Between the vines

17 October, 2008

Zak discovers bewildering choice on an Italian wine trip

Another exciting couple of weeks - how long can this go on, I wonder? We have a pair of new recruits to the fold

- and not a moment too soon

as last week I was spirited off to Italy for a few days by Liberty Wines. As a group of nine people, we toured wineries around Verona

and pushed north east into Friuli. It was an interesting trip, for a variety of reasons, so I'd like to share some of the more printable findings here.

It probably won't come as a surprise to anyone, but Italy has a bewildering variety of grapes

and an even more fiddly system of rules as to what you can do with them. In some cases, grape varieties are also used as denominations

and even apparently familiar grape varieties are

not what they seem.

Humble Trebbiano may be suffixed with a regional qualifier to distinguish it from another similar (but

always inferior) variety grown elsewhere.

The producers

display a splendid set of eccentricities .

One thought nothing of taking the coach on a short cut through a vineyard.

The precipitous scree road

petered out into nothing, leaving us

driving between rows of vines. Thank Bacchus

the plantings weren't more dense, or we

would have been in trouble.

The trip took in a wide variety of producers, from the world-class to the humble co-operative. Thrilling as it was to shake hands with the producer of one of the best Soaves in the world, it was equally exciting to see trailer-loads of grapes being pitchforked into a huge steel hopper at the nearby co-operative. It was easy to see how the Pieropan estate's patience, skill and devotion produced a Soave of unusual intensity and finesse. What was perhaps more surprising is that at the co-operative, despite leaves, stems and goodness knows what else being dumped in at one end, the resulting product was

actually pretty good.

The issue of bottle closures is also a hot topic. Liberty

managing director David Gleave

is a fanatic advocate of screwcaps

- and wherever possible encourages producers to forsake unpredictable cork.

In some cases, for example at renowned producers Allegrini, this has meant

they have had to declassify their wines from "classico" status to use the screwcap

-

a sacrifice

they

see as worthwhile.

Many

are moving over, despite having to negotiate

with local, regional and national government

to do so.

Indeed, one estate was in the process of making the change, but not quickly enough to prevent them pouring an array of corked wines at lunch. The cork lottery continued to show its influence later that day at dinner. Three bottles of

wine from a reputed estate were opened, not as an extravagance, but because our host felt that the first two weren't quite right. He was right: the final bottle was intense, complex and plush, the previous two seeming dull and flat by comparison.

Low level TCA? Some sort of "flavour scalping"? Given that this

wine retails for about £30, I know which closure I'd be happier putting my money behind.

A fascinating trip , but let me share a

secret . If you

accept hospitality from two Italian wine producers in one day, you'll need hollow legs and elasticated trousers.




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