Top Italian-style wines from home and away

WineLove1

- Credit: Archant

Old and new worlds combine as Liz Sagues explains our Italian love affair.

Here’s a tale of an international love affair. It has its origins millennia ago, in the vinous antiquity of the old world; an important part of its future lies thousands of miles distant, in a land where wine has been made for barely two centuries.

Who is involved? The Italians, naturally, for their ancestors were among the first western Europeans to make wine. And alongside them are forward-looking Australians. Both have a passion for grape varieties such as nebbiolo, sangiovese, fiano, vermentino and a host more – all native to Italy, yet now being fervently embraced in Australia.

This column could easily focus entirely on the Oz initiative. The problem, though, is that not many of the results are on sale in the UK. So let’s begin in northern Italy, up in the hills around Valpolicella, where an especially venerable wine is made.

There’s a charter from the 12th century identifying plots of prime land there for wine-grape growing, and these sites are still revered today. Their product is amarone, a wine made by naturally drying ripe grapes in airy buildings, with pressing and fermentation delayed until the calm cool days of winter.


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Amarones from the charter sites of Campolongo di Torbo and Mazzano are wonderful wines, of which their maker, Andrea Dal Cin, oenological director at Masi, is quietly proud. “Terroir makes the wine,” he emphasised when he brought vintages from 1988 to the newly-released 2009 to London recently. Soil and exposition differences of the two sites do show in the wines, but both are intense and concentrated, retaining finesse despite inevitable high alcohol.

They are wines to covet (please, Father Christmas, bring me a bottle of 1990 Mazzano...), but there are plenty more affordable wines which show off Masi expertise – see below.

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The Australians aren’t much into amarone-style wines yet, but there is every likelihood we will see more of their take on Italian varieties here soon. These won’t be mainstream wines – the plantings are still small – or cheap, but current examples are both impressive and temptingly drinkable.

“We’re all here because the UK needs us,” said one of those amorous winemakers, Malcolm Leask of Hither and Yon, McLaren Vale, at last month’s (Sept) Premium Australia event where the 21st Century Vino Italian-themed initiative was introduced. There’s a lot of sense, he and fellow enthusiasts argue, in growing Mediterranean varieties in their country’s hot – and getting hotter – climate, rather than struggling with the cooler demands of chardonnay or shiraz, for example. Their wares are very tempting – just wait and salivate.

Top Italian-style wines from home and away

1. Masi Mazzano and Campolongo di Torbo amarones can be bought direct from importer Berkmann Wine Cellars in King’s Cross (berkmann.co.uk).

3. Masi Costasera Amarone Classico (approx £31) is more affordable, and still a fine example, and other excellent bottles include white Masianco (£10.50), red Campofiorin (£13) and Brolo Campofiorin Oro (£16.50). Majestic, Waitrose, agwines.com, winedirect.co.uk and slurp.co.uk all stock one or more of these.

3. Of the Australian wines, dark, delicious-with-food First Drop Minchia Montepluciano (£20-£21) is at Harvey Nicols and oldbutcherswinecellar.co.uk, both of which have more innovative First Drop Italian-origin wines.

4. Others available: attractive, aromatic Yalumba Y Series Vermentino (£11 averys.com, £54.50 for six amazon.co.uk), pretty, cherry-edged Best’s Dolcetto (£19 farehamwinecellar.co.uk), smooth, spicy-fruited Hartland Dolcetto & Langrein (£12 greatwesternwine.co.uk).

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