Text: Marcus Bratter
Of all the wine-growing countries of the world, Italy is probably the most complicated. From its northern border with Switzerland, down to the southern tip of Sicily, there are wine-growing areas covering almost all of the country. The grape varieties, only recently exported and grown in the new world, do not have the notoriety of the mighty French grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay but the names have a romantic resonance that reflect the full, rich variety that is so typical of everything Italian.
Nebbiolo, Sangiovese and Nero d’Avola grapes produce distinctive, rich, voluptuous wines that are soft, approachable and ‘easy-to-live-with’ partners for beautiful meals and lazy afternoons in the sun looking out over the rolling Italian hills.
Starting in the Alpine foothills, close to Lake Maggiore, is the region of Gattinara. A small DOCG, where the cooler climate and altitude produce highly-fragrant, elegant wines. Few wineries remain but Rosanna Antoniolo has built up a reputation for producing 100 per cent. Nebbiolo wines that are an excellent, lower-priced alternative to Barolo or Barbaresco.
Moving further south, we come to Tuscany, the wine power house of Italy, heartland of wine, food and culture. The Tuscan hills typify the “dolce vita” we all dream of when we head south for the summer. This area is the home to what have become known as the Super Tuscans; Sassicaia, Tignanello, Onellaia – beautiful, musical names for wines that are so rich, so powerful and complex that they shook the wine world decades back when they knocked the big French Bordeaux off the podiums in tastings across the planet. Big wines ask for big prices so an interesting alternative is the sister wine to Sassicaia, Guidalberto. A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese, Guidalberto is, like its big sister, produced from hand-selected grapes, meticulously sorted and blended together to produce an immediately-drinkable masterpiece.
Moving down to Sicily we find some fabulous ‘value-for-money’ gems – wines which sell for less than 20 francs and which bring so much power and fruit to the palate. The Planeta is one winery that has risen from the Sicilian dust to stake a claim as a leading producer of great wines. Their Syrah has won acclaim worldwide but they also produce a lesser-known wine, La Segreta Rosso, composed of Nero d’Avola, Merlot and Syrah, which has intense aromas of redcurrant and raspberry with hints of chocolate and mint. A supple, rounded and dry wine, it is fantastic value for money.
Of course no Italian tour would be complete without a visit to Puglia, the newly-discovered part of Italy. Set in the southern heal of the country, it has wonderful scenery, excellent ‘value-for-money’ wines and a beautiful coastline. Primitivo is the grape of excellence here, known as Zinfandel in California, it produces some wonderful, rich, fruit-driven reds that are great quaffing wines. So you know where I will be wine-tasting on my next holiday.