Ah, Italy - what a beautiful, hedonistic, disorganised, frustrating country! Italy can provide wine lovers with so many distinctive, unique flavours and styles, bottles full of Italian verve and creativity. JANCIS ROBINSON, www.jancisrobinson.com
The annual Italian mixed dozen has now become one of the most eagerly anticipated of the yearly program. The fascination with the wines from this most diverse and chaotic country continues to grow as the quality and variety from Italy's numerous regions seems to be unending. This year's dozen will take you on a vinous journey around the regions, introducing you to a range of unfamiliar varieties and creative producers. From standing in the shadow of a smoking Mt Etna, to walking the Cypress groves of Tuscany or spellbound by the snow-capped Alps, this dozen has a little of everything to nourish a new or continuing passion for the wines of Italy...so let's get started!
The highlights reel goes a little like this.
Prosecco to start from Canella; an estate in the heart of the new DOCG region and producing dry, flavourful sparkling that enlivens the palate making it the classic aperitivo and the perfect place to begin our tour. From there we test your knowledge of Italy's 2000-odd grape varieties (that's right) with a couple of terrific dry whites. How about an all Carricante from the side of Sicily's Mt Etna and from the superb producer Pietradolce. We call this one "Sicilian Chablis" owing to its racy, dry, minerally persona. Utterly compelling drinking. Travelling north another obscure one is the grape variety of Favorita, grown mostly in Piemonte. Although the variety is in decline, when producers like Diego & Damiano Barale make it you must wonder why. Pear aromatics, racy palate crisp dry finish make it ideal summer drinking. To compliment these, we've got a few more well-known whites. A super Vernaccia di San Gimigano from small, quality producer Fontaleoni and a brilliant Soave from Montetondo. This version recently beat out all comers to be named Best Soave Classico. Finally, we round out the whites with a stunning Sylvaner from the Alto Adige. Hard up against the Alps (next stop Austria), biodynamic producer Garlider makes tiny amounts of textured, mineral-laced whites. The perfect match up for pork products be they in cured, fermented or roasted form.
In the red department we start in the South where the wine scene is smoking hot right now. In the heel of the boot in Puglia, the Luccarelli Primativo is our number-one selling red. It holds good sweet fruitcake aromas and flavours and without being too serious, delivers a delicious mouthful of red brambly fruits. Perfect BBQ fare. Heading west and back to the side of Mt Etna, the Tenuta Aglaea Thalia Etna Rosso shows why the world is currently soaking up every last drop from this unique terroir. 100% Nerello Mascalese from vineyards of 60 years old and 600 metres altitude, this wine delivers big on the fabled fragrance of the genre with lots of red petals and mineral before a slippery palate of crunchy red fruits and serious structure carry the wine out of every day to something more serious.
Of course, no Italian MD would be complete without Tuscany being represented and we've included a couple of beauties. From Montalcino, Tenuta Buon Tempo's Rosso di Montalcino is a cracking example of sangiovese grosso. Red cherry, dried herbs and a drying finish make it an ideal foil for grilled meats. Same, same but different is the Poggerino Chianti Classico. This wine and its producer have long been PWS favourites. The 2015 version is a richly fruited wine with robust tannin profile that demands meat, salt and olive oil. Failing that stick it in the cellar for a few years.
To finish we head even further north. From one of Piemonte's smallest and most celebrated producers in Forteto della Luja comes their superb Barbera, Mon Ros. This isn't one of your big boned Barbera's, rather its got a lively fruit forward palate and a lithe persona Lots of energy and delicious and versatile with anything you care to match with it. To finish is a wine we've just come across in the Erste + Neue Kaltereseer Schiava. This small co-op makes some superb wines, and this is no exception. Medium weight, it plays on direct red berry flavours and aromas that are nuanced by a dead campfire (sounds bad but it's not) aspect. The lively palate makes it an ideal weeknight drink.
I hope you enjoyed the tour! We love Italian wine and it's our mission to spread the word. Viva d'Italia!!