The start of the year are busy tasting months in the wine trade – it seems like there is one every day at times and some of them featuring so many wines that it can be quite overwhelming – especially for the palate! How perfect it was to attend the Italian Tasting of Lea & Sandeman in London recently. The location was the Getty Images Gallery, whose walls were filled with quirky photos.
Not only was it the excellent quality across the board of the wines, but the well-chosen small selection of producers that had been invited, gave them chance to really discuss their wines with visitors.
If you have not yet discovered Lea & Sandeman, they are one of London’s leading Independent Wine Merchants with four Branches in Chelsea, Kensington, Barnes and Chiswick – then you have a treat in store! Their advertising motto is “Most Original Wine Merchants” and that is certainly apt.
Lots of people getting into wine feel unsure about buying wine in an independent rather than simply picking it up anonymously from a supermarket. Reasons range from “Feeling embarrassed about not knowing enough” (if you know at least one wine you like – that will give their friendly staff somewhere to start suggesting other interesting wines in that style) Or “It will be much more expensive” ( Not True. Lea & Sandeman had Five Wow Factor Wines Under £10 in Victoria Moore’s article in the Daily Telegraph in February 2017).
So if you want to explore excellent value wines, unusual grape varieties or treat yourself to one of their selection of Fine Wines – get yourself along to one of their branches to find a wealth of interesting wines!
The Italian Tasting kicked off with some sparkling from Corteaura, a producer in Franciacorta in Northern Italy, (think Milan and along the map a bit towards Lake Iseo!), whose Pas Dosé Brut (with no dosage) was exactly the thing to invigorate the palate. Their Saten Vintage 2010 with extra time in bottle gave a full smoothness combined with a lovely apply finish.
Skipping to the other side of Italy, in Friuli Venezia Giulia, the wines of biodynamically certified Az Ag Visintini were a delight. The Ribolla Gialla 2015 with its slight spritz, good freshness and green apples would be an ideal apero. The Friulano (local variety used to be called Tocai until the Hungarians got defensive and had that banned) was a good example of the variety with its slight bitter almond nose. It needs time in bottle to really express itself, drink too young and will seem a little flat – so good to taste the 2014 vintage which showed also the complexity due to lees contact. The star of their wines was the Pinot Grigio 2015 – do not fall over in shock – I am not talking about the anodyne examples that flood the UK market, but real proper Pinot Grigio! It is “Ramato” so a gorgeous coppery pink tone that comes from the skins of the grape – and was bright and minerally in the mouth.
Continuing my geographical flit around Italy, the next wines were Luigi Maffini from Campania in the South. He hails from the beautiful unspoilt area of Cilento, and his cellars are not far from the ruins of the ancient Greek City of Paestum. I’ve followed his wines almost since their first vintage, and it has been great to see them develop into really exciting wines from local varieties of Fiano for the whites and Aglianico for the reds. The two Fiano’s appear almost to be different grape varieties, they were so different in the glass – the 2016 Kratos still so young was delicate pear drops and flowers, whereas the 2014 Pietracatenata was creamy, honeyed, rich, slightly spicy – a wonderfully balanced wine and would pair excellently with tuna tartare that I enjoyed last time I stayed in the Cilento (which incidentally is where Ancel Keys, who “discovered” the Mediterranean Diet based his research).
In the South of Tuscany is the region of the Maremma, and home to the relatively young estate of Fattoria di Magliano. Their Vermentino 2016 was all fresh, salty minerality and calling out for a plate of linguine with clams, the Illario Rosé made from 100% Sangiovese grapes was attractive strawberries & cream – showing well despite only having just been bottled. Their Morellino di Scansano called Heba (the ancient name for Scansano) almost 100% Sangiovese except for a pinch of 2% Syrah. Sangiovese in the Maremma tends to be more brambly and black than Sangiovese found further North in Tuscany, and this was no exception but had lovely easy drinking fruit possibly reflecting its winemaking in cement vats.
One Italian wine that still sadly divides a room when mentioned, is Lambrusco so I was very pleased to taste the wines of Monte delle Vigne. Their vineyards are near the beautiful city of Parma and their Lambrusco Classico was fabulous deep purple in colour and alive with blackberry fruit. Their Cru Lambrusco I Calanchi was a step up in seriousness and with lower residual sugar, is a wine to match perfectly with the many pork dishes and products of Emilia Romagna – The Classico would be heaven with a platter of Culatello and Salami whilst the Calanchi would match perfectly with pork belly slow roasted with fennel. Time for real Lambrusco to really have its overdue renaissance in the UK! Their Rosso 2015 of 70% Barbera and 30% Bonarda grapes won Italy’s revered top wine award, Tre Bicchiere and compared well with the Nabucco 2011 70% Barbera and 30% Merlot, lovely dark fruit, ripe slightly raisin-ness that would hook up quite happily with a spicy Lebanese lamb flatbread! To finish, their Callas 2012 from 100% Malvasia di Candia Aromatica, a lovely fragrant white only made in best years. The grapes are harvested later than usual (but not “Late Harvest”) giving a floral richness and depth which would go wonderfully with a plate of sweet yet salty Parma ham!
Geographically heading to Tuscany to one of my favourite small Tuscan producers, Il Poggerino which was hosted by the ever smiling and dapper winemaker Piero Lanza. Having tasted their wines which come from just outside Radda in Chianti in the heart of Chianti Classico, for several years it was great meet up with Piero in London. Poggerino was one of the first places that I encountered concrete eggs in Europe and Piero was fascinating on why he is focusing more on cement for his wines, as well as no small barriques but only large oak barrels. Il Labirinto 2015 was everything a Chianti Classico should be (in all but name!) – bright lively fruit and great purity. The Chianti Classico 2014 with its aging in large barrels still had a nice streak of acidity balancing the ripe plums and cherries. Piero has chosen a play on words for the “Nuovo” Chianti Classico 2014 – (uovo means egg and nuovo means new) – and this wine is aged 100% in the concrete egg vats, which keeps the wine in continual natural movement. It gives the wine a clarity and real sense of terroir unencumbered by oak. Although they follow biodynamic practises in the vineyard, they are not certified (simply down to all the paperwork involved!). His Riserva Chianti Classico Bugialla 2013 was excellent, drinking well now but with about another 4 years to reach its peak and then 15 years on its drinking plateau after that – still cherries and plums but backed up by leather and cedar smoky notes.
Tuscany is such a large region speaking from a wine point of view – so after Chianti Classico something very different from Bolgheri, the coastal strip of Tuscany so famed for its Super Tuscans such as Sassicaia and Ornellaia. But what heaven to taste again the wines of Le Macchiole, to show that the region is not all about Bordeaux style blends. Their Rosso 2014 was a powerful blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Syrah, but the wine that really impressed was their Paleo Rosso. A 100% Cabernet Franc with beautiful ripe fruit on the nose and a totally integrated, well balanced wine in the mouth – really outstanding, and as I found out last year in Tuscany, it goes very well with a simply grilled Florentine T bone steak! Comes with an not inconsiderable price tag, but I think well worth it – if you have a Bordeaux lover in your social circle and want to impress them with something different, this should tick all the boxes. The Messorio 2009 which is 100% Merlot showed how well this grape variety can perform with no hint of flabbiness, but the other wine that really made me smile was Scrio 2009. A micro production of Syrah it showed great elegance, slight hint of eucalyptus and dark chocolate.
Staying in Tuscany, for the distinctly different third wine region in a row, Montalcino, from where there were two producers. Fuligni whose Rosso di Montalcino 2014 had bright red fruit and would be the perfect wine with meat based pasta al forno. Whilst their Riserva Brunello from the much admired 2007 vintage was a great example of the classification, for me their star wine was the 2012 Brunello di Montalcino, which has bags of ripe fruit yet elegant and superbly balanced tannins. One to look out for. The second Montalcino producer Collemattoni showed a delightful 2011 Brunello with great balance, quite ethereal for a Brunello and ready for drinking now. I will be interested to taste the 2012 which should have more richness and sweeter fruit, with greater aging potential. Their Riserva Brunello Vigna Fontelontano 2010 was a bit of a beast in comparison but will be lovely with time in bottle. There is still a tannic dominance and it really needs food such as Peposa, a Tuscan Beef & pepper stew.
To finish, I was very pleased to return to my spiritual Italian Home, Piemonte – where I lived for five years. Sottimano are a producer that I have revisted several times and always been impressed with the quality across the board. After a delicious Dolcetto D’Alba with enough acidity to brighten the taste buds after all the previous tannins, the Langhe Nebbiolo 2013 was spectacular – a Barbaresco in all but name, it has enticing floral notes, a touch of garrigue and fine long finish – an absolute steal at the price under £20! If only there had been a plate of tajarin pasta and white truffles to hand, my perfect day would have been complete! What followed next was a mini Masterclass in the Barbaresco Cru’s of Sottimano – all of the 2011 vintage. Fausoni from 40 – 45 year old vines had good minerality with good red fruit and a hint of coffee, from its slightly sandy soils whilst Pajoré was the most intriguing Cru, slightly spicy tobacco and leather. Cotta managed to combine full bodied with elegance, slight hint of violets and a velvety finish. Curra had dense but ripe tannins, showing lovely salty almost liquorice flavours combine with spice and black fruits but still needs time, more so than the other Cru’s.
It makes such a difference having the actual producers there to chat to in depth about their wines – but obviously not all their Italian suppliers could be involved and so there was also a Self pour tasting table, where there was one complete gem hiding away amongst the whites – Lugana Felugan Feliciana. Sadly I’ve been more disappointed than impressed with many bland Luganas, but this one sang from the glass – it was creamy, white flowers on the nose and full bodied in the mouth – just the thing for a relaxed lunch of simply grilled fish on the shores of Lake Garda!
An excellent tasting from Lea & Sandeman showing the great diversity of Italian Wines.