Wine: There are plenty of Italian whites to explore besides prosecco
PUBLISHED: 10:37 24 January 2016
Liz Sagues picks out a host of native north Italian grape wines to try at home.
If the UK is floating on a sea of prosecco and pinot grigio, it’s very easy to see why if you leave the watery charms of Venice and travel north east, towards the foothills of the Alps. There, for kilometre upon kilometre, stretch flat vineyards of neatly trellised vines. Almost all of them are glera – the variety for prosecco – and pinot grigio.
Commercially, of course, these massive plantings make obvious sense for the growers. The yields for both grape varieties are high, and the market – locally, in the UK and through much of the rest of Europe and beyond – will greedily lap up all the resulting wines that can be offered.
But culturally, it’s a great shame, as Carlo Favero, oenologist of the Venezia wine consortium, laments. This region – the provinces of Venice and Treviso – is rich in a variety of grapes most wine drinkers never have encountered, even though they give a great deal of pleasure in the glass.
“Through drinking these wines you can find out about our culture, our traditions, our history,” Favero argues.
Just before Christmas, as pallid sunshine broke through the mist that swirls over these low-lying plains, he poured tai, manzoni bianco and rosso, raboso, refosco – the most-available examples of Venezia’s minor varieties – for a group of international wine writers. We were impressed.
The powers-that-be in Italian wine recognise the value of these grapes. Tai bianco (once known as tocai) is the grape of one of the two top Venezia wines, the white Lison, fragrant with herbs and tropical fruit and finishing with a note of almonds. The other top bottle, Malanotte del Piave, an intense and flavourful red made using a proportion of semi-dried grapes, must be from the two raboso varieties, raboso del piave and raboso veronese. Both wines were raised to the DOCG (controlled and guaranteed denomination of origin) category – Italy’s highest – in 2010.
Beneath them, in formal wine classification, come the broader-scope DOCs of Lison-Pramaggiore, Piave and Venezia, often single-variety wines where the local grapes as well as international names appear, and there are sparkling wines, too. In these DOCs the manzonis are found: the white, created in the 1930s by a local wine geneticist through crossing pinot bianco and riesling, could be a star variety.
A few native north Italian grape wines to try
If the north Italians regret the scarcity of wines from these grapes, experimenting here is harder still. Of the three estates we visited, the wines of only one are on UK retail sale – Mazzolada, stocked by Noel Young Wines (nywines.co.uk), Butlers (butlers-winecellar.co.uk) and Amps (ampsfinewines.co.uk). All have Mazzolada Lison Classico 2013/2014; also, Butlers has refosco 2014, and Noel Young cabernet franc 2013 and pinot grigio 2013. All are £9-£10.
Wines from the very ecologically minded Corvezzo family, one of the increasing number of organic growers in the region, are new on the list of wholesalers Mason & Mason.
Owner Nick Mason, Hampstead born and bred, is willing, though, to supply Ham&High readers direct with the lovely pink Vitae fizz, from manzoni rosso and pinot noir, aromatic, fresh and long flavoured, plus two very good proseccos. Prices are £12-£14, phone 01243 535364 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
These native grape wines aren’t supermarket choices, but independent merchants are more adventurous – watch their shelves, or ask.