“I have a great appetite for splendour, but at the same time very simple tastes,” says the Valentino quotation at the entrance of his recent exhibition Valentino: Master of Couture in London. The Roman fashion maestro could have also been talking about Italian wine. On the weekend of February 9-10, I was in Rome for the Vignaioli Naturali di Roma. It was not the normal natural wine tasting (if there is such a thing as a normal natural wine tasting).
Less faults, less craziness, very busy but not chaotic – in fact, it all seemed like a typical Italian wine event.
Has Italy’s Slow Food movement taken the edginess out of the natural wine movement in Italy? What I found were clean, traditional wines but speaking in strong regional accents.
Splendour and simplicity came with the tasting of the Nosiola white grape variety from the Dolomites. Bright prints of yellow flowers and lemons were the dominant theme with a flick of herbs and great phenolic texture. In particular, Fontanasanta Nosiola 2011 made in amphorae had a good mid-palate weight. Where the others were simple and pretty this had an extra touch of luxury due to the brilliant phenolics.
It was great to catch up with the full range of wines from producers such as Nino Barraco (Marsala, West Sicily) and Zidarich (on Friuli border of Slovenia). I have had tantalising tastes of these wines in London. When I am feeling rather jaded with the same-same they never fail to excite.
You will never find a Grillo like Barraco’s in a supermarket. If you expect a £4.99 bottom shelf type of Sicilian white then this will come as a shock. Almost as heavy in weight and alcohol as a fortified wine it had a burnt orange peel aromas that waken up the dead. The Zibbibio had an intriguing bergamot and orange perfume, almost Cointreau characters with a long finish – but completely dry unlike its sweeter country cousins.
The I Custodi delle Vigne Dell’Etna (wine consortium from Mount Etna) had a delicious Rosato Cappuccine – a pink wine like poached pears with finely balanced tannins as the very best from this volcanic region tend to show. Even the name sounds delicious to me.
The tasting finished with the traditional Piedmont producer Giueseppe Rinaldi and the family’s Friesa 2011. Friesa is the mamma of Nebbiolo and somewhat lost as a variety, perhaps due to the commercial emphasis on Nebbiolo and Barbera in Piedmont nowadays. It has not found its footing over here, which I feel is a shame – its lighter style makes it a brilliant lunch wine.
Then again, not many people have wine at lunch anymore. If there is one thing about the Slow Food movement, and if Italian Natural Wine can align itself in spirit with Slow Food, then it is to protect these little grapes and to promote consideration of local food and wine. If that mean longer lunches, where’s the manifesto I can sign?
Other wines of note:
Vilar Sass Biank 2011
Invigorating perfume with white flowers and slightly smoky patchouli incense perfume. Not as herbal as some of the other Nosiola wines, intricate tastes.
Pranzegg Weingut ‘Campill’ 2010
Old vines between 25 to 80 years of age, with an average of 50 years. Made in 2500 litre oak barrels it is a delicate wine with dry raspberry and very fine, integrated tannins on the finish.
Manzoni Bianco 2010 Vignaioli Fanti
Tangerines! Sweetness from fruit with 5-spice twang and a very plush, soft palate often found in natural wines.
Maso Furli 2011
“Good sense of place” my notes read… a Sauvignon blanc from Trentino with an Alpine quality as bright as a crystal-clear sky. Very more-ish, grippy texture.