16 July 2008
By Douglas Blyde
THE ITALIANS have a saying: 'one barrel of wine can work more miracles than a church full of saints…' But which style works wonders? Despite the fact it sometimes seems hard to uncover the classy bottles amongst the nondescript, Italy fascinates me.
Beyond cash cow Pinot Grigio and often insipid Soave however, she has some of the oldest and most interesting wine producing regions. Indeed every one of the twenty generates brimming amphoras, from the cool Alps in the north to the scorched terrain almost in sight of Africa. Long before the Romans tamed the vigorous vine, the Etruscans in Rome and the Greeks starting in Sicily were already indulging in the giggly pleasures of strong, fermented grape juice.
My favourite is a 'Super Tuscan', a term that describes wines which eschew traditional appellation 'law'. Or immigrant grape varieties planted by mavericks. The new model became popular in the 1970's, hastily classified as humble table wines. Such wines ironically fetched more money then those at the highest end of Italy's official classification. Thirty years on from the revolution, and these special, polished gems have been allocated their own bracket, 'IGT', or indication of a particular area.
I recently uncorked one of the most striking. Whilst enthusiastically priced, its fragrant memory lives on. If you can dig deep, the question 'does expensive wine taste better' should be answered affirmatively. Guidalberto '03 is the younger sibling of Sassicaia fame, one of Italy's most sought after bottles. This blend of France's Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon and Italy's most important red grape Sangiovese (meaning 'Blood of Jove') has bountiful charm. It had blossomed since my last encounter two years ago when I thought it had flavours of 'tuna, mild rubber and artichoke heart'. In its present condition, it was more dashing then Marcello Mastroianni, and as beguiling as Monica Belluci. Beneath its purple-plush, shiny painted veil, I saw what wine critic Hugh Johnson meant when he wrote about certain wines ageing ability: '...years in bottle give them more than just a patina of age. It does what age does to individuals: makes them more themselves.'
Dense, shiny, perfumed with perfectly ripe dark fruits and a breathtakingly prolonged, savoury, slightly smoked, pancetta like palate. My friend, who works for a wine tasting company, said it reminded her "of the cologne used to clean violin strings". Italian design with a slightly French accent. (£30, Fortnum & Mason / Harrods, or £124.94 for six, www.everywine.co.uk)
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