Some wine tastings are large and very mixed in quality: the fun is keeping your wits about you enough to find the best or the interesting in the midst of the ordinary. Put a lot of wines in a small room and event might buzz – but it’s difficult to concentrate or even reach the spittoon. At a recent jam-packed tasting for Thompson International Marketing, Cantine Le Due Palme’s superb Negroamaro from Puglia, the heel of Italy, really stood out. I am planning to visit this winery later this month (Puglia here we come!) so it was great to taste a couple of wines in advance.
Other tastings are smaller but highly consistent, no doubt the product of many hours of travelling and tasting, and of long term relationships with growers. Lea & Sanderman’s Italian highlights tasting at the Pantechnicon in Belgravia certainly hit the spot – in fact I don’t think I have been to a more consistently good Italian tasting. Fabulous Piemonte (some of which won’t break the bank and all good value), very good wines from inland and coastal Tuscany and a big name from Umbria. Let’s restrict our selves to five wines.
Wine 1: Fontarca, Viognier, Luigi d’Alessandro, 2008, On the whole I have been underwhelmed by the fashionable Viognier in Tuscany, which tends to the flabby and undistinguished. But this example from inland Cortona is really fresh, with incisive peach to apricot flavours and a complex palate, finishing surprisingly successfully with a salty note. £19.50
Wine 2: Collepiano, Sagrantino di Montefalco, Arnaldo-Caprai, 2006. Across the regional border in land-locked Umbria we are mainly in white wine country with average to very good wine made from Grechetto, Trebbiano and more. The one, highly prized (and priced) exception, is Sagrantino di Montefalco, made from the local Sagrantino grape. This is not a wine for casual drinking as the tannin levels would give traditional Barolo or even a couple of industrial-sized tea bags a run for their money. But if you want a distinctive red, with potentially great red fruit and the concentration plus acidity/tannins to age for decades, this is a real local treasure. It’s pretty good value at £33; just put in the cellar for five years plus and then enjoy it as it unfolds. If you want diversity in your wine, then Italy is the country to follow.
Wine 3: Poggerino Chianti Classico Riserva ‘Bugialla’ 2007. While I found the Chianti Classico 2009 rather unfocused and atypical, the riserva has the classic sour cherry and mildly clove and spicy nose plus a beautifully dense palate. A bit of smoke and chocolate on the finish tells us we are in a fairly modernist camp but this is a wine with lots of personality and many years of development ahead of it. And while £24 is quite a lot of money, this is well worth it.
Wine 4: Hard pressed I am going to have to choose from the thirteen Piemontese wines presented: ‘Vigna Tecc’ 2009, Dolcetto di Dogliani, Luigi Einaudi – the real surprise here was that Dolcetto, usually a decent quaffer in otherwise exalted company, really deserves to be here on merit. Here in the Dogliani quality area it is the drinking option – in Piemonte that is usually reserved for Barbera, but Einaudi’s Barbera was OK but not outstanding. Great cherry and plum fruit on a tight-knit palate, subtle and assertive simultaneously, really good at under £15. You don’t normally pay that for Dolcetto but then Dolcetto is not normally anything like this good.
Wine 5: now it is getting impossible to choose from the great Nebbiolo based wines: Sottimano’s three single-vineyard Barbaresco and a riserva and three Barolo from Einaudi, all of which would repay keeping but are drinkable now, offered at a fair price. But for concentration and potential opulence, ‘Nei Cannubi’ Barolo 2006, Einaudi gets the prize. The concentration is most obvious on the nose with the palate still very taut, but the luxurious length and the subtle oak accompaniment sets it apart. £44 makes it a special occasion bottle but it has the quality to match … and compared to some wines (see below) seems rather reasonable.
A bonus wine: this was going to be five wines but this is a sixth, drawn from the exemplary Super Tuscans made by Le Macchiole in Bolgheri. Here we are on the Tuscan coast, where £40 is not an uncommon price and the style is very international though hopefully with an Italian twist. Paleo, 100% Cabernet Franc, is instantly attractive, whether in its chocolate-tinted 2005 or purer fruit 2007 manifestation. But the lottery winner’s option might be Messorio Le Macchiole, 2007, just arrived, 100% Merlot, all £164 of it – but compare Masseto from just down the road at £250. Classic, warm climate, rich fruitcake, Merlot nose, super-rich palate in the same vein, ultra-smooth and dense, powerful new oak at the moment but perfectly in balance with the fruit and good acidity. Drink (sip?) now or over the next 20–30 years. And it makes the great local classics, the Sagrantino, the Barolo or the Chianti look like absolute bargains ….