It is far from an all-inclusive list, but I had to stop somewhere. I am indebted to Ian D'Agata's book, Native Wine Grapes of Italy, for checking facts, but most of the comments, particularly the opinionated bits, are based on my personal experience.
Found in Campania and Basilicata as Aglianico del Vulture and Taurasi, usually grown on volcanic soil, this is one of Italy's best red grapes for wines capable of improving with age. Dark red, savoury, with plenty of underlying fruit, structure and depth of flavour, it has a floral perfume but marked tannin and acidity which helps ageing but requires skilled winemaking. You may notice smoky, spicy notes of considerable complexity, hints of dried cherries, rich plum even liquorice.
For drinking young try Janare Aglianico or Le Ralle Aglianico. For great value at an age-worthy level Alovini's Armand and Alvolo. For Taurasi at a price, Mastroberardino or Feudi San Gregorio. Aglianico works well with rich, meaty dishes, including liver and tomato-based pasta and also spicy Eastern cooking.
Few of us will understand how Albana di Romagna came to be named as the first DOCG wine in 1966, since most examples are unmemorable. Lemony but rather thin when dry. The sweeter wines have rich but unexciting flavour and are out of fashion. But Italian wine legislation like its politics can be hard to fathom!
[DOCG stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita and is the highest classification for Italian wines]
A white grape native to Piedmont, tricky to handle because of its low acidity. We think, therefore, that oaked versions are a mistake, because they taste flabby. Bruno Giacosa captures its aroma of white flowers, peach and apricot and creamy texture at a price, but growers in Roero, the other side of the Tanaro river from Barbaresco, have specialised in this grape too.
The third most widely planted Italian red grape (after sangiovese and montepulciano), is found in every region of Italy but particularly in Piedmont, Lombardy and Emilia Romagna. Dark in colour, with plenty of juicy fruit acidity Italians love, and relatively low in tannin, it can be enjoyed young at its fruitiest but also benefits from barrel-ageing for richer longer-living wines. It blends well with nebbiolo. It has an immediate grape aroma of red fruits like cherry and strawberry with hints of underbrush and spice. Try The Society's Barbera d'Asti, or Barbera d'Alba from Nadia Curto or Silvano Bolmida for a young fresh wine. For age-worthy barbera look out for wines from Cavallotto. Extremely versatile with pizza and pasta, barbera works well with herbs like sage and rosemary and rich sauces too.
Brachetto can be made as a still wine or as a sparkler, but the ones to buy are sweet and sparkling showing off wonderfully perfumed muscat-flavoured fresh red berries, cherries and raspberries and only 5.5% alcohol. It goes with chocolate desserts too. It is hard not to be seduced by Contero's Brachetto d'Acqui.
Canaiolo plays a necessary, if often secondary role in Chianti Classico, being fragrant, lighter but gentler than sangiovese, and many of us feel that it was a great mistake to replace it in the blend by merlot and cabernet which seriously alter the style of Chianti. It is seldom bottled on its own but many growers are now appreciating its role. Alberto Antonini makes full use of it in his wine at his estate, Poggiotondo. Gualberto Grati who produces The Society's Chianti Rufina has been experimenting with canaiolo bianco, a rare sub variety of the more common black grape.
By far the most important red variety of Sardinia where it has been planted for centuries, though its origin is probably Spanish since it is genetically identical to garnacha/grenache. Quality of cannonau wines in Sardinia has proved uneven though Santadi and Argiolas are reliable producers. Expect floral red fruit aroma and quite high alcoholic degree with hints of the island's herbs and with age it can become creamier and spicier.
Carricante is a one-zone variety, found only on the slopes of Mount Etna, but the quality of the white wine it produces is exciting and Etna Bianco though produced in much smaller quantities than the red, can often outclass it. Much of the vines are recently planted so not yet delivering their full potential. The best have penetrating aroma and graceful racy whistle-clean flavour that lasts long on the palate and ages very well.
Traditionally a Sicilian workhorse white loved by growers because it is so productive, this grape is widely planted in the west of the island. The name refers to cataracts/waterfalls, reflecting its prolific crop. On hillside vineyards from lower yields it can produce pleasant whites with thyme and citrus aromas, but not for long ageing. The famous Sicilian estate Tasca d'Almerita has been making a blended white of which catarratto forms a constituent part for over 50 years.
This grape used to be confused with sangiovese which it was often planted alongside and to which it is genetically related and with which it may often have been blended. But it is certainly distinct in character as the pioneering estate Sassotondo near Pitigliano in southern Tuscany has proved. Its wine has red cherry and ripe berry flavours, good body, smooth tannins and relatively lower acidity than sangiovese. Sassotondo's San Lorenzo made from old vines is the best we know.
This has suffered from being the local café red of Rome, where it turned up in several guises from sparkling, semi-sweet to dry and was often plagued by lazy winemaking in unhygienic cellars. At its best it is headily perfumed and spicy with naturally sweet fruit and low acidity. The famous Pallavicini estate take it seriously and are the producers to watch.
A good cortese is lemony with delicate white flower aromas and found at its best in Gavi, when it should be made from well-controlled yields. While simple Piemonte Cortese is a pleasant fresh wine of modest alcohol for drinking young, a good Gavi has more body and depth and has long been Piedmont's answer to the white Burgundies of the Côte Chalonnaise and Mâconnais and may be enjoyed on similar occasions.
This is the most important grape in the blend of Valpolicella, Amarone and Bardolino. Straight Valpolicella should have a delicate cherry aroma, a touch of blackberry and violet and a gentle fresh palate with a slightly bitter finish but low in tannin, making it attractive without food or drunk cool. Coffele's Valpolicella has this lightness of touch. To produce Amarone, a wine with much greater richness and power, grapes are air-dried after harvest before pressing, increasing body and sugar content. Valpolicella Ripasso is a step towards Amarone at lower price, using wine that has been passed over the shrivelled skins used to make Amarone to add richness and perfume. Sadly, there is a great deal of poor quality Valpolicella (often blended to be almost unrecognisable as such) and indifferent Amarone too made from feeble base wine. The key to Amarone is to start with ripe, high-quality fruit and not to lose those fruit perfumes in winemaking. Allegrini's wine is exemplary.
Confusingly, though dolcetto grapes are sweet and low in acidity, the wine they make is dry on the palate though it should burst with vibrant, juicy fruit and hints of black cherries. It used to be the wine Piedmontese growers drank every day while they waited for their tougher nebbiolo to come round or was saved for special occasions. Better vinification has made nebbiolo more accessible and the popularity of Langhe Nebbiolo, designed to be drunk earlier, meant that growers have been replanting it on cooler sites more suitable for dolcetto. Dolcetto, however, has always been championed by the town of Dogliani, so much so that their dolcetto wines are now simply labelled Dogliani. Luigi Einaudi make a marvellous example showing the grape at its juicy vibrant life-affirming best.
A white grape from Veneto with high natural acidity making it more suitable for sparkling than still wine. Growers hope that it will catch on and rival Prosecco, but it is usually tough-going so we have not imported one yet.
A late-ripening white variety from Campania, whose gentle, almost salty acidity keeps it fresh and gives length of flavour. In warmer years the aroma can be reminiscent of lemon curd with a touch of honey but it is always harmonious and thoroughly agreeable when well made. The most important producer is La Guardiense, whose members own easily the most extensive plantings of falanghina. They are an extremely well-run co-operative with a highly talented winemaker and we have always been able to select wine from their best vats for The Society's wine. The recent popularity of the name means that there are now more bottles labelled falanghina than could be produced by falanghina vineyards alone. So caveat emptor and buy from us!
Cultivated in Campania for centuries, fiano is undoubtedly one of Italy's finest white wine grapes, making wine with real class and finesse. Inexpensive versions have been successfully grown in Sicily, Puglia and elsewhere too but the Campania wines remain the best. La Guardiense's Fiano Colle Di Tilio has a refined aroma, evocative of hazelnuts, green apples with a touch of honey and wonderful length on the palate and is a great example at a fair price.
A native of south-eastern Sicily capable of making captivating fragrant strawberry-scented wine with juicy fresh appetising palate. It is medium light in colour and best drunk cellar cool in its youth. It is blended 40% with nero d'Avola to make the fuller-bodied Cerasuolo Di Vittoria, a more serious wine, but you lose that explosive immediate fragrance.
Freisa may be described as a wilder, more rustic version of nebbiolo to which it is closely related. It is found only in Piedmont and until recently had rather gone out of fashion because its naturally high acidity and tannin mean that its wines need patient ageing. As a new generation begins to discover its potential, some growers like Mauro Mascarello are regretting pulling up their freisa vines. Aldo Vajra has long championed the grape with its crisp, strawberry, sour-cherry rose-scented bouquet and GD Vajra's structured Kye is a splendid example, though the tannin and acidity mean you must let it mature.
An ancient variety largely confined to Calabria, and at its best in Cirò, gaglioppo should have an aroma of small red berries with notes of underbrush reminiscent of aspects of nebbiolo. Historically there have been too many feeble examples, stretched and devoid of fruit with a tendency to oxidise which have done the grape no favours. Luckily we have found Giuseppe Scala at Santa Venere whose organically cultivated Cirò shows what a lovely wine it can be.
Garganega (the stress is on the second syllable), is the Soave grape and as such is one of Italy's oldest and most important grapes. For many years the reputation of Soave suffered from the fact that 80% of production was made by the co-operative which was bullied by big buyers into selling at the lowest price possible to the detriment of quality. Pieropan was always a beacon of light showing with their straight Soave, single vineyard Calvarino, and large wood aged La Rocca what wonderful age-worthy whites garganega can make. There are now several fine growers and we particularly like Coffele's Castel Cerino and Ca Visco made from organically cultivated grapes on perfectly sited hill vineyards. Soave should be smooth, dry and harmonious, and the best wines have real substance and breadth with almost creamy texture and class. Some examples are given lift by blending garganega with trebbiano di Soave, aka, verdicchio, which has more acidity.
Once better known as prosecco (a name now only correctly used to describe the wine not the grape), glera is mainly grown in the Veneto with the best examples coming from the beautiful, high hilly vineyards of Valdobbiadene (stress the third syllable) near Conegliano. Wines from here are more delicate and fragrant. Valdobbiadene is the origin of The Society's Prosecco. Wines from the sub region of Cartizze are fuller with a touch of sweetness. Much commercial Prosecco uses high-yielding grapes from the plain, covering their neutral flavour with residual sugar, losing the fragrance and lightness of touch which make the best wines so refreshing.
An important Umbrian white variety which remains the heart of the best Orvieto wines. Grechetto is a late ripening variety, with a tannin content, unusual in white varieties, that keeps its wine fresh and stable and adds structure. With a bouquet of white flowers and lime it makes wine with good body and breadth. Barberani make excellent single variety grechetto from organically grown grapes and also include a significant part in their Orvieto.
Such an easy-to-pronounce name has been given to a bewildering variety of different grapes in different parts of Italy. The best and most famous, described here, is Greco Di Tufo, as grown in Campania, Lazio and Puglia. It has more power, body, richness and colour than its famous local companion, fiano, and can be quite yellow and almost too 'fat'. At its best it is an exotic and powerful wine redolent of yellow flowers, honey, peach and tropical fruit. Versions from Mastroberardino (quite restrained) and Feudi Di San Gregorio are famous and costly. La Guardiense makes excellent greco at friendlier price.
A Piedmontese grape, once fairly widely planted, which has become a rarity. It went out of fashion perhaps because its wines are very pale red often with an orange tinge like a big rosato. In good hands it offers an enchanting and original bouquet of fresh flowers and spice and clean, palate given definition by natural acidity and tannin. It is an acquired taste but bottles from Pio Cesare, Cavallotto and Santa Caterina prove it is a taste worth acquiring.
Grillo is a modern success story largely due to advances in winemaking. Historically it had been a medium-bodied neutral wine with a tendency to oxidise, so suitable for Marsala. Reductive vinification and intelligent use of yeasts have turned it into the most reliable and rewarding of Sicily's widely planted white varieties. It gives lemony medium-bodied herbal white wine that is both friendly and adaptable.
A rarity from Calabria with delightful multi-faceted bouquet and naturally sweet fruit with hints of nuts and spice. Santa Venere's organically grown Vescovado guardavalle is a joy and possibly unique.
Lacrima di morro d'alba
A dark-coloured red with an intense aroma of roses, lavender and cinnamon that is quite a shock to anyone who has never tried it. Very much like a black muscat, this highly scented variety will bring mixed reactions. There is limited production, chiefly in the Marche.
Lagrein is a dark, deep-coloured red from Alto Adige and Trento where it is highly prized. Firm tannins mean that it works best in warm years when the fruit fully ripens. It responds well to barrel-ageing and will develop well up to a decade. Careful winemaking with shorter maceration and cooler fermentation brings out the fruit and softens the tannin making successful bottles for earlier drinking. Hofstätter make an example of this style and also the serious Lagrein Dunkel Steinraffler for ageing.
Lambrusco's great commercial success and mixed reputation was founded on sweet, fizzy soda-pop bottles popular in the USA in the seventies, but this was not the wine that locals in Bologna and roundabout drank to cut through and balance their rich food. There are several different varieties of lambrusco. Lambrusco Di Sorbara is the most widely planted and lightest. Lambrusco Grasparossa produces bigger, creamier, black cherry flavoured reds with deeper colour. Lambrusco Salamino is a fragrant grape falling somewhere between the two. We love Rinaldini's rosato which is made mostly from Salamino. Their excellent Vecchio Moro red is mostly a blend of Grasparossa and Salamino.
A delightful Calabrian curiosity seldom seen as a monovarietal, but Giuseppe Scala at Santa Venere makes an organically cultivated one with generous red berry aromas, slightly sweet scented flavour and herbal aftertaste.
A grape variety, which has been recorded for centuries, but which is mostly confined to Trentino and Lombardy. Da Ponte, Mozart's librettist, famously made Don Giovanni say it was excellent, so its wine must have been well known two centuries ago. Marzemino is generally medium to light weight with a delicately fragrant herby raspberry scented bouquet and fresh flavour, with a slight touch of bitterness appreciated in Italy.
Abruzzo is the chief source of montepulciano, the grape, though it is widely grown in the Marche, Molise, Umbria and Puglia too. It has nothing to do with the Tuscan hilltop town of Montepulciano, whose Vino Nobile is made from sangiovese. Montepulciano, the grape, needs an extended growing season to ripen properly. Well made it offers bags of rich, ripe full-flavoured, if unsubtle, fruit, often at a most attractive price. When we recently tasted together the last four vintages of The Society's Montepulciano, they all were vibrantly fruity and fresh, but in general it does not change or improve greatly with ageing and the tendency of some producers to age their wine in oak to add value does not improve them, but simply blurs the fruit. Rocco Pasetti's Contesa Montepulciano is exemplary with real fragrance and the vibrantly fruity Society wine is one of the best-value Italian reds today.
A huge family of scented 'grapy' wines are made from moscato. The natural sweetness of the grape is brilliantly preserved in good Moscato d'Asti at only 5.5% alc. Elio Perrone's Piedmontese version cannot be bettered for fragrance and lightness of touch. Just the wine for birthday cake or fresh fruit at the end of a meal. If coarsely made or over extracted moscato becomes bitter at the end which residual sweetness cannot mask, and dry versions slightly miss the point, which is to capture the gorgeous scented fruit of the grape fresh from the vine.
This native Piedmontese white with its distinct personality was once confined to vineyards round Novello. That is still its main home. It has an original minty balsamic bouquet and salty freshness on the palate well worth discovering.
Italy's greatest red wine grape bases its reputation on the great vineyards and wines of Barolo and Barbaresco, though other areas in Piedmont, such as Gattinara, Ghemme , Lessona, Sassella etc have earned their individual claims to fame for their distinctive wines. Barolo and Barbaresco invite comparison with Côte d'Or Burgundy because of the sheer variety of complex and fascinating wines they produce from different sites and abundance of individual grower producers. Barolo's best wines three decades ago often came from skilled producers who blended lots from different sites to make a harmonious whole, but as in Burgundy most younger growers now like to show the difference between their different plots of vines, and warmer weather has helped them with an unprecedented run of good vintages. Nebbiolo like pinot noir should not be deep coloured and when young its tannin and acidity can dominate the fruit and the texture and palate is certainly quite different from pinot noir. Ageing in barrel and bottle allows nebbiolo to unveil its palate of flavours; the bouquet can be evocative of roses, red fruits, even tar and many more ethereal scents besides. Each of the prime sites and growers brings another nuance to the cornucopia of bouquets and flavours, which is why The Society lists so many wines made from nebbiolo. Too many to describe here.
The mainstay of Puglia's reds grown in the Salento peninsula in Italy's heel, negroamaro makes a range of wines from inexpensive and uncomplicated to rich and full-bodied including some of Italy's most flavoursome rosatos, which go so well with the local seafood and vegetables. Vallone's Brindisi is a good example of the grape's generous strawberry scented warm-flavoured character at modest price. Their Graticciaia, made from healthy ripe grapes partly dried on reed mats in the sun to intensify their flavour, before ageing in large barrel shows it off at its splendid, rich-flavoured best.
Nerello Cappuccio and Nerello Mascalese
These are the two complementary varieties that make Etna's increasingly fine red wines. Complementary because mascalese has lighter colour and more finesse and cappuccio is deeper coloured but is low in tannin. Increasingly fine as more good sites round Etna's slopes on south east and northern exposures and at different elevations are identified and winemaking skills improve the possibilities for great wines. Etna has seen a huge increase in growers and production. 20 years ago there were only three growers in the Consorzio, 10 years ago only six. Now there are over 50 out of a potential 150 different growers. At its best Etna reds have lovely bouquet evocative of wild red berries and spice and harmonious silky flavour and texture reminiscent of Burgundy. Benanti was the grower whose wines first drew outside attention to Etna. Today Nicosia with very important holdings is steadily increasing its quality and Sicilian outsiders like Planeta and Tasca Almerita are making exciting Etna wines too.
A Sicilian red which retains fresh attack and bouquet in the Sicilian sun, this has a distinctive aroma evoking cranberries, plums or mulberries and sun-baked earth. Grapes need to ripen fully so expect 14% alc plus, but it can be youthful and fresh tasting or barrel aged and richer, more savoury and spicy and well able to stand up to strongly flavoured dishes involving chilli or even anchovies. It has been often blended for the international market with merlot and particularly syrah but is much more interesting on its own.
Pecorino from Abruzzo has been a 21st century success with a growing reputation over the last 25 years. Over that period we have been buying pecorino from Rocco Pasetti at Contesa who was one of the first pioneers to recognise the grape's quality and who demonstrated how well it lasted to us with a vertical tasting of 10 vintages. The bouquet is evocative of herbs and minerals as much as flowers and citrus and the palate has excellent fruit acidity and intensity to give the wine vitality. It is a great match for crab and langoustines.
More correctly pelaverga piccolo is a relative rarity from Piedmont and in particular the town of Verduno, where GB Burlotto and Castello Di Verduno make lovely examples. It has a striking bouquet of red berry and spice with a touch of white pepper. This is a red you can drink cool with fish.
Called primitivo in Italy because it ripens early this is genetically the same as California zinfandel though the grape originally came from Croatia under the unmemorable name of tribidrag. Its Italian home is Manduria in the Salento peninsula of Puglia. Primitivo specialist, Gregory Perrucci of Racemi shows it flourishes on red soil, blue soil, and sand with differing results. Primitivo has a distinctive blackberry aroma and sweet fruit flavour and easily attains high degrees, which is why, historically, it has been used as a blending wine for thinner northern reds in the rest of Europe. The trick is to keep the fruit healthy and fresh and the wine well balanced. The Society's Primitivo and the opulent Dunico from Racemi achieve this. Gianfranco Fino is a top producer.
Friuli Venezia Giulia's best-known red refosco red grape, refosco del pedunculo rosso, is a like-it-or-loathe-it variety. If the grapes are not properly ripe, as is too often the case, the wine tastes green, vegetal, and tannic, but it can offer aromas of dried cherries, fresh herbs, touch of almond and charm. It's just that too often it doesn't, but the Venetians like it.
This is usually disregarded as one of the lesser varieties allowed up to 15% in the Valpolicella blend. The only grower we have found who really likes it is Matilde Poggi of Le Fraghe, the outstanding Bardolino producer. She has shown that its initially green tannins soften with age adding spice and bite to the wine. She bottles it as a varietal wine and says she drinks it with fish, or light pasta and tomato dishes. We loved her 2015 vintage with its nose of wild strawberries, and shipped in 2017 it quickly sold out.
From Friuli Venezia Giulia and across the border in Slovenia and Croatia, this variety has a long history and distinctive personality, but has seldom made an impression in the UK. So we were delighted when so many members bought and enjoyed the ribolla gialla from Puiatti we put in our Bin Series and have subsequently listed under their label. It has been described has having fresh buttercup bouquet and tangerine and lemony pepper zing. It certainly is unlike any other Italian white.
Sagrantino's home is Umbria, in particular Montefalco. Because of its huge, uncompromising, tannic content, historically it was made as a sweet wine. It is not for the faint-hearted, but the tannins are smooth and mellow with age producing richly aromatic black herby fruit flavours. Montefalco Rosso in which sagrantino is blended with a majority of sangiovese makes a good introduction to the grape.
A very complex multi-faceted Tuscan grape on the up. Journalist Victoria Moore's description of it is the best I know: 'Like so many red Italian grapes, sangiovese has a tang of cherries and refreshing acidity. It can also have hints of dried herbs, tea and, as it ages, a scent of mushrooms, autumn leaves, church incense, leather, earth and dust.' In Montalcino which is much warmer than Chianti Classico, sangiovese is called brunello. Brunello di Montalcino should be pure sangiovese. On the Tuscan coast, near Scansano, it is called morellino, more evocative of damsons, cherry and leather. In Montepulciano it is called prugnolo and tends to produce chunkier firm-flavoured wines. With climate change and hotter summers, sangiovese on good sites no longer has a problem ripening and local canaiolo grapes, long considered part of a Chianti Classico blend, help to add add softness and fragrance.
Schiava was a workhorse grape of Italy's Alpine vineyards producing lots of light-bodied light-coloured low acid prettily scented wines for easy drinking. Santa Maddalena and Lago Di Caldaro were among the best. It's a style that should find a market today when people look for non-serious easy drinking reds, and perhaps it will come into fashion again.
When Gregory Perrucci found this forgotten variety in a 70-year-old vineyard near Brindisi in 1998 amongst negroamaro and malvasia nera vines, it had been planted to add colour to the blend. But when he first made it as a single-variety wine and labelled it as such he was fined. It was illegal to do so because susumaniello was not recognised in any Italian wine law. The wine was very good so he persisted using the name Sum, and now the law has recognised it and other growers, like Vallone,have taken it up using it in their excellent Castel Serranova blend with negroamaro. Vallone like Perrucci of Racemi now also bottle it as a varietal wine. Initially quite dark, rough and tannic it becomes smooth with a bit of age and its abundant ripe plum and cherry flavours emerge. Both growers control yields strictly because it can be thin if overproduced and supposedly got its name as a reference to 'loading up the donkey' with grapes. Anyway that's the story.
Teroldego is the most important red grape of Trentino where it has been cultivated for centuries.The heart of production is the Campo Rotaliano. It makes generous full wine with soft tannin and plenty of earthy fruit and excellent structure. Elisabetta Foradori has championed it for many years and the admirable Mezzacorona co-operative makes a very good riserva wine. Many producers outside Italy have recognised its potential.
Amazingly, for what is now really a niche product, this variety was once Piedmont's most widely planted grape variety along with cortese, but until recently it had all but disappeared. It is high in acid and relatively austere when young but the aromas develop considerably with age and it has been compared with a full dry German riesling. Bottles now come at quite high price, which probably explains why when we have listed timorasso few members have bought it.
This is the name by which this variety widely planted in Friuli has long been known, but the law now insists that the label says just friulano. The wines have delicate understated bouquet and rounded easy-to-like flavour, but in spite of their popularity in the region where they are made, they rather lack the extra interest to make them a big export success.
This name covers a group of wines, widely planted throughout Italy but mostly undistinguished and two of them, trebbiano di Lugana and trebbiano di Soave, are not trebbiano at all but local names for verdicchio. Trebbiano Toscano is Italy's most commonly planted white grape and found all over the world. In France it is called ugni blanc. It is highly productive and easy to grow and used in lots of blends but neutral and undistinguished on its own. Trebbiano d'Abruzzo has higher quality as has been demonstrated by the unique age-worthy bottling of the late Eduardo Valentini. Growers like Rocco Pasetti are now trying to duplicate this quality, though part of Valentini's secret was very old vines and tiny yields.
Uva Di Troia
Uva di Troia, sometimes called nero di Troia, is grown exclusively in Puglia particularly its northern half round Canosa. It is used for Castel del Monte and Cacc'e Mmitte Di Lucera. It tends to be rather firmer and less easily approachable than negroamaro grown further south, making good mid-weight wines with pleasing red fruit and just a hint of black pepper.
Verdicchio is undoubtedly one of Italy's best white grapes, and because it has been persistently underrated can offer remarkable value. It is a grape that very much reflects where it is grown but when young it usually has a very floral bouquet and crisp flinty flavour gaining weight and body with a touch of sweet almond. Excellent fruit acidity means it ages extremely well. In the Marche Verdicchio Dei Castelli Di Jesi wines are more floral and less austere than those from Verdicchio Di Matelica which have higher acidity. Late-picked versions have extra richness and body and more assertive character. The same grape makes the lively scented Lugana wines of dal Cero's Cà dei Frati, just south of Lake Garda, and as trebbiano Di Soave gives lift to garganega in some excellent Soaves, such as Coffele's Ca' Visco. Bucci is an outstanding producer and Monteschiavo fantastic value in Castelli dei Jesi. Cà dei Frati is the leading producer of Lugana. La Monacesca can make wonderful Verdicchio Di Matelica.
The name vernaccia has been used to cover a lot of different grapes, which is not surprising, since it has the same root as our 'vernacular' and simply implies something local. To most British wine drinkers it is associated with Vernaccia Di San Gimignano, the beautiful many-towered Tuscan city to the west of Chianti Classico which many have visited. The local wine, despite the lovely ambience has often been disappointing. Once rather flat and prone to oxidise, then cleaned up and whistle-clean but pretty tasteless it followed the trajectory of many Italian whites in the last century. In the last two or three decades when so many native Italian grapes have been allowed to express their individual characters to great effect, in our view samples of Vernaccia Di San Gimignano have usually continued to fall short. The plain fact is that the grape does not have much bouquet, some body but little distinction. A bit of oak ageing can help, and clever modern winemaking provide some bouquet, but most of the production is still best drunk locally while admiring the scenery.