Search “Italian grapes” on the internet and at the top of the page appears a piece on the five varieties you apparently NEED to know.
It’s a predictable list – Sangiovese, Barbera, Nebbiolo, Primitivo and Montepulciano.
A pedant might quibble that it ignores Italy’s best known white wine grapes such as Pinot Grigio, Trebbiano and Verdicchio.
But no-one would argue that the grapes produce wines that, at their best, are great to drink.
Yet the piece – and several others just below – merely scratches the surface.
For Italy grows a vast range of grapes – inevitable in a country that stretches over 700 miles from the Alps in the north to the sun-parched south.
Around 350 varieties of grapes used to make wine are recognised by the authorities, but there are hundreds more.
And that, for all of us who love wine, is a bit of a challenge… but a good one.
Which is why I was thrilled to discover the recently-launched 1485wines, based in the Leicestershire town of Market Bosworth.
You’ll find some familiar grape names on the labels of the wines they import, but also some names that are lesser known.
Company founder Peter Bridgwater is currently working with three high-quality producers – I Pastini in Puglia, Castello Monte Vibiano in Umbria and Fossa Mala in Friuli Venezia-Giulia.
He says: “All offer very different wines – different grapes but all are family wineries each using local varietals not entirely eschewing more famous grapes, but they all impose their personality on the wine.”
The former procurement director plans to expand 1485wine’s range of producers as the business develops.
His own love wine developed slowly.
“My appreciation of wine gradually evolved and in 2017 I found myself on holiday in Puglia staying a rather at a wonderful masseria in Fassono,” he explains.
“We ate lots great food, drank a lot of wonderful wine and visited a couple of wineries including the renowned Due Palme but it was the visit to the I Pastini winery that hooked me.
“An acclaimed small family-owned vineyard in the Valle d’Itria organically growing their own white grapes and producing the wine.
“The passion, enthusiasm and values of I Pastini really stuck with me as did their wine.
“Generally, we go out and buy wine perhaps from the supermarket or online.
“We like the wine or the grape or the bottle or the country or producer – whatever.
“Mostly we have no idea and maybe no interest in where the wine has come from or how it was produced.
“That’s what struck me during my visit to I Pastini. It connected the wine to its origins and as a consequence the experience meant so much more and this is what we 1485wines to be – a window to the producer.”
Over the past few weeks, I’ve taken a few glimpses through the window that Peter and has company have provided – sampling six of the wines he’s importing and which he gifted me.
These bottles from the Castello Monte Viabiano and I Pastini producers were a wonderful introduction grapes that I’d not been conscious of trying before.
All displayed great character, complexity, elegance and a sense of place.
Vibiano’s white Maria Camilla is a blend of Grechetto di Todi and Spoletino alongside the more familiar Trebbiano, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier and was beautiful to look at it the glass – pale gold like young buttercups.
There was freshness to the nose, again hinting at young flowers and leaves.
The freshness was there on the palate, too, giving way to mild citrus, white melon and peaches.
It was round and balanced and drank well with a mushroom risotto.
The I Pastini’s red Verso Sud was made wholly from Susumaniello grapes – a very rare variety.
It was deep ruby in colour, with the the scent of autumn bonfires and ripe brambles.
There were flavours of plums, a little oak and Parma violets.
Though this was a wine undoubtedly from the sun-bleached south, it partnered very nicely with a good old British dinner of lamb’s liver, mashed spuds and onions.
Vibiano’s L’Andrea was also a weighty beast – made with Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and the lesser known Sagrantino.
This is a classy wine – almost purple in colour, with a slight fringe of terracotta.
There’s pepper, sweet spices, cherry, hedgerow fruits, vanilla and structured tannins that suggest this is wine that will age well.
L’Andrea had no trouble coping with the pheasant and blackberry jus with which it was drunk.
Far daintier was I Pastini’s white Cupa, made with Biano d’Alessano.
Its purity of flavour, crispness, salinity and tones of white fruit, made it a great match for a vegetarian supper of caramelised celeriac and blood orange salad.
The same producer’s Rampone, made with Minutolo, had the green tinge of elderflower cordial but the nose revealed flint, hay, citrus and light fruits.
Its layers of lychee, melon, lemon and pear drops made it a good partner for prawns, chilli and tomato with pasta.
The more familiar grapes Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Franc featured in Vibiano’s San Giovani, but this was another red brimming with interest and character.
There was damson, sour cherry and the round richness of lamb fat, all underpinned by a little acidity that let it shine alongside a creamy Normandy-style pork stew.
Have a look at 1485wine’s website to find out more.
But be warned: the website it still very much a work in progress.
It’s worth persevering to take a step towards discovering a new world of Italian wines.
Head to www.1485wines.com/