of black and red fruits and a hugely pleasing drinkability. On the decently long finish some light spice notes come through along with a bitter almond kick. Delightful.
Pecorino is almost always interesting and worth seeking out in good off-licences and when Italian restaurants open again. This has floral lime and lemon aromas with herbal touches, textured and balanced on the palate with good acidity and ripe fruits and a pleasing citrus kick on the finish.
Stockists: Whelehans Wines - whelehanswines.ie
Whelehans stock the excellent Feuduccio wines from Abruzzo but vintages have changed since I last tried them so I’m featuring this instead. Montecucco is an underrated Tuscan sub-region so as you might expect this is mostly Sangiovese plus 10% Cabernet and Cillegiolo. Mature fruit aromas with baked cherry pie and a hint of bacon fat, elegant and complex with roasted red pepper and soft cherry fruits. Gorgeous.
Liam and Eoin in St Mel’s Brewery in Longford are always up to something. This beer couldn’t be better named for the times, and watch on their site for their excellent Symbio Belgian Style Golden Ale which was made from leftover bread as part of a research project.
This malty bock lager pours a frothy dusky gold colour with roasted malt aromas mixed with citrus and honey touches. Fruity, soft and slightly smoky on the palate with some hop bitterness on the finish and round and creamy-meaty, honeyed malt flavours. Try (as they suggest) with meaty pork sausages from the barbecue.