Mon 11 Aug 2014

Italy and me – we have history

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My Damascene moment with Italian wine was in November 1987, some 12 years before I joined the wine trade, over a bottle of Amarone della Valpolicella on a date with the then future Mrs Murray who, charitable as ever, was driving that night. While a memorable encounter (and date, come to think of it) with a bottle can greatly enhance the enjoyment of wine, there’s nothing like meeting the people who makes the stuff to really start understanding what it’s all about, and to encourage further exploration.

Brothers Niccolò and Bernardo Barberani

Earlier in the summer, as a prelude to our current Italian offering, several of our favourite Italian growers came to London and Chester with our ever-itinerant Tastings & Events team to give a tantalising taste of the joys of this most fascinating of wine-producing countries. With well over 300 indigenous grape varieties, there is always something new to discover. Vespolino, drupeggio, falanghina and nerello mascalese… the list goes on. These tastings allowed me to reacquaint myself with some of these very ‘local’ varieties.

The flamboyant Barberani family have been producing Umbrian gems since 1961. Sales director Bernardo, brother of winemaker Niccolò, poured their single-vineyard Orvieto Classico Superiore Castagnolo 2013. The grechetto grape has great flavour within a light and crisp structure, but the addition of a touch of chardonnay and a smidgeon of riesling add roundness and fragrance respectively, enhancing rather than detracting from the Italianate whole.

Francesca Vajra explaining the geograhy of Barolo to members via her iPad

Winemaker Giuseppe Vajra and his sister Francesca were representing the family estate of G.D. Vajra, run by father Aldo. Their Nebbiolo Langhe 2012 was one of the stars of the tasting, redolent of Barolo’s famous tar and roses, yet so much more immediately drinkable than some of the bruisers from that region that need years to come round.

Graziano Nicosia’s family has been selling wine in Trecastagni on the slopes of Mount Etna since 1898. It was his father Carmelo who decided that they should grow their own grapes some 30 years ago, and they are already exemplary producers of both white and red wines. Etna Rosso Fondo Filara 2011 with its blend of nerello mascalese and nerello cappuccio is beautifully elegant and if you’re a pinot noir fan you will find some similarities in character and texture, yet with an unmistakable twist of Italian sunshine and ripeness of fruit.

graticciaia_labelIf my introduction to Italian wine came via Amarone, it was the wines of Puglia, and one in particular that brought The Wine Society (two years before I started work here) sharply to my attention. For my 40th birthday in 2001 my best mate and very long-standing member of The Society bought me six bottles of the 1996 vintage of Graticciaia, made by Vallone. Not dissimilar in style to the Amarone (both are made from deliberately raisined grapes, those for Amarone hung on racks, those for Graticciaia laid on bamboo mats, or graticci), the richness created by the winemaking technique and the slight bitterness of the negroamaro grape combine in beautiful harmony, like a suspended orchestral chord resolving itself with exquisite timing. Having tasted every vintage since, and after having had Giuseppe Malazzini pour the wine into my glass at both tastings, I can report that Graticciaia 2009 is no exception to the rule.

Italy Today is open until Sunday 31st August, and I would highly recommend the selection of mixed cases, especially the ‘Explore Italy’s Regional Heroes’ case. Salute!

Ewan Murray
Public Relations Manager

Categories : Italy, Wine Tastings

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