Wine columnist Clare Morris has over 10 years’ experience in the drinks industry consulting with, hotels, restaurants, pubs and bars across the UK. She is currently studying for a Diploma at the WSET London Wine and Spirit School.
COUNTRIES LIKE Italy can be both a wine connoisseur’s dream and a wine lover’s nightmare. With so many indigenous varietals, there is always something new to explore. But by the same token, there’s always something new to remember – such a risk if you get it wrong. Loving wine is really not about knowing every single grape variety on the planet (scarily something like 600 of them!) but discovering those that you grow to know and love, which you can rely on enjoying time and time again.
Luckily there are some great wines from Italy, which once you’ve tried them, are likely to pop up in a variety of places for you to pounce on with glee. With such a diverse climate from North to South, Italian wines have an equal diversity of flavours ranging from crisp, dry, delicate whites to hugely powerful, intense and concentrated reds. Here’s just a few for you to try yourselves.
Gavi di Gavi, made from the Cortese grape, may well be my favourite Italian white. Crisp, fresh and steely, it is often likened to Chablis and its popularity in its native region of Piemonte shows just why. Its ideal food pairings are therefore also similar and so seafood immediately springs to mind. Those of you who are Bristol dwellers will no doubt know Aqua on Whiteladies Road in Clifton and its sister venue on the waterfront in the city centre. Both restaurants serve a delicious Grigliata di Pesce – squid, salmon, sea bass, tiger prawns and halibut grilled with rosemary and garlic – which just begs for a refreshing Gavi di Gavi Le Toledana to complement.
Still in the crisp, fresh arena, but with a little more body and floral character, we move onto another indigenous grape – Tocai Friulano. You may not find this as easily as Gavi on your travels although equally delicious. Wines with difficult to pronounce names often struggle to gain in popularity, which is a shame, but easy to understand. You can see why bin numbers often help this issue! Try Fantinel’s Santa Caterina Tocai Friulano – conveniently bin no 76 – at the Lainston Country House Hotel in Winchester. All you could want for a luxurious, lazy weekend, with 50 rooms individually designed and a serious wine cellar. Partner this wine with the seared scallops starter with butternut squash purée and truffle sauce for just a touch more luxury.
Next onto some more complex blends – made from local grape varieties in Sicily by Rapitala. Don’t worry about the grape varieties themselves too much, luckily these wines have slightly easier names to pronounce. Just make sure you try them! The white Rapitala Bouquet (made from Grillo, Sauvignon and Viognier) is fresh and floral with nectarine and peach flavours, whilst the rosé Rapitala Rosato is elegant, dry and lightly perfumed. These wines are niche but excellent quality, and both fit in perfectly at the newly-awarded Michelin star restaurant The Pony and Trap in Chew Magna outside Bristol. Try the Bouquet matched with the pork belly, and the Rosato alongside the roast rack of lamb – sublime.
For you red wine lovers – don’t feel left out. We have a gorgeous spicy Barbera from the fields around the town of Alba, just a stone’s throw away (on the map at least) from our friend Gavi. Full bodied and richly flavoured, you can try Barbera d’Alba Suculé, by Domini Villa Lanata at rustic Tap’s Restaurant in Southampton. If you fancy a glass or two even at lunchtime, you can never go wrong with a classic match – Spaghetti Carbonara. Heaven!
And finally – the power reds. Valpolicella doesn’t sound like it fits in this category if you’ve ever tried this classically easy drinking wine. But this is a Valpolicella under another guise – Amarone della Valpolicella Classico, from Bolla. After the grapes are harvested, they are laid out on racks for several months to dry them out, creating a raisin-like concentration. The resulting wine is simply sublime – rich, smooth and intense. At our last Italian restaurant stop for this month, we need to hope for some equally good quality red meat dishes to stand up to the wine. Luckily, we found La Taverna in Windsor, where the Tournedos Rossini would do the job nicely.
I’ll finish with one of Italy’s more famous indigenous wines and surely one of the world’s greatest reds – Barolo. Made from Nebbiolo grapes, its traditional home is once again in North-West region Piemonte. What a fabulous region that must be to live in, surrounded by all these fantastic wines! Barolos sit right at the top end of the flavour scale for red wines as you can’t get much more intense, concentrated aromas. An iconic wine needs to be discovered at an iconic venue, and the Celtic Manor outside Newport is just such a venue. Whether you’re a golf fan or not, there’s plenty to occupy you there – not to mention the Barolo I Siglati, from Sant Orsola.