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Non-French Grapes in Australia Part 2 – Italy

By Alex Russell on February 10, 2012 in Food

In Northern Italy, particularly in Piedmont, the most famous wines are made from the Nebbiolo grape, such as the famous Barolos and Barbarescos. While both are quite tannic and require a decent amount of age before you drink them, the tannins in the Barbarescos tend to soften earlier. The wines are light in colour, despite their fuller bodies and deeply concentrated flavours, and any decent cellar should have at least a few bottles of these. They need to be matched with fuller flavoured dishes, particularly meat. Aussie winemakers initially struggled with these wines, but recently some stunning examples have popped up. Personal favourite include Giaconda, Coriole and S.C Pannell.

Barbera also pops up in Northern Italy, again particularly in Piedmont. In contrast to Nebbiolo, the wines tend to have brighter fruit flavour, lower tannins and deeper colour. Not all Barberas should be aged (particularly the lighter styles), but decent ones can be put away for a while, especially those aged in French oak. In 1985, there was a scandal when some Barbera producers added methanol to their wine, killing 30 people and causing others to lose their sight. Barbera sales dropped steadily. Still, some Australian producers have brought the grape over here and have had some success, particularly in the Hunter Valley (Bimbadgen Estate and Margan in particular), the King Valley in Northern Victoria (Dal Zotto and Brown Brothers) and various other regions.

Montepulciano is now Italy’s second most planted red grape. It has an obscure history and seems to have no relation to the Montepulciano village, nor is it grown around there. There is a wine called Vino Nobile di Montepulciano that is made from grapes grown around the village, but not Montepulciano grapes – clearly the Italian ‘Naming Committee’ needs to get its act together. Grown mostly through the middle parts of Italy (think the thigh, calf and heel of ‘the boot’), the grape is known for producing deeply coloured wines with higher alcohol, lower acidity and softer tannins. It is often blended with other grapes (particularly Sangiovese) and imparts plumlike flavours. A few of the younger winemakers in the Barossa are trying it out, particularly Tscharke and First Drop wines. First Drop also does an interesting Nebbiolo and Barbera blend.

Sangiovese (the blood of Jove) makes wine with a higher acidity, lighter body and lighter colour. It is most famous for its starring role in Chianti and, as such, produces wine that matches well with human liver and fava beans (Silence of the Lambs joke!). Winemakers try to add body to the wine using various techniques, but fairly recently have found that it blends really well with Cabernet Sauvignon, creating amazing wines (such as the so-called Super Tuscans). In Australia, it’s popping up everywhere and is a really food friendly grape. Have it with your next pizza.

Also making a splash recently is Negroamaro, which pops up mostly in the heel of Italy. A few winemakers I’ve spoken to recently are particularly taken with this grape, so you may be hearing more about it in the future.

In the whites, most of you will be familiar with Pinot Grigio, the Italian version of the French Pinot Gris. Some clued in producers are also doing some awesome things with Arneis, which has subtle flavours of peach and honey – great for seafood and salads. Look for Yarraloch and Mac Forbes here. The other to keep an eye on is Vermentino (Sardinia), with crisp tropical flavours – Yalumba does a great little number with this. You might even see the odd Fiano around the place too – a pretty strongly flavoured white (try Coriole’s Fiano for something fun).

They’re all very food friendly styles so they may not blow you away when you drink them by themselves, but match them with the right dishes and you’ll understand why the Italians drink at lunch and dinner.