GRAPEVINE with LIZ SAGUES: Italians have more than one word for it
Anyone for vitovska? Or sangrantino? Or marcobona? In the 93 wines lined up on long tables in the Nursery Pavilion at Lord s late last month 61 different grapes were represented – and those are only the tip of the bulging bunch of indigenous varieties whi
Anyone for vitovska? Or sangrantino? Or marcobona? In the 93 wines lined up on long tables in the Nursery Pavilion at Lord's late last month 61 different grapes were represented - and those are only the tip of the bulging bunch of indigenous varieties which Italy is proud to own.
The bright idea for this unusual vinous Italian journey came from Jane Hunt and Tina Coady, organisers of the Definitive Italian Tasting, which is the most important UK annual showcase of wines from the snowy peaks of Alto Adige to Puglia and Sicily with their ancient Grecian grape heritage.
But the wines were chosen by the people who import Italian wines and want to continue boosting sales here: which means that they must see a commercial future for many of these varieties.
Credit for recent Italian innovation on the high street goes to M&S, which last year put pecorino, arneis, nosiola and favorita on its shelves. They're not top of the white bestseller list - acceptance of innovation inevitably takes time - but they're still there, and there will be new red varietals from the far south in the autumn.
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But the interest is spreading. NW 10-based Enotria, one of the best and biggest importers of Italian wine, has been championing the pleasures of fiano as a rival to pinot grigio. The company provides Tesco Finest* fiano (£6.15) and the Fiano di Sicilia sold in Majestic (£6, £4.80 if you by two or more), as well as posher bottles for restaurants. Sales are going very well indeed, staff at Lord's told me.
It's easy to understand why Hunt and Coady like the Definitive Italian Tasting - this one is the 10th they have run. There is huge variety, importers and growers who are delighted to have an enthusiastic, efficiently-organised event - and, importantly, wines which work with food.
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Through the 50 reds on the Italian Journey there was a common thread of freshness and acidity - these are wines which don't leave a sticky, jammy, "can't drink even a single glass" taste in the mouth.
Often, alcohol levels were low, as in Zidarich Carso Terrano 2005 from Friuli, 100 per cent refosco, with wonderfully fragrant fruit and splendid length, at just 11.5 per cent - back to the days when six glasses from a bottle of wine did equate to a single unit each, not nearer two as many do now. It's imported by Les Caves de Pyrene, a company of excellent taste, and costs around £21 - contact Les Caves (www.lescaves.co.uk, 01483 554 750) to order direct.
Many of the best are intended for restaurants, as it's hard to sell totally unknown grape varieties to the average supermarket shopper. The vitovska, from Castello di Rubbia, is one of those, a pleasantly fresh wine, delicate with a hint of spice. The grape is hardy, surviving the Bora wind which cuts through the vineyards, in the foothills of the Alps by the border with Slovenia. Try it if ever you meet it.
Others do gain mass distribution, especially the likes of southern varieties grillo, catarratto, nero d'avola or primitivo, which can be very temptingly priced. For a wider choice seek out an Italian specialist: Moreno in Maida Vale (020-7286 0678) is one of the best locally.
And if you're holidaying in Italy this summer, do be adventurous. Just one personal example: I have many happy memories of fragrant vermentino and fabulous torbato fizz from Sardinia.