Italian wines: Open up a world of exciting flavours and styles

Piemonte region has two of the world’s great wines and a wealth of other varieties

Some see Italian wine as complicated, convoluted and impossible to understand. This is, if I may say, a slightly pessimistic view. Far better surely to see a treasure trove of exciting wines waiting to be discovered, with a range of flavours and styles that are impossible to find elsewhere. Italian wines are wonderfully unique, and those who ignore them are missing out.

This week let’s take a short trip to Piemonte in the northeast. The two best-known names of the region are Barolo and Barbaresco, both made from the Nebbiolo grape. In the right hands, these are two of the world’s great wines. However, Piemonte has a wealth of other varieties, possibly not quite in the same league, but still well worth seeking out.

As well as the wines featured here, you can come across Grignolino, Friesa, Moscato, Dolcetto, Brachetto, Timorasso, Favorita, Uva Rara, Pelaqverga, Erbaluce and more besides. From sparkling through white, red and sweet Piemonte produces them all. Not surprisingly, many go well with the wonderful local cuisine.

A friend in the wine trade once described Gavi to me as “posh person’s Pinot Grigio”, which was harsh, although I can see what he meant. Both have a tendency to taste of very little. However, both Pinot Grigio and Cortese, the grape used to make Gavi, are capable of producing good wine, provided they are planted in the right place and yields are kept low. Gavi di Gavi is made from grapes grown only in the commune of Gavi, whereas simple Gavi or Cortese di Gavi comes from surrounding villages.

Like many other grape varieties, Arneis faced extinction at one stage in the 1960s and 1970s, largely because it had a reputation for being difficult to grow, possibly because it was planted in less favourable sites. It has since staged a comeback and is now regarded by many as the source of Piemonte’s finest native white wine. The variety is synonymous with the Roero region, although it is planted elsewhere in Piemonte. In Roero it is permitted to add a small amount to soften wines made from the tannic red Nebbiolo variety.

Like Arneis, Barbera’s reputation has improved dramatically over the past few decades, but for a very different reason. While Arneis plantings were dropping, Barbera had grown to become the most widely planted variety in Piemonte. However, it was always seen as inferior to Nebbiolo and relegated to the inferior vineyard sites. More recently it has been rehabilitated.

Inexpensive Piemonte Barbera tends to be lightly fruity and high in acidity, but picked at the right time, from vines in good sites, the wines are medium-bodied with vibrant sour cherry fruits, low tannins and a refreshing acidity; great with fatty pork dishes.

Gavi La Battistina 2021, Vini Araldica 12.5%, €16.95 Light and fresh with ripe orchard fruits, and a cleansing minerality of the dry finish. This would make a nice aperitif or with seafood risotto, or a salade Niçoise. From O'Briens, obrienswine.ie

Cascina Val Liberta Cenerina Vino Rosso NV 11.5%, €29 This is made from the very rare Slarina grape. Crunchy, juicy sour cherry fruits threaded with fine tannins and a mouth-watering acidity. Try it with some good charcuterie or risotto primavera. From Lennox Street Grocer, D8, lennoxstreet.ie; Sheridan's Cheesemongers, D2, Kells, Co Meath, Galway, sheridanscheesemongers.com; Green Man Wines, D6, greenmanwines.ie; Grapevine, Dalkey, onthegrapevine.ie; 64wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie; siyps.com; MacCurtain Wine Cellar, Cork, maccurtainwine.ie; boujee-booze.com

Bricco della Ciliegie Roero Arneis 2020, Giovanni Almondo 13.5%, €29.99 A wonderful, complex wine with floral aromas, fresh mint and fennel, crystalline lemon acidity and voluptuous white peach and orchard fruits. Worth every last cent. Creamy pastas, a fennel and olive salad, lighter chicken dishes, or with snacks before dinner. From Redmonds, D6, redmonds.ie; Red Island Wine Co, Skerries; wineonline.ie

Brovia Barbera d’Alba 2019, Sorì del Drago 14%, €33 A dangerously seductive smooth medium-bodied wine with silky plump red cherry fruits that expand in the glass. A joy to drink. Grilled or roast pork, pasta with roast tomatoes, meatballs. From Ely Wine Store, Maynooth, elywinebar.ie