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Italy: More than pizza and pasta

Italy’s cuisine, founded on pasta, pizza and the concept of ‘cucina povera’ (simple but quality food), has seen Italian food garner global fame. It is rare to arrive in any town or city in the developed world without seeing the tricolore proudly displayed in the signage of the local trattoria, but what about Italian wine?

Most wine consumers will, at some point, have worked their way through a glass of Chianti or Pinot Grigio but that is just the tip of a very large ‘wineberg’ that remains relatively unknown to the majority. If you doubt my assessment of the level of consciousness that Italian wines have managed to prick, just examine the Master of Wine exams of the last three years (2012-2014). Of the 108 wines that candidates have been asked to assess: only eleven were Italian in comparison to thirty three from France. I don’t think this is evidence of some internal bias by the Institute of Masters of Wine, just a reflection of the lack of penetration in global terms for many of Italy’s offerings. This lack of recognition is partly due to what lovers of Italian wine cherish the most; namely the vast range of indigenous varieties scattered throughout the Italian peninsula. The ‘problem’ for many of these varieties is that they seem reluctant to flourish away from their homeland meaning that there is a concomitant lack of exposure. Hopefully Australia’s increasing desire to plant some of these varieties, a sensible choice considering the generally Mediterranean climate experienced in much of the wine growing South East, will help to redress this situation.

Monday saw the Gambero Rosso Italian wine tasting event arrive in Taipei. The raft of Italian producers in attendance, many as yet to find importers in this corner of Asia, provided a welcome opportunity to refamiliarise myself with the classic as well as the more esoteric offerings from this vinous heavyweight. Below are wines from four producers that I hope will have been successful in their search for representation, as I believe they have the necessary charm to delight not just me but also the increasing number of wine-drinkers here in Taiwan. Whatever the outcome for these four estates, be sure to explore Italy’s vinous heritage, it is as important and as impressive as their food and warrants your attention.

Barone Pizzini, Franciacorta DOCG, Brut Nature, 2011
Grape: 70% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir
Wine-making: More than 24 months on lees and less than 3g of sugar per litre in the dosage.
Note: Buttered brioche with a little nectarine and citrus fruit, this was a decidedly precise yet still vinous glass of Franciacorta. If you like Champagne then the wines from this part of Lombardy offer similar levels of quality with a touch more generosity.
Score: 16/20
Available from: Not currently available in Taiwan

Bibbiano, Chianti Classico DOCG, 2012, 13.5%
Grape: Sangiovese
Wine-making: No oak
Note: Benchmark Chianti Classico, all crisp, pithy and with the scent of sour cherries gives this a thirst quenching quality that makes it alarmingly easy to drink.
Score: 16/20
Available from: Not currently available in Taiwan 

La Raia, Gavi DOCG, ‘Pisè’, 2012, 13%
Grape: Cortese
Wine-making: 12 months on lees
Note: This shows how good Cortese can be. Leesy, firm but with apple, almond and a subtle floral quality that is almost reminiscent of a good 1er cru Chablis. Break out the oysters.
Score: 16.5+/20
Available from: Not currently available in Taiwan 

Marchesi di Barolo, Barbaresco Tradizione, 2011, 14.5%
Grape: Nebbiolo
Wine-making: Short maceration (helps retain fruitiness) and 18 months in large oak.
Note: This is as juicy and approachable as young Nebbiolo gets. Fruity, floral and generous and tame enough to enjoy without food.
Score: 16.5/20
Available from: Not currently available in Taiwan

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