Italian Red Wine
What a fabulous country. Nowhere in all my travels have I ever encountered such a love of good food and wine. In my opinion Italy produces some of the best wine in the world. Anyone who has been to Italy knows the Italian attitude to life - rules are there to be broken, and the same is true in their wine industry. The government introduced a classification system loosely based on the French Appellation Controlee. However, many Italian wine makers refused to be restricted and continued to make fantastic wine as they wanted, just labelling it 'vino da tavola' table wine.
To the Italians in the know this was no problem, as good wines earned strong reputations locally. However this is no help to consumers in the UK. Italy more than any other country is one cauldron of confusion when it comes to selecting wine from looking at the bottle. Always look out on the label for a reputable producer. The Italian wine guides like 'Gambero Rosso' can be very helpful and their award system is very reliable.
Veneto is probably Italy's most reliable area for consistency. Everyone has heard of Soave and Valpolicella, although in the 1980s and 90s this did more to harm the reputation of Italian wines than enhance it, due to the large quantities of poor quality wine imported into the UK. They do however make excellent examples of these wines in the Classico areas in the hills. Avoid the standard wines from the plains, which tend to be weak and thin. Again a good producer is essential. There are plenty of cooperatives and a few unreliable producers churning out DOC wines which are not value for money. Zenato and Campagnola are amongst the regions very best producers and are widely recognised in the Italian wine guides, where they consistently win awards.
International Wine & Spirits Competition - Italian Wine Producer of the Year 2008
The Zenato family are one of the Veneto region's best producers. Their wines are some of the very best I have ever tasted. Their reds are all beautifully smooth and full of flavour. I drink the Valpolicella Classico Superiore with food and the Ripassa for a long lingering wine on it's own. The Amarone is stunning, one of the biggest Amarones I've ever had the pleasure to try. Then there's Sergio's Riserva! Visit Zenato.com
or check out their fantastic review in the 'Gambero Rosso' Italian wine guide.
The subject of Tuscan wine is absolutely vast and you'd need to spend a lot of time studying it to understand even the basics. Tuscany's success is largely due to it's hilly terrain and the vast number of individual mesoclimates. The predominant grape is Sangiovese, although there are at least 14 different clones of this variety such as Prugnello and Brunello, both famous in their own right, in their own DOCs where they can command upwards of £40 per bottle.
Tuscany's vines were wiped out by a severe frost in 1956 and were quickly replanted with high yielding clones, which produced vast quantities of mediocre wines. In the last 25 years or so there has been a firm swing over to lower yielding higher quality vines. Many producers were unhappy with the DOC restrictions and used their expertise to produce stunning wines outside the system, simply labelled as Vino da Tavola. This was the birth of the 'Super Tuscans'. The laws were altered in 1992 and they now have to have either IGT or DOC status to display a vintage or provenance on the label. There can be tremendous differences between two wines with the same classification, which makes selecting Tuscan wines very difficult for the amateur enthusiast. All the ones we are recommending below are superb. Most have a typical Tuscan dry finish. If this is not your style, consider the slightly sweeter Veneto wines instead.
The Marche region lies level with Tuscany on the eastern coast, the other side of the Appenine Hills. Whilst Moncaro are a cooperative, they are one of the largest and most innovative wine producers in all Italy, with a huge range of wines, and an even larger array of medals and awards.
Campagnia, Puglia & Southern Italy
Perhaps the biggest current sensation in the Italian wine world. Southern Italy has unrivalled heat and sunshine. It also has some fantastic native grape varieties like Negroamaro, Aglianico and Primitivo which thrive in these hot conditions. This has now been combined with modern technology and individual mesoclimates to produce some sensational wines. Together with Sicily, this region is now producing superb fruit driven reds and full flavoured whites, all representing excellent value for money.