Grapevine: Kathryn McWhirter on the best on offer from Italy

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
IF vulgar Valpol, common Chianti and bland, boring Soave have deterred you from Italian wines, a taste or two from Winecellars' mail-order catalogue might win you back. You may pay somewhat more here for your Valpolicella, but what you get will be characterful and generally yummy. So first, two big, fruity Valpolicellas to convert the jaded: ***1990 Valpolicella Classico Superiore La Grola, Allegrini ( pounds 8.79) has lovely, rich, intense cherry fruit with an interesting hint of bitter almond, and *****1990 Valpolicella Classico Superiore Palazzo della Torre, Allegrini ( pounds 8.69) is darker, with intense sour cherry and damson fruit and again an attractive almondy bitterness. Drink this now, or tuck it away for two to five years.

Most stunning of the Chiantis is the magnificently fruity and delicately oaky ***** Chianti Rufina Riserva Vigna Bucerchiale, Selvapiana ( pounds 11.39); the same estate's ***1991 Chianti Rufina, Selvapiana ( pounds 5.99) is also delicious. ****1985 Chianti Rufina Riserva, Villa di Vetrice ( pounds 6.29) is elegant and delicate, with mature raisin and cedar flavours. And more affordable is the **1991 Chianti Rufina, Villa di Vetrice ( pounds 4.39) with its lovely flavours of plum, fig and almond. There are more Tuscan stars apart from Chianti. From west of Florence, Carmignano gets a blackcurranty overtone from a proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. The ****1988 Carmignano Riserva, Tenuta di Capezzana ( pounds 11.99) is particularly classy, and **1993 Barco Reale, Tenuta di Capezzana ( pounds 5.99) is very scented, soft and plummy, with just a touch of tannin. Another easy- drinking favourite is the soft, rich ***1991 Le Volte, Ornellaia ( pounds 7.99), made on a famous estate just five miles from the central Tuscan coast.

Three wines from south-west Sardinia, all made with the usually boring Carignano grape, are delicious: from the inky, intense blackberry and buttery **1991 Carignano del Sulcis, Santadi ( pounds 4.99) and the velvety, bulgingly fruity ***1990 Carignano del Sulcis Riserva Rocca Rubia ( pounds 7.95) to the ****1989 Terre Brune, Vino de Tavola, Santadi ( pounds 12.99), dark and very oaky, with tarry damson fruit, made with a third Carignano, a tenth Cabernet, plus the obscure local Bovaleddu grape. **1990 Aglianico del Vulture Le Vigne Basse ( pounds 5.39) is grown on the slopes of the extinct Vulture volcano down in the wild southern Basilicata 'instep'. It is dark, smoky-tarry and with plenty of tannin. From the stiletto heel of the Salento Peninsula comes **1990 Cappello di Prete, Rosso del Salento, Francesco Candido ( pounds 4.99), with lovely plum, savoury and almond flavours.

My favourite red wine type from north-west Italy is the super-fruity Dolcetto, and the ***1993 Dolcetto d'Alba Pian Romualdo, Mascarello ( pounds 7.69) is a delicious example, soft and bursting with fragrant raspberry fruit. ***1991 Barbera d'Alba Conca Tre Pile ( pounds 8.99), with its lovely, rich raspberry fruit and attractive new oak, is also from the north-west. Intensely strawberry-fruity ***1990 Ronco di Mompiano ( pounds 7.99) comes from the central north, and **1992 Breganze Rosso, Bartolomeo ( pounds 4.99) from near Venice, a raisiny, savoury red.

Swoon-worthy Italian whites are rare finds, but the ****1992 Lugana Vigna Brolettino, Ca' dei Frati ( pounds 8.25) certainly qualifies: big, soft and aromatic, with a subtle hint of oak and fruity greengage flavour. The **1992 Lugana Vigna I Frati ( pounds 6.79) is also lovely, honeyed, and really fruity. From Piedmont, the tangy **1993 Cortese dell'Alto Monferrato, Araldica ( pounds 4.39) is deliciously and subtly flowery-fragrant. For a good white on a budget, *1993 Pinot Grigio, Via Nova ( pounds 3.49) is soft and ripe but tangy. And **1992 Soave Classico Superiore, Pieropan ( pounds 6.55) and **1993 Frascati Superiore Sant'Antonio ( pounds 4.99) are proof that even in dull denominazione, there are wines with real flavour.

Stockists: Winecellars (shop and mail order), 153-155 Wandsworth High Street, London SW18 4JB; tel 081-871 2668. Other stockists include the Wine Society of Stevenage; Lay & Wheeler of Colchester; Eaton Elliot of Alderley Edge; Noel Young of Trumpington; Bennetts of Chipping Campden; Valvona & Crolla of Edinburgh; Harvey Nichols of London SW1; Connolly's of Birmingham; a Case of Wine of Llanwrda, Dyfed; Campbell Moore of Douglas, Isle of Man; Sandiway Wines of Sandiway, Cheshire; and Sommelier Wines of St Peter Port, Guernsey.

*****superb, ****complex and exciting, ***excellent, **very good, *good