southern italy


    Tristan 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 to your shopping list, this month’s column explores a few of southern Italy’s ancient indigenous grape varieties.

    Fiano has been cultivated in southern Italy for two thousand 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 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 summery fish, vegetable, pasta or chicken dishes.

    Indigenous to eastern Sicily, Carricante has been grown the slopes of Mount Etna, for over a thousand years. Etna is Italy's largest and most active volcano, and the Planeta 'Eruzione 1614' Carricante 2015 is named after her longest eruption in 1614 which lasted over 10 years. Made from vines planted at 800m 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 mouth-watering 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 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. 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 and 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. Full of slightly dusty rustic charm, with mouth-watering 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, and hearty meat or aubergine based pasta. A fantastic staple wine to stock up on, and well worth the money.

    Discover more at Tristan’s Southern Italy & Islands tasting on 12th July at Great Western Wine. Tickets are £15. Click here to book now >

  • The Team's Tasting Selections

    The latest flight of 8 wines has been launched today – and what's more its now completetly FREE! Come on by the Great Western Wine shop in Bath to sample these beauties from Southern Italy and Islands.








    Ken Forrester                       Planeta                                   Planeta Eruzione
    Dirty Little Secret                 Cometa 2015                           1614 Carricante
    £59.50                                   was £25.00 | now £20.50            was £19.95 | now £18.50








    Planeta Eruzione 1614          Planeta                                 Taurasi Vigna
    Nerello Mascalese                Burdese                                Macchia dei Goti
    was £21.50 | now £19.00         was £23.50 | now £21.00          was £32.00 | now £28.00








    Santadi,                                 Papale Oro
    Terre Brune 2012                   Varvaglione 2013
    was £38.00 | now £35.00          was £19.95 | now £18.50


  • Southern Italian Idyll - The Wonderful World of Mezzogiorno Pt.2

    This week I continue my journey through the beautiful countryside of Mezzogiorno - Southern Italy...

    Travelling west, and slightly north of Basilicata, we reach Campania, home of Italy’s capital of the south, Naples, and the world famous, and exquisitely beautiful, Amalfi coast. Famous also for being the home of Mount Vesuvius, and the ruined city of Pompeii, Campania has a far more developed tourist industry than its more southern neighbours, yet retains a simple charm, and unspoilt magic, in the countryside and less developed areas. Protected by the Apennine mountains, which rise to the east, it’s a great area for white wine production, with grapes grown on the unique ‘tufo’ soil, which is volcanic and chalky.

    Caggiano Fiano di Avellino 'Bechar'The region is now rapidly making its name on the quality wine map, through its classic grape varieties, which offer ripe peach, lemon peel, and citrus flavours, with a touch of sunshine. Try the Caggiano Fiano di Avellino 'Bechar' 2013, or the aptly named Greco di Tufo 'Devon' 2013 from the same producer (Greco is the grape, tufo is the soil it’s grown on). Falanghina is another white grape variety, growing in renown. The rich, wild cherry and herb-spiced Aglianico red wines are also worth a try, maturing gently and slowly in the carved out ‘tufo’ rock caves. Campania is the original home of pizza and spaghetti, and is also famous for its tomatoes, vegetables and dairy produce, including the unique buffalo mozzarella. With fish and seafood prevalent, the white wines are well suited to the regional cuisine.

    If you head directly south of Campania, clinging to the coastline, you’ll reach Italy’s most southerly, least populated, poorest, yet stunning province, Calabria. With over 700km of coastline, it reaches deep south to the Messina straits which separate the island of Sicily from the toe of Italy by a mere 3km. Famous for its wines during the Greek civilization, Calabria has struggled for years, but has recently had an influx of interest, investment and focus, both for its wines and for its agricultural potential – yet it still has a magical, unspoilt feel as the tourists who flood Campania have not yet discovered this hidden gem.

    Most of the wine is produced in the region of Ciro, near Reggio di Calabria and close to the Ionian coast. With summer temperatures rising to the high 40s, it was an area that struggled to produce wines of quality and freshness in the past . But in the last 60 years or so, the work of the pioneering Librandi family has transformed the vinous landscape, making quality wines at last a real proposition.

    Librandi Ciro BiancoNestled amongst the olive groves, and with copious lemon and orange trees adorning the gentle countryside, the winery is now producing some of the finest whites and rose wines in the south, as well as a spicy, fruity red from the Gaglioppo grape.  Try the Librandi Ciro Bianco, 2014, a glorious sunshine white, bursting with exotic, super-ripe citrus fruit and heavenly peach and wild herb scents, with an incredible freshness. You cannot visit Ciro without going to the Librandi family’s favourite restaurant, the tiny, simple, yet gem-like L’Aquila d’Oro in the village of Ciro. Don’t expect a menu, but the food is spectacular – from the poorest of cuisines, this family-owned restaurant delivers dish after dish of outstanding food, based on the simplest of vegetables, pasta and fish, with lots of fresh ricotta thrown in.

    Finally, we skip over the Messina Straits to the island of Sicily, a glittering gem lapped by an incandescent, azure sea, with its fine beaches, remarkable scenery, and magnificent architecture. Sicily is a fascinating mix of contrasts, from the bustling activity and incessant noise of sultry Palermo, to the dusty roads and quiet tranquillity of the flora-rich centre of the island, and the hazy, lazy, sun-basked villages of the southern coastal side. It’s a melting pot of cultures and styles, with the southern Italian food and lifestyle culture mingled with influences from its close neighbour, northern Africa, which lies within sight of Sicily’s south-west coast.

    Whatever else you do, you must go to one of the local markets – these veer from the raucous, frenetic, exotic richness of Palermo market, so vibrant in the colour - not only of its fruit and vegetables, but also the character of the market sellers and visitors -  to the quiet, hidden village markets on the edge of the sea, which open early in the morning and host stalls of glistening fish and seafood, fresh out of the sea, together with the best of anchovies, capers, olives and simple vegetables. It’s an unforgettable experience. Cuisine varies from the simplest of pasta dishes with clams, squid and tiny chilli peppers, with lashings of local olive oil, to the richer, north African-inspired couscous dishes found near Trapani and Marsala.

    Planeta, Plumbago Nero d'AvolaSicily is Italy’s largest wine producing region, and, like its southern Italian counterparts, was responsible for making vast quantities of distinctly average wine, consumed locally, or shipped northwards. Now it’s a forward-thinking haven of quality and excitement. The pioneers of this change are the talented cousins of the Planeta family, who have driven this change from their winery in on the western side of the island, and have scooped up awards and plaudits all over the world. Set up 30 years ago, they hit the international scene by using the better known grape varieties such as Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon; now they are focused on making stars of their own from the region's indigenous grape varieties – Greganico and Catarrato for the whites; Nero d’Avola and Frappato amongst the reds.

    Etna Bianco DOCG, PlanetaThe scented, soft, violet and damson perfumed Nero d’Avola grape is responsible for some of the greatest reds on the island, such as Planeta’s Plumbago Nero d'Avola 2013, with its gloriously ripe, voluptuous, spiced blackberry fruit. The Planeta family are constantly pushing boundaries; their latest acquisition and project is a new estate and winery on the slopes of Mount Etna, where the volcanic rock and high altitude is helping the production of some stunning wines, both red and white. One of my favourite Sicilian whites is the Etna Bianco DOCG, 2013, a sophisticated beauty, made from the Carricante grape, full of lively freshness, ripe peach and lemon peel fruit, and an elegance derived from its location. Planeta also happen to make some of the best olive oil on the island; if Sicily is your destination, then check out Planeta’s very helpful website, full of tips about the area, restaurants and wine tours; you can even book a room at their idyllic guest house on the estate.

    Writing this blog has rekindled my desire to explore this fascinating part of the world further. Steeped in history, rich and evocative in culture, heady and exotic, yet simple and sparse; at the heart of these regions, is their lifeblood – food and wine, in all their myriad guises. I urge you to step off the beaten track and investigate this most beautiful part of the world - you'll be seduced.

    By Angela Mount

  • Southern Italian Idyll - The Wonderful World of Mezzogiorno Pt.1

    There’s a land of hazy sun, heat and azure skies that shimmers south of Rome – it’s known as Mezzogiorno (meaning the half day), because of the heat of the midday sun. It’s one of my favourite parts of the world; I’ve been fortunate to travel to so many wonderful wine regions over the years, but Southern Italy remains firmly in my top 5.

    Italy has long been a holiday destination of choice, but it’s been the north and the centre of the country that have largely been the venues of choice – Tuscany, Umbria, Lake Garda, and so on. In recent years, the focus has switched to the undiscovered South, but it’s still a journey into the unknown for many, but one that will transport you into a world of seductive southern charm, dusty heat, ancient Greek-influenced culture, colourful people, and a cornucopia of food and wine.

    For decades, this slumbering giant produced vast quantities of cheap, indifferent, rough local wine, much of which was often shipped northwards to bolster up the weak Valpolicella and Chianti. Now the south is developing into one of the most exciting wine regions in the world, with massive interest from buyers, especially those in the UK, who are looking for quality, but affordable wines. Smart producers have also switched on to the opportunities and are using modern technology to make wines that are softer, fruitier and gentler. The best news is that they are not relying on bringing in overseas superstar grapes such as Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, but have groomed their own, glorious grape varieties into stars – Nero D’Avola, Primitivo, Fiano, Greco,Catarrato, Negroamaro, Aglianico  - the list goes on.

    How to describe Southern Italy in a blog? Here goes…

    Camillo de Lellis, Biferno Rosso RiservaLet’s start in Molise, a small, mountainous and rustic region, just south of Abruzzo. One of the least known provinces, it’s a quiet, agricultural, country region, which seems a million years away from the sophistication of Italy’s main cities. This in itself, gives Molise an uncluttered, bucolic charm.  It may not be a  well known holiday destination point, but is on the route down from Pescara, in neighbouring Abruzzo, as you head south to Puglia. The food is simple, and based on pasta, vegetables, lamb and pork, with an abundance of herbs and tiny chilli peppers. Don’t ignore this region, as it’s starting to produce some true gems, at a fraction of the price of many other regions – from crisp, lemony dry whites, to  fresh, juicy reds, with a lighter style than their more southern companions, but full of cherry fruit and wild herb charm, such as Camillo Di Leilis Biferno Riserva, an all time favourite of mine, which combines the savoury, fruitiness of neighbouring Abruzzo’s Montepulciano grape, with the gutsy, rustic pepperiness of the southern Aglianico .

    From Molise we head south to one of my favourite regions of Italy – Puglia, the south’s most important wine region. I first discovered this area on a two day buying trip, and managed to catch a snapshot of this fertile, beautiful, and historic area, as we raced down the motorway between winery visits.  Situated south of the port of Bari, it’s a land of abundance and tranquility. I cannot write about Puglia without mentioning its close association (both geographically and historically) with Greece – the light, the azure, luminous skies, and most of all the architecture, and the dazzlingly white buildings, which reflect the heat and intensity of the southern sun . Firstly, you must go to Lecce, a city of stunning baroque splendour, with its labyrinth of streets and white-washed buildings, and the glorious architecture of the churches and cathedrals, carved out of the local golden stone.

    With tiny fishing villages scattered along the lengthy coast, and sleepy country villages hidden amongst the fields of wheat, and the olive groves, it’s a region that is just starting to attract tourist attention, so go there soon. Stay at one of the local ‘Masseria’, working farmhouses, which have opened guest houses, or make the experience unique by residing in a typical ‘Trulli’, one of the traditional conical shaped, whitewashed houses, which look like a hobbit’s dwelling, but are increasingly being converted into boutique hotels and B&Bs. I’d recommend Le Alcove, in the Trulli dominated town of Alberobello. As well as the bounteous fish, tiny chilies, and vegetables, Puglia is also famous for its best-known dish ‘Orecchiette con cime di rape’, little ear shaped pasta cones with the cooked green parts of turnip tops – sounds odd, but tastes delicious.

    Boheme, Primitivo SalentoThe north produces lots of decent, if unexciting red and white, but the real gems come from the south of the region, near Salento, Brindisi and Gallipoli.  With an increasing number of fresh, citrusy whites, Puglia is also a great source of great value reds, from the spicy  and increasingly popular Primitivo such as  the soft, fruity La Boheme Primitivo, to the richly concentrated flavours of Salice Salentino.  It’s also home of the Negroamaro, another local grape, which is now being transformed into tantalizingly rich, yet surprisingly fresh, black cherry fruit reds, such as 12 E Mezzo, a superb food wine, which comes in at a refreshing 12.5% alcohol.

    Move onto the instep of Italy and you find yourself in the rugged, wild, mountainous region of Basilicata, with its dark, forested valleys, and age-old villages, whish seem welded to the mountain rockfaces. This is one of the least discovered Italian regions, and the pace of life is different even from Puglia. It’s a province of extremes – extreme heat in the summer, but extreme cold, up in the mountains during the winter. Enjoy the spectacular hidden beach coves, and the unspoilt coastline of the Ionian Sea; Visit the ancient, historic city of Matera, where houses cling to the mountain face, and where many of  the famous ‘Sassi’ (cave dwellings) have been turned into luxury hotels and spas. The food is rustic and simple, with lots of fresh fish on the coastal side, but focusing on game, charcuterie, peppers and b vegetables inland. The most famous wine of the region is the bold, full-blooded, fleshy Aglianico del Vulture.

    Continue travelling through Southern Italy on March 29th where I will be covering the areas of Campania, Calabria and more...

    By Angela Mount

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