Italian Grape & Wine Varieties April 29, 2017 14:44

Italy produces so many fabulous wines and has more than 350 common indigenous wine grape varieties, but asked to name a few, I suspect most of us would stumble after Pinot Grigio.  Italian wines are probably the most diverse in the world - if you tasted a new Italian wine each week, it would take you 20 years to taste your way through them all - but they are also possibly the most confusing, what with all those grapes, places (20 different wine regions), DOC and IGT names, vineyards and all those hard to pronounce names, it’s hard to know what’s what.  But believe me, it’s worth persevering, especially if, like me, you’re bored with the same old sauvignon blanc and merlot, so I thought I would tell you a wee bit about the grape varieties in this month’s featured wines.

First of all, let me introduce you Vermentino (pronounced vur-MEN-teeno).  If you love sauvignon blanc, then chances are you’re going to like Vermentino.  It is a light-bodied white wine that grows mostly in Italy on the island of Sardinia, but despite its light-bodied character, it’s actually quite complex to taste.  This is because Vermentino has higher levels of phenols which give it a subtle bitterness on the finish–a taste often described as green almond.

A glass of classic Sardinia Vermentino will offer up lively aromas of pear, white peach, lime and pink grapefruit with subtle notes of crushed rocks and citrus zest. On the palate, Vermentino is almost always dry and somewhat oily with flavours of grapefruit and citrus, with a crushed rocky minerality and saltiness. On the finish, it can be a bit snappy with bitterness similar to the taste of grapefruit pith or, if it’s on the riper side, fresh almond. 

Vermentino is a wonderful wine to match with medium-weight dishes with rich herbs and spices. Due to its bolder intensity, you can easily match this wine with richer fish such as halibut or even meats such as our Italian fennel pork sausages. One thing to look out for, though, is the acidity level in a dish. Vermentino often doesn’t have the spritzy acidity needed to match against tart pickled dishes.

For May and June we are offering our Mesa 'Prima Bianco' Vermentino di Sardegna  at the special price of £10.50 (usual price £11.99).

Next up, meet Grillo (pronounced GREE-lo). Hailing from Sicily, Grillo produces crisp, savoury, easy-drinking wines.  It’s a white grape that tolerates the hot Sicilian climate well and reveals a few different personalities in wine produced by it. Sometimes tropical fruit qualities are very prominent, other times it shows more mineral or citrus characteristics and often it’s somewhere in between.  Lighter styles have citrus blossom and peach nuances, while more aromatic versions deliver passion fruit, grapefruit and herbal sensations reminiscent of Sauvignon Blanc. Lees contact (that is contact with the residual yeast during fermentation) and barrel ageing create more complex, mineral-driven wines loaded with apple and citrus flavours.

In terms of food pairings, it does depend on the personality of the particular Grillo, but generally it goes well with seafood, grilled vegetables and salad.  It would also work well with pesto pasta dishes.

For May and June we are offering our Donnafugata Grillo 'SurSur' at the special price of £12.50 (usual price £13.99).

Nero d’Avola (NAE roh DAHV oh lah) is Sicily’s answer to Malbec. This high-quality variety makes deeply coloured, age-worthy red wines that are full-bodied and moderate in tannin, with heady flavours of ripe fruit and herbs.  If Nero d’Avola isn’t on your radar, it should be. It’s the most widely planted red in Sicily and, as the name suggests, it comes from Avola in the south-east of the island, in the province of Siracusa. It used to be mainly grown, and exported in quantity, to bulk up weedier northern reds but it now produces much more elegant, age-worthy wines.  Its resurrection has a few producers to thank (among them Donnafugata – see our Wines of the Month) who have made several jaw-dropping single varietal Nero d’Avola wines since the late 1990’s.

With its bold fruit flavours, robust tannin and acidity, Nero d’Avola is a great wine to match with rich meaty meats. Some classic pairings include oxtail soup and beef stew, but you could easily swap BBQ burgers with bacon and everyone will think you’re a genius. The gamier the meat the better because it will simply make your wine taste fruitier.

Some spices that will pair very well with Nero d’Avola include anise, orange rind, bay leaf, sage, cocoa powder, Asian plum sauce, and coffee.

For May and June we are offering our Donnafugata 'Sherazade' 100% Nero d'Avola at the special price of £12.50 (usual price £13.99).

Finally, say “ciao” to Negroamaro (NAE grow ah MAH roh), which in Italian means “black bitter.” This is a deep, dark red wine from Puglia, down in the heel of Italy.  If you want fruit-forward, ripe, red wine for a good price, look no further than Puglia. Some of the best value in Italian wine come from this sunny, dry region. Most Puglia wine is red, full-bodied and will pair well with a wide variety of foods.

A dry red wine made from Negroamaro has flavours of ripe plum, baked raspberries, and spicebox notes like anise, allspice and cinnamon. Even though Negroamaro is full bodied it is not too tannic or acidic, and instead leads with bombastic fruit which makes it easy to glug, especially alongside meatballs, pizza or grilled meats. It would be perfect with our Spianata Calabrese spicy salami.

Some of the best Negroamaro wines are those produced under the Salice Salentino DOC when they are combined with up to 10% Malvasia Nera, which softens the wine’s tannins and adds some aromatic qualities.

For May and June we are offering our Vigneti del Salento 'Zolla' Salice Salento at the special price of £12.50 (usual price £13.99).

Enjoy - and don't forget to give us your feedback! Diane