ITALIAN winemakers have style, just like their wines. Even in the relatively unfashionable south, some of the wines being made now are the vinous equivalent of the sharp suit and the perfect little black dress.
There’s a lot to discover. A revolution in winemaking standards is revealing the quality of a host of superb indigenous grape varieties that are perfectly suited to local climate and growing conditions. They’re far more interesting than Pinot Grigio and sometimes quite a bit cheaper.
Italy has far more indigenous grape varieties than any other country. A recent study identified that there are 1,368 different varieties used around the world to make wine commercially. Italy can boast 377 of them – around 27.5%. France, in second place has 204 varieties and Spain, in third has just 84. It’s little wonder that some of them are hardly household names.
I tasted a selection late last month, when 11 very elegant, well-groomed winemakers from the centre and south of the country came to London to show their wines to the UK press and trade, a tasting invitingly called Let’s Drink Italy.
Some grape varieties were completely new to me, such as Maceratino and Passerina, both of which hail from the Adriatic coast. The one example of Maceratino was especially good, honeyed and ripe, dry and salty and yet balanced by fresh, clean acidity.
Another white wine variety from this part of the country, Pecorino has already found its way onto the shelves of Marks and Spencer and it’s delicious. Pecorino 2011 made by Rocco Posetti in the hills of the Colline Pescaresi has an intriguing, inviting smell of ripe lemons, peaches and honey and then a flavour that is both crisp and creamy, which lingers into a fine savoury finish. It costs £9.99 and is a bargain.
Perhaps the sheer abundance of what Italy has to offer can seem overwhelming, but grape varieties that were little known a few years ago can and do sell well. Falanghina is the perfect example. Native to Campania, the Naples area, it is late ripening, but is blessed with the ability to hang on to very fresh acidity. It also has flavour.
Marks and Spencer have had huge success with their version. Last year they linked it to their Dine Out deal and sold 90% of their annual supply in one week. Now that they’ve been introduced to it, customers have come back in droves for more. It’s easy to see why. The 2011 has a lovely fresh, lemon, pear and herb smell with a very crisp lemon and fennel flavour and a lingering salty minerality. Best of all it still costs only £5.99.
Recent DNA profiling has revealed that there are, in fact, two distinct grape varieties in Campania, both confusingly called Falanghina. As they are both white, late ripening and make crisp, tasty wines, this is perhaps a distinction that you need not worry about too much. The main point is that they are both excellent.