Irecently did a straw poll of a dozen or so friends in the drinks trade. If, for whatever strange reason, you were condemned to drink the wines of just one country for the rest of your life, I asked, which country would it be?
Confident that the answer would be France, I started writing up some Gallic-slanted copy as I waited for the answers to trickle in, leaving gaps here and there for the dazzling chablis- and champagne–eulogising quotes I expected to receive. Darn me, though, if I hadn’t completely and utterly miscalled it. What a bloody idiot! Every idle, booze-loving one of them, apart from an avowed Francophile and a bribable floating voter, said Italy.
If I can summarise, the general gist was that Italy produces the most diverse and versatile of wines and the most food-friendly ones too, and it would be a mug who looked elsewhere. Not for nothing — as one correspondent pointed out — is Italy known as Enotria, the land of wine.
The answers forced me to stop being so Francocentric and look at this wonderful country again, and I’ve loved rediscovering some wonderful wines. You’re cordially invited to join me with this excellent Italian selection from Mr Wheeler, drawn from all corners of the country.
The 2016 Torre del Falasco Garganega (1), from the Veneto in Italy’s north-east, makes a charming aperitif. Made from 100 per cent Garganega picked by hand late in the year when it’s super-ripe, it’s part steel-matured on the lees and part oak-matured, giving depth and complexity to what is a very modestly priced vino. It’s light, fresh, slightly spicy with a hint of lemony cream. £7.50 down from £8.25.
The 2017 Manfredi Gavi di Gavi (2), from Piedmont in Italy’s north-west, is a great example of many folks’ favourite Italian white. Made from 100 per cent Cortese, it’s fruity — with hints of peach and gooseberry — but dry, its keen acidity lending a delightful freshness to it. £11.75 down from £12.50.
The 2016 Monchiero Langhe Arneis (3) is also from Piedmont, from the family-owned Monchiero estate. I’ve always loved Arneis (which apparently means ‘little rascal’ in the local dialect, because it’s such a bugger to grow) and this, with its rich, creamy, slightly lemony herbal notes and hints of pears and crunchy green apples is a little cracker. Delicious on its own, it’s even better with a bowl of creamy mushroom or white truffle pasta (it’s from Piedmont after all). £11 down from £12.75.
The 2016 Duca di Saragnano Rosso di Montepulciano (4) is a great-value Brunello/-Sangiovese blend from the heart of Tuscany. It’s wonderfully soft and juicy and although not madly complex is full of luscious ripe red and black cherry fruit and is nothing if not supremely drinkable. £9.25 down from £9.75.
The 2015 Paolo Leo Passitivo Primitivo (5) is from Puglia in the heel of Italy, one of my favourite regions of all. Made from Primitivo, a proportion of the hand-picked harvest is allowed to dry in the sun in the so-called appassimento process, thus concentrating the grapes’ colour, flavour and aroma. The result is a full-flavoured wine of notable richness and softness blessed with an abundance of ripe dark-berry fruit with hints of spice and liquorice. £10.25 down from £11.
Finally, another Piedmontese wine, the 2015 Monchiero Barbera d’Alba (6), from the same producer as the Arneis. Made from 100 per cent Barbera, harvested from a single vineyard, the wine is deeply coloured and has all those lovely cherry, blackberry and violet notes that one might expect, plus a gentle whiff of vanilla. £12 down from £13.25.
The mixed case has two bottles of each wine and delivery, as ever, is free.