The best lesser known Italian wines
John Wilson: These four glorious ‘unknowns’ will send your taste buds into overdrive
With 850 grape varieties in use in Italian wine, even the nerdiest of wine nerds will find something new to try
A quick quiz to temporarily silence the wine bore in your life; ask him (and it invariably is a him) what are Cirò, Sangue di Giuda, Sfursat, Rossese di Dolceacqua and Nero di Troia? The answer is they are all wines from Italy.
Italy is a treasure trove of exciting wines from lesser-known regions and indigenous grape varieties made in unique styles. It has a range of soils and climates that allow it to produce a bewildering number of wines, and local traditions going back centuries.
There are more than 400 different classifications and in excess of 350 indigenous authorised grape varieties (and 500 others in use), found in 20 different regions. It is no surprise that even the nerdiest wine nerd will have problems remembering them all.
Italians love wines with good acidity and sometimes a slight bitterness – which makes them brilliant with food
Italy is big in the wine world. Producing some 50 million hectolitres of wine each year, it vies with France as the world’s largest producer, responsible for almost a quarter of global production. When you remember that it runs from the wine-producing island of Pantelleria, a mere 60km from Tunisia, to the frozen Alps in the north, you can see why there is such amazing diversity.
Sometimes it can be a disadvantage, as the rest of the world struggles to understand and appreciate all of these wines. Many wine drinkers simply stick to a handful of well-known names and ignore the rest. This really is their loss, as the standard of winemaking in lesser-known Italy has shot up in recent years.
These four glorious “unknowns” will get your taste buds working in overdrive. Please don’t be afraid to try these, none cost more than €20.
Italians love wines with good acidity and sometimes a slight bitterness – which makes them brilliant food wines.
Rosso Piceno comes from the Marche region on the Adriatic coast, just north of the better-known Abruzzo region. Along with neighbours Rosso Conero and Lacrima di Morro d’Alba, the wines here offer excellent value for money. O’Briens Rosso Piceno must be made from a minimum of 60 per cent Sangiovese, the remainder Montepulciano.
Marzemino is rarely found outside of Italy where it is primarily grown in the cooler alpine Trentino-Alto Adige region. The wines are light and perfumed with juicy sour cherry fruits.
Neighbouring Friuli in the north-east corner of Italy, is responsible for many of Italy’s greatest white wines, as well as some light, elegant reds, this time from the local Refosco grape.
Puglia or Apulia, produces massive quantities of wine, much of it of very average quality. Primitivo (aka Zinfandel) and Negroamaro are the two most popular varieties, but our featured wine is a little more recherche, featuring a blend of Nero di Troia and Aglianico, grapes unique to the south of Italy.
Saladini Pilastri Rosso Piceno 2017, Organic
Seductive, smooth, elegant red with toothsome red cherry fruits, a touch of spice and a dry finish. Great value for money. With roast pork or chicken.
From Drinkstore, Manor Street, D7; Avoca Rathcoole; Mortons of Galway, 148 Salthill Road Lower, Galway; Red Island Wine Company, 64 Church Street, Townparks, Skerries, Co Dublin.
Ponte del Diavolo Refosco 2016, Friuli
Light refreshing red berries and strawberries with a lovely kick on the finish. Perfect by itself or with chicken or pork based salads.
From Blackrock Cellar, 23 Rock Hill, Blackrock, Co Dublin; Clontarf Wines, 48 Clontarf Road, Dublin 3 ; Red Island Wine Co. Skerriesmpany, 64 Church Street, Townparks, Skerries, Co Dublin.
Roberta Fugatti Marzemino 2017
Delicate aromas of violets, light juicy dark fruits, good acidity and a tannin-free finish. A delicious, inviting wine to serve cool with charcuterie and cheese.
From SIYPS.com; Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, various locations
Caiaffa Puglia Rosso
Bubbly, light, juicy dark cherry fruits with a supple rounded finish. A world away from the standard bruisers from this region. With tomato-based pasta dishes.
From Lilac Wines, 117 Phibsborough Avenue, Dublin 3; Baggot Street
Wines, 17 Baggot Street Upper, Dublin 2; D-Six Wines, 159/163 Harold’s Cross Road, Dublin 6; Nectar Wines, Sandyford Village, Ballawley House, Sandyford Dublin 18