Italy can be tricky

I have always struggled with Italian wine. I don’t mean I have struggled to drink it (almost always a pleasure) but as a topic to learn about in the wine sense – it’s mammoth, and it’s tricky. This probably has something to do with the fact that Italy, as a country, wasn’t actually fully unified as we know it today until sometime around 1870 (I apologise for my vagueness – dates were never my strong point). Pretty much the entire of Italy produces wine, and I mean everyone; from the big big producers right down to the local postman with a few rows of vines in his back garden. And up until relatively recently they were all doing it completely differently with different grape varieties and different vinification techniques. It took a long time to modernise the Italian wine industry in terms of production because of this fragmentation. It produces some truly incredible wine (and of course food) in a range of different styles; the one helpful trick is that local food and local wine tend to go together so if you’re ever lucky enough to find yourself in Italy you don’t need to worry too much about your food and wine pairings – this should happen pretty organically.

This week I bought an Italian white and 2 Italian reds to have at home. Two out of the three were fairly successful purchases. The disappointing third was probably my fault as I reverted to the good old tactic of buying a wine based on the label. In my defence this does sometimes work but it’s a lazy way to buy wine and it serves me right.

Malvira’ Roero Arneis – £10.99

Arneis is the grape variety and Roero is the region which can be found to the south of Piedmont in the north west corner of Italy. Arneis means ‘rascal’ in Piedmontese, so called because it is such a difficult grape to grow. The Malvira’ is a great example of the fantastic wines that can be produced from this grape and region. A beautifully delicate nose of stone fruits and pears with the merest hint of rose petals and a firm streak of minerality. The palate is savoury, more so than the nose suggests, with flavours of green apples and minerals with relatively high acidity and a lovely buttery texture. For such an elegant wine it is actually quite full bodied and would go with all manner of fish dishes, grilled chicken or antipasti.

Tesco Finest Barbera d’Asti Superiore 2009 – £7.29

We can stay in Piedmont while we talk about this wine, Asti being the village it’s from and Barbera being the grape. Perhaps less recognisable as a grape than Sangiovese or Montepulciano it is nonetheless one of the most planted grape varieties in Italy. Ruby red in colour this wine has a nose of cherries and a hint of drink fruit and sweet spice. These flavours follow through on the palate but with more of a white pepper spice and earthiness. It’s nice and pleasant but lacks a bit of depth. What did confuse me is that it’s described on the bottle as being ‘rich and full’. It’s not. This is on the thin side of medium bodied. Nonetheless it’s enjoyable and its tannins give the wine a decent structure. I might try a glass of this with my lamb tomorrow.

Piccini Super Tuscan 2008 Toscana – £8.99

The term ‘Super Tuscan’ can be applied to any wine from Tuscany that does not adhere to the tight legal restrictions of the region in terms of grape varieties and winemaking techniques. The first Super Tuscan was Sassicaia which is now hailed as one of the great wines of the world. There have been many since then which have been extremely high in terms of quality, normally full bodied, modern styles of red wine which often use Cabernet Sauvignon as the dominant grape. Let me be clear – this is not one of those wines. Sadly the Piccini was a real disappointment; a mediocre nose was followed by a palate that lacked any real depth of flavour or body. I also feel a little ripped off as this cost almost a full £2 more than the Barbera d’Asti.

What have we learnt today – don’t judge a wine by its label! As if I didn’t already know that… Luckily the other two wines (especially the Roero Arneis) have made up for it.

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