Hear from our Southern Italy Regional Chair Jane Hunt MW on which wines to buy, which wines to leave on the shelf and what to keep an eye on from this year's Decanter World Wine Awards....

Not so many years ago, the south of Italy, Sicily and Sardinia were generally an inconsistent and unreliable backwater in terms of quality wines. But a decade of fast-moving modernisation, investment, and enthusiastic and often well-travelled wine producers has completely revolutionised a large part of the offer. Wine production in these parts of Italy is huge – Sicily and Puglia’s combined vineyard area alone covers more than 240,000ha – 100,000ha more than the whole of Australia’s area under vine! The most enjoyable feature of these southern wines is their difference, provided by a whole host of indigenous grapes.

What should we buy from here?

Sardinia’s white Vermentino, with its fresh, crisp style and light creaminess, is best made without any oak. The unusual fortified Vernaccia di Oristano, also from Sardinia, is a revelation, and our 1990 Trophy winner is superb. Puglia’s Primitivo di Manduria is a cut above basic Primitivo due to the iron-rich soils giving a wonderful intensity of flavour; again a worthy Trophy winner. Fiano and Aglianico from Campania, grown on volcanic soils, make for rich, mineral wines but it was the Taurasis that really shone at this year’s DWWA. On Sicily, the best reds from either Nero d’Avola or Nerello Mascalese are to be found in the Etna region – and one of the former took our third Trophy for 2014.

What should we leave on the shelf?

What’s the point in growing international varieties in regions so rich with amazing indigenous grapes? The results prove that, in general, Syrahs, Chardonnay and Cabernet do not achieve any notable quality, and there’s enough dull Pinot Grigio made around the world without Italy’s south adding to it. Moreover, I fear that buying in low-cost southern Italian wine to fill the bottom shelves at supermarkets has done no favours to consumers or producers.

What should we keep an eye on?

Sardinia still has some way to go to come near to its full potential, but the signs are hopeful. There are some truly superb reds from a handful of producers that prove that as a region there are huge opportunities; at present many reds still have a rusticity that needs smoothing out. Climate change has granted Sicily more rainfall where drought used to be prevalent; Etna, in particular, will be the vineyard area to watch. Calabria is the slowest starter in the move to improve, but there are good signs, especially from blends including the intriguingly named Magliocco Dolce.

Written by Decanter