I thought the classification of French wines was complicated before I started to read a bit more about Italian wines.
You need a PhD in Geography and Oneology to fully understand the complexity of the Italian DOC system and the geographic areas and their sub-regions.
This is obviously a huge minefield that has to be negotiated in order to minimise the chances of choosing a bottle of Italian plonk not even fit for an ingredient in salad dressing. After all, Italy is the biggest producer of wine in the world so your chances of finding a hidden gem are just as good, but it pays to know what to look for.
Think of Italian wine and Chianti invariably springs to mind but this most famous of Italian wines also suffers from the most bad press and is not always the best place to start. Italy has so much to offer in its wines that reflect its geographical diversity from the temperate mountainous north to arid, hot and volcanic south and also with a wide array of grape varieties, some of which are to be found nowhere else. They also complement Italian food very well – no other nation takes their food and wine as seriously with the possible exception of the French, who would of course argue that they do and also in a more sophisticated way 🙂
Hypocritically though, I bought this wine on a whim mainly. Armed with very little knowledge of Italian wines and the salesman’s recommendation (he probably hadn’t even tasted it) I thought I would take a bold step into the relatively unknown and try it. A few things told me that it was worth the risk though – the bottle, label and design all gave the impression that it was a wine with above average investment both from a time and money perspective. It was also priced accordingly (not always a good indication…) – not too expensive but above the lottery price range of £5-£7.50 per bottle.
Let me explain – I have several Wine Buying Golden Rules, one of which is never buy a bottle of French or Italian wine in the UK in this price range unless you have had it before and like it – in my humble opinion the chances of it being less than satisfactory (above 50%) outweigh those of wines made anywhere else in the world which have a 60-70% chance of being good and better value-for-money. There is a lot of dross sold at this price point as a result of over-production in both countries and its much better to spend a bit more (nearer the £10 per bottle price point) than having to resort to using it as an expensive sauce ingredient.
The grapes for this wine come from vineyards in the Commune of Monforte d’Alba, very close to the famous Barolo region in Piedmont, Italy. Barbera is actually the most widespread black grape variety in these parts, characterised by relatively high acidity and fragrance but low in tannins. Harvesting is done manually in 12kg casks and after pressing the juice is fermented for 10 days in skin contact under a controlled temperature. It is further refined before bottling for 18 months in oak casks, helping to pacify the natural acidity of the grape and give it some structure, roundness and maturity.
Deep and dark with a ruby-red rim in the glass, the wine exudes floral notes of rose petal and red berry fruit with a touch of vanilla. On the palate it is soft and fresh but full-bodied and well-rounded. The red berry aromas turn to sour cherry and violets with a touch of citrus acidity and spice – this wine is very refined and well structured. Ideally it should be put down for 2-3 years before drinking to let it tone down and to fully appreciate its less obvious attributes. At 14% alcohol volume it is also robust enough to stand up to and complement most dishes but it is ideally suited to pasta with rich, red meat sauces, ravioli with meat fillings and veal. It also goes very well with antipasti of cured meats and mature, hard cheeses.
This wine is definitely worth trying if, like me, you know little about Italian wine and are looking to try something a bit different without taking too much of a risk.
Available at time of publication from Majestic for £9.99 a bottle.
Marks out of 100 – 85