This week we are looking at Italy for value wines, chiefly the southern Italian regions of Apulia and Sicily.
Good-value wines from lesser-known areas of Italy are finding their way onto local store shelves.— Image by Thinkstock.com
Apulia and Sicily are two of the highest volume wine producing regions of Italy. In the latter part of the last century they produced a lot of cheap, coarse wine from high-yielding varieties and over-cropping. Changing times and fortunes, similar to southern France, have brought improved quality and international interest.
Apulia is the heel of the Italian boot with an extension up the Adriatic coast.
The terrain is a mix of plain and hilly areas with plain predominating. Its southerly latitude means it gets lots of heat and sun. This heat is moderated somewhat by the adjacent sea, particularly the Salento peninsula (the actual heel) which has sea on both sides.
Rainfall is limited but the porous limestone bedrock helps maintain good levels of groundwater to support extensive agriculture including grape-growing.
In Apulia some of the traditional grape varieties such as Negroamaro and Primitivo (genetically the same as Zinfandel) have been proven to make tasty and interesting red wines.
But you will also find the popular “international” varieties and Italian varieties more famous from other regions such as Sangiovese and Trebbiano. All Apulian wines listed locally are in the sub $20 price range.
Sicily shares Apulia’s hot and sunny weather, and combined with moderate rainfall has excellent conditions for grape production. It is more mountainous and hilly and there is also the special influence of Mount Etna.
Adding elevation, slope and cooling mountain and sea breezes opens many possibilities, including white wines. The Sicily region also includes nearby islands such as Pantelleria and Lipari which have gained some fame for their sweet muscat based wines.
Mount Etna covers nearly 1,200 square kilometres and rises basically from sea level to more than 3,300 meters in height.
As you rise in elevation in this vast terrain of volcanic soils you pass through various agricultural zones including citrus fruits, various species of nut trees and, of course, grapes. Several varieties are associated specifically with the Etna area: Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio and Carricante.
On the opposite end of the island you find the city of Marsala which gave its name to the sweet wine of the region produced in a manner similar to sherry.
Much of the vineyards in this area were dedicated to this production, although the popularity of this wine and wine style has declined considerably in the last few decades.
The rest of the island also makes its contribution to production based on varieties such as Nero d’Avola, Cataratto, Grillo and Inzolia. Although much of this wine is still exported in bulk to other parts of Italy for blending, more and more is being turned into quality international exports at affordable prices.
An example of a value Sicilian red is the Monte Nobile Nero d’Avola 2012 (NLC $15.99). Showing dark purple-red in the glass it has a generous aroma of blueberries, partridgeberries, bramble fruits and plums all stirred together.
The fruit flavours are balanced in the mouth with structure from smooth tannins and acids to deliver an overall pleasing experience. Score: 15/Very Good.
Steve Delaney is a member of the Opimian Society. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.