Andrew Polmear

My Conversion to Italian Wines

I’ve always thought I didn’t like Italian wines.When I started to take wine seriously I decided that Italian reds were thin and acidic and the whites tasteless. So every time I went to an Italian restaurant I ordered from the cheaper end of the wine list and had my dislike confirmed. Every now and then I was surprised, by a big-hearted Barolo for instance, or an old Chianti when visiting Tuscany, but the next cheap Valpolicella or Montepulciano d’Abruzzo would set me back to my old way of thinking. So when I saw that our very own branch of Majestic was offering a tasting of Italian wines recently I signed up, keen to put my prejudices to the test.

I went on the bus, thinking the little car park would be packed with others eager for the free tasting. Instead I found myself the only punter, having a one-to-one with Lewis, the manager. Six whites and six reds were lined up, although Lewis went off piste at the end and produced two more to try. Overall verdict: I’ve been wrong, though not entirely. Cheap Italian wines can be awful and you’d do better with cheap wines from virtually any other country. And the Italians make wine primarily to accompany (and not overpower) food, hence the acidity and sometimes light flavours. But pay a little more (we tasted wines from £6.79 upwards) and you get quality and character.
Wine August
I won’t describe all 14 wines. Among the surprises were two Pinot Grigios and two Soaves, all of which had enough fruity flavour to make us smile. Some of the reds did have that Italian style that I call thin and others call fresh, but two from Puglia in the deep south were huge wines. I’m not giving names because I hate the idea of recommending bottles to people – you may not like what I like – but if you like red wine that tastes of figs and raisins to go with cheese, head for the 2008 Copertino.

If you haven’t been to a tasting before, let me stress one thing: use the spittoon. You don’t spit into it, which would be rude; you swill the wine around in the mouth, breathe the flavours out through your nose, then squirt the wine out of your mouth using tongue and cheeks. This is not just so that you don’t get drunk; if you swallow the wine it lingers at the back of your mouth and after three glasses what you taste is a mixture of all three.

Final point: the labelling of Italian wine is the most confusing in the world. The name in the largest print on the label may be the grape (eg Pinot Grigio), or the producer (eg Masi), or the name of that particular wine (eg Serena), or the appellation (eg Soave). What will be hardest to find is the region (eg Toscana). Hunt around on the back of the bottle till you’ve figured out who has made it, with what grapes and where it’s from. And register with Majestic to be notified of future tastings: the best things in life are occasionally free.

Andrew Polmear

Andrew did not receive preferential treatment at Majestic and no inducement was offered or given in relation to this article.

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