Mamma Mia! Our Italian Wine Tasting!
So 2020 has been tricky, but there was appetite for us to run our Italian wine and cheese evening. So we donned our masks, washed our hands and poured the wines...
Wine One - Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, M&S, £6.00
Montepulciano is the second most widely grown grape in Italy, and it grows mainly in central Italy, in the region of Abruzzo and neighbouring Marche and Molise. It is a late ripening grape, so it needs more warmth and therefore isn’t grown further north, otherwise it would be under-ripe at harvest time.
It is a deeply coloured grape, and usually drunk young. To be called a Montepulciano, 85% of the grape must be in the wine.
There is a town called Montepulciano in Tuscany, which causes confusion as there's no relation to this grape.
The Abruzzo region is mountainous and there are numerous sunny hillside vineyard sites, so this wine is churned out by the bucketload, meaning it's always going to be at the budget end of the scale. However, the wine is always good value, and can be consistent within this price point.
Wine Two - Masso Antico Primativo, Asda, £9 (Currently on offer at £7)
Our second wine took us to the "heel" of Italy, where the climate is a lot warmer. Widely grown in Puglia, this Primitivo is from the Salento area. Puglia is a flat area and would normally be too hot for grape growing, but it gets relief from the heat by the cooling coastal air as it comes in off the sea.
The Primitivo grape is also known as Zinfandel in the USA (where it is also grown in hotter parts, such as inland California)
The Italians will often use Primitivo as the house wine in restaurants in the area. This 'jug wine" can be cheap and cheerful, but primitive can also be grown and aged as a quality wine.
The vines are grown using the Alberello method. This vine training means that each individual vine is staked and pruned to stand alone and grow by itself - this maximises the airflow around the vine, helping to cool the grapes.
Wine Three - Chianti Classico, M&S, £12
Chianti Classico is sometimes known as "The bordeaux of Italy" but this isn't quite accurate; Chianti has a little more flexibility to its wines.
It comes from the Tuscany region and Chianti is the area, with the word Classico denoting that it’s a sub region between Florence and Siena, which was the original heartland of Chianti. The hilly classico area measures around about 100 square miles.
As well as the geographical regulation, to be called Chianti Classico the bottle has to contain 80% Sangiovese grapes.
On every Chianti Classico bottle there will be an image of a black rooster. This comes from a time that the Florentines and the people of Siena were arguing over the geographical boundaries of Chianti, so to settle the dispute two knights agreed to set off at dawn and where they met would form the boundry of the region. However, the Florentines got a black rooster and starved it for a few days so that when they let it go on the morning of the knights' departure it started crowing early. The Florentine knight inadvertently set off early (thinking it was dawn) and had a head start - thus gaining more ground (and Chianti land) before the boundary was drawn.
Chianti was made famous in the film "The silence of the lambs" - However, in the original book, Hannibal Lecter refers to an Amarone but it was changed for the film because Chianti was more recognisable to a wider audience.
Wine Four - Amarone della Valpolicella, Asda £16
Our fourth wine of the night was an Amarone della Valpolicella. Amarone in Italian means "the great bitter" although the tasters agreed that there was nothing bitter about this wine!
Amarone is the style of winemaking and Valpolicella is the region in Veneto where you'll find Amarone. The two grapes used to make this wine are Corvina and Rondinella.
The Amarone method means that the grapes are picked and then left to dry out. Historically they would have been dried on straw mats but these days there are more sophisticated drying chambers. The grapes will be laid out for approximately 120 days - this allows the sugars in the ripe grapes to concentrate, and following a long fermentation, the excess sugar will result in a wine that has high alcohol content. The legal minimum requirement for amarone is 14% alcohol - this example is 14.5%.
Amarone wines can have a lengthy ageing period of up to 5 years although this isn’t a legal requirement . You can expect amarone to be expensive because of the process of drying the grapes, and additionally the winemakers have to be quite expert at choosing the best grapes and preventing rot during the drying process.