I may have to give up wine tasting. I think my tastebuds have died and gone to heaven. Last night, I sampled some of the most exquisite wines I have ever tried, at the Wine Society’s Italian tasting in Chester.
Back in March, I wrote about our trip to the Decanter Fine Wine Encounter: Italy. While we discovered some excellent wines among the hundreds on offer, we were left feeling underwhelmed. Last night, there were only 28 wines available to taste, but this meant that we could taste all of them (actually, the one rosato slipped through the net, as we forgot to go back to it between white and red). The “hit rate” was extremely high – while we couldn’t get excited about every single wine, they all had something about them and some of them were amazing.
I won’t list all 27 wines, but I’ll share details of some of my favourites: worthy winners of my patented “smiley face” system.
Two white wines stood out for me:
Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico, Le Giumcare 2010: this had a lovely full body, achieved by ageing 25% of the wine in oak for 14 months. It had a lovely nutty almond flavour. I’ve previously found Verdicchio boring; this was anything but.
Falanghina del Sannio, Janare 2013: I’d never heard of Falanghina before last night; apparently it’s only grown in Campania. I think it would be a lovely name for a horse, if I had one. Janare is a local name for a friendly witch! This wine was slightly off-dry with a creamy mouthfeel, balanced with zippy acidity and a delicious apricot flavour. I think that this would work best well-chilled as an aperitivo, but it’s also recommended for serving with seafood. I’d love to try it with spicy prawns. This was a really exciting discovery for me – a grape variety I hadn’t even heard of, that turned out to be absolutely gorgeous!
My favourite reds were:
Barolo, Luigi Baudana 2009: I often find Nebbiolo-based wines too acidic and tannic. Not this one – the 3½ years’ barrel ageing has smoothed out those rough edges, while preserving the pure sour cherry flavours. This is really lovely and extremely approachable. The lovely signorina pouring the wine described it as a table-pleaser: if you need to order a wine to go with different meals, or if you’re going to a dinner party but don’t know what’s on the menu, this will work with everything. As a fish lover, I’d be very keen to give this a go with something fishy.
While I’m on the subject of Barolo, I have to share with you my favourite wine quote ever, from the very funny (and very rude) Channel 4 sitcom “Peep Show”. Jeremy is out for a meal with a girl he really wants to impress. She orders a bottle of Barolo. When he tastes it, we hear his inner monologue: “Oh. That is fantastic. THIS. This is wine. Yeah, look at what these idiots are drinking. Look at these dicks! Obviously it’s not REALLY delicious like hot chocolate or Coke but for wine…”
Chianti Classico, Isole e Olena 2011
This is one of the very few wines ever to be honoured with my highest ranking: the “O” face. This is far and away the best Chianti I have ever tasted, brimming over with violets and blueberries. I’ve written before about wanting to have a “Drops of God” moment and finding myself transported to a field of fruit and flowers. I had one last night. If I had to choose one wine to drink every day for the rest of my life, this would be it.
Vino Santo del Chianti Classico, Isole e Olena 2005: Vin santo is an unfortified sweet wine particular to Tuscany, made from a blend of malvasia bianco and trebbiano toscano. The grapes are dried on rush mats during the winter, to concentrate the natural sugars. On our recent trip to Tuscany we enjoyed cheap and cheerful vin santo a couple of times, served by way of a dessert with cantucci biscuits for dipping. They were lovely, but this vino santo was the real deal, bursting with dried fruit flavours and a long citrussy finish. It was lusciously sweet, but well-balanced with lively acidity. At £29 for a half bottle, I won’t be using it for dipping cantucci, but it would be a fantastic treat at the end of a special meal.
Orvieto Classico Superiore Calcaia Dolce, Barberani 2010: this is another sweet wine, but made with Grechetto grapes affected by “Muffa Nobile” (that’s Italian for noble rot, isn’t it beautiful?). It was light and fresh, less sweet than the vino santo, with botrytis flavours of marmalade and apricot.
I was hugely impressed by the standard of wines at this tasting. The Wine Society is owned by its members (a one-off fee of £40 buys lifetime membership) and its stated aim is to introduce members to the world’s best vineyards at a fair price. It has a team of expert buyers, whose brief is to “buy only wines which they are enthusiastic about from producers who share their passion for quality at every price”. Last night’s event proved that the Society’s buyers know exactly what they’re doing. They assembled a small but perfectly-formed selection of high-quality wines to provide a wonderful evening’s tasting. Quite a few of the producers were checking their phones between pouring to see Italy’s footballers follow England out of the World Cup, but they helped to prove that Italy’s wines can compete with the best in the world.