The Italian wine regions setting London alight

Jacob Kenedy of Bocca di Lupo

Italian wines are flying at Flint – 2017 sales were up by 65% on 2016. But while most in the trade welcome this softer approach in Piedmont, Jacob Kenedy, executive chef and co-owner of Bocca di Lupo, believes Barolo is suffering from an identity crisis fuelled by consumer demand for lighter reds. “People are demanding wines that are ready to drink after a short time in bottle, but that’s not really what Barolo is about, so I’m seeking out older expressions.

It would be good if producers start holding back more stock and releasing the wines when they’re ready to drink, but you need the capital to do it,” he admits. Across town at Ristorante Frescobaldi in Mayfair, Tuscan wines are leading the charge. Of its 200-bin list, 90% of the wines hail from the Frescobaldi portfolio, which includes Super Tuscan Ornellaia and 100% Merlot, Masseto from Bolgheri – “the jewels in our crown”, according to head sommelier Fabrizio de Fenzo.

The 2012 vintage of Ornellaia is currently selling well at £75 a glass, and de Fenzo believes the 2001 vintage of Masseto is “better than 2001 Petrus”. Due to its growing popularity as a tourist destination, Puglia – the heel of Italy’s boot, famed for its charming conical-roofed dry stone huts (known as ‘trulli’) – the southern Italian region has emerged as a rising star in the London on-trade.

Trulli madly deeply: Brits are heading to Puglia in their droves

“Puglia is enjoying the ‘Tuscan’ effect, as a lot of Brits are buying holiday homes there. Antinori is leading the way on the fine wine front with its Tomaresca estate and is helping the region to be taken seriously as a quality wine producer,” says Kenedy of Bocca di Lupo. Diners are similarly thirsty for Puglia at Luca.

“We get a lot of requests for wines from Puglia. It’s a beautiful region and a popular travel destination, plus Primitivo and Negroamaro are affordable, so it’s winning on all fronts,” says Abruzzo-born head sommelier Stefano d’Andrea.

But as popular as Puglia might be, the region stealing hearts (and headlines) at the moment is Etna in Sicily, which is charming sommeliers and diners in equal measure with its smoky, saline whites and mineral reds.

“I went to Etna last summer and there is so much potential for both its whites and reds in the UK. The region is full of old abandoned vineyards that could be revived,” says d’Andrea. For Decoux of The River Café, Etna is the region that “everyone is talking

about”. “We’re seeing incredible demand for Etna wines, and the quality over the past decade has improved dramatically. The reds have a flintiness due to the volcanic soils that is hard to find anywhere else in Italy,” he says. The region to have emerged as the sommeliers’ darling, however, is Friuli on the Slovenian border in northeast Italy. “Whenever a guest is open to suggestions I direct them to the wines of Friuli, which are outstanding.

Whites like Vitovska have great minerality, and Josko Gravner’s orange wines are really exciting,” enthuses Decoux. Kenedy of Bocca di Lupo is equally smitten. “I’m in awe of the reds and whites from Friuli. Light reds like Refosco and Schioppettino (meaning ‘gunshot’) are doing really well for us as we’re getting behind them in a big way, and they pair well with a lot of our dishes. I’ve been championing Friuli for a long time and our customers are starting to get to grips with the native grapes from there,” he says.

Opinions are divided in the trade as to which Italian region will be the next to steal the limelight Etna is basking in. Frequently mentioned as a place to watch is Campania in Southern Italy, whose native whites Fiano and Greco di Tufo, and red Aglianico are poised for a spike in popularity. Fabrizo de Fenzo of Ristorante Frescobaldi goes as far as to say that Aglianico is “the new super wine from the south”. Encouragingly, consumer knowledge of Italian wines is on the rise, and most diners have at least a basic knowledge of the key regions on Italy’s boot.

“Things have improved so much over the past decade as there are a lot more opportunities to discover Italian wines in the UK now. So many of our customers tell us about a magical wine experience they had on holiday in Italy, which they’re keen to recreate back home. The romance of Italy really appeals to the Brits,” says Michael Simms, the longtime head sommelier of Sartoria on Savile Row, headed by celebrity chef Francesco Mazzei.

“Most of our diners have been to Italy at least once,” says Kenedy of Bocca di Lupo, who believes traditional-method sparkler Franciacorta is becoming better known in the UK as an Italian alternative to Champagne.

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