A hunt for the best Italian red wines between £12 and £20 available in UK high-street chains and supermarkets resulted in entrants spanning 10 different regions, showcasing the diversity available to consumers in 2020. It certainly made for a varied tasting, both in terms of the appellations represented – and in terms of quality.
Italy’s strength-in-depth and huge volume capability makes it a very important component of any retailer’s range and it was encouraging to see many of them making the most of this diversity and providing their customers with plenty of choice.
While Tuscany accounted for more than a quarter of entrants (13 wines), other regions included Piedmont (10), Veneto and Sicily (seven each), Trentino-Alto Adige, Campania and Puglia (three each), Abruzzo (two), and one entry from Umbria.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the final line-up of our favourite 18 wines was dominated by Veneto, Tuscany and Piedmont, but it was also encouraging to see lesser known wines such as a Lagrein from Alto Adige and a Perricone from Sicily in the mix, as well as the little-known Tai Rosso (formerly Tocai Rosso).
It’s clear that wine buyers for supermarkets and high-street chains are looking beyond the go-to labels in order to bring consumers exciting, interesting and ultimately good-value wines. But it was disappointing that a number of key supermarkets and specialists did not submit any wines for this tasting, including Aldi, Asda, Laithwaite’s, Lidl and Tesco. It does raise the question of how confident they are in their Italian ranges at the stipulated £12-£20 price level – although it must be noted that our request for samples was sent out during the busy run-up to Christmas.
Going by the outcome of this tasting, consumers should exercise caution when navigating Italy’s many and complicated denominations. Setting the price bracket at £12-£20 was designed to bring attention to the best of what could be deemed the ‘good everyday wines’ available in the UK, and yet quality proved to be variable.
While more than one-third of wines submitted failed to achieve higher than 87 points, more than half of the wines entered occupied the middle ground, between 88 and 89 points, which is completely reasonable considering the mid-range prices.
The top three wines in this tasting were each awarded 91 points. Monte Zovo’s Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore 2015 (Jeroboams) was a hit with its appealing texture and fleshy fruits. As seen in this issue’s Valpolicella Ripasso panel tasting, it’s an incredibly popular category with consumers and this example demonstrates why.
‘Wine buyers are looking beyond the go-to labels to bring consumers exciting wines’
Cantina di Negrar’s Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2016 (Waitrose) is a reliable wine from a highly regarded cooperative, and on this occasion it impressed us with its well-integrated oak, vibrant cherry and hedgerow fruits, and zingy acidity. It’s less textural and dense than the other Amarone in the line-up, but its delightful freshness works in its favour.
Sesti is a renowned producer of Brunello di Montalcino, and its Grangiovese 2016 is made from declassified Sangiovese grapes from the same vineyards. Its savoury, herbal character and graceful freshness combines with fine tannins and ripe cherry flavours for a delightfully harmonious take on the grape variety.
The wines propping up the bottom of the score-table (not included here) were typically afflicted by imbalance, lack of fruit or overly ripe and sticky fruit, and drying tannins or oak.
Play the field
Intriguingly, the spread of prices is fairly even throughout – that’s to say, there are expensive wines distributed evenly all the way from top to bottom of the scoresheet. For celebrated denominations such as Amarone della Valpolicella Classico, Barolo and Chianti Classico, you may be paying something of a premium for the name, and this is a factor that consumers should be aware of – better value can often be found in lesser-known regions.
Italy is one country for which expert advice can be invaluable, whether that is in the form of knowledgeable shop staff, helpful product descriptions, or publications such as Decanter, and we would encourage consumers to use all of these tools to help them find the best Italian wines to match their tastes.