Italian Wine made Simple

In recent times there’s been a revolution in Italian wine making, resulting in Italy becoming one of the most dynamic sources of great wine. Its wines are distinctive, delicious and VERY food-friendly.

Many find Italian wines complicated, but by looking at a few basic wine styles, the joys of Italian wine soon become more accessible.

Here we take you through all you need to know about some of these modern styles of Italian wine. Throughout May, a host of London restaurants will be offering a good range of first-class Italian wines by the glass at reasonable prices. They are all classic examples of benchmark Italian wines, as detailed below

Sangiovese forms the backbone of the seven Chianti appellations of Tuscany, sometimes comprising 100 per cent of the wines while Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano are made from 100 per cent Sangiovese. Sangiovese has aromas of cherries and a peppery bite, but it is not short on acid or tannic grip, so it’s best to drink it with food. Cheaper versions are fine with pasta sauce, but if you are spending decent money, let the wine sing out by pairing it with well-hung, top-quality beef – char-grilled steak, for instance.

Barbera is one of a trio of red grapes that dominate the north-west. The others are the fruity Dolcetto and the aristocratic and sometimes austere Nebbiolo, which makes up Barolo and Barbaresco. Cheap Barbera isn’t exciting, but spend a little more and you get a plummy, fleshy mouthful of wine, low in tannins but with a fresh bite. A classic partner for tomato-based pasta sauces, and its natural acidity makes it great with duck.

Pinot Grigio has long been a summer favourite. Many wine drinkers have had enough of overly alcoholic, oaky wines and are looking for something dry with subtle flavours that complement, rather than dominate, food. Pinot Grigio fits the bill here. Of course, you get what you pay for, but the best have delicate perfumes with a nutty edge and, while they are dry, they aren’t sharp. And their relative neutrality makes them versatile with food, although they can be overwhelmed by lots of spice.

As you move into central Italy, the typical white wine puts on weight. The warmer climate gives greater roundness and softness, although rarely much character. The exception is Verdicchio, native to the Marche, which has a richer texture and dry bite, making it a useful partner for grilled and fried fish.

Primitivo is a classic grape of Puglia, in the heel of Italy, with natural generosity of flavour now producing wines of character and value. They have plenty of very ripe, generous fruit, soft acidity and firm but round tannins, making them a good match for cheese and garlicky meat dishes such as roast lamb.

For years the only respectable red wine from southern Italy was Aglianico del Vulture, but even this wasn’t always that exciting. But modern winemaking techniques have helped make Aglianico, not just from Campania’s Monte Vulture, a truly interesting variety. Made well, Aglianico has deep colour, intense flavours of ripe black fruits and big structure. It is able to age for many years, but with the help of a little oak is accessible sooner. If you can, get the wine in a decanter to allow it to open up – a fine pairing for hearty braised dishes and gamey stews.

Sicily’s native Nero d’Avola, often now from hillside vineyards, is emerging as the star of Sicily. Deeply coloured with high natural sugars and firm acidity, it makes lively, full-bodied wine, packed with black fruit flavours and a pleasing freshness. Sometimes blended with international varieties such as Merlot, it helps make wines of real elegance and balance. More expensive versions are likely to exhibit oak characteristics. Try it with grilled or roasted meats, especially duck and game birds.

One of the most exciting developments in Italian wine has been the resurgence of good-quality dry whites in the south. The two new stars are Falanghina and Fiano. Both are richly textured, smooth and round, but Fiano in particular has attractive, floral perfumes, with flavours of apple and pear, sometimes pineapples or, if matured in wood, vanilla. It makes a good sipping wine, while you’re reading the menu, and goes with antipasti and lighter fishy starters.

1 Lombard Street
Amerigo Vespucci
De Cecco
Harry's Bar Pizzeria
Matriciano (108/110 New Kings Road SW6, tel: 7731 2142)
Noble Rot

Chianti Classico, Brolio 2002
Bouquet of violets, ripe bilberries and spice. The velvety palate is generous and full

Barbera D’Alba, Raimonda Fontanafredda 2002
Subtle nose of red berries. Soft and elegant on the palate with fine tannins

Pinot Grigio
Pinot Grigio, Colterenzio 2003
Lightly floral, lime, herbs and subtle tropical fruits, supple mouth feel, rich with balanced acidity

Verdicchio Classico, Casal di Serra 2003
Fresh aromas. Soft palate of ripe peaches, and apples with fresh citrus acidity

Primitivo del Puglia, Botromagno 2003
Ripe berry fruits. Elegant, intense palate with soft natural tannins and no oak

Aglianico del Vulture
Aglianico del Vulture Synthesi Paternoster 2001
Delicate fruity bouquet, scents of aromatic herbs. Robustly structured, tannic, yet rich and full-bodied

Nero d'Avola
La Segreta Rosso, Planeta 2004
Crushed strawberries and spice on the nose. Soft, silky palate, supple tannins and fresh acidity, rich and concentrated with a long, chocolate-tinged finish

Fiano, Mandrarossa 2004
Inviting, exotic and generous, displaying aromatic tropical fruits and hints of minerals. Medium-bodied, clean and refreshing with a crisp, dry finish