I’ve done it countless times in France. In the UK too, but it’s not quite the same. This was my first time at a natural wine tasting in Italy.
There is a queue for the navetta which shuttles back and forth between the field where I left my car and the place where the tasting is being held. Eventually, I am able to squeeze myself into a seat, which happens to be slap bang in the middle of a group of wildly gesticulating sommeliers from Puglia. The accent from this region is very distinctive; they speak as if they have a large stone in their mouth, but with none of the gravitas of Demosthenes. Needless to say, I don’t understand a word. The minibus climbs up the steep driveway to the majestic Villa Favorita.
I step off the bus and am unexpectedly gripped by a moment of self-doubt. What the hell am I doing here? Why? Do I actually know anybody inside? This sudden isolation halts me as if I’ve just turned to walk head on into an icy gale.
However, my feet keep going and as I approach the steps leading to the Villa’s colonnaded entrance, I run into a winemaker I know. Giusto Occhipinti. “Ciao!”
I smile and, reassured, I step inside.
Here are my six top discoveries (of red wines) from “The Tasting Room” at Villa Favorita 2015.
IL CANCELLIERE (Campania) “Gioviano” Irpinia DOC 2010 Aglianico (13.5%)
Aglianico is a hugely underrated grape variety. Bursting with aromas and acidity, this wine does not disappoint. A deep plum red colour, the bouquet explodes out of the glass as I swirl. Plenty of cooked, stewed fruit and berries. Oak aging has helped soften the tannins. The palate continues rich, balanced and finishes with a tangy acidity.
MARTILDE (Lombardy) “Il Gigante” IGT 2011 Croatina
This is an extravagant wine. Nothing like anything I’ve tasted before. It’s far more fleshy than some Lambruscos which might otherwise come to mind. It’s sweet, aromatic, tannic, acidic and bubbly, all at the same time. I don’t know where to start describing such complexity. Because of the residual sugar, most people would probably consider this a dessert wine. It doesn’t have to be though. There’s such incredible concentration of fruit. It drinks like a cabaret dancer: colourful and full of energy. You could fall in love with this wine. I think I just might have done.
CASTELLO DI STEFANAGO (Lombardy) “Campo Castagna” Oltrepo Pavese DOC 2011 Pinot Noir (13%)
Antonio and Giacomo Baruffaldi make a racy wine. At first, the subdued fruit notes on the nose don’t capture your imagination but in the mouth, the wine comes into its own. It’s all perfectly harmonious. The tannins give a pleasant, soft, delicate finish.
RICCARDI REALE (Lazio) “Calitro” Cesanese di Olevano Romano DOC 2013 Cesanese (15%)
This tiny winery of 3 hectares, not too far from Rome, makes stylish, classic wines. I had the pleasure of sitting across from Piero and Lorella at the winemakers’ dinner on Saturday night. This, the most aromatic, is my favourite of their range. With notes of spice, meat, game, the wine falls perfectly on the right side of being “animal.” It’s a full-bodied wine and perfectly ripe for a whole range of food pairings.
NATALINO DEL PRETE (Puglia) “Nataly” Salento IGT 2014 Primitivo (14%)
A totally unpretentious wine – it’s straight-up, lip-smackingly good Primitivo. Heavily pigmented. Juicy. Cherry and very ripe blackberries on the nose; black pepper and cloves come secondary. Lovely length. A suave wine. I wrote in my increasingly indecipherable – and therefore utterly superfluous – tasting notes, “I do really quite like this one.”
CASA RAIA (Tuscany) “Bevilo” Toscana IGT 2013 Sangiovese Grosso, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot (14.5%)
Sangiovese Grosso is the noble strain of this most Tuscan of varietals that is most commonly used for Brunello. However, I was assured that the Bevilo is positionned at a more affordable price point than your average Brunello. Pierre-Jean is a native Frenchman (from Nice, if my memory is correct) who moved to Italy with his wife Kalyna. They took over and renovated the farm and its two hectares, which are situated one kilometre away from Montalcino’s mediaeval fortress. On the nose, this wine reminded me of Bonne Maman’s raspberry jam. The texture of this wine is particularly notable. It may be a super-tuscan blend, but it’s totally approachable. “Bevi lo” in Italian means “drink it” and, according to the old Tuscan tradition, the next line of this expression is “wine makes you sing!”