Sunday, January 13, 2013

Italian wines

Before I started my WSET (Wine & Spirits Education Trust) course, I "didn't like" Italian wines. That is to say I knew very little about them other than Pinot Grigio which I find tasteless, Chianti which I find a little bitter, and Valpolicella which is sour. Now I love them, purely because I know what I'm buying. There are lots of varietals and regions to learn, probably why we don't know much, and they're wrongly seen as "less good" than French wines, which often means you get better value for money. Here are a few you should try...

Hannibal Lecter infamously drank Chianti with liver and fava beans - not a bad choice as it happens! Chianti is made from the Sangiovese grape, which is high in body, acidity and tannin, has plum, earth, tomato and tea flavours. I would suggest this if you like Cabernet Sauvignon and  Bordeaux wines. I'm not saying they taste the same, but should appeal to a similar palate.

If you like Pinot Noir, may I suggest you try the Nebbiolo grape, either in the form of Barolo or Barbaresco wines. Nebbiolo has high body, acidity and tannin, and has red fruit, floral and earthy flavours that might be enjoyed by a Pinot-phile (I've just re-read this and noticed how dreadful that sounds!!). Be aware though, a Barolo can be quite full-on, a "meal wine", and is best enjoyed with (or instead of!) food .

If you love Shiraz, particularly Australian Shiraz, then I would strongly suggest you try Primitivo or Montepulciano d'Abruzzo. Both are rich in black fruits, the former with jammy notes and the latter with black pepper and raisin. Yum! (NB. Primitivo is the same family as Zinfandel, but don't let that put you off!)

For white wines, don't bother with bland Pinot Grigio or Soave, instead try something more unusual with a Castelli di Jesi (Verdicchio grape - lemon, fennel, bitter almond) or a Gavi (Cortese grape - citrus, candied fruit). Oh and one thing to remember,  don't buy Trebbiano - this is a mass-produced grape that is used for making cheap blends! The way I remember this is its the white grape with two Bs, for Bad Blends.

Look for DOC or DOCG on the label, this means it comes from a quality wine-producing area.

Quick note on Italian sparkling wines: Prosecco is a good alternative to Champagne, although will have less complex flavours, because it is made using the Tank method. "Spumante" means its fully sparkling and "Frizzante" means its lightly sparkling. The best Prosecco is, apparently, Conegliano-Valdobbiadene DOCG (I have yet to try this).

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