Our columnist Tristan Darby explores the ancient indigenous sun-kissed vines of southern Italy
Whether you’re heading there on holiday, or just looking for some great alternative summer wines to add, it’s worth exploring southern Italy’s ancient indigenous grape varieties.
Fiano has been cultivated in southern Italy for 2,000 years. Volcanic slopes surrounding Naples in Italy’s Campania region are the grapes’ traditional home, producing one of Italy’s great white wines, Fiano di Avellino, but Fiano does well in other regions, too.
Mandra Rossa Fiano 2016 (£9.50 Great Western Wine) from Menfi in south west Sicily is one of my top tips for a reasonably priced summer white wine. At the risk of sounding like a wine toff, this really does taste like Sicilian sunshine in a glass.
A refreshing well-balanced medium-bodied white, where ripe exotic tropical fruit flavours are tempered by a refreshing lick of basil-like herbs and an edge of citrus to make your mouth water. Deliciously drinkable and good with all manner of simple fish, vegetable, pasta or chicken dishes.
Indigenous to eastern Sicily, Carricante has been grown the slopes of Mount Etna, for over 1,000 years. Etna is Italy’s largest and most active volcano, and the Planeta Eruzione 1614 Carricante 2015 (£19.95 GWW) is named after her longest eruption in 1614 which lasted over ten years. Made from vines planted at 800m up on Etna (Carricante performs best at altitude) by Planeta, one of Sicily’s most respected and pioneering winemaking families, this is a remarkably fine, stylish, fresh and elegant wine.
Pretty floral aromas pull you in for a mouthwatering sip where the intense sensation of minerals marries with crisp green apple and lightly honeyed citrus flavours, carrying the wine to a satisfyingly long, fresh and dry finish. Utterly delicious. I could happily enjoy a chilled glass of this on its own in the heat of summer, but it’d also be great with grilled white fish, seafood risotto, crab linguine or pan fried scallops.
You’ll be hard pushed to find a better value Italian red than Biferno Rosso Riserva DOC Palladino 2012 (£8.50 GWW). The wine comes from southern Italy’s second smallest region, Molise, on the other side of the ‘leg’ from Naples.
Nestled between neighbouring Abruzzo and Puglia, flanked by the Apennine mountains and Adriatic sea, Molise is rustic, agricultural, and relatively ‘undiscovered’ in terms of both tourism and wine – meaning there’s great value to be found here.
Made from Montepulciano, one of southern Italy’s superstar grapes, blended with the ancient dark Aglianico grape for extra depth and richness, the wine ages for three years in big old Slavonian oak barrels to soften it and add complexity.
It’s full of slightly dusty rustic charm, with mouthwatering sour cherry flavours, a hint of spice and refreshing savoury herbs. Smooth, quenching and interesting enough to enjoy on its own, but with enough boldness to pair with grilled meats, pizza, or aubergine based pasta. A fantastic staple wine and well worth the money.