In my new line of trying not to get too smashed when I do these tastings, I’m trying just the one bottle this weekend. It’s going to be the TTD Primitivo from Sainsbury’s. This post then is about a food pairing with Primitivo.
The availability of Southern Italian wines has never been incredible. Massive co-ops producing generic Pinot Grigio with little taste and even less texture had been the norm for years. Why? Well wine production in those states just doesn’t pay the bills. Or at least it didn’t for a long while.
So no one was producing it and the reputation was falling so fast that no one was buying it. With the influx of New World alternatives, that lower price bracket was becoming the most competitive battle ground in the world of wine. So you’ve got to ask is there a point in checking out Southern Italian wines?
Of course the answer is yes, and it’s back with bang. So what changed? Well, as with anything else it was investment. Investment in the land, investment in the wine making, and investment in the marketing.
Land in the South of Italy is comparatively monkey nuts compared to the North. It’s also got a warmer, more steady climate. So you’ve got cheap land, with little vintage variation, and an almost guarantee that your crop will ripen. Hmmm, sounds a bit too good to be true. Investment in the land has flooded in from the North, and from further afield such as the US and Australia. They know how to make it work in the hotter climbs.
Given the relatively untouched nature of wine production in the years preceding this resurgence, PDO regulations have largely based the South by. Remember that if you produce wine in one of the areas with a bit of fame for their wines, then chances are there’s some kind of appellation control set on what you can do in terms of which grape, what land, and the rest. Sometimes even down to what bottle you can put the finished article in!
If there isn’t much in the way of regulation, then you’ve got a double-edged sword. On the negative side, you may struggle to gain a decent price for what you produce, so maybe you can’t be arsed putting in that extra mile. Produce something average and make it pay. As a consumer you may end up properly having to sort the wheat from the chaff. On the positive side though, if you want to have an experiment as a wine maker, you can mess around with different grapes, different blends, and different production techniques. Just go nuts. This has been a big draw for external investors.
And finally the marketing. In my view, the best thing about the South of Italy is the grape varieties. Sure you’ve got the international varieties creeping in, but the Aglianico’s of this world, the Gaglioppo’s, and the blessed Primitivo itself. These are just 3 of hundreds of local varieties, put here thousands of years ago as the first vineyards in what’s now mainland Italy.
In a world where your white wine choices might be whether you want oaked or unoaked chardonnay, wouldn’t you love to have a go at a spicy, herby Greco? Sicily has already done a great job at marketing co-ops promoting the local grapes, and the rest of the southern states are beginning to follow suit.
I’m not going balls out and saying “you’ll not have tried anything like this in your lives before!” but they’re definitely something different. Just keep an eye out.
The Real Italian Wine Event
So a few weeks ago I got an interesting tweet. It was from the Real Italian Wine company. Being very new to the game of blogging (i’m not going to say journalism for fear of severely annoying the professionals) I’d not really either heard of them or really knew what the form would be for the day. Were they really sure they wanted me there?
Don’t get me wrong, I know they ask a lot of people down and only a proportion of people show up. But still, I felt like I was all of a sudden part of this weird world of wine writers, however much of an urchin I might be to most. Well sod it, I need to practice my tasting technique, they invited me, I was going to turn up and learn how to fit in.
I needn’t have worried. I was amazed at the attitude of a lot of guys and girls there. Look, I know this is people’s jobs and maybe after a few years in the gig it might get a bit same-y and it loses its buzz, but my life, some of those “journalists” were grumpy buggers! If I have to act like that to fit in then screw it. I’m happy where I am thanks.
But down to the brass tacks of the event. It was a really well organised day designed as a vehicle for producers in the south of Italy to show their wares and, in most cases, look for distributors in the UK. The areas represented were Calabria, Puglia, Umbria, Le Marche (ok a bit more midlands but hey ho), and Campagnia.
So you walk in and there are about 50+ tables, with producers all there with beaming smiles hoping to get what they came there for. What could I do about it? Well I thought, I could try as much as possible, especially given the amount of regional varietals (different grapes that are grown only in that area of Italy, so not that famous or easy to get hold of) there. And I can hold my own now in talking about production and vineyard techniques, I thought I’d throw in a bit of that, so I look less like a wino off the street turning up for a free bevvy.
It turned into a really fun day. I’m getting less annoyed now about having to spit out tasting samples and doing a lot better at making tasting notes so I can remember what’s happened. Now don’t worry, I’m not going to bore you with these right now, but I would say it’s a habit I need to continue with. I’m horribly lazy at taking notes, and after a full day tasting, if you don’t have decent notes, then you’re a bit screwed. Take notes where appropriate, you may feel like a tit to start with, but you’ll thank yourself later on.
I rocked up about 10.30 in the morning. I left at 5 in the evening. I made it round 9 of the 50+ stalls. Just 9. Now even if you take away the 2 masterclasses I went to, and the buffet lunch (which was polished off by the gannets before I’d had a look in!), that’s pretty slow. I was having a great time. All the producers there were great to talk to (all southern italians, so they can talk a bit!) and if you’re finding out all you can about what they’re up to, it’s a shame not to try everything they had to offer, right? I probably twigged at this point why the pros were so quiet and untalkative with the producers. They had to get round the 50+ stalls. Time is money and all that!
So what did I try during the day that stood out? Well in terms of grape varieties, I’ll throw some names out there, but they are silly hard to get hold of at the minute in the global trade. Standouts for me were the reds; Primitivo (Puglia), Gaglioppo and Magliocco (Calabria), and Vernaccia Nera (Le Marche).
Now given the heat in the south of Italy, you’d expect these to be big body, big alcohol (the heat usually means more sugar in the very ripe grapes), but I was really surprised. Gaglioppo especially was much lighter, no harsh tannins, a really good one for the afternoon.
Producers in many of these regions have struggled against the co-ops in recent years. Given the risk reward involved in wine production in the less famous areas, most have fully functioning farms, and wine is very much a side project. So fair play to all those going out there and making a fantastic product. All were impressive and interesting in their own ways, but I had to pick a few standouts;
Colli Di Serrapetrona – Really earthy rosés from Vernaccia Nera
Roberto Ceraudo – Really soft but complex Gaglioppo, think Nebbiolo-style
Barone – Small organic farm, new venture for them, one to watch
The thanks for the day have to start with Elaine Marsh. We managed to bump her on the guest list for the day in order for her to come along and keep me sane on a day I’d have otherwise spent talking to myself or just annoying some unsuspecting wine producers. You’re a star Elaine, and added no shortage of class to the drinking partnership!
Further thanks have to go to Alessandra Dinato. This lovely lass is a leading sommelier making her way in the world by making sure the diners at Gordon Ramsey’s Maze have the perfect wine with their dinner. She was down helping out a couple of family members (I think it was a family connection?!) and was kind enough to put up with me bugging her with questions for a large part of the day. All the best with the career and hopefully catch up soon.
And last but not least, to the organisers of the Real Italian Wine Event. Thanks for the invite. I had a great time and learned a lot about the wines of southern Italy. I promise to go forth and spread the word. Grazie mille.
So I guess it’s a case of keep your eyes open. Southern Italian wine is on the way up. You don’t have to be a grumpy wine critic to be there with it!