I was intrigued by the announcement last month that London's first specialist Italian wine merchant had just opened, with the biggest selection of Italian wines in the country. I could hardly believe it was London's first. Then I realised that even independents with great Italian selections like Lea & Sandeman and Philglas & Swiggot by no means focus exclusively on Italy.
This is excellent news for those of us whose first thought in reaching for the wine rack before dinner is often, "Have I got a deliciously drinkable Italian white or red in there alongside all the heftily-oaked, alcoholic wines I feel tired just thinking about?". So along I scooted to Vini Italiani which sits on the site of an old Starbucks (hooray!) in South Kensington's Old Brompton Road.
Vini Italiani (vini-italiani.co.uk; 020-7225 2283) is the brainchild of a small group of Italian friends, among them Bruno Cernecca, Matteo Berlucchi and Diuska Luppi, linked by a common cause: a devotion to Italian wines and a realisation that there was a gap in the market. With the assistance of the highly experienced Italian sommelier, Luciana Girotto, they have put together a list running to more than 500 wines from all of Italy's 20 wine regions at prices from £10-£1,000.
Informing me that pinot grigio was not one of their bestsellers, two friendly and knowledgeable members of staff, Simone Semprini and Saba Ranzato, showed me the backlit wines standing on shelves of polished concrete. We headed downstairs following a geographical route to the wines of the south.
Alongside the classics such as Tignanello, Sassicaia, Gaja, Fontodi, Planeta and Giacomo Conterno, there are wines from obscure regions such as Liguria and Molise made from even more obscure grape varieties. Luciana handed me a varied assortment from the two eight-bottle dispensing machines: a Ligurian vermentino, a nosiola from Trentino, a vitovska from Friuli, a gattinara from Piemonte, a tintilia from Molise and a deliciously spicy 2010 Zibibbo Pietranera, £25, from Marco de Bartoli in Sicily.
My senses still reeling, I settled down to more familiar territory in the 2007 Franciacorta Brut Rosé, Fratelli Berlucchi, £29, from one of the owners, Matteo Berlucchi's own estate. Pale pink, with refreshingly crunchy cranberry fruit, this is a deliciously dry champagne-method fizz.
By the time I'd finished with an intense, modern, liquorice- and mint-scented 2005 Seghesio Barolo, Monforte, £31.50, I was starting to feel the amore.