Italy

Gold in them hills - 30 years of Tuscan Sangiovese with the Marchese de' Frescobaldi

How do you get a semi-retired wine blogger to grab his tasting glass and head out into the fray again? Make him an offer he can't resist. Include in it: World class red wines, back vintages no longer available anywhere else, an Italian region that he loves, but still knows too little about. To clinch the deal, promise him that he will get to meet a real live Italian nobleman.

30 years of Sangiovese, lining up to be tasted
30 years of Sangiovese, lining up to be tasted

Marchese Lamberto de' Frescobaldi is just that, and he is also the director of his family's vast agricultural and wine growing operation. To promote his high-end Tuscan sangiovese, Frescobaldi and their German importer had set up a spectacular vertical tasting in Munich. Read on for my impressions of 30 years of Sangiovese, and a bit with a wild boar.

Pievalta, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, Classico Superiore, 2012

Sometimes it is about the simple pleasures. When I first got really excited about wine I was drawn to the more expensive, prestigious wines. The average price I paid per bottle started creeping up. Looking for something "unusual" for the Wine Rambler contributed to this trend. Over time though I got a little frustrated with this approach. After all, all these "special" bottles need "special" attention. They want to be carefully selected, properly photographed, precisely analysed and interestingly described. What happened to just enjoying a nice looking bottle with dinner without feeling the need to pay too much attention? This feeling led me to order more "drinking" and less "reviewing" wines, and recently I even managed to put an order in where the average price per bottle was below seven quid.

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The wine you see above is one of these wines, although I put a little more effort into selecting it. After all tradition dictates that the first wine to be reviewed on the Wine Rambler each year does not come from Germany.

torsten Sunday, 01/03/2015

Kellerei Kurtatsch/Cortaggio, Weißburgunder Hofstatt, 2012

Is it too early to say that Italy, once haughtily ignored, is making a comeback on the Wine Rambler? In November, Torsten has had his eyes opened by a white from Trentino, and I, for my part, am more and more impressed with its northern neighbour, Alto Adige.

Now that everybody seems to concur that 2012 was over the roof on the banks of the Adige and the Isarco rivers, I have looked closer on reports of the last few vintages, and would you believe it, this has been going on for some time: Excellent on international varietals like Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc, excellent on local growths like the reds Lagrein and Vernatsch.

So I've woken up to it: The Alto Adige has been stealthily creeping up on us. We can't have that, of course. So at the risk of blurring our core germanic focus, I will from time to time over the coming year report on what I have stocked up on.

Foradori, Fontanasanta - Manzoni Bianco, Vigneti delle Dolomiti IGT, 2010

After my recent (and completely unsubstantiated, I hasten to add, your honour) comments about dullness of the average Pinot Grigio I felt a reminder was due about how exciting Italian wine can be. This is probably less a reminder to you, gentle reader, than it is to myself and my co-Rambler Julian - after all we both were traumatised by a youth of cheap and dull Pinot Grigio. The therapeutic antidote I am going to serve today is Manzoni Bianco, an Italian grape variety I discovered earlier this year at a natural wine fair. I was instantly impressed by it; and how could I not: it is a cross of Riesling and Pinot Bianco/Blanc, two of my absolute favourite grape varieties.

The wines I tried at the fair mostly impressed me by their freshness and minerality - elegant, light and clean. The first specimen I got into the scientific Wine Rambler tasting labs is a slightly different creature, a bolder and more substantial wine that easily rates as one of the most exciting discoveries of the year.

St. Michael-Eppan, Montiggl Riesling, 2010

Saying that I am drinking more Italian wine these days would be almost cheating, at least in the case of today's specimen. After all, Riesling is hardly the grape variety that would make you think of olives, pasta and Mediterranean heat - and the Alto Adige region for some does seem to belong more to the German/Austrian wine world than to Italy. After all Italy's northernmost wine region used to be part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and German is still spoken widely, as is also reflected in my wine labels.

So let's just say I am slowly working my way into the Italian wine world from the north through a multi-cultural sphere of many influences. Is it also a tasty one?

Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico, 2011

It could have been the cheap Pinot Grigio. It could have been all the talk about boring Super Tuscans. Or maybe it was growing up in Munich where everyone who wanted to be trendy drank Italian wine and annoyed the heck out of me with their cheap Prosecco talk. Whatever the reason, I don't tend to look to Italy when it comes to buying wine. Now, it has been established that I am a cool climate sucker and a certified acid hound, but a country with such a great wine tradition and amazing range of grape varieties and regions should have something to offer that I like.

Well, it does - and even more shockingly I found it in a supermarket.

Villa Medoro, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, 2008

Neither my co-rambler Torsten nor I have so far been able to warm significantly to Italian reds, especially those from the middle and south of the country. We have our reasons, mainly the predominance of plummy, raisiny fruit and a certain undeniably flabbyness that we think we found in those we have tasted, but to lovers of those regions I'm sure it proves that we are no less capable of prejudice-fuelled wine ignorance than the next drinker. What follows, then, is a little outside of the usual mould of Wine Rambler reviews.

It is to make amends, in a way, but it's also very much a public service announcement: Enjoyable Italian red ahead!

Wine Rambler autumn tasting 2010: from oaked rosé to Riesling and German Merlot

Every other season I assemble a group of wine loving friends at the Wine Rambler London HQ. The mission is simple: drink some wine and have fun. As that might seem too frivolous in the current times of austerity a little work is also required of my guests - and that is to share their impressions of the wines. For the autumn tasting in November these impressions ranged from 'body shop mandarin lotion' and 'broccoli' to 'tennis balls' and 'cold custard'.

As is the law at Wine Rambler seasonal tastings, all wines have to be tasted blind. This avoids bias and, most importantly, makes it more fun and adventurous. As my wardrobe is mostly stocked with German and some Austrian wines this is what my guests have learned to expect, but I always aim to have at least one surprise in store for them...

Feudi di san Gregorio, Greco di Tufo, 2009

It has been a while since we reviewed an Italian wine, but how can the Wine Rambler resist if a bottle almost magically materialises in front of him? This one was brought all the way from Italy by my friend Steve, who contributed it to a blind tasting I hosted a little while ago at the London headquarters of the Wine Rambler. As far as I can remember this is my first encounter with the Greco Bianco grape, a variety of Greek origin that the people in Campania use for making the Greco di Tufo wine. So let's be Italian for a moment.

An evening with Riccardo Prosecco at the Secret Larder

No thanks, I am really not that keen on Prosecco. Admittedly, this is an odd sentence to start a post on a Prosecco tasting. However, it describes the attitude I have had towards Prosecco for a long while, and for two reasons. First of all I have a long-standing dislike of sparkling drinks, an antipathy that, at least with regards to sparkling wine, it took several years of drinking Riesling with its high acidity to eventually overcome (have a look at the Wine Rambler's sparkling adventures). Second, I was socialised on alcohol in Munich. This put me off Prosecco because in Munich it is the drink of choice for a certain strata of hoity-toity, would-be posh/jet-set, would-be in-crowd snobs (the German word 'Schickimicki' is so much more precise) who make my toe nails stand up; in addition to that, Prosecco is so popular there that I was often given the cheapest plonk you can imagine because everyone wanted to serve Prosecco, even though they had neither money nor taste. So to sum up, I am definitely not the person you would want to invite to a dinner where only Prosecco is served.

Riccardo Prosecco

Luckily for me, the people from Azienda Agricola Riccardo were brave enough to do so nonetheless. And with surprising effects.