When thinking of Italian wine, Amarone, Barolo and Chianti may be what most readily springs to mind, but Richard Baudains reveals a treasure trove of original yet overlooked wines just waiting to be discovered. See his pick of 10 wines from the most exciting Italian terroirs here...

1. Carema DOC, Piedmont

Carema is a panda wine. Only two wineries make it, production is limited, properties fragmented (the 17 hectares managed by the admirable local co-op are shared between no fewer than 78 growers), and the demographical trends in the village of Carema are setting alarm bells ringing. Without a younger generation to take on the labour-intensive work in the spectacular terraced vineyards at the foot of the Alps, the risk of extinction is very real. Carema has the most extreme terroir of all the northern Nebbiolos and a fascinatingly subtle and complex character with its delicate red fruit, sweet floral aromas and tangy mineral intensity. If your model of Piedmont is mouthfilling modern Barolo, Carema imposes a change of register. Expect a lighter, drier, finer wine, with brisk acidity and more length than breadth – a dream wine for fans of racy, old-fashioned Nebbiolo.

Ferrando (white label) 2007

Sweet floral nose of redcurrants, bay and fern. Tangy intensity on the palate, fine tannins and huge length with the fruit and a salty mineral finish. 18.5pts/20
Price: £27 Astrum, WoodWinters
Drink: 2012–2020
Alc: 13.5%

Cantina dei Produttori Nebbiolo di Carema, Classico 2007

Delicate but complex nose of red cherry, mint, aniseed and tea. Dry, intense palate with fine tannins and some oak still to integrate. Firm, grippy, mineral finish, bitter herbs and orange peel. 18pts/20
Price: £14.50 Astrum, WoodWinters
Drink: 2013–2020
Alc: 13%

Written by Georgina Hindle

Unchartered Italy: Moscato d’Asti DOCG, Piedmont

2. Moscato d’Asti DOCG, Piedmont

Moscato d’Asti ought to be up there with the Italian classics. It is made from a great variety and it has history, sense of place and a style which is unique to Italy. It’s also delicious. That it does not enjoy the prestige it deserves is perhaps attributable to two misconceptions. The first is confusion with cheap, watery, industrially made Asti Spumante. Moscato d’Asti is everything Asti Spumante is not. It is made from highly selected grapes by specialist growers at family-owned wineries; and in contrast to the gassy, bland Spumante, Moscato is all about fruit and aroma, not bubbles. The second issue is when to drink it. It is unequivocally sweet, but it does not really show its best with puddings. Moscato’s light, grapey freshness and floral aromas are wasted on rich or creamy desserts. It’s perfect next to green figs or strawberries and it goes wonderfully well with fresh goats’ cheeses. Best of all, savour it by itself in a moment of pure mid-afternoon hedonism.

Cà d’Gal, Vigna Vecchia 2010

Restrained mousse. Complex, refined and personal nose with aromas of herb garden, apple and gooseberry, and an intriguing note of cedar. Rich, concentrated impact on the palate with great follow through, lovely creamy texture and long, grapey finish. 18.5pts/20
Price: £15.50 (2008) Slurp, Swig
Drink: 2012–2015
Alc: 5%

Saracco 2011

Ample white mousse and fine perlage, aromas of pears, lemon peel and spring flowers. Apricot, pineapple and citrus palate with crisp acidity underlying the sweetness. Deliciously long, juicy finish. 18pts/20
Price: £11.90–£12.50 Astrum, Butler’s Wine Cellar, WoodWinters
Drink: 2012–2013
Alc: 5%

Other recommended producers:
Bava, Bera, Cascina Fonda, Michele Chiarlo, La Morandina, Elio Perrone, La Spinetta, Aldo Vajra

Unchartered Italy: Dolcetto di Dogliani DOCG, Piedmont

3. Dolcetto di Dogliani DOCG, Piedmont

Dolcetto generally ranks bottom in Langhe producers’ hierarchy of grapes. Nebbiolo reigns supreme, the highly remunerative Barbera is second and Dolcetto brings up the rear as the mid-bodied, fruity wine the locals drink at home. But in Dogliani, Dolcetto rules, elevated to DOCG status and grown to the virtual exclusion of other varieties. Dolcetto di Dogliani (also labelled simply ‘Dogliani’) is dark, serious, low-yielding, latepicked, super-selected, concentrated, almost always barrel-aged stuff with a weight and structure foreign to other Dolcettos. Its dry austerity can often be mouth puckering. In these cases the only remedy is to add cellar time to the two or three years the wine is typically aged at the winery. The result is a satisfying, rich, chunky, vigorous wine that opens a new and unsuspected window on the Langhe.

Chionetti, Briccolero 2010

Nose of ripe plums and violets with a hint of sage. Big, warm entry, richly textured mid-palate with bags of energy and concentration, excellent grip in the finish, with a return of plummy fruit and a hint of almonds. 18.5pts/20
Price: £15 Profumo di Vino, Wine Tasting Shop, Vinum
Drink: 2012–2015
Alc: 14%

Pecchenino, Sirì d’Jermu 2009

Ripe plum and cherry brandy nose with hints of dark flowers and a touch of white pepper. Smooth, glossy mouthful with weighty mid-palate and lots of substance in the dense, chocolatey finish. 18pts/20
Price: £16.99 (2008) Connolly’s
Drink: 2012–2015
Alc: 14%

Other recommended producers:
Anna Maria Abbona, Marziano Abbona, Cà Viola, Cascina Corte, Podere Einaudi, San Fereolo

Unchartered Italy: Lagrein DOC, Alto Adige

4. Lagrein DOC, Alto Adige

The red wines of the Alto Adige do not have a high profile abroad, partly because the region is better known for its whites and partly because most of its production is absorbed locally by the tourist trade. Among the treats we are missing out on is Lagrein. One of the lesser-known facts about this bilingual alpine region that borders Austria is that July temperatures around the provincial capital of Bolzano often top those of Palermo in Sicily. It’s this climate that, on the stony, glacial-alluvial soils of the valley bottom, gives Lagrein its near-Mediterranean traits; impenetrable, inky dark shades, ripe fruit and dense tannins. The varietal character is toned down in the younger annata wines, but oak-aged riservas deliver the full-on profile. The top crus are at Gries, where, sadly, the ancient walled vineyards are under threat from encroaching suburban development. Production is limited, but quality – as it is across the region as a whole – is absolutely impeccable.

Ignaz Niedrist, Berger Gei, Gries 2009

Intense cassis and wild berry aroma, with hints of ink and pencil lead. Broad palate of refined tannins and a long, juicy finish of liquorice and tar. 18.5pts/20
Price: £21.30 Astrum
Drink: 2012–2015
Alc: 13.5%

Cantina Produttori di Bolzano, Gries 2009

Wild berries on the nose with touches of bitter herbs and dark chocolate. Fresh, juicy palate, with good, solid fruit, balanced acidity, fine, soft tannins and a smooth, easy drinking finish. Great value. 17.5pts/20
Price: £8.84 London Wine Deliveries
Drink: 2012
Alc: 13.5%

Other recommended producers:
Laimburg, Loacker-Schwarhof, Lageder, Josephus Mayr, Muri-Gries, Terlano

Unchartered Italy: Timorasso DOC, Piedmont

5. Timorasso DOC, Piedmont

Timorasso is a grape that ought to have a wider audience. It has everything going for it: opulent aromas, full body and great acidity. It can do oaked and unoaked styles with equal aplomb and it is capable of developing impressive complexity with age. Two things possibly holding it back are scarcity and unfamiliarity. On the subject of the latter, its cause is not helped by a degree of confusion over the name. Timorasso may be bottled under the Colli Tortonesi DOC, with or without an indication of the grape. Derthona, the name of a proposed new DOC for Timorasso which hopefully will come into force next year, is also used by some producers, either alongside the existing DOC or in one case for a table wine. However it is labelled, Timorasso, which was virtually wiped out by phylloxera at the start of the last century and only retrieved from obscurity in the past 15 years, is by far the most characterful of Piedmont’s native white varieties, knocking spots off the lean and one dimensional Cortese and the soft and simple Arneis.

Claudio Mariotto, Pitasso, Derthona, Colli Tortonesi 2009

Peach, pineapple and lime aromas, with a light, toasty oak background. Intense palate, beautifully bone dry, concentrated and juicy with citrus and minerals in the long, mouthwatering finish. 18pts/20
Price: £15.40 Christopher Keiller
Drink: 2012–2020
Alc: 14.5%

Vigneti Massa, Derthona 2009

Slightly closed nose, with a touch of acacia, camomile and white peach. Precise, crisp, mouthwatering palate; long, intense finish with green apple hints and great mineral concentration. 18pts/20
Price: £17.49 Theatre of Wine
Drink: 2012–2020
Alc: 13.5%

Other recommended producers:
Franco Martinetti, La Colombera, Mutti, Pomodolce

Unchartered Italy: Lambrusco DOC, Emilia-Romagna

6. Lambrusco DOC, Emilia-Romagna

Forget the dishonest, double-litre screwcap stuff with the cheap paper labels – this is real wine. The revival is in full swing in Emilia and among its key players are small-scale grower-producers whose passion and commitment is revolutionising the perception of Lambrusco (in Italy at least). In some cases the reaction against industrial winemaking has led to challenging non-interventionist extremes, but within the new mainstream, quality vineyard management and handcrafted winemaking are rapidly restoring dignity to a unique local wine. (To appreciate the change, check out the refinement of the wines made by the traditional ancestrale method of bottle refermentation.) Glossing over distinctions between sub-varieties and production zones, Lambrusco can be divided into two broad categories: pale coral-hued, nervy and intense, made from Sorbara; and dark, fragrant, fruity wines from the top-quality Grasparossa grape. Both offer some of Italy’s best-value drinking.

Tenuta Pederzana, Grasparossa NV

Light mousse. Amazingly rich and complex nose with violets, dark chocolate, plums and black cherry and then autumn leaves, wallflowers, cinnamon and graphite. Fresh and full on the palate with a gentle fizz, and long juicy finish. 19pts/20
Price: £10.70 Astrum
Drink: 2012–2013
Alc: 12%

Venturini Baldini, Reggiano NV

Inviting mousse. Nose of black cherry and rhubarb, with hints of mint and cinnamon and a big floral underlay. Gentle expansion on the palate, light but very tasty, lovely juicy fruit with fine tannins, brisk acidity and a dry, minerally finish. 18.5pts/20
Price: £9.99 Negozio Classica
Drink: 2012–2013
Alc: 11%

Other recommended producers:

La Battagliola, Bellei, Cavicchioli, Chiarli, Fiorini, Vittorio Graziano, Medici Ermete, Fattoria Moretto, Paltrinieri, Zanasi

Unchartered Italy: Sangiovese di Romagna DOC, Emilia-Romagna

7. Sangiovese di Romagna DOC, Emilia-Romagna

Sangiovese di Romagna suffers from its image as the poor relation of Chianti Classico, with which it shares the grape variety but none of the glamour. Also, the wines from the Adriatic side of the Apennines are frustratingly inconsistent, and this weighs negatively on their reputation as a whole. On the plus side, Romagna producers have been much less seduced by international blending varieties than their Chianti counterparts, which means the region offers a pure, direct expression of Sangiovese – including the rough edges. Acidity can be strident, tannins tough, and when producers cut back on the yields, alcohol levels can be decidedly generous. But there is the dark fruit, the classic iris aromas, the grip and the underlying earthiness of the real deal; intense and juicy when young, mellow and spicycomplex in the riserva styles.

La Berta 2010 

Super nose of cherry, iris and white pepper. Fresh, zippy, nervy palate with texture, lovely expression, and long fruit and almond finish. Superior in its class. 17.5pts/20
Price: £7.90–£9.95 Astrum, Caviste, Theatre of Wine
Drink: 2012–2014
Alc: 13%

Fattoria Zerbina, Ceregio Superiore 2010 18

Sweet, soft, ripe cherry nose, delicate floral notes, very pure and precise. Lovely, fluid, supple palate with gentle fruit, light tannins and a long, violet finish. Perfect for uninhibited glugging. 18pts/20
Price: £10.99 Bentley’s
Drink: 2012–2013
Alc: 13%

Other recommended producers:
Balìa di Zola, Stefano Berti, Calonga, Castelluccio, Giovanna Madonia, Podere dal Nespole, Fattoria Paradiso, San Patrignano, Tenuta Pennita, Villa Liverzano, Villa Trentola

Unchartered Italy: Salice Salentino Rosato / Salento Rosato, Puglia

8. Salice Salentino Rosato/ Salento Rosato, Puglia

Puglia produces enormous quantities of pink wine in an extremely heterogeneous range of styles, with a bewildering number of names and, at times, an undeniable quality deficit. So it’s not surprising that it tends to get dismissed as a category. This is a shame because there are wines which deserve better attention. The area with the longest traditions is Salento. Rosato may no longer be the focus wine it once was here, but it is still taken very seriously by producers who, eschewing the quick fix of modern soft pressing and cold fermentation, maintain an much weightier, more complex style. The reference points are the Salento IGT or the slightly more strictly regulated Salice Salentino DOC. The wines use the same grapes as the traditional reds of the area: Negroamaro with the addition, in the case of Salice Salentino, of Malvasia Nera to add a touch of softness and aroma. Expect the unexpected; mature shades and dry, even slightly austere wines with a very satisfying tangy intensity.

Azienda Monaci, Girofle, Salento 2009

Evolved, honeyed but still fresh nose, with precise plum balance between sweet fruit and bitter herbs. Great length and concentration on the finish, with notes of white pepper and cinnamon. 18pts/20
Price: £7.85–£7.99 (2010) All About Wine, Boutinot, Bacchinalia, Hangingditch
Drink: 2012–2013
Alc: 13%

Li Veli, Salento 2010

Intense scented nose of violets and wild herbs. Bone dry palate that is concentrated, savoury and surprisingly full-bodied. Long finish of berry fruit and pomegranate, and a salty-mineral twist. 18pts/20
Price: £9.99 (2008) Negozio Classica, Swig
Drink: 2012–2014
Alc: 13.5%

Other recommended producers:
Michele Calò, Francesco Candido, Paolo Leo, Leone de Castris, Masseria Altemura

Unchartered Italy: Ciro DOC, Calabria

9. Cirò DOC, Calabria

Cirò is an anonymous little town with a down-atheel look, located exactly at the point of the spur on the boot of the Italian peninsula. There is nothing about it which might intimate the very high standard of winemaking of the leading wineries there, or the cutting-edge vineyard research done in the vast empty spaces inland. In fact, the message of the quality of the wines from this corner of Calabria has been slow to filter through to the outside world. The indigenous variety is Gaglioppo, a grape by all accounts introduced by the Greeks – and possibly the source of the wine presented to the winner of the ancient marathon. Tending to be low on acidity and colour, and with potentially coarse tannins, it is not an easy grape to vinify but when the producer gets its right, young Cirò wines have cheerful red cherry and floral aromas and a wonderfully soft, round, gulpable character. They also have an ability to marry with oak, which makes the toothsome Cirò riservas one of the top bargains from the south of Italy in their category.

Santa Venere, Classico 2009

Sweet red cherry fruit on the nose with a touch of white chocolate and typical hints of saltiness at the back. Generous, dry and herby on the palate with lovely ripe, chewy, whole food tannins and a warm, round finish. 18.5pts/20
Price: £10.50 Astrum, WoodWinters
Drink: 2012–2014
Alc: 13.5%

Librandi, Duca San Felice, Classico Superiore Riserva 2008

Rich, ripe and plummy aromas with distinctive orange peel and sweet spice hints. Soft, round, mid-weight palate with fine tannins and a long finish with a return of plum and cherry, a touch of bitter herbs and a classic salty-mineral nuance. 18pts/20
Price: £17.99 Amordivino, Ann & Vin, Enotria, Fine Wine Co, Swig
Drink: 2012–2015
Alc: 13.5%

Other recommended producers:
Caparra & Siciliani, Fattoria San Francesco, Ippolito, Senatore Vini

Unchartered Italy: Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG, Sicily

10. Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG, Sicily

The ‘G’ in DOCG guarantees a whole raft of quality factors in a wine, but not, as the case of Cerasuolo di Vittoria demonstrates, increased visibility. Sicily’s first and to date only DOCG has somehow been overlooked. Cerasuolo does not have the jammy fruit and chewy textures of the international-style reds invented in the 1990s, nor does it have the headline-grabbing attention of Etna wines, with their celebrity owners and old bush vines. Yet the wines from this less-fashionable southeast corner of the island have a unity and authenticity that make them a true reflection of their terroir – one which, perhaps surprisingly given the baking hot climate, expresses aroma and an exhilarating dry intensity rather than weight and power. Nero d’Avola gives the tannins and the earthiness and Frappato adds the floral aromas and juiciness. Look for a palish shade, medium bodied drinkability, huge scope for spot-the-aroma discussions (some tasters even pick out a suggestion of anchovies) and a distinctly salty character in the finish.

Cos, Classico 2009

Big, fragrant nose ranging from red fruits through floral-spicy to wild herbs and tobacco leaf with a note of peatiness at the back. Dry, firm and irresistibly more-ish on the palate with a return of the spicy floral character and a long savoury finish. 18.5pts/20
Price: £16.95–£18.49 Bat & Bottle, Buon Vino, Green & Blue, Noble Green, Swig
Drink: 2012–2014
Alc: 13%

Planeta 2010

Sweet cherry nose with hints of cinnamon. Distinctly dry, tannic palate with a pure varietal notes of savoury herbs and bitter chocolate and a mouthwatering touch of sour plum. Intense salty finish. 17pts/20
Price: £9.99 Cambridge Wine, Enotria, Luvians, Noel Young, Selfridges, Swig
Drink: 2012–2013
Alc: 13%

Other recommended producers:
Avide, Gulfi, Occhipinti, Valle dell’Acate

  1. 1. Introduction
  2. 2. Unchartered Italy: Moscato d’Asti DOCG, Piedmont
  3. 3. Unchartered Italy: Dolcetto di Dogliani DOCG, Piedmont
  4. 4. Unchartered Italy: Lagrein DOC, Alto Adige
  5. 5. Unchartered Italy: Timorasso DOC, Piedmont
  6. 6. Unchartered Italy: Lambrusco DOC, Emilia-Romagna
  7. 7. Unchartered Italy: Sangiovese di Romagna DOC, Emilia-Romagna
  8. 8. Unchartered Italy: Salice Salentino Rosato / Salento Rosato, Puglia
  9. 9. Unchartered Italy: Ciro DOC, Calabria
  10. 10. Unchartered Italy: Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG, Sicily
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