The German supermarket’s Christmas wine selection has some Italian bargains worthy of next month’s festivities, says Aoife Carrigy
When Charles de Gaulle bemoaned governing a country that boasts 246 individual varieties of cheese, he might have spared a thought for his neighbours in Italy. This long, skinny and geo-diverse country has over 500 classified wine denominations, each with their own individual rules and regulations. Besides several hundred DOCs (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) such as Valpolicella DOC, there are nearly 80 DOCGs such as Barolo DOCG.
The additional ‘G’ (for Garantita) indicates more stringent controls in what is Italy’s premium classification where a focus on quality often means lower yields and longer barrel-ageing.
Add to this over 120 IGTs (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) such as Toscana IGT, which tell us where the wine comes from but with less restrictions regarding details like permitted grape varieties, and it amounts to an awful lot of administrative governance. Oh and just to muddy the waters further, the traditional IGT is being replaced by the EU denomination IGP (P for Protetta) if at a rather leisurely pace.
Still, that makes things sound somewhat straightforward, as if there’s a direct three-tier of quality with IGT/IGP wines at the bottom. However, that greater freedom to experiment permitted by IGT status can produce highly celebrated wines, as 1990’s Super Tuscan stars proved with their use of international grape varieties alongside Tuscany’s traditional Sangiovese.
It’s no surprise that Italian wine is relatively unruly and complex to untangle. For longer than Italy was ever a country it was a collective of distinctly unique localities, operating as independent city states before the country was unified in the 19th century.
It’s worth remembering this when navigating the bewildering diversity of styles offered by the country’s 20 wine regions and their many sub-regions. Each of these reflects not only different landscapes and micro-climates but unique cultures, gastronomies, political and social histories and much more beside.
Getting your head around the above distinctions is a good start. Thanks to that extra ‘G’, you need no more than the names of Barbera d’Alba DOC and Barbera d’Asti DOCG to know that the latter is better regarded. (Asti’s soils give it the edge.)
Likewise, unlike in some wine-producing countries, terms like Riserva actually mean something. Riserva and Superiore both indicate longer ageing, the former of a special selection and the latter with a higher alcohol content than the regular DOC wines, while Classico indicates wines from the original historic region.
This month’s wine promotion at Lidl includes several Italian highlights. I’ve suggested my top picks, many of them good buys with next month’s festivities in mind, however tentative plans may be. Look out too for Supervalu’s €40-case of six bottles of the juicy, versatile Vivaldi Valpolicella Ripasso DOC 2018 from December 17.
If browsing shelves of over 120 predominately organic and biodynamic wines curated by one of Ireland’s most dynamic importers sounds like your kind of shopping, then put Wine Upstairs firmly on your radar. The new wine store sits on the mezzanine floor of Forest Avenue in Dublin 4, which is currently operating as a greengrocer. This is the second collaboration this year between WineMason and Forest Avenue, following their own-label Burgundy bottlings.
Five to try
Vignamatta Veneto IGT Italy 2019, Veneto
€12.99, 13pc, Lidl
A blend of Garganega and Trebbiano di Soave (aka Verdicchio) typical of the Soave appellation, these grapes have been sun-dried lightly to concentrate their character for a medium-dry, zingy wine with hints of basil and lime sherbet. Serve as an aperitif, with seafood, cheese or creamy curries.
Barbera d’Asti Superiore DOCG 2017, Piemonte
€9.99, 13.5pc, Lidl
A classy drop and a versatile food match, pairing well with charcuterie or pâté through to pizzas, pasta or juicy burgers thanks to refreshing acidity, subtle tannins, relatively ripe red fruits and sweet spices.
Greco di Tufo DOCG 2019, Campania
€11.99, 13pc, Lidl
From its evocative label and honeyed lemon aromas to its slightly oily texture, delicate nutty flavour and citrus blossom finish, this is a charming package from one of Campania’s top appellations that would pair well with fried fish or chicken or soft creamy cheese.
Allini Prosecco Spumante ‘Extra Dry 2019’
€15.77, 10.5pc, Lidl
Smartly presented with fresh peach aromas that are clean and precise, a lively mousse and a dry finish, this fully sparking prosecco (spumante rather than frizzante) is a versatile option to serve solo or as a cocktail base.
Duca di Sasseta Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG Riserva 2014, Tuscany
€16.99, 13.5pc, Lidl
If you’re planning ahead for a traditional Christmas dinner, this is an elegant option. Six years of ageing, at least a year of which was in oak, have softened the tannins in this Sangiovese-led blend so that they provide a finely structured backdrop to the lifted red fruits. Think ripe raspberry and cherries undercut by tangy cranberry and overlaid with fragrant sandalwood notes, with enough freshness to match turkey with cranberry sauce.