From Valpolicella in the north to Sicily in the south, Italy’s array of grape varieties produce a red wine to suit every taste, finds Carol Brown.
Italy is home to numerous indigenous, characterful grapes, many of which are associated with just one region or even a scattering of villages.
While some grapes have travelled, others remain just in Italy. I thought it would be fun to get to grips with a few of those grapes, with a selection of red wines that will take us from Veneto in the north-east to Sicily in the south, spanning 10 degrees of latitude and a wide range of climatic and topographical influences.
Corvina is the mainstay of Valpolicella, Veneto, although there is often a little Rondinella and Corvinone in the blend too. It’s all about a vibrant cherry and berry character with a lift of acidity too.
The Valpolicella zone is north of Verona, and a range of styles are produced to fit both budget and mood.
Valpolicella DOC is usually light to medium-bodied, easy drinking and all about a fruity freshness.
Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG is the biggest, boldest and usually high in alcohol and made from partially-dried grapes, hence the larger price tag.
I like to put a Valpolicella Ripasso DOC on at tastings, and it always goes down well. The Ripasso style is made by re-fermenting the wine on the pressed Amarone grape skins, which adds more depth, concentration and complexity.
Villa Borghetti, ValpolicellA Ripasso Superiore 2019, Majestic Wines £12.99
Dark berry and cherry scented with cinnamon, clove and redcurrant aromatics, this is rich and concentrated with a prune edge, smooth soft tannins and a touch of acidity.
Primitivo is actually the same grape as Zinfandel, which is normally associated with California and was taken there by Italian settlers.
The origins of the grape have been traced back to Croatia. In Italy, it’s usually found in Puglia (the heel of the boot).
It can ripen unevenly so you can get some really ripe, sometimes dried fruit characters coming through, and it’s not unusual for alcohol levels to reach 14.5%.
Costarossa PrimItivo Di Manduria DOC 2019, Majestic Wines £9.99
Scents are of dark berry, bramble and raspberry, mixed with woodsmoke and spice. The fruit is forward and juicy with subtle oak, soft tannins and blueberry and raisin notes.
This perfumed variety typically gives medium-bodied styles with a good acidity.
At home in southern Italy, it’s found mainly in Puglia and especially in Salice Salentino.
Vallone, Flaminio Negroamaro, Brindisi DOP Rosato 2020, £8.50 thewinesociety.com
I thought I’d sneak in a rose wine, as rose wine is for all year and not just for summer. Brindisi is a town and a wine zone in Puglia.
A deep salmon-pink wine, this is strawberries and cream scented with grapefruit and spice notes. It’s mid-weight, food-friendly and dry, and the red berry and peach flavours are lingering.
I’m going to finish with a Sicily focus — it’s such an exciting wine area right now.
Nero D’Avola is a key grape and widely grown across the island (the town of Avola is in the island’s extreme south-east).
As a variety, it adapts to its growing location but expect characters like strawberries, sour cherry, rose and sweet spices. It is typically full-bodied and structured with a good acidity.
Nero Oro 2017, Sicily DOC Riserva, Majestic Wines £11.99
The Sicily DOC covers the whole of the island. With aromas reminiscent of dark berry coulis and blackberry jam, this is full-bodied, rich and textured, with black cherry, spice and smoke on the taste.
It’s perfumed (think Barolo/red Burgundy) with fruity, herbaceous, earthy and mineral traits. It performs well at higher altitudes on the volcanic soils of Etna. Etna DOC wines must contain a minimum of 80% Mascalese and a maximum of 20% Cappuccio.
Firriato, Le Sabbie Dell’Etna, Etna Rosso DOC 2018, £12.99 waiTrosecellar.com
Pale garnet in colour, there are notes of raspberry, dried fruit, cherry and prune on the scent.
Full-bodied with some structure to the tannins, there is a textured minerality, with raisin and plum flavours lifted with a fresh acidity.