Most years, Italy is the world’s largest producer of wine– using 350 different ‘authorised’ grape varieties, and up to 1000 types overall – more varieties of grape than there are wineries in NZ. Even the 8 major red grapes are relative unknowns here in NZ – you might have heard the names of Sangiovese andMontepulciano before… but Barbera, Nero d’Avolaor Nebbiolo? Even Primitivo, the great variety of Southern Italy is better known by its 20thcentury American name – Zinfandel.
Given it’s long history to draw on, Italy also has a host of techniques and styles of wines that are either unique, or considered unusual to our more ‘modern’ methods of winemaking in New Zealand. For example – these two wines I’m tasting today, are examples of a centuries-old technique that was invented long before the ability to stabilise fermentation through temperature control - that is taken for granted today.
Both use a process where extra grapes – typically harvested as late as possible to obtain maximum ripeness – are dried on mats, for months to concentrate the sugars and flavours – losing about a third of their weight and shrivellingtowardsraisins. These are then added to the initial fermentation, giving it a new source of sugar, and inducing a secondary ferment. Typically these techniques also add a little extra sweetness, and richness to the finished wine. Perhaps the most famous Italian wine to use this method is Amarone.
The Tuscan wine – Grand Maestro ItalianoGoverno All-UsoToscano IGT 2017 is a big, robust wine. Aromas of dried thyme, cherry and molasses lead to a palate of darkest plums, cherry and liquorice. Grippy tannins and still-sharp acidity walk a tightrope above a deep, complex core with a hit of eucalyptus and old leather. The finish is spicy and savoury.
The wine from Piedmonte near Verona – MiliassoPassitaAppasimentoPiemonte DOC Rosso 2017 is a softer variant, with a sweeter nose of candied fruits, smoky incense and damson jam. Intense bramble, vanilla and mulberry flavours form the full body, and it’s cocooned in a plush port sweetness. Silky tannins and a lingering finish that’s like eating the whole box of chocolates in one go.