I love Italy. It almost, almost competes with my spiritual second home of Provence. Endless mountains, small villages each with their own takes on regional dishes, and vineyards everywhere.
In 2018, Italy became the world’s largest wine producer, knocking France from the top spot thanks to a 15% grape yield increase.
For the first leg of our trip, we stayed in a couple of locations between Florence and Sienna. Here, vineyard sits next to vineyard. Interrupted only by the next terracotta village, grapes at certain points, are all you can see.
Italy isn’t my speciality when it comes to wine. This is by no means a comprehensive ‘Wines of Italy’ nor even really an ‘introduction to the wines of Italy.’ But these were some of the wine styles I discovered while on my trip.
The thing I knew about Italy before I went was its big, bold, and tannic reds. Chianti, where sangiovese is king, produces many of these. While its neighbour, the Super Tuscan blends sangiovese with non-indigenous grapes such as merlot and cabernet sauvignon.
Fattoria La Ripa Chianti Classico DOCG, was a great introduction to this style. Some hints of black fruits matched with lashings of leather and tobacco, accompanied by big chewy tannins.
Tenuta Il Corno’s Cornorosso is a Super Tuscan that brings that blackcurrant to the foreground, mixed with some early oxidative notes and old vanilla. While the Cantalici Tangano Toscana 2011 brought herbal, ripe plums into the mix as well.
These style of reds all need foods. All tannins are chewy, and have non-fruit notes that stand out if you’re used to drinking fruitier styles of wine.
For me, the Tuscan style benefits from some cooling influences. The higher altitude Ornina winery produced the best of the Tuscan reds I tasted. Their vallechiusa was far fresher, with a barnyard, cherry and mint nose, and much more balance on the palate. Similarly, their white offered almost viscous tropical fruits and aromatics.
Elsewhere in Italy, however, the reds can loosen up. Bellaveder’s Pinot Nero from the very north of Italy, nods towards Framboise and sour cherry with a long, sour pinot finish.
In most parts of Tuscany, white wine seems to take a very second place. White offerings were often limited, and the local grape vernaccia often didn’t do much to encourage much of an exploration. These vernaccias are water replacements for 6pm terrace drinking, as you listen to the sound of crickets across the mountaintops.
It was the non-indigenous Tuscan grapes that I tasted where there was more to enjoy. Il Borro’s chardonnay, tasted in Florence, and the aforementioned Ornina sauvignon blanc blend both jumping out.
The great white discoveries were elsewhere.
Cantine Volpi’s Timorasso from Piedmont was a true delight. White flowers, mango, and grapefruit pith in abundance, with a buttery, full finish, meant I could drink this all day (£12.99 online).
Catarratto from Sicily remains one of my favourite grapes to explore, and Corbera’s was a fantastic, full-bodied display of peach and lychee. Elsewhere in Sicily, Vivera Altrove is a chardonnay-catarratto-insolia blend with brings salty freshness and minerality to the mix. Huge props to Medula Vini in Bologna, where we tasted many of these.
I knew very little of Italian wine before travelling there, but this trip has reminded me of the natural ability you gain when visiting a region. Always order what you don’t know, always ask for ‘something interesting’ when getting a recommendation, and search out what’s not-typical. And along the way you’ll hopefully discover some fantastic gems like I did.
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