What’s drinking well – Italy


Photograph by David Berry Green

Photograph by David Berry Green

Our buyer David Berry Green takes us on a whistle-stop tour of Italy to shed light on those vintages which are coming into their prime right now…

When approaching Italy, it’s probably best to divide the country up into three sections: North, Centre and South.

The North’s key fine red-wine styles – Barbaresco, Barolo, Valpolicella Superiore and Amarone – share similar climates (even though Valpolicella from the quality-producing Dolomites is slightly more susceptible to hail). Vintage 2003 and 2001 Barbaresco and Barolo are starting to drink well now, with 2004 round the corner. The same could be said of the opulent Amarone of Verona, but if you’re after something fresher and juicier then opt for 2005 or even 2007 Valpolicella Superiore.

The Centre is dominated by Tuscany’s Sangiovese grape and, for our purposes, the wines of Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino. For drinking now, I’d go for the pretty 1998 or savoury 1999 vintages of Brunello di Montalcino, while for both Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva and Chianti Classico Riserva I would be opening the plump 2000 or serene 2001 vintages. Bolgheri on the coast is famous for Bordeaux-esque ‘Super Tuscan’ wines made from international varieties (i.e. Cabernets) which, under the Italian sun, are suppler, richer and earlier-drinking than their French counterparts – even the likes of 2007 is good to go. Across the Apennine foothills of the Marche to the east, the white Verdicchio grape grown in the Matelica region has sapid Chablis-like ageing potential, with the 2004s great now. Down the Adriatic coast, Abruzzo is emerging as a source of great value, formidable, broad, bramble-and-soot reds made from the Montepulciano (d’Abruzzo) grape: vintages 2000 and 2001 are now fabulous especially when from the best (traditional) sources. What’s more, Montepulciano has a brilliantly fine white partner, too, in Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, which is capable of immense sapidity – especially from the intense 2001 vintage. Among the Appenines, Umbria sports the hefty, Châteauneuf-esque, Sagrantino di Montefalco reds, whose 2003 and 2004 vintages are beguiling.

The South is dominated by the Aglianico grape: expect high tension and fireworks from the Campanian region of Taurasi, close to Vesuvius, but it also requires divine patience as the richly fruited and structured wines have the staying power that can outlive even that of Barolo and Barbaresco, Chianti Classico Riserva or Brunello. As with Piedmont, Taurasi’s 2000 is just beginning to thaw for us. Further south still, in the country’s ‘instep’ the province of Basilicata is home to another volcano, Vulture, whose lava slopes are also populated with Aglianico (del Vulture); here the wines tend to be broader and softer than Taurasi, coming round earlier, so even the smoky 2005s are delicious now (especially with spicy sausage). The heel of Puglia boasts the decadent reds of the Primitivo grape (think Zinfandel), which can be lapped up relatively young: the ‘understated’ 2005 is just such a vintage, but will develop nicely too. Finally to Sicily, where another lava flow (from Etna) is also a grape’s paradise: Nerello Mascalese, whose wine was once used for blending with Burgundy and Barolo, has both perfume and structure worthy of 10-year-plus ageing potential.