Italian Wine: Land of Plenty

17 May, 2013

There are approximately 377 indigenous grape varieties in Italy. Diverse doesn’t cover half of it. Christian Davis reports

When it comes to diversity, Italian wine probably picks up the trophy. Jancis Robinson MW’s massive tome, Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, puts Italy at a staggering 377 varieties of vitis vinifera, the vine that produces grapes for winemaking.

Tim Atkin MW, conducting a tutoured tasting recently in London, put it succinctly: “Italy is incredible. Endlessly fascinating. You can throw your arms up and say this is chaotic. A country where 50% of the votes (in the recent general election) went to two clowns, one professional. Or you can embrace the chaos – or the diversity.

“General de Gaulle once quipped: ‘How can you govern a country that makes 324 cheeses?’ 

“Italy is one of the two great wine cultures, along with France. The diversity is everything. You never come to the end of Italian wines,” he told his audience.

“I only came to Italian wines about five years ago and have only taken them seriously in the last two,” Atkin concluded.

Atkin manages to encapsulate Italian wine in four short paragraphs. He was speaking at a tasting held by Grossi Wines, a leading specialist importer of Italian wine which sources wines from small artisanal producers.

Managing director Carlo Rossi tells Drinks International: “The Romans brought vines to Italy from the Middle East. Then the French turned winemaking into an art. But Italy is now taking it back and starting to produce good, high quality wine but more and more from indigenous grape varieties.”

Grossi has a mission. A mission to educate. For most people, Italian wine is primarily about Pinot Grigio, a bit of Valpolicella and Soave and, increasingly, sparkling Prosecco. For the more informed, it is about expensive wines such as Barbera, Barbaresco, Chianti, possibly Super-Tuscans and the famous regions such as Piemonte, Tuscany and maybe Veneto.

“Most people think of Piemonte, Tuscany and Veneto as Italy’s classic great wine producing regions,” says Grossi ruefully.

Grossi is about wines such as those made in the shadow of Mount Etna on Sicily and Puglia in Italy’s deep south. He lists ‘Es’, a 100% Primitivo di Manduria DOC from Gianfranco Fino in Puglia. Gianfranco is regarded as a pioneer of Italian wines and was voted winemaker of the year in 2010. The rich and complex ‘Es’ has been voted ‘Italy’s finest red wine’ for the past two years, beating the likes of famous, very expensive Italian Super-Tuscan, Italian icon wine, Sassicaia.

Liberty Wines’ David Gleave is one of the foremost experts on Italian wine. He says: “Italy continues to be a major presence in the global wine market. As a producer, it is second only to France in terms of volume, while in the export markets it has an image that rivals France. It is the only country that can take on France in terms of image and the ability to compete at every price level.”

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