Most grape varieties we’re familiar with in SA come originally from France, courtesy of the Huguenots in the 1600’s. We’re not so familiar with Italian grape varieties and because of that, very often we ignore them when we see them on the shelves and opt for Shiraz over Sangiovese and Cabernet over Chianti. Which is a crying shame because Italian grape varieties are perfect food partners and offer really good, interesting wines in their own right.
More and more retailers are bringing in international wines now – Woollies and Checkers both have plenty to choose from – and the prices are nowhere near as expensive as you would think.
Caroline Rillema of Caroline’s Fine Wines in Long Street, Cape Town has one of the biggest selections of Italian wines in SA. She sources her wines from many smaller producers along with some of the better-organised co-operatives to offer a range that suits all pockets. Here are a few of her wines demystified and a South African counterpart for you to compare and contrast.
2011 Altana di Vico Pinot Grigio R59
Pinot Grigio (‘Pee-know Gree-zhee-oh’) is an increasingly trendy grape variety – anyone who’s been to the UK can testify to that! It is grown all over Italy, though the best ones come from the north-east in a region called Veneto, and it makes light, fruity wines which are nearly always unwooded and have a zippy acidity - perfect with seafood pasta. Locally, you can try De Grendel’s 2011 Pinot Gris for R70 – same variety, different name.
2010 Caleo Primitivo R59
Primitivo – ‘prim-i-tee-vo’ is a black grape from the Southern part of Italy. It makes dense, dark, chewy wines with distinctive leather and spicy notes. This example is quite soft and easy-drinking – ideal with a rich Ragu pasta sauce. Outside Italy, Primitivo is known as Zinfandel, particularly in the US. You can try Blaauwklippen’s 2007 Zinfandel for R95 from the farm.
2010 Villa Travignoli Chianti Rufina R98
Chianti – pronounced ‘Key-auntie’ - comes from Tuscany and is made from the grape variety Sangiovese (‘San-gee-oh- vay-see’). It’s one of the oldest wine-producing regions in the country and makes red wines which are generally high-ish in acidity and packed with soft, juicy, ripe red and black cherry fruit. If you want to try a local version, go for the 2008 Terra del Capo Sangiovese at R72 from the farm.
2010 Marizano Abbone Barbera d’Alba R159
When you get two words separated by “d’” or “di” the first word is the grape variety and the second is the area it’s grown. So this is the Barbera grape (‘Bar-beer-a’) from the town of Alba. This is in the north-west of Italy, in a region called Piedmont – literally, the ‘foot of the mountains’ - so it’s nice and cool making for elegant, long-lasting wines with a distinctive red cherry profile. Locally, you can try 2011 Altydgedacht Barbera for R95.
2007 Giacorino Fenocchio Barolo R379
Barolo (‘Bar-ro-low’) is a town in Piedmont famous for its wines made from the Nebbiolo grape. These wines are full of tannin when young, but a five-year old version like this one is starting to settle down and show lots of chewy black and red fruit, hints of leather and perfume on the nose. This is a top class example and it finds a worthy local rival in the 2010 Steenberg Nebbiolo at R200.
If you want to know more about international wines, contact www.thewinecentre.co.za for information about the internationally-recognised Wine & Spirit Education Trust courses.