One of the pleasures of Italian red wine is its sheer diversity. You’ll find midweek quaffers from Tuscany that are the perfect match for pizza and pasta; big-hearted fruit bombs from indigenous grape varieties in the south; and epic, historic Barolos and Amarones that are on a par with the most ageworthy wines in the world. What’s more, they all make for the perfect warming, winter reds at this time of year.
Barolo is an intriguing combination of power and subtlety – that the two dominant aromas are tar and roses seems highly appropriate. But one barrier to Barolo is how long it can need to age before drinking. Firstly, it must be aged for just over three years before it can be released. Then, historically, Barolo needed time for its tannins to be tamed – 15 to 20 years was the norm. But change is afoot. The past decade or so has seen a determined push by producers for their Barolos to be drinkable at an earlier stage. Now, you’ll find examples that are approachable while still in single figures – particularly in warmer vintages.
In terms of pure, full-throttle fruitiness, Amarone is unparalleled. There are more muscular red wines out there, and those with more complexity, but if you crave concentrated, silky fruit, there is no finer example. Recent years have seen winemakers looking at ways to keep Amarone’s hefty alcohol levels in check by harvesting earlier and reducing the grape-drying period. A glass of Amarone is never going to be the low-alcohol option, but those wine drinkers for whom a 16% red wine may not be their cup of espresso will be pleased to witness a noticeable push by producers to retain as much acidity and freshness as possible.
Freshness and acidity have long been hallmarks of the best Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino, their red and black cherry Sangiovese fruit providing heft and charm. And while the most rarefied Tuscan wines have now reached stratospheric price levels, there are many fine examples lower down the chain that make for perfect midweek fare over a supper on the sofa.
Here’s a first-rate line-up of Italian reds for winter, all award-winners at the 2020 IWSC.