Italy

Piedmont to Sicily, an enchanting variety of seriously fine wines

Just the 'ears' left...Barbera grapes in Roberto Voerzio's Pozzo vineyard having lowest hanging grapes in the bunch pruned.
Just the 'ears' left...Barbera grapes in Roberto Voerzio's Pozzo vineyard having lowest hanging grapes in the bunch pruned.

The general quality of Italian wine has never been better and, certainly in Piedmont, there has been a succession of great vintages, broken only by the minor blip that was the tumultuous 2002 vintage.

In the UK we seem to be gaining an increasingly insatiable thirst for modern Italian wines. Spearheading the attack is the Piedmontese Nebbiolo grape, in the guise of Barolo, Roero and Barbaresco. The variety is produced in small quantities, needs careful hand tending and has an aromatic subtlety and temperament similar to that of fine Burgundy, from where pioneering growers such as Elio Altare first drew their inspiration. Thirty years ago, in the days when Dolcetto fetched higher prices than Nebbiolo, there was a care only for quantity not quality. At a time when there were very few good winegrowers, Elio Altare was so driven by his passion for wine he even risked being ostracised by his family. Today alongside other pioneers such as Enrico Scavino, Roberto Voerzio and Domenico Clerico, he continues to make some of Italy's most spellbinding wines, whilst encouraging young growers to strive for greatness, too. Marco Marengo, the Corino brothers and Correggia are just a few examples of growers who have benefited from Elio's wise counsel, all of whom make some of the most elegant, exciting and drinkable wines in Piedmont. A star that has risen at lightening speed over the last few years is Azelia. With a raft of fine vineyards in Castiglione Falleto and Serralunga d’Alba Luigi Scavino has brought the estate’s wines to new heights, rivalling, we think, the very best in the region. Further south, the Sangiovese continues to fight for recognition as one of the world's great red varieties. Its full potential is being exploited by men like Alexandro Sderci of Podere IL Palazzino in Chianti Classico, who produces exciting and rewarding Sangiovese in its purest, unadulterated form. In the picturesque hills of Carmignano, Mauro Vanucci crafts deep and seductive Sangiovese, Cabernet and Merlot blends from the hillside Piaggia vineyard. Italy is also the source of several exciting indigenous varieties, many of which have only recently been rediscovered. Italian wine aficionado, Marco de Grazia, realised a hard-fought dream by successfully producing his first vintage from his own vines in 2002. Planted in the shadow of the towering Mount Etna, the long-forgotten Nerello Mascalese variety produces wines of an almost Burgundian charm and delicacy. Today these are proving to be some of Italy’s most sought after new wines. It is a wine region being taken seriously enough that even some of the big names from Piedmont are looking at the possibility of acquiring vines there. Not to be outdone by the reds, Italian whites deserve a serious mention. Cutting through the swathe of bland, characterless, white Italian wine that has hitherto dominated the market, some really mouth-watering wines are being made by quality-conscious growers. In Veneto the Ginis make a Soave Classico exclusively from the high quality, low yielding Garganega variety, planted on the poor soils of the steep Classico hillsides. Whilst in Umbria, Giovanni Dubini's classy single vineyard wines from the Palazzone Estate, whose beautifully poised, mineral and polished examples of Orvieto are some of Europe’s most interesting and keenly priced white wines.