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Anne Krebiehl blogs from the Definitive Italian Tasting

Published:  29 June, 2011

An embarrassment of riches, that's the only fit way to describe the Definitive Italian Tasting at Lord's on June 28 2011.

The event showed that Italy's strength clearly lies in her dazzling wealth of indigenous grape varieties, most of them still too little known and under-appreciated. Yes of course these need hand-selling - but at least they provide a true point of difference.

The day kicked off with Peter McCombie's master class on Sicily who also put indigenous varieties in the spotlight. In his usual engaging style, McCombie set out to dispel the notion of Sicily as a producer of potent but soupy bulk wines and presented what can only be called Cinderella wines: beauties that linger in the background while the ugly sisters go to the ball. Sadly, this is still true: of the 6.2 million hectolitres of wine produced, only 4.5% are DOC/DOCG wines, barely a third are labelled IGT Sicilia which leaves two thirds of bulk and table wine - also, only 20% of production are actually bottled in Sicily. But here are the Cinderellas (or would that be Cenerentole?) that so deserve and reward a good swirl on the vinous dancefloor:

Made from 80% Carricante and 20% Catarratto, the 2009 Cavanera Ripa di Scorciavacca (Etna Bianco DOC) is a thrillingly mineral white wine which retains structure, poise and great freshness despite very ripe fruit. A linear class act and quite unbelievable value at €9.60. Among red varieties such as Nero d'Avola and Frappato (who together make up Sicily's only DOCG, Cerasuolo di Vittoria), Perricone and Nerello Mascalese, it was the rare Nerello Cappuccio that stole the show: Tenuta di Fessina's 2009 Laeneo, grown at 900m on the slopes of Mount Etna showed both aromatic complexity and rustic purity - think tart red fruit with hints of bay and pepper - with a gentle, tannic grip and the variety's typical freshness.

These wines clearly set the tone and among the 88 tables in the main hall, many more fairy-tale wines appeared: an ethereal, silvery Langhe Arneis 'Aurelia' 2009 by Rivetti Massimo (New Generation Wines) with lemony-bright freshness; the unusually full-fruited yet light-footed 2007 Krafuss Pinot Noir by Tenutae Lageder (Bibendum) from an ancient single vineyard in Alto Adige in the North and from Basilicata in the South, the arch of the Italian boot, the mesmerising Aglianico del Vulture Gudarra 2007 by Bisceglia (Bibendum): an evocative, floral nose and a palate of Morello cherry fruit, mingling with white pepper and held by ultra-fine but firm tannins. Sicily enticed once more with Nerello Mascalese Gibril 2009 by Guccione (Winemakers Club), this time not from the volcanic slopes of Mt Etna but from a tiny, biodynamic producer south of Palermo: at a moderate 13.5% this wine was earthy, elegant and savoury, again with that elusive Italian bitter cherry note and the characteristic acidic and tannic backbone.

Tasting these wines now borders on infanticide, but they give us so much to look forward to: just like Italy's noble northern variety Nebbiolo, also the subject of the afternoon's master class on the crus or single vineyards of Barolo and Barbaresco which are finally being recognised and protected. On the floor, the variety shone: Francesco Rinaldi's 2007 Barolo Brunate (Astrum Wine Cellars) just gave a glimpse of future glory with a floral edge and dark-fruited promise. The 2005 Brezza Barolo Sarmassa (Winemakers Club) was more approachable, very silky and perfumed while the Barolo Riva by Claudio Alario (Wine Treasury) from the more serious 2006 vintage was heady with bitter chocolate and peony and amazingly rounded.

Luca Dasi of Passione Vino presented yet another, softer but no less beguiling version of the grape from Valtellina in the Alpine foothills: Carteria Valgella Valtellina Superiore 2008 by Marco Fay was fragrant with raspberry fruit and a velvety texture that slowly opened on the palate. At £15 this is a steal. For even less money you can have another rarity: Pelaverga di Verduno 2010 by Burlotto (Passione Vino) with its lip-smacking pepperiness, this is a light but exciting summer red which could easily take chilling. The same goes for the luscious, berry-fruited and spicy Freisa d'Asti Vigna del Forno 2008 by Cascina Gilli (Ad Vinarium). Strangely enough, my notes just covered the far north and the far south when there was so much in the middle: from cherry-ish Cesanese from Lazio to breezy Vermentino from the Tuscan coast. It was simply too much, or as they say in the fairy tales, a land of plenty, a veritable Cuccagna.