Our wine expert Kate Hawkings gives us advice on the unsung wines of Italy. From some of the best Italian wines to the best Sicilian wines, olive's wine expert finds out about a classier version of prosecco and some of the very best Italian red and white wines.
When it comes to wine, Italy is surely the most diverse country in the world. Wine is made in every region, from the cool-climate mountains of the Alto Adige in the far north, to the sun-scorched swathes of the south. Italy is the world’s largest producer, making wines of hugely different styles and qualities.
Piedmont’s noble nebbiolos, with barolo as their king; sangiovese-based chiantis and other grandees from Tuscany; soaves and amarones from the Veneto: the great wines of northern and central Italy are among the finest in the world.
Further south in Italy, where the land is often good for nothing but those hardy Mediterranean bedfellows, grapes and olives, the wines have generally enjoyed less prestigious reputations, more appreciated for their rustic charms (and cheapness) than for their finesse and complexity.
But things are changing. Winemaking in Italy, particularly in the south, has improved in recent years, with grapes indigenous to their regions being championed and treated to careful handling in the winery. Sicily and Puglia are the regions I most often look to for well-priced wines of character and interest, but there are so many more worth exploring. Now is the time to discover the unfamiliar wines of Italy – there really is something for everybody. @KateHawkings
Prosecco alternative: Bellavista Franciacorta Alma Gran Cuvée Brut NV
If you’re looking for Italian fizz that’s classier and more interesting than prosecco – and who isn’t? –try a franciacorta from Lombardy. Not cheap, but they can give decent champagne a run for its money and this is the one that I keep coming back to.
Cantine Belisario Lacrima di Morro d’Alba 2016 Marche
Lacrima means ‘teardrop’ and refers to the shape of this indigenous grape, as well as to its propensity to ooze juice when fully ripe. It is very distinctive, with floral notes redolent of your granny’s handbag, along with warming, exotic spices she may not have heard of. A wild-card wine that’s bound to be a talking point.
Brown Brothers Zibibbo Rosa sparkling NV
Australia has been turning its attention to Italian grapes and is doing good things with them. Zibibbo hails from Sicily and here is made into a delightful rose-scented sparkler.
The Wine Society’s Falanghina
There is so much more to Italian whites than the often-dreary pinot grigio we Brits seem to adore. This ancient grape from Naples’ hinterland makes for a lip-smacking wine, and has the versatility to suit our risotto verde and our easy tray-baked chicken thighs with romesco.
An Italian wine book to read
Chianti Classico: The Search for Tuscany’s Noblest Wine by Bill Nesto MW and Frances Di Savino
A scholarly book charting the history of this wine and region, from its roots reaching back to the Renaissance to the present-day makers who restored its glory from the doldrums of the basket-covered bottle years. Shortlisted for the 2016 André Simon Awards, it’s a great book for a wine geek.
£32.95, University of California Press