Very few wine producing nations bring as
much panache to their tastings as do the Italians.
The Italian Trade Commission recently
sponsored its ninth annual tasting in Vancouver,
a gala affair in which producer tables occupied two-thirds of a large
Convention Centre ballroom. The other third was, of course, devoted to fo0d.
The Italians know how to eat and drink.
The Italians have sponsored tastings in Toronto and Montreal
for 19 years; those cities are the major Canadian markets for Italian wine. In
the last decade, Italy has
made more of an effort in Western Canada as well, trying to win away consumers
that buy most of their wine from Australia,
California, South America and British Columbia.
Perhaps half of the 37 wineries at the Vancouver tasting have no
wines in the market. Those wineries were looking for agents and listings in the
BC Liquor Distribution Branch.
The LDB currently lists 460 Italian products,
including multiple sizes and fortified products. Sales of Italian wines in British Columbia in the
12 months ended September 30 totalled $59.2 million, up five per cent from the
previous 12 months.
It is a sliver of the market. The LDB’s total
sales in the same 12 months were just under $3 billion.
But the Italian sliver is worth exploring, to
discover the excellent “new world” styling of the wines. In the past decade or
two, Italian producers have really raised the bar. And they are doing it with
varietals that grow primarily in Italy. The taste profile of Italian
wines is a refreshing change to palates that may have become jaded with Merlot
To be sure, Italians also grow the French
varieties, making excellent Cabernet Sauvignon, for example. However, they
understand their competitive edge does
not require taking Australian Shiraz or Napa Cabernet head on.
Their edge comes from using varietals not even
grown in much of the rest of the wine world. When you add those novel flavours
to modern wine making, you get crisp, fresh whites without a trace of oxidation
and you get juicy and appealing reds without the hard tannins of yesteryear.
still offers the familiar brands that have been on the market for years and
years, but made to improved quality standards.
One example is a 45-year-old brand, Fazi Battaglia Verdicchio Classico
($14.99), a crisp, refreshing white still being sold in the green hourglass
shaped bottle. Many of us bought it initially because the bottles, like the
Chianti in the “fiasco” served well as candle holder.
(The fiasco disappeared from the market for a
while. Last year, the LDB restored it by listing Piccini Chianti ($15.99) in
the straw “fiasco” bottle. I don’t believe the latter was among the wines in
the trade commission’s show.)
Fazi Battaglia is an example of why the
Italians are competitive. Verdicchio is an ancient variety that is planted
widely in central Italy
but hardly anywhere else. The LDB’s tasting notes speak of flavours of baked
apple, hazelnut and ripe melon. The wine is light but it has its own personality.
All of the wines I was able to taste – and
there was only time to skim the surface – were impressive. Some examples:
This is a familiar name in this market. The brand
has been here close to 20 years, arriving first with a $7 Sangiovese that the
liquor stores could not keep in stock. Well, Farnese Sangiovese Daunia is now
up to $9.99. The LDB currently stocks
2,800 bottles, along with small quantities of another Farnese red and a Farnese
white, also both $9.99.
Well, Farnese has gone up market. All of the
six wines at the trade commission show would be priced between $22 and $40, if
listed. I scored all but one higher than 90. Keep an eye peeled for Farnese Montepulciano D’Abruzzo 2011 ($22.95),
a delicious mouthful of black cherry, spicy fruit and chocolate.
Banfi: This is a well known winery in Tuscany, currently with
four excellent red wines in the LDB, all of which are 100% Sangiovese but all
different in personality. Three were at the wine show. Rosso Di Montalcino 2010 ($26.99) is elegant and juice, with spice
and plum favours. Brunello Di Montalcino
2007 ($59.95) has complex aromas of truffles and red berries and flavours
of plum, fig, tobacco and chocolate. Brunello
Di Montalcino Poggio Alle Mura 2007 ($69.95) is even more concentrated and
complex, with notes of black currants and coffee. These all are 90 to 92 point
Planeta is an excellent producer from Sicily, with six wines
in the LDB, most of which were at the wine show. There is a crisp, fresh $15.99
Planeta White 2011, a 50/50 blend of
Chardonnay and an indigenous variety called Grecanico. The winery also has a
$15.99 red, a blend of Syrah and Nero D’Avola, another indigenous grape. It was
not at the show but, on the strength of the other wines, it is worth trying.
Moving up the ladder, there is Planeta Alastr0 2011 ($25.99, a 100%
Grecanico white and a very interesting wine, with fresh, tangy lime-accented
flavours. Cerasuolo Di Vittorio 2010 ($29.99)
is made from two indigenous grape varieties, Nero D’Avola (60%) and Frappato.
This is another intriguing wine, a red with aromas and flavours of pomegranate,
plum and strawberry and with silky tannins. These are both 90 point wines, in
One of the producers that has not yet landed
listings in B.C. is Marramiero, a
winery from Abruzzo, the region on the coast east of Rome. The quality of the wines is high – none
below 90. These included two made with Trebbiano, a widely grown Italian white
and a versatile variety. One of the wines, Anima
2011, is a tank-fermented wine that displays floral aromas and appealing
flavours of melon and apples. The other, Altare
2009, is made from grapes from 45-year-old vines. It was fermented and aged
in oak barrels and given another year of bottle age. It is the most complex
Trebbiano I have ever tasted, with the oak flavours cradling rich citrus
flavours. The winemaker recommends aging this wine.
The winery’s three reds, all made from the
Montepulciano grape variety, were big, rich reds, very satisfying to drink.
They should be picked up for this market.
Another Abruzzo winery that is not here, but
should be, is Azienda Agricola Nicola
Di Sipio. Its offerings began with a
delicious sparkling wine, Di Sipio Brut
Spumante Metodo Classico, made with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. There were two
excellent white wines made with blends of Pecorino, Falanghina and Trebbiano –
one made in stainless steel and one barrel fermented. Finally, there were a solid
pair of reds made from Montepulciano; the riserva 2007 reminded me a bit of a
The bottom line is that the Italians, by
adopting cutting edge winemaking techniques but not jettisoning their
traditional varietals, are producing wines that are unique.