GRAPEVINE

Italian wines of the moment
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The Independent Culture
WHEN I was a student, Chianti and Mateus ros were two of a kind - inoffensive bottles to take to parties that then had second careers as lamp bases. Chianti was less reliable wine but the wicker-covered flasks made better lamps. Nowadays, Chianti no longer comes in fiasco bottles, but the wine inside is much more consistent. Chiantis from different parts of Tuscany range from the cheap and usually cheerful Chianti normale (ordinary) to grand, serious wines from noble estates, with a whole range of qualities and prices in between.

The main clue to quality, apart from price, is the sub-region named on the label. There are seven sub-regions, then the surrounding vineyards that make plain and simple Chianti. The Chianti Classico sub-region, between Florence and Siena, is supposed to be best, but Chianti Rufina and Chianti Colli Fiorentini (the Florentine Hills) can be just as good. All three zones have to follow much stricter regulations in both vineyards and wineries, and consistently turn out richer, finer wines than the basic Chianti areas

Two of the most delicious Chianti Classico wines at the moment are the impressively dark and figgy but deliciously fruity 1990 Chianti Classico Riserva, Tenuta Fontodi (£11.89 Winecellars of London SW18, £13.75 Bennetts of Chipping Camden), a wine for drinking now or ageing for several years; and 1990 Chianti Classico Riserva, Vigneto Rancia, Felsina Berardenga (£12.75 Sandi-way Wines, £12.99 Valvona & Crolla of Edin-burgh, £14.95 Lea and Sandeman of London SW10 and W8, £13.29 Winecellars, £14.50 Harvey Nichols), a big, dark, concentrated wine with lots of oak and tannin; well worth buying now to lay down for three or four years. Vigneto Rancia is a single vineyard on the Felsina Berardenga estate, one of the best in Chianti Classico.

The wines from the Rufina zone, in higher land east of Florence, tend to be leaner and slightly higher in acidity than those of Chianti Classico. A lovely, affordable example is the concentrated 1990 Chianti Rufina Riserva, Villa di Vetrice (£4.89 Winecellars, arriving next month). Also arriving next month at Winecellars is a stunningly intense Classico-beater, 1990 Chianti Rufina Riserva, Vigna Buccerchiale, Fattoria Selvapiana (£13.99 Winecellars), a superb, complex wine to lay down for several years.

All down the south-eastern coast of Italy, the local red grape, the Montepulciano, produces wines that are not only cheap but soft, plummy, spicy and gutsy. Best value at the moment are Sainsbury's Montepulciano d'Abruzzo (£3.09), really easy drinking, soft, plummy and tobacco-spicy; and the spicier, more concentrated and slightly more tannic 1993 Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, Umani Ronchi (£3.99 Waitrose). Waitrose also has a good, gentler and slightly more mature 1992 Rosso Conero, Umani Ronchi (£4.19), also from the Montepulciano grape. Victoria Wine's 1992 Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, Umani Ronchi (£3.89) is similarly mature and gentle, and Winecellars of London SW18 has an attractively soft 1993 Monte-pulciano d'Abruzzo, Miglianico (£3.99).

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