Italian wine is a reflection of the country’s politics, equally fascinating and frustrating.
For a long time after the devastation of the Second World War Italy’s wines struggled to be taken seriously and winemakers simply didn’t have the money to make much improvement or invest in new equipment.
Winemakers were also not helped by bizarre rules and restrictions such as the stipulation that Chianti vineyards should contain some (white) Trebbiano.
Trebbiano had been used after the war to bulk out the red wines but it never added anything other than dilution to the final blend of what is, after all, one of the world’s most famous red wines.
Thankfully enough winemakers ignored rules such as this and the rules were changed in the 1990s, with a certain confidence also seeming to emerge.
Certainly there are still tanker loads of bland Pinot Grigio and Montepulciano being produced but even these grapes can be interesting if you find the right producer.
The wines of the South have come to the fore with many an interesting Nero d’Avola, Aglianico and Fiano for sale and more famous names such as Amarone and Barolo now fetch high prices.
Barolo is busily defining zones these days so soon you will be expected to know some of the better vineyard sites just as you would the Grand Cru vineyards in Burgundy.
Sadly this will also probably mean more expensive wines at the top end (as if Barolo wasn’t expensive enough!).
Older grape varieties are being revived with companies like Masi in the Veneto experimenting with grapes like Oseletta, an ancient densely textured and flavoured variety which adds an extra dimension to many of their better wines.
Watch for grapes such as Refosco Bonardo and Teroldego and for Grillo, Grechetto and Gaglioppo and be open to the more obscure and you will generally be rewarded.
All my wine recommendations this week are from less well known regions and are a mix of old favourites and new finds.
A few years ago it would not have been wise to take a risk on an Italian wine you had never heard of but thankfully that time is largely gone.
BEST VALUE UNDER €15
Ciu Ciu Piceno, Bacchus 2013, Italy — €12.95
Stockist: Wines Direct Mullingar and Arnotts Dublin, winesdirect.ie
The Marche in Eastern Central Italy is one of the less well-known Italian regions and Rosso Piceno is the main wine you will find here in Ireland — generally a blend of Sangiovese and Montepulciano. This wine is frequently on restaurant menus and I almost always order it as I love its ripe juicy fruits and easy going style. Charming and great value.
Ciello Bianco Terre Siciliane, IGP, Italy — €11.99-12.49
Stockists: World Wide Wines Waterford, Green Man Wines Terenure, Le Caveau Kilkenny www.lecaveau.ie
Made from organic Catarrato grapes grown in the high hills above Alcamo in Sicily this is remarkably fresh and ripe with sweet pear and honeysuckle aromas and a clean fresh palate this is remarkably good value and with enough character to be drunk on its own or with light pasta or seafood dishes.
Bella Modella La Farfalla Pinot Grigio, Umbria, Italy — 11.99
Stockists: Curious Wines Naas and Cork, Red Nose Wines Clonmel
A reader recently asked me to recommend an inexpensive Pinot Grigio that had some flavour — a difficult task as PG’s lightness of touch is what people like about it. This is young (2015) and fresh with some bright peach and apple aromas and a lovely bright palate with some lingering green apple peel character.
BEST VALUE OVER €15
Loredan Gasparini Cabernet Sauvignon, Italy — €17.95
Stockists: J.J O’Driscolls, Ballinlough, Ardkean Quality Foodstore, Karwigs Carrigaline www.karwigwines.ie
From a vineyard around 50km north of Venice this estate was once owned by the Doge of Venice and is also the source of one of Italy’s few Malbecs (recommended here a year or two ago). Ripe pungent black fruits with an earthy touch and a subtle goût de terroir and some vanilla and blackcurrant on the finish — this will stand up well to spicy and barbecue meats.
Villamedoro Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Italy — €16.50
Stockists: Wines Direct www.WinesDirect.ie, Mullingar and Dublin
Montepulciano is the ripe fruity workhorse red grape of Abruzzo and much of Eastern Central Italy (Molise, Marche). There are oceans of light thin versions in the pizza restaurants of the world but in good examples like here, it has supple tannins, fleshy black plum fruits with spice and fruit character.
Leone de Castris Salice Salentino Reserva, Puglia, Italy — €20.99
Stockists: JJ O’Driscolls, World Wide Wines, Vintry, Gibneys Malahide, McCambridge’s
As you head south to the toe of Italy the grape varieties change and you find Negoramaro, Primitivo and Malvasia Nera which in the hot sun here take on a dried fruit character. This is packed with spicy southern Italian fruits with dried cherries and hints of muscatel raisins and prunes.
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