I was intrigued by the announcement last month that London’s first specialist Italian wine merchant had just opened with the biggest selection of Italian wines in the country. I could hardly believe it was London’s first. Then I realized that even independents with great Italian selections like Lea & Sandeman and Philglas & Swiggot by no means focus exclusively on Italy.
This is excellent news for those of us whose first thought in reaching for the wine rack before dinner is often ‘have I got a deliciously drinkable Italian white or red in there alongside all the heftily oaked, alcoholic wines I feel tired just thinking about?’ So along I scooted to Vini Italiani which sits on the site of an old Starbucks (hooray!) in South Kensington’s Old Brompton Road. With its affluent residents, many Italian and French, the location mantra is significant.
Vini Italiani is the brainchild of a small group of Italian friends, among them Bruno Cernecca, Matteo Berlucchi and Diuska Luppi, linked by a common cause: a devotion to Italian wines and a realization that there was a gap in the market for a spot dedicated, literally, to taste and buy quality Italian wines. With the assistance of the highly experienced Italian sommelier, Luciania Girotto, they have put together a list running to more than 500 wines from all of Italy’s 20 wine regions at prices from £10 - £1000.
Informing me that pinot grigio was not one of their best sellers, two friendly and knowledgeable members of staff, Simone Semprini and Saba Ranzato, showed me the backlit wines standing on shelves of polished concrete. We headed downstairs via a stylish spiral iron staircase following a geographical route to the wines of the south. In this space they intend to put on tastings, corporate events and glad-handing producers.
Alongside the classics such as Tignanello, Sassicaia, Gaja, Fontodi, Planeta and Giacomo Conterno, there are wines from obscure regions such as Liguria and Molise made from even more obscure grape varieties. In quick succession, Luciana handed me a varied assortment from the two eight-bottle dispensing machines: a Ligurian vermentino, a nosiola from Trentino, a vitovska from Friuli, a gattinara from Piemonte, a tintilia from Molise and a deliciously spicy floral 2010 Zibibbo Pietranera, £25, from Marco de Bartoli in Sicily.
My senses still reeling, I settled down to more familiar territory in the 2007 Franciacorta Brut Rosé, Fratelli Berlucchi, £29, from one of the owners, Matteo Berlucchi’s own estate. Pale pink, with attractively refreshingly crunchy cranberry fruit, this is a deliciously dry champagne method fizz with textured strawberries and cream fruitiness. By the time I’d finished with an intense, modern liquorice and mint-scented 2005 Seghesio Barolo. Monforte, £31.50, with its silky tannins, I was starting to feel the amore.
Something For the Weekend 11 February 2012
2009 Baglio Rosso Nero d’Avola
From Sicily’s red signature grape, the black-hearted nero d’avola, this shows a bright spicily aromatic quality, and an attractively juicy dark berry opulence, tinged with peppery spice in a framework of juicy black fruit flavours. £7.99, Marks & Spencer.
2009 Crasto Douro Red, Quinta do Crasto.
Wonderfully aromatic and fresh Douro blend of the major Port varieties with succulent, and deliciously exuberant dark cherry and damson plum fruit quality and a fine balancing freshness. £9.99 or buy 2 Portuguese wines = £8.49, Majestic.
2008 Barone Ricasoli Rocca Guicciarda Riserva Chianti Classico
A well-crafted modern chianti classico blend of mainly sangiovese with a satiny sheen of spice and berry aromas and voluptuously soft-centred black cherry, nicely polished by oak, with a lively bite of savoury acidity. £16.99, Sainsbury’s