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Italy: Central  

A solid, rather than spectacular performance for a region that seemed rather too keen to over-oak and overcharge


Without much in the way of big-name, must-stock styles, our tasters were looking here for either out and out class or unimpeachably good value for money. Broadly speaking, they found it, though with a fair bit of grumbling along the way.

Much of the sommelier unhappiness centred on two things. Can you guess what they are, kids? That’s right: high prices and over-oaking.

The two Gold-Listed reds, for instance (both from the Franco Todini co-op), were undeniably good wines, but it would have been encouraging to see one or two of the cheaper efforts seriously pushing for a slot on the list as well.

The white flight was not especially challenging, but threw up some reasonable wines around the £9-11 mark, with the more ambitious ones generally less popular for reasons of TMO – Too Much Oak.

‘Italian whites are meant to be a safe choice,’ said consultant Frédéric Jean-Yves Billet. ‘You are looking for something traditional or conservative that you can match with fish or pasta.’

Star white was the Collefrisio Pecorino, a wine so good it had Coq d’Argent’s Olivier Marie going all Jamie Oliver on us. ‘This was a stonking wine!’ he exclaimed. ‘It had great balance, lovely fruit, everything that can be good about an Italian white. It would work with seafood risotto, fish and shellfish. I would put this on the list at the top end, perhaps as a “sommelier’s selection”, By the Glass, and because it is really good customers would come back for more.’

While a good number of the red submissions were generic rossos from Emilia Romagna, Lazio and the Marche under £10, our tasters carried out something a slaughter of the inocenti and not many made it to medal stage.

As usual the Italians were not exactly shy about racing up the price points with super-expensive oak-bombs. The trouble, of course, is that big oak comes with a pay-off: oak tannins, a lack of integration and wines that can’t be drunk for 10 years. Hardly ideal for restaurants.

‘I think up at the more expensive end of the flight, there’s an Italian mentality that more is more,’ mused journalist Natasha Hughes. ‘More oak, more extraction, more everything to prove that it’s a good wine with an expensive price. But then you have heavy make-up on a not very pretty wine.’

The reds that picked up Gold List places, while both at the bigger is better end of things, had classic Italian character, were drinking well and were also deemed food-friendly.

‘I would put the Nero della Cervera on in a fine wine section,’ said Marie. ‘It could be sold By the Glass to customers looking for a great example of what Italy can achieve.’

‘Consumers know Vermentino more than Verdicchio. As a grape it’s probably more for the domestic market.’ Serdar Balkaya, Hakkasan

‘A lot of people here think that oak makes the wine.’ Luigi Buonanno, Etrusca Restaurants