North Italy

New Italian wines at The Wine Society: bella figura!

The concept of ‘bella figura’ or good image is important to Italians. Bella figura is more than dressing well. It extends to the aura you project too – i.e. confidence, style, demeanour, etc. (From Italy – Language, Culture, Customs and Etiquette)

The Wine Society UK has found its Members wines that not only speak of the place but also have an extra flourish of bella figura. You’ll find nearly all of The Wine Society’s Italian wines for Spring have personality and speak of its place and history; in particular, the white wines. At these prices, and in these quantities, that is quite an achievement. Here is the line up for Spring:  Read More »

Vermentino from Liguria by Laura Aschero

Recently I caught up with Colin Thorne, manager at the new wine tasting shop, Vagabond Wines in Fulham Broadway, London. There you’ll find 100 wines to choose from, starting at £1 a taste. We decided upon the amazing Vermentino by Laura Aschero from the Liguria region in Italy, which can be found on the coast south of Milan, near Genoa. Keep going west across the border to France, and Provence, where there is another expression of Vermentino, called Rolle… It’s a very Mediterranean taste and is one of my favourite wines on the weekend to have at lunch on Sundays with friends.

This one is a unique and elegant wine that tastes of the coast of Liguria: Laura Aschero is a genius. I hope you have the chance to enjoy it, too.

Baci X


P.S. Sorry for the fairly grainy, low-budget, low-tech quality of the video. Unfortunately this is the criteria for the Sundance Film Festival’s wine tasting video category…

Tasted at Vagabond Wines: 18-22 Vanston Place London SW6 1AX
020 7381 1717

The Best (Easy) Map of Italian Wine Regions and Varieties

If you love maps, you’ll find Italian wine a never-ending cartographical adventure. Next to actually visiting the region (and, of course, enjoying the wine) a map of Italy is one of the best ways to understand this complex wine country.

Here is one of the best maps I have found, also outlining the major grape varieties, although remember there are over 2000 grape varieties in Italy. It is very similar to the map found in the excellent reference book, Vino Italiano: Regional Wines of Italy by Joseph Bastianich and David Lynch (2005, USA).




How to do the new austere: a baby Barbaresco

La Maggiorina Le Piane 2009 (Colline Novaresi DOC, Piedmont) from Lea & Sandeman, £12.95 pb

This is how to do the new austere well: with a light, baby Barbaresco style wine from a near-abandoned region in Piedmont. Beautiful perfumes and tight tannins somehow make austere seem rich.

A fabulous wine yet with an honest country heart: violet, roses after rain, stewed cherry, and fresh-smelling wet forest twigs and gun shop, the expansive feeling of the perfume slowed down by refined tannins, like stopping on a mountain path to take photos of a richly-coloured sunset with a super-sharp lens.

From a once thriving wine-region 1-hour drive North-West of Milan, vineyards deserted in the 1950s for the textile industry, the Colline Novaresi DOC is in the highest and most eastern part of Piedmont. This is made near the town of Boca from the Nebbiolo grape which gives the wine a beautiful pale colour and perfume, also seen in expensive Barolo and Barbaresco, but contains up to 30% Croatina grape, a local variety which gives a violet colour and tannic quality slightly deeper than Dolcetto.

Three word review: Dramatic Luxury Lite

Image: Sofia Sanchez and Mauro Mongiello


The One That Got Away

This wine had the place smelling like Christmas for a week.
Can I give you a tasting note from broken bottle? At around £120 – £140 per bottle, I have to at least try… I was down on my hands and knees licking the floor. Risking shards of glass in my tongue just to have a taste.
Read More »

Controversial Freisa: why this is an important wine variety

“They can be fussy, unreconstructed; most of them don’t want to go along to get along. They have an attitude, an edge.” – Randall Grahm, Preface to Wines of Italy, Been Doon So Long: A Randall Grahm Vinthology

There comes an evolution in the taste buds when tasting wine and that can be summed up in one word: bitterness. Bitterness is an acquired taste. A five year old does not like bitterness. Did you ever mistake a cold bottle of Indian Tonic Water with Schweppes Lemonade on a hot summers day as a child?

Ha! It is a shock. That is perhaps why Freisa d’Asti from Piedmonte in North-West Italy divided the critics. Hugh Johnson described Freisa d’Asti as being “immensely appetizing” to Robert M Parker Jr described Freisa as producing “totally repugnant wines”.

But I defy you to come to a firm conclusion on it from a simple sip-and-spit basis.

This is never going to be a mainstream wine. Not because it’s not a good wine, it is an excellent wine, but because it does sophisticated things to the palate: angostura bitters, rose petals and the dryness of raspberry. There is a thrilling electricity along the highway of the tongue when I first tasted it. Mouth-watering, the tannins do their job in time: to prep the palate for great things ahead.

(You’ll also find this fresh bitterness in other flavours in Italian food: think rocket arugula leaves, angostura bitters, amalfi lemons, balsamic vinegar.)

Before tasting a Freisa d’Asti – in this case, the Freisa d’Asti from Cascina Gilli – I was not so much worried about the bitter but the sweetness. From what I researched, there had been a traditional practice of covering the tannins with residual sugar. For a while, Freisa had fallen out of favour.

But this is definitely not what I am tasting today. This is a very modern, adult taste. The light-medium body is a nod to the traditional cuisine it partners with such as salumi. It speaks of its place. It is interesting to note, Freisa is the grandparent of Nebbiolo, who later became one of the Kings of Italian grapes.

Freisa d’Asti may not ever be a popular wine but it is an important wine. I tried to imagine what the world would be like if I could find this on every supermarket shelf: and quite simply, the world would be a different place. It’d be a world where wine would only be drunk with food and people would care what they put in their mouths (ergo, their minds).

So why not go there if you can? Go to a different place.

Link: Cascina Gilli

Image: from Studio Tord Boontje