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Italy: North-West, including Gavi & Barolo/Barbaresco

Not necessarily known for its good value, Italy’s north-west surprised this year, with a string of well-priced, characterful Golds

Without the sheer volume of wine of the north-east, this area of Italy has tended to supply little nuggets of quality, rather than head-turning rafts of medals, usually confining its presence on the Gold List to a couple of pricey Barbarescos or, if our tasters are feeling parsimonious, some well-priced Barberas.

Well, this year we saw a far more rounded presentation of what north-west Italy is capable of when it is in the mood, with a star Gavi, a Barolo and a Barbera all making it onto the Gold List, and a decent supporting cast of medals in each area.

For whites, Gavi gave its best performance yet, with a series of good, well-priced and varied wines that (literally) had our sommeliers salivating. ‘They were more textural than aromatic,’ said Practical Matters’ Nicola Thomson. ‘But even the muted examples had an impressive mouthfeel that moved through the palate.’

If all that sounds very food-friendly, well it was. La Battistina’s Gavi, submitted by Boutinot, which picked up a Silver last year, got a Food Match award with the scallops as well as a Gold. ‘It’s a fantastic By the Glass wine. It’s not particularly complex, but it’s fun. It’s got varietal character and it makes you smile,’ said The Vineyard Group’s James Hocking.

The region’s other whites were good, with an attractive, pithy kick, but not one entry came in under £9, which was always going to make it hard to get beyond Silver.

The reds, by contrast, had plenty of crowd-pleasing Dolcettos and Barberas at wallet-friendly prices. A flight that was all about fresh sour cherry fruit and good acidity, there were a lot of well-made wines, resulting in a strong spread of medals across the price points.

‘This was our most consistent flight of the day,’ said consultant Frédéric Jean-Yves Billet. ‘And made by Italians, too… who’d a thunk it,’ joked Vinopolis’s Tom Forrest.

‘Even the ones that were too young had really good wine behind them,’ added Diego Muntoni of Oxo Tower Restaurant. ‘And they were still good. The most expensive wine was only £15.’

Usually, of course, if you want ‘expensive’ in this part of the world you head to the terra Bianca of Barolo. But whereas this section has, in the past, been an excuse for phone-book pricing, this year we saw a lot more affordable wines entered. Indeed, the only Gold – the Dezzani 2008 – was astonishingly well priced for a Barolo.

It also had two other key factors that weighed heavily in its favour: it was a good, traditional example, which our tasters always favoured over more ‘modern’ styles, and it was ready to drink. The other medal-winning Barolos were not necessarily inferior (the Bruno Rocca Barbaresco, for instance, was described as ‘class’ and ‘perfection’ by tasters in the early rounds), but in most cases they were deemed too young.

And that’s especially important for a Marmite wine like Barolo/Barbaresco. ‘It’s not a wine you can sell easily,’ said Stéphanie Dhont from the French Table. ‘Customers who have tasted it before either like it or they don’t. If they do like it, they want it to be perfect when they order it.’

‘The Dezzani is a great price for a wine that looks like classic Barolo but is approachable now, with some truffle and mushroom development on the palate,’ said Muntoni. ‘This would deliver the profile that customers are looking for and at great value.’

‘I liked the Gavis. They weren’t all about aromatics and fruit – they had better acidity, too.’ Emilie Courtois, Terroirs

‘The reds were very Italian in style. They weren’t trying to be anything else.’ Diego Muntoni of Oxo Tower Restaurant