As I write, a sunny warm weekend is forecast so I’m praying the predictions are correct - I find I am craving sunshine more than usual this year and living on memories of sunny trips to wine country.
For warm sunny days I need wines from the south - the Rieslings and Blaufränkisch will keep for another day. I had a trip to Italy cancelled so in recent days I’ve been seeking out wines from all over the peninsula. There is a certain breed of older wine writer that doesn’t get Italy - even the otherwise brilliant Oz Clarke is only occasionally charmed by it - not me.
I can happily forgive the bit of volatile acidity, the unpredictable tannins and the washed out whites of the north thanks to all the exotic lushness of Primitivo and Nero d’Avola from the South, the steely profundity of Nebbiolo and the graceful elegance of Brunello and the punch of fruit that is Amarone and the best Ripasso.
My Italian selections this week include some sale and supermarket bargains and three Nebbiolo based wines from Piedmont - arguably my favourite region. I haven’t visited Piedmont in a few years but the last time I was there I stayed on two of the estates mentioned below.
Visiting the Tierra Madra Slow Food event in Turin we spent two nights in Ascheri’s 4 star hotel built over their wine cellar in Bra, a sleek modern but remarkably comfortable and charming hotel. Bra is the headquarters of the Slow Food movement founded by Carlo Petrini and home to the University of Gastronomic Sciences (also founded by Petrini) so as you might expect we dined well.
On that same trip we stayed a night in the beautifully preserved old manor house of Castello di Verduno built in 1500 on the northern edge of Barolo just ten minutes from Bra. Besides the organic Barbaresco featured below I adore their lively herbal-floral Pelaverga ‘Basadone’ made from the rare local Pelaverga grape.
I know we can’t travel there but I recommend doing a quick search of the hotels online to see the best of Italian design, ancient and modern. It is just this that I love about Italy - the old and the new. From 1950's Bertoia Diamond Chairs to Zegna suits to Montegrappa fountain pens and Bialetti Moka Coffee pots to ancient ruins and misshapen San Marzano tomatoes to simple Cacio e Pepe Spaghetti and 'diece grammi di tartufo bianco' grated on my pasta - and everywhere, everywhere there is wine.
Marks & Spencer
Primitivo is one of those underrated grape varieties that can do everything from elegant complex age-worthy wines in California (as Zinfandel) to value fruity reds at €10-15, to pale elegant great value rosé as here (we won’t mention the sweet blush wines of California). This is a gorgeous pale orange-pink colour with aromas of red currants and kumquats, bone dry and refreshingly fruity and crisp.
The last time I mentioned this was the 2008 vintage back in 2012. It seems brighter and more modern in style these days - typical Chianti nose of morello cherries and blackberries, fruit-driven on the palate with some crunchy red and black fruits and pleasing structure with a slight bitter edge and background spice notes. Serve a little cool with some grilled meats or even a spicy pizza.
I’ve mentioned the fragrant crisp Ciello Bianco Cataratto a few times but not sure I have mentioned the Rosso recently. From Nero d’Avola and organic and sustainably grown with big lumps of soft red fruits mixed with sultry darker tones and notes of chocolate and spice with a pleasing juiciness. Serve a little cool on a sunny day!
This is part of the current O’Briens sale (down from €36) and priced at the same level as many a Nebbiolo d’Alba, despite being a match for many a Barolo from those same houses. The 2016 is elegant and taut with fine complex red fruits mixed with touches of tar and smoke - so perfect for BBQ steak; tannins are integrated but decanting (or ageing) will allow this to open up a little more.
This is imported direct by David Whelehan and he also stocks excellent Barolo, Barbaresco and Dolcetto from the same producer. In the same family since 1870 and based near the village of Verduno this has classic Nebbiolo floral-earthy red fruits, a pleasing lithe and quite intense fruitiness on the palate and a herbal stony finish that shows off the pleasures of Nebbiolo perfectly.
Sheridans Cheesemongers Galway, Dublin and Meath.
Also based in Verduno on a historic estate with a castle from 1500 which you can stay in, plus an Agritourismo restaurant serving strictly local food. This has aromas of dark chocolate, black cherries and wild thyme, silky and smooth on the attack with taut tannins emerging but quickly softening and allowing the wine to develop as you drink it, leaving a finish of pomegranate seed and plum skins.
www.whiplashbeer.com/shop; O’Briens, Selected SuperValu (e.g. Ballincollig, Skibbereen), No. 21, Matsons, JJ O’Driscolls, McHughs.Order Direct:
Whiplash beers have appeared here before and likely will again such is their quality and consistency. Founded in 2016 as a side project by Alex Lawes and Alan Wolfe who met at Rye River Brewing, they have now opened an online shop to help offset the drop in pub sales.
At just 2.8% ABV this is the perfect session beer to match our Indian Summer. Built on Vienna Oats and Wheat and dry hop additions of Mosaic and Vic Secret this pours a hazy light gold and has lively pineapple, passionfruit and lemon flavours and a pleasing dry-hopped bitterness on the finish.