With a theme as big as North Italy, the Overton blind tasting group, where each member brings one or more bottles without much conferring, could have been very wide-ranging. We had a fairly representative sample, though no sparkling wine (Prosecco, Franciacorta, Asti) and one obvious classic missing – Amarone della Valpolicella. The selection was stronger in the whites than in the reds, which I at least was not expecting, but we did finish with one of the sweet rarities in which this country abounds.
Italian winemakers in the north have a great range of varieties to play with, both local and the so-called internationals. So it perhaps wasn’t surprising that we ended up with two classy versions of Sauvignon Blanc from Mario Schiopetto 2008 and then Meroi 2008, both from Friuli, Italy’s most north easterly region. Neither was grassy and crisp, but both had good punchy fruit, some lime notes and great substance and length – plus some classy oak notes in the latter case. No danger of SB becoming a clichéd wine here.
Two further whites, rather less well known. Custoza, Monte del Frá, 2010 is a five-way blend from a small DOC near Lake Garda, with pear drop notes, some residual sugar and a rich pear and apple palate. Pinot Bianco from Cantina di Terlano, Sud Tiröl/Alto Adige, 2010 showed some nice sherbet notes and cut apples. It probably needs some time in the bottle to develop its characteristic fatness.
We might have seen this coming as Inama has been the standard-bearer for Italian whites in our local shop Caviste. Two members brought identical wines, a top-quality Soave, Vigneti di Foscari 2004. This led to a predictable attempt to learn how to pronounce Garganega variety (accent on the second syllable), now affectionately known as the Lady Gaga variety. Example one had rich, developed fruit with excellent vibrancy. Example two may have been slightly oxidised or perhaps stored in less than ideal ways and so was more advanced ageing – a fascinating comparison for two supposed identical wines.
On to the red wines. The next three wines were all made from the Nebbiolo grape in Piemonte, though in different guises. The first Le Tense, Sassela, Nino Negri, Valtellina Superiore 2007, comes from much further north than Barolo, in fact north of Lake Como. Pale ruby, sour cherries, fragrant and medium weight – with its local varietal name of Chiavennesca. Number two was from a very famous producer – Sandrone – but a minor DOC [sorry, ignorance back in 2010], Valmaggiore 2002, in the Roero, rather warmer than Barolo. This is grown on a steep sandy slope and produces a rather darker wine and relatively low in tannins, making some of us opt for Barbera – wrongly! Finally, there was Barolo, Milani 2007, an entry-level example of a great name – pale, fragrant, properly tannic. The final two reds included a subtle example of a good quaffer, Alfredo Bugliani’s Valpolicella Classico 2010 – light, pleasant, lovely Corvina fruit. Then a rarity in England, Burgum Novum riserva, Lagrein, Castelfeder, 2005. The Lagrein grape is local to Alto Adige and this quality example was a dark ruby, with rich cherry and plum fruit and nice oak notes, quite full and rounded (Merlot was a reasonable guess).
A final rarity, courtesy of the producer La Sclusa who attended Decanter’s Friuli day on Monday. Picolit, native to Friuli, is a grape variety famous for floral abortion and therefore very poor bunch formation and very low yields. The wine is made then by semi-drying the grapes, further reducing the yield – and raising the cost. Picolit 2008 is a lovely golden colour, and then full of walnut, almond and toffee apple flavours, only moderately sweet. Some thought it was the wine of the evening.
North Italy – as with the rest of the peninsula – has a huge range of wine styles, local and international varieties, not to mention vinous curiosities. This evening showed a good sample of these, but only one evening cannot do justice to all. On now to Bordeaux …