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Italy: South, including Sicily & Sardinia

The whites fared better than the reds, but there was a lot of positive feedback about the distinctive regional character (if not the prices) of the entries

Along with that other vast wine producing area, the north-east, the south of Italy has established itself in SWA as a genuine force over the past few years. What continues to be a surprise, though, is the areas in which it finds success.

You might expect, for instance, a string of slightly rustic but great-value red wines, plus the odd fresh, punchy white. In fact, what we increasingly get from the ‘footwear’ end of Italy is wine of serious ambition, often with price tags to match.

In the whites, for instance, only about half the entries were under £10, with very few indeed sent in under £8. But all our teams of tasters – while initially sceptical of some of the prices on display – were won over by the sheer quality of what was on offer, enjoying the fruit-forward and often complex, minerally character of many of the wines.

‘I wasn’t expecting so much fruit on the palate!’ exclaimed The French Table’s Sarah Guignard. ‘I’d certainly list a few of these, and several would be good By the Glass, offering a real point of difference.’

Such enthusiasm was typical, and there needed to be some pretty severe culling in the final stages of judging by our Gold List co-ordinator, Hakkasan’s Christine Parkinson, to ensure that a frankly ridiculous amount of expensive southern Italian white wine didn’t unbalance our Gold List. Plenty of good stuff throughout the medals, in other words.

Within a strong (if fairly pricey) category, special congratulations are due to Leone d’Almerita, which picked up a Gold for the second year on the trot. ‘It’s a full, well-balanced wine with fantastic food-friendly acidity and very good at the price point,’ said Thomas Cubitt’s Matthew Cocks. ‘This could be recommended with quite rich fish dishes, those with lemony sauces, or white meats like veal.’

In fact, it’s interesting that, while over-oaking whites was a problem in other parts of Italy, the wines here seemed far better balanced, with words like ‘subtle’, ‘food friendly’ and ‘freshness and structure’ used repeatedly for all the Gold-Listed wines.

For the reds, the response was still positive, but rather more muted. While there was a lot of praise from the tasters about the south’s ability to produce red wines of character, with tasters enjoying the intense dark fruits and firm tannins, few entries did so at prices below what you might expect.

Only Naraghe Crabione’s Canonau di Sardegna (which wowed everybody and won a Critics' Choice award as well) really overdelivered. ‘That’s a really serious, grown-up wine,’ said the Tate Group’s Hamish Anderson.

‘The lower end revealed some clumsy wines, but above this there were a lot of really characterful efforts,’ added Roganic’s Sandia Chang. ‘They may be a hand sell, but they would be a good point of difference and interest on the list.’

‘The whites was a good flight with interesting, well-balanced wines, combining crispness and good fruit.’ Antoine Dugard, Le Pont de la Tour

‘Especially with the mid- to higher-priced reds, there was plenty of sign of grape variety and terroir. There were wines here that show what modern Italy can do.’ Marco Feraldi, Galvin La Chapelle