Italy: perhaps the toughest wine region to learn. And little incentive in everyday life. Do you really expect much from the winelist at Pizza Express or that nice little Pasta House on the High Street? The Italy question for my Diploma was a map question. At first I was pleased as I had been given some good advice on this: copy my neighbour. But this advice turned out to be useless as my neighbour, one of those retired ladies on a personal journey, clearly had my number and shielded her work from me with a technique any ten-year-old would be proud of. I think the challenge was to circle Piedmont. I drew a very large circle around at least a third of Italy, probably not even in the North. I’m ashamed now.
In the same way that the best way to learn a language is to go to a place and speak it (eight years of French at school and I’m still confusing the weather with the time, eight months living there and I’m discussing the offside rule) the best way to learn a region’s wines is to go there. Look at Vosne-Romanee from the foot of Romanee-Conti and it all makes sense.
I visited Piedmont earlier this year, and it’s like I learned the language. I’m not quite discussing the offside rule yet, but I’ve sussed the grammar, if that makes sense.
The problem with Barolo is that, like Burgundy, there’s just not much of it. And, like Burgundy, there are plenty of crap producers to negotiate on your journey. Unlike Burgundy, the wines can be ferociously tough in their youth: lots of tannin and lots of acidity is hard work in a young wine. But, like Burgundy, find a good, mature Barolo and the experience is ethereal. Nebbiolo, fierce and fighting when young, develops a delicacy and elegance that is hard to match. Only Pinot can match it. Barbaresco, again Nebbiolo but slightly lighter, is perhaps an easier start, and equally seductive in the right hands.
To confuse things, Barbera is made from Barbera. That’s why it’s called Barbera (Barolo and Barbaresco come from Barolo and Barbaresco). Barbera is easier, fuller, softer. It’s also the perfect wine to match one of my other passions: sausages.
I’ll get to Brunello (a grape, not a region, and actually Sangiovese) another time. It’s just dawned on me that I would be perfectly happy drinking wines beginning with “b” for the rest of my life: Bordeaux, Burgundy, and these three. And some bangers. Plus the odd beer.