Italian Travels - Half Dozen
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Our interest and enthusiasm for Italian wines has never been greater but with such diversity it's difficult to know where to venture. For this trip we start in the North-East, where white wines predominate and the Dolomites provide a dramatic backdrop. Here, Fernanda Cappello gave up a career as an architect to become the third generation to run this 130 ha vineyard at Sequals, planted on gravelly, mineral soil in a microclimate dominated by the Tramontina wind which keeps the grapes healthy. She is aided by her son, Nicolas Bedendo, and daughter-in-law, Emily Tsang. A new winery has been built and solar panels ensure that they are totally self-sufficient for energy, as much as possible is recycled and the vineyards have become a haven for birds. The wines are cool, fresh and aromatic – characteristics which are very much to the fore in the aptly named Traminer Aromatico.
In the classic region of Piedmont, in the North-West of Italy, the hills are more rolling and red wines rule, with Barolo being the most famous, centred around the small town of the same name, south of Alba. Our visit here a couple of years ago showed many small producers making elegant, balanced wines with judicious use of oak, a contrast to the big, over-extracted wines that were commonplace in years gone by. Typical is Crissante, run by Alberto Alessandria, nestled in the hamlet of Santa Maria near La Morra in the best part of Barolo. The 6 ha of vines are all within 800 metres of the winery, ensuring grapes reach there in the best possible condition. Careful fermentations without stems, together with ageing in larger oak barrels ensure beautifully textured wines. The Dolcetto is from a grape variety which, when handled correctly, produces beautifully succulent fruity wines.
Just a very short drive back towards the town of Barolo and you come to Serio Borgogno, one of many wineries carrying the Borgogno name. The large winery is indicative of its past as more of a négociant house, but now fifth generation sisters, Emanuela Bolla and Federica Boffa, produce top-notch wines from 8 ha including a large part of the famous Cannubi vineyard. Using organic methods – they are in conversion to certified organic production – they produce characterful and restrained wines.
We now move south down the leg of Italy, with our next stop being near the Adriatic Coast behind the city of Pescara. Fabrizio Mazzocchetti, at Tenuta del Priore, has 40 ha of vines at 250 metres altitude in the Pescaresi hills. His focus is very much on the local grapes, such as Pecorino, with the resulting wines designed to be fruit-driven and accessible, particularly with his Campotino range. This is another winery which was focused on producing wines for the bulk market but under Fabrizio, who trained in the Alto Adige in the North, the focus has very much switched back to quality wines in bottle. Try the Campotino Pecorino for an example of his soft, easy-drinking style.
On to Puglia, in Italy’s heel, and the style of wine changes with lower acidity and broader flavours. Fiano is one of the benchmark grape varieties of the region, although it is also famous for producing succulent nutty and floral wines in Campania, around the base of Vesuvius. It’s an old grape variety, with some even claiming a heritage for it back to Roman times. The grape variety has seen a dramatic re-emergence in recent times and this delightful Puglian example from Carlomagno is packed full of flavour.
Further into the heel we come to Cantele, close to the city of Lecce, where Gianni, Paolo, Umberto and Luisa Cantele have over 50 ha of vines and manage 150 ha more. It’s another family winery which started out in earlier generations with bulk wines but now concentrates on quality wines in bottle. The local grape varieties are their mainstay, particularly Negroamaro and Primitivo. The reds offered here are from Negroamaro a full-flavoured red, previously wines from this grape variety did the trip north to beef up the reds there but now it’s appreciated for its rich fruit with good, crunchy acidity to give balance. The Riserva is 100% Negroamaro but is aged in large, oak barrels and is a typical southern Italian style.
With so much on offer in terms of wine styles, grape varieties and family growers, it really is worth spending some time getting to know what’s on offer by travelling the length of Italy with a selection of wines.