Sicily, home of the mafia, Dolce & Gabbana, arancini, cannoli and, of course, delicious wine to name but a few of its associations. Largely overlooked for mainland Italy, this wonderfully eclectic island of mixed cultures and varying architectural styles from Baroque to Arab-Norman, is truly somewhere to behold, and witnessing it first-hand is to fully appreciate its unique and exotic charm. I recently visited the western half on a wine-tasting expedition, flying in to Palermo where you might be forgiven from thinking that you’ve just arrived in Havana; there’s a hustle and bustle that’s far removed from any of the quintessential Mediterranean islands you might frequent on a sunny holiday destination. Driving out of the sprawling metropolis and hoping that the rental car’s still intact, I head into the barren wilderness of agricultural pasture and rolling hills that wrap around jittering rock formations that seem both imposing and quietly serene at the same time. It’s a beautiful journey to a small 5-hectare vineyard just outside of Trapani. There are hardly any cars, fresh scents of Mediterranean herbs fill the air and the sound of silence is quite deafening at first, it’s so quiet. I arrive at my destination where I’m warmly greeted by a local man who’s been making wine for about 10 years, when he took over from his father who bought the small plot back in the 1960’s. “My father used to make a small batch of wine that he used to drink with family and friends, about 500 bottles at first, through experimentation.” This is how I picture the romance of a story like this: a complete trial and error endeavour that results in varying degrees of discussion from improvement through to success. “As the years went by, my father became more experienced as a vigneron and that’s when he started to increase production for local businesses who were buying in the wine for their trattorias and bars”. I ask whether he feels any pressure taking over from his father but he quite rightly explains that even though he uses many of the techniques his father taught him as a young and keen learner of the practice, having your own individual stamp on a wine as a winemaker is crucial to moving forward and innovating. We taste some samples of the newly released 2017 vintage over a plate of salumi and cheeses. There’s a controlled rusticity to the wines that instantly hits me with a feeling that perhaps the wines haven’t changed that much since the changing of hands a decade ago, but that there’s a more contemporary style and approach to them that comes from what we as wine drinkers today might look for in a wine and that’s a lasting impression.
Looks like we are having a heatwave and it’s hotter in parts of the UK than it is in Sicily! Time to cool off with some wonderfully racy and mouth-wateringly refreshing white wines. Let me pick out for you some of the freshest whites in our collection that are perfect for summertime drinking, keeping you cool in true dolce vita style!
Lugana - No summer is truly complete without the inclusion of Lugana, Lake Garda’s most famous and garnered white grape. If you have been lucky enough to find yourself sipping a white wine in any of the tree-lined bars scattered along the shores of Lake Garda, the chances are it was probably Lugana or, more specifically, Turbiana, the grape variety. This wine is the perfect summer wine to transport you to coastal shores, warm breezes and glorious sunset views. Delicate yet full, aromatic yet refined, naturally high in acidity yet harmoniously balanced with floral notes such as damsel and dandelion, whilst crisp apple leads the way on fruit, followed up with tangy citrus flavours. What’s more, it’s zippy and racy in youth, but has terrific potential to age, giving more richness to its flavours, with stewed apple and wild herbaceous tones coming through on the palate. If you are not actually basking lakeside, this wine will transport you there at the first mouthful.
Vermentino - It’s a shame that some wines are viewed as being so seasonal because I really enjoy Vermentino all year long, with its white stone fruit and orange peel sensations (just one example of many differing styles). A heavyweight in the summer wine stakes, and poured religiously throughout the summer season, specifically along coastal regions in Liguria, Tuscany and Sardinia. Usually cultivated within a stone’s throw from the Mediterranean Sea, there’s a wonderful saline quality to Vermentino that just screams sea views, and if you can marry some seafood with it, even better!
Ribolla Gialla - Ribolla Gialla, typically from Italy’s north-eastern region of Friuli Venezia Giulia, tends to be light bodied, delicate and floral with a bracing acidity that makes it one of Italy’s best summer white wines. Ideally grown in hillside vineyards where fermentation is controlled at low temperatures in steel to preserve and express the Ribolla Gialla grape’s full and delicate aromas. Plus, it’s not as well-known as many other Italian white wines, which just adds to its kudos.
Ah, summer time: roof-top terraces, pool parties, garden spreads, marquees and, of course, wine glasses flowing with ice cool rosé and crisp, refreshing whites. But wait a minute, what about those die-hard red wine lovers? Well there are options, and we’re here to guide you through:
When selecting reds to drink during the summer months, you’re really looking for 2 main attributes in the wine:
Barbera - Ripe black cherries and blackberries run alongside a backbone of acidity that should keep the palate feeling fresh as well as it being a great wine to pair with tomato-based foods such as pasta, bruschetta and grilled meats. As a low tannin wine, Barbera has the perfect attributes to keep you dining al fresco during the summer months.
Vernatsch (Schiava) - A popular choice amongst Italians in the mountainous region of Alto Adige, this light ruby wine has beautiful scents of wild berries, strawberries and violets, enveloped in a brisk and refreshing acidity and can also benefit from chilling slightly on the hottest of days. It has to be one of Italy’s best-kept secrets and we’re happy share it with you.
Rosso di Montalcino - The lighter styled Rosso di Montalcino, a sort of younger, "declassified" Brunello, was created so people could drink a more immediately accessible Montalcino wine. Harmonious, elegant but not overbearing in complexity, this makes for a more balanced all-rounder. Intense ruby in colour, this wine is full of luscious fresh fruits such as ripe cherries, blackcurrants and a touch of forest floor. Who says you can’t enjoy Sangiovese in the summer?
Etna Rosso - Nerello Mascalese is the name given to the grape found in Etna Rosso wines and is highly regarded. Dark-skinned and most commonly grown on the volcanic slopes of Mount Etna, it has had, and is still having, a rapid upsurge in popularity since the turn of the century. This grape produces red wines that are fresh and fruity, yet elegantly structured with complex minerality and earthy notes that seem to counterbalance the highly perfumed and herbaceous flavours reminiscent of the noble wines of Barolo and Burgundy.
Nero d’Avola - As a completely natural wine, this particular bottling, from the organic farm of the Gueli brothers in Agrigento, southern Sicily, has powerful perfumed notes of red and black cherry mingled with barnyard-esque and tertiary odours that comes from the purity of terroir that’s so prevalent with this minimal intervention wine. A bright and brisk acidity lingers long on the finish.
One of the most intriguing aspects of importing Italian wine directly from the producers themselves, is the amount of indigenous grape varieties you come across; some that are so obscure and in such limited production that they are rarely seen outside their region of cultivation, let alone exported. Generally, you only come across such wines by finding yourself in the very midst of particular pockets of wine country, where they’re served in many of the local, authentic trattorias alongside deliciously prepared regional cuisine. As travel has become far more universal, accessible and advertised, as an Italian wine importer we are asked by more and more clients about those indigenous varieties that they have come across by venturing off the beaten track. They’ve discovered something new, which in today’s world is a rarity, but when it comes to wine, specifically Italian, there are still some fantastic discoveries to be enjoyed. In this blog, we’re going to run through a few that you may or may not have heard of, that we think merit a shout-out from the rooftops and are an absolute must-try for those who enjoy quality wine and are tired of drinking the same old, same old. And let’s face it, we are living in an age where the ‘undiscovered’ is king
Ribolla Gialla (dry white) - meaning ‘yellow ribbon’, perhaps due to its light, delicate character, has been generating a lot of attention in Italy as well as internationally and it’s easy to see why. A Friulian hidden gem, this white wine is alpine-clean crisp and has a harmonious balance of green citrus fruits such as apple and lime that’s wrapped up in a bright acidity, perfect for delicate hams and coastal cuisine such as lightly dusted calamari, whitebait or seafood risotto. A popular lunchtime wine.
Malvasia (dry white) - One of Italy’s go-to spring/summer wines due to its heady aromatics and perfumed notes. Malvasia is, by far, one of Italy’s most fragrant varieties and even though its origins are firmly rooted in Ancient Greece, its modern-day love affair with both Sicily and Friuli-Venezia Giulia is clearly evident. Its versatility is used to make wines that range from dry or off-dry to sweet and unctuous. This one is pale golden in colour and offers an abundance of white flowers, fresh jasmine, acacia, peach, dried apricot and Turkish delight. Enjoy it with oily fish dishes such as an octopus salad or a thick cut of tuna fillet or bake a chicken breast wrapped in prosciutto.
Schiava (red) - Schiava is a dominant component of Alto Adige’s vineyards with more than 50% of the vineyards planted to the light, fragrant red grape that can be reminiscent of Pinot Noirs or well-constructed Beaujolais. It’s widely enjoyed in the summer months due to its violet nose and wild berry and red cherry scents. A perfect summer red, Schiava can be enjoyed slightly chilled, allowing those fresh, juicy forest-fruit flavours and alpine acidity to burst into life. Food companions are easy and uncomplicated, such as tomato-based pasta dishes, or warm goats cheese and red onion tartlets.
Pignolo (dry red) - a rare and romantic style of wine, which has deep black cherry flavours, tarry tannins and notes of tobacco, cocoa and liquorice that lean towards similar characteristics of a powerful Brunello. With only a handful of Pignolo-based wines in Friuli, this really is a limited-production wine, cultivated with meticulous detail and producing some exhilarating wines without the price tag of its Tuscan counterpart. Intense ruby-red in colour with dark purple reflections, the aromas are typically tertiary due to long ageing, lending complex and heady notes of tobacco, vanilla, coffee and ground spice. On the palate, its rich, velvety texture gently envelops the mouth leaving long and persistent dark fruit flavours on the finish. Roast lamb with rosemary and garlic, a hearty beef and lentil stew and aged cheeses will bring out the best of its complexity.
As with every passing year, we are in constant search of those hidden cantinas that are off the beaten track and under the radar. At AHW we don’t want to import wines that are already imported as we feel we would merely be passing on wines that have already been discovered and, for us, the joy and uniqueness of what we do is to offer our customers something apart from everyone else. We like to see ourselves as your very own, personal archaeologists of the Italian wine world, digging deeper and further into unfamiliar territory, where we can bring you something exclusive. With this in mind, we’re super excited to announce some new wines that we’ve recently imported from Alto Adige, home to the snow-capped mountains of the Dolomities, and Colli Euganei, a parcel of volcanic terroir that lies in a sleepy hamlet nestled on the eastern part of the Veneto.
Expect racy, floral, aromatic whites such as Pinot Bianco and a tantalising Sauvignon that will leave your tongue tingling with delight whilst layered, rich, earthy reds such as Cabernet and fleshy, ripe Merlots pave the way on the red front!
Available from late March 2018, exclusively at AHW. You heard it here first...
So, the question that remains is which shade of pink?
It has been a really positive year for AHW and we’d like to take this opportunity to thank every one of you who stopped by our table at various wine tasting events and engaged with us. It is safe to say, you all appeared to be enjoying yourselves! We take great comfort in seeing people enjoy wine in general and when it’s ours we are overwhelmed! We will be at more wine fairs and tasting events throughout 2018, as well as importing more Italian wines, currently being lined up for arrival. With that, we hope to see you again soon at the AHW table for some spills, thrills and a jolly good time!
So far, we will be attending:
Introducing a highly esteemed wine from a tiny pocket of land located in southern Tuscany called Brunello di Montalcino and its younger, less expensive brother Rosso di Montalcino.
Not everyone likes turkey at Christmas and if you are thinking of celebrating with a fine cut of beef, read on as we may just have the perfect wine.
Brunello di Montalcino
Rosso di Montalcino
Sparkling rosé is one of the most versatile, food-friendly wines in the world. While the grapes used in these wines often vary by region, sparkling rosés have a great affinity with food. Pink sparkling wines have a real depth of flavour, but there's also a wonderful acidity to them which is important when looking to pair these with more complex food styles.
We've all come to know Chianti as the archetypal Tuscan wine; some is great, some not so great so how can we tell what to look for? Let's turn the clock back three centuries to when Chianti was first defined as a wine-making area in 1716. The original pocket of villages soon spread to encompass more and more villages and it wasn't until 1932 that Chianti was completely re-drawn into seven sub-zones that are situated in the original heartland of Chianti.
There is nothing wrong with enjoying a glass of Chianti on its own. However, in Italy, wine and food go together...
AHW Food Pairings:
Very enthusiastic wine lover who loves a party!