The variety and intricacies of the Italian grapes can be confusing, but it means the country offers both choice and quality, says Roger Jones, owner of the Harrow at Little Bedwyn
For an Italian wine novice, it can be a nightmare to learn all the grape varieties and different regions that Italy possesses. There is no doubt that there are fabulous wines coming out of Italy, and life is made easier for the non-linguists with the depth of ‘universal' grape varieties now on offer. However, all too often we fall into bad hands and are disappointed.
Italians are clearly passionate about their wines and this is evident from the choice and quality on offer, even in the most hidden-away bars and drinking dens. Here is a rundown of the white wines produced by the country.
Colterenzio, GewÁ¼rztraminer Classici DOC, Alto Adige 2014
This wine offers a bright, clean, perfumed, floral nose with soft acidity, yellow stone fruit and savoury spices.
MÁ¼ller Thurgau, Alto Adige, Cantina Terlan 2014
This winery is a co-operative of 143 growers based in the Alpine region of South Tyrol. This offers a delicate yellow colour, fine, spicy aromas and shades of nutmeg with soft acidity. A refreshing wine with texture.
Marchesi Antinori, Conte della Vipera
Produced by Marchesi Antinori, based on the Umbrian-Tuscany border, this is a luscious Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon blend, which is fermented in oak. Straw-yellow in colour with intense aromas of citrus fruit and light-green herbs, it is both savoury and lusciously sweet, with a great balance of acidity in the form of grapefruit nuances.
While more is not always better, there are some multi-blends that shine.
Jermann, Vintage Tunina IGT 2012
Blending Malvasia, Picolit, Ribolla, Gialla and Sauvignon Blanc, this is an elegant wine combining dried apricots, cherry blossom and creamy frangipane. This is a great food wine that evolves in the glass.
Malvasia and Riesling
One of the best-known native varieties of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Malvasia Istriana is also grown in the neighbouring Republic of Slovenia and in the Croatian part of Istria, symbolically uniting the peoples that have always shared these Adriatic regions.
Picked at full ripeness, it is fragrantly inviting; if late harvested it becomes drier and more austere.
Borgo San Daniele
Borgo San Daniele is a small 18-hectare farm and family winery that cultivates grapes in the DOCs (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) of Isonzo and Collio in the Italian region of Friuli. Its goal is to make wines with crunchy freshness. Its wines are biodynamic, unfiltered and follow the 'natural' route - but because it has always done so, not because it might suddenly become fashionable.
Borgo San Daniele, Jiasik Blanco
This is a blend of Riesling and Malvasia, combining luscious fruit, bright spring flowers and clean, fresh acidity with a mellow, lingering freshness. This would be great as an aperitif.
Borgo San Daniele, Malvasia
This is a tremendous wine, offering tangy, fresh lime with hints of soft ginger on the palate, and a bright blossom, textured finish with great balance.
Marchesi Antinori, Cervaro Della Sala 2011
This has a small percentage of Grechetto (10%, while earlier vintages, say 2001, had up to 20%). The nose shows notes of chamomile, flint and tropical fruit. The palate is mineral and the vibrant flavours are elegantly balanced with buttery notes. This has great ageing potential. Produced in Umbria by the Antinori family of wines and available from Berkmann.
Gaja, Gaia & Rey 2009
This textured Chardonnay is named after Angelo Gaja's daughter, Gaia, and his grandmother, Clotilde Rey. This is a wonderfully pure, minerally Chardonnay laced with fruit and buffered by silky, elegant tannins. It's an extraordinarily beautiful, refined Chardonnay of notable pedigree and price.
Vie di Romans, Chardonnay 2007
See Star winery, below.
Jermann Dreams, IGT 2012
This wine is 97% Chardonnay, but with an added secret blend, which Silvio Jermann will not disclose. The name has changed many times, too. It was originally dedicated to U2's The Joshua Tree album and specifically to the song 'Where the Streets Have No Name' - for its first nine years it was called 'Where the Dreams Have No End'.
Silvio is situated near the Slovenian border in the north-east corner of Italy, and is rated as one of Italy's most celebrated winemakers.
The bouquet is intense, with a hint of honey and wild flowers. It's dry and luscious on the palate with good balance and an exceptionally long finish. This wine can command quite high prices, but pop into your local Majestic to get the best deal.
Pieropan was the first producer to bottle a wine with the word Soave on the label in the 1930s, so it should know what it is doing. It produces a whole range of Soave with prices from £10. The Calvarino Soave Classico is unoaked and reminiscent of a clean, fresh Chablis, while the 'daddy' of the stable is the oaked La Rocca Soave Classico, based on limestone. The grape variety used is 100% Garganega and it is available from Liberty.
With age, the La Rocca is sublime, but rest assured the current 2013 vintage is a masterpiece - golden yellow in colour with nutty aromas, leading to tropical fruit with an elegant, silky finish. A cellar investment.
Star winery - Vie di Romans
This winery is without question one of the stars of Italy, based in the heart of Isonzo (Friuli-Venezia Giulia). The wines are available from Liberty and, although listed at around £20 duty paid per bottle, they offer exceptional value and quality, They also produce a range of wines to suit all pockets. Each of these wines is named after the vineyard and grape variety.
Piere Sauvignon Blanc, Vie di Romans 2013
This straw-yellow wine has an open, aromatic nose. Fresh peach and greengage perfumes are complemented by a hint of tropical fruit. It has an excellent balance in the mouth: a cross between the rounded, fuller style of Sauvignon and the freshness that is characteristic of this region, finishing with a citrus tang and persistent minerality.
Dessimis Pinot Grigio, Vie di Romans 2013
With its beautiful copper hue, this is my all-time favourite Pinot Grigio. But be warned: this is not your typical, wishy-washy Pinot Grigio - it has style, texture, freshness and depth. The bouquet is full of sweet pastry aromas, and scents of pear skin and yellow peaches. A seductive wine with heaps of luscious flavours.
Chardonnay, Collezione Millesime, Vie di Romans 2007
Although the current vintage is 2012, I was lucky enough to try this special limited-edition Collezione Millesime from the 2007 vintage. This clearly shows the age worthiness of these wines.
The Chardonnay is lightly spiced with notes of vanilla and cinnamon and with a bright, elegant nose of summer flowers, acacia blossom and hints of honeysuckle.
It shows lovely buttery, honeyed and floral characters, all lifted on the finish by a lively freshness.