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How are y’all? I’m chugging along. Came straight back from my holiday to a mock tasting exam at wine school. Thought it went pretty well, was wanging on and on about all the notes on the red wine, called it outstanding, the whole nine yards, then the lecturer collected the papers and just said, all throwaway like – ‘I assume everyone noticed that was a pretty basic red!’ RIP me. How long to go til the real thing? Six weeks? Shut up, no it isn’t.
Let’s stick to the here and now so my head doesn’t explode. As promised, today we’re finishing off Italy, starting in Tuscany. I did my study abroad in Tuscany, as chance would have it, in a wee hamlet called Siena that you might know if you’re into horse racing and won’t know if you’re not. I could ramble on, misty-eyed, about my Erasmus year and a certain guy from Catania called Valentino, but you got my lobster waitress anecdote last week, and I’m not trying to give you guys too much ammunition. Gotta save something for the memoir innit.
Tuscany = Sangiovese = red cherries, plums, dried herbs. Bit of oak age to smooth out those tannins and give it some spice. Tuscany is home to Chianti, perhaps (in my experience anyway) the most ubiquitous Italian appellation. On the appellation note – Italy does this thing where they find a great patch of land, slap an appellation on it, and then every Marco, Gino and Rino get wind of it and want to plant there. So they end up expanding the area massively, so much so that some of it bears little resemblance to the OG area that was so good in the first place. If high quality soil is something you’re interested in, and it should be, since you’re here, you’re gonna want to keep an eye out for ‘Classico’ on the label. ‘Classico’ after an appellation name means that the grapes came from the actual original bit of land that earned its stripes. Work smarter not harder. As ever, with apps, the hierarchy doesn’t stop there. Above Chianti Classico you’ve got Chianti Classico Riserva, which has a minimum ageing requirement of 24 months, then above that you’ve got Gran Selezione, which needs to age for 30 months on top of that. Knowing wine appellations like I now do, within a year there’ll probably be a new one called Turbo Gran Selezione or Grandissimma Selezione Incredibile or whatever, but for now, those are the ones we’ve got.
Down in Southern Italy (skipping over several small central Italian regions, as you may have intuited), we’ve got Campania, where Greco and Fiano get their chance to shine, slinging out wines with stone fruit, melon and mango flavours, which can morph into wax, honey and mushrooms with a bit of a sleep in bottle. Puglia is all about Negroamaro and Primitivo, which depending on yield control can either produce the ‘Tesco wine’ of last week (aka high volume, inexpensive, early drinking) or can produce quality, full-bodied wines with high alcohol and notes of baked red and black fruit. Down in Sicily you’ll find mostly Nero d’Avola, except up in Etna DOC (yep, that Etna) where you’ve got the native varieties of Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio, which are blended together for fragrant, high acid wines with crunchy flavours of sour cherry, cranberries and raspberries, sometimes with a dash of dried herb in there too, and a whiff of smoke (coz volcano).
Blew through Italy so fast because I’ve historically had a bad habit of not leaving enough time to talk about the smaller-production countries (sorry Austria, sorry Hungary, sorry Portugal) and I’m taking this chance to rectify my mistake. So we’re gonna do a quick flyover of Greece.
Greece has over 200 native grape varieties, lol, so we (and the textbook) are just going to talk about the three main PDOs. Naoussa PDO is home to Xinomavro, Greece’s answer to Nebbiolo (according to some people), which makes high tannin, tawny-coloured wine with a notable lack of fresh fruit flavours, even in youth. The wines are destined for long lives, developing complex spice and earth aromas with a bit of age. Nemea PDO is the domain of Agiorgitiko, whose character changes pretty radically depending on where on the slope it’s planted. Low-slope Agiorgitiko turns into some pretty jammy grapes, for wine made for early-drinking (Teeeescooooo), high-slope grapes have high acidity but less fine tannins, and are usually made into rosé, whereas mid-slope is where it’s at in terms of quality – deep ruby colour, high, smooth tannins and red fruit and spice flavours. They love new oak too. Just love it.
Santorini is cool (not temperature-wise), coz the wind there is so strong that in order to stop the grapes getting blown into the Aegean the vines are trained into a little basket on the ground, and the grapes grow inside. Cute! Said grapes are primarily Assyrtiko, and they can turn into dry, perfumed whites or sweet Vinsanto, made by sun-drying late-harvested grapes for up to 14 days then ageing the wine for two years minimum. When it pops out again it tastes like caramel and nuts. Delish.
Speaking of delish. Here are some on-topic recs to get your week off to a cracking start. Here’s a Chianti (Classico!) that’ll knock your socks off, here’s one of those saucy Etna blends I was talking about and here’s a Xinomavro that you’re going to love. Yum yum, job done.