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An Italian Affair

By Morgan Dunn | Sommelier, Coda


‘Oho! A sommelier, eh? What’s your favorite wine?’

I’ve had my answer ready for years.

French? Love it when I can afford it. German? Sign me up. South African, Spanish or Portugese? Yes, yes, yes.

But it’s Italy that holds my vinous soul. I adore Italian wine. Years working in an Italian restaurant and a disproportionate number of Italian mates have only pushed the obsession along (Italian friends are like that; you can never have just the five).

And when it comes to Italian grape varieties you can never have just the hundred. With shifting geographic, soil and climactic profiles from North to South and East to West, in a country only about 4% of the size of Australia, Italy has plenty of diversity, and around 350 grape varieties permitted for bottling and labelling.

Nebbiolo, nero d’avola, and nero mascalese. Vermentino and verdicchio. Sangiovese, barbera and dolcetto. Corvina, molinara and rondinella. Garganega, carricante and…well, you get the idea.

Lucky that Australian winemakers share my passion. Everyone is having a good old gander at Italian varietals to see what they can come up with. It’s great, but this admirable pursuit comes with a catch: it doesn’t always take.

I remember recently getting a hold of a couple of different bottles of local sangiovese. Boy, was I excited - the proverbial kid in a bottle shop. But ultimately my giddy excitement turned to disappointment.

The wines were fine, and I’d happily drink them. But for me they tasted like little more than dry reds.

I often liken it to menu descriptions. If I order a dish called ‘Scallop risotto with leek and saffron’, then the expectation is that I will taste leek, saffron and scallop. Likewise, if I order a glass of sangiovese, I should be able be able to identify those flavours and structural elements (blueberry, tar, firm tannin) that characterize the grape

There are great examples of Italian varietals in this country, those that put you back in the city of Alba, or the Tuscan hills, or the beaches of Sicily. I also expect, as we come to understand these grapes more and more (the soil they like, the climate, the winemaking they prefer, their favorite film, book, colour etc,), the more superb examples we’ll find.

So, where should you go looking?

If you fancy some fizz, King Valley is Prosecco’s unofficial home away from home. You can also find some good white varietals up that way, including pinot grigio and that little rascal of a grape, arneis. Mornington Peninsula is also a stop for those more textural whites like friulano and fiano.

There is a lot of great sangiovese coming out of Heathcote but don’t be surprised to find good bottles up in the Canberra district either.

As for that King of Italian reds, nebbiolo, the best examples come from the Malakoff vineyard in the Pyrenees. A lot of top producers source fruit from here and the resultant wines are consistently reminiscent (crushed rose petal, hay, black truffle, dry and dusty tannin structure) of their Piedmontese counterparts.