This month’s Theme is Good Value Italian. That’s quite a big subject. I’ve a feeling one could spend several sessions – certainly 4, maybe 6 or 7 – covering such a subject. In fact, what would be bad value Italian wine?

Well, value is in the eye (or maybe the wallet) of the beholder, but several categories of Italian wine are certainly expensive. Chianti, many Sangiovese-based Tuscan wines (Vino Nobile, Brunello…) and Super-Tuscans are definitely in that category. Some merit the price, in my view, and some do not, but it isn’t a type which will afford a bargain. The same can be said of the famous wines from Nebbiolo – Barolo and Barbaresco. Other lesser appellations of Piedmont (Langhe, for example) can afford good value Nebbiolo, though.

On the other hand several styles of Italian wine are bad value on account of the wine being … well, just bad. I’m thinking of – most – Pinot Grigio; ordinary Valpolicella or Soave; Frascati; Montepulciano d’Abruzzo… Most, not all, mind!

So where is good value to be found? I would say the first place to look is in the South, particularly in the Regions of Campania and Apulia (Puglia).

The other factor in looking for value is grape variety. Internationally famous grape varieties – even if Italian in origin, like Sangiovese or Nebbiolo – are unlikely to be bargains. International fame (or notoriety in the case of Pinot Grigio) brings International prices. So lesser known grape varieties are well worth considering, even when they are secondary grapes in an area famous for something else.

In Italy there is quite a lot of choice. There are over 850 documented grape varieties in production in the country – about a third are authorised, in specific DOC or DOCG production or in some other official way.

Some of the names may be new to you – just to give you an idea, have you heard of these 5: Arneis; Teroldego; Pecorino [no! not a cheese]; Verdeca; and Nero- (or Uva-) di Troia?????

These come respectively from the North-West, North-East, Centre, South-West and South-East of the mainland, and we’ll sample two – the first (white) grape and the last (red) grape – in the tasting.

(Out of interest – these 5 grapes come from a list of the most well-known 60, and I had only heard of 46 before researching this tasting, one of the above comes from the 14 I did not recognise!)

So my immediate thoughts when putting together this tasting were to concentrate on: Whites from Campania; Reds from Puglia; and a couple of wines metaphorically “in the shadow” of Nebbiolo in Piedmont.

White Campania wines are very interesting. It’s quite a hot, southern climate for crisp white wines, though it’s precisely the style needed to accompany the fish-based cuisine of the area. The best-known, and more widely available wines are usually varietal – from Greco, Fiano and Falanghina. [Though Waitrose stock a £9 blend of all 3 called, imaginatively, Triade]. The producer that pioneered these wines in the UK is Feudi San Gregorio, based near Avellino – 30 Miles East of Naples. Their wines are a touch above the good-value price now, but worth seeking out.

Rather symmetrically Puglia has 3 interesting red grapes: Negroamoro, Primitivo, and Nero di Troia [Waitrose does the same trick as before: having a red Triade – blending them all]. Negroamoro is the main grape – usually blended with some Malvasia Nera – in Salice Salentino, a wine that I expect you’ve tried. I’m certain you’ve drunk Primitivo – if only in the form of its Californian incarnation: Zinfandel! But good examples from Italy are only recently appearing – mainly from the area around Manduria, just below Taranto on the front of the heel of Italy. The final grape in this Puglian tour is Nero di Troia, which only came to my attention a couple of years ago with an earlier vintage of the wine we’ll try at the tasting. For more about “Red Wines of Puglia” look at the 20th March 2014 posting below, by scrolling down to page 5.

Finally up to Piedmont for two wines often ignored in the Nebbiolo-dominated area around Alba: Arneis and Barbera.

Arneis is an ancient grape grown in hills slightly to the North West of the Langhe in the Roero area, where it is made into white DOCG wines of the same name. Arneis (literally: little rascal, in Piemontese) is so called because it is regarded as a somewhat difficult variety to grow. It is sometimes called the Nebbiolo Blanco, although there’s only a fifth as much grown as the more famous red version. Apparently, it was (is?) occasionally grown amongst the Nebbiolo vines as a distraction for birds, who took off the more succulent white grapes and left the reds alone!

Barbera has often been planted where the terroir is unsuited to Nebbiolo and used either blended or to produce a thin and astringent cheap wine. You’ll still find examples of the latter in your local supermarket! But now it is more appreciated in its own right and “super-Langhe” versions around £25 are to be found. In between these extremes, in the £15 range, reasonably typical and good value may be had – I hope… We’ll see…

The November ICC tasting will show two wines each from these three Provinces. Tasting Notes will appear on about 10th November… Until then…