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  • Rupert

La bella Italia

You’ll probably know by now that I’ve got a soft spot for Italy and Italian wines. Initially it was the crunchy sour Chiantis that got my tastebuds tingling but the more I’ve studied the country, the more I’ve fallen in love with regional variations.


I’ve visited a few times but those trips were mostly before my wine interest turned serious. However, I’ve got a couple of weeks in Sicily this summer, where I’m planning on putting that right!


So when I got an invitation to an anniversary event to celebrate an organisation representing the ‘grand marques’ of Italian wine, it was a no-brainier for me.

The Istituto Grandi Marchi is a trade body of some of the most famous producers in the country, full of names I’ve read about but not many wines I’ve tried. Antinori, Lungarotti, Mastroberadino, Masi and Pio Cesare have all played a massive role in the history and development of the Italian wine trade.


The day started with a masterclass from each of the 18 producers talking us through one of their wines. Being the 20th anniversary celebration, most were from the 2004 vintage.


This was a fascinating experience, which lasted just under two hours. Hearing fourth and fifth generation winemakers talk so passionately about their grapes, the landscape of their homes and the love they have for their wine was beautiful. And to taste wines such as Lungarotti’s single vineyard Rubesco or Masi’s Costasera Amarone from 20 years ago was magical.


The highlight for me was to try a wine that’s been on my bucket list for a number of years. The super-Tuscan movement was a group of producers in the latter part of the 20th century who didn’t want to stick to restrictive Italian wine making laws. They wanted to do things differently and use ‘foreign’ grape varieties to make their wine. But this meant they could only effectively be sold as ‘table wine’ until they were given their own classification when the Italian wine authorities eventually realised how good they were. These super-Tuscans are now some of the most sought after wines in the world. The first super-Tuscan was a wine called Sassicaia, made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, in the Bolgheri region of the Tuscan coast.


As part of the masterclass a family member from Tenuta San Guido, which makes Sassacaia, presented the 2004 vintage of their top wine, which was served from magnum. The larger bottle meant the ageing process was a bit more gentle and the wine was incredible; beautifully balanced, elegant, with cherry, pine, dark fruit and sweet spice flavours. 

But there were so many good wines during the masterclass; Antinori’s Bada a Passignano, Il Pareto from Ambroglio e Giovanni Folonari, Michele Chiarlo’s Cerequio Barolo, a Taurasi from a Mastroberadino - the list went on.


These are all top, top wines. Expensive and luxurious. I was very lucky to be invited and feel special to have tasted them. Most people will have to pay hundreds and hundreds of pounds to try them and I know I’m unlikely to taste most of them again.


After the masterclass there was a walk around tasting where all the producers had their own table with three of their current wines on offer to try. It allowed me to taste another couple of dozen more wines and talk to the producers one to one.  I spoke to one of the people behind Carpenè Malvotti about their history of producing the first Prosecco and tasted one of their Rive and Cartizze prestige crus - which were fantastic. I even tried a second Sassicaia from the incredible 2021 vintage, which has just gone on the shelves in the UK (but my pockets aren’t that deep unfortunately).

I’ve ticked off a lot of firsts today and I'm reflecting on that as I travel home from London on the train this afternoon. I’m very lucky that my work affords me the chance to experience things that most people have to pay a lot of money for. It has also whetted my appetite to explore Italian wines further.


Hopefully I’ll have a new post when I’m back from Sicily in August. 

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