DISCOVERING a taste of Italy will take wine lovers from the snow-covered mountains in the north to the azure waters of the Mediterranean.
A nation of vines, Italy’s home to the noble sangiovese grape, famous names like soave and valpolicella, plus international favourites like chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon.
But far and away, chianti tops the leaderboard when it comes to showcasing the flavours of Italy.
Tuscany is one of the country’s most colourful regions, and the hills between Florence and Siena are home to its most celebrated red.
Chianti classico is light and fresh (released a year after the vintage), and riserva is aged for an obligatory two years.
Beyond the cherry red casual drinkers (and wicker-covered bottles of old), there are some super Tuscan wines to wow and excite. Try ES Chianti Classico Riserva 2005 (£7.98, Asda).
An elegant red made with sangiovese, it’s sweet, ripe with blackcurrants and a delicious partner with lasagne or antipasti.
Along with la dolce vita lifestyle, Italians live to eat, and all their red wines demand food. Try Piccini Winemaker’s Choice Chianti Riserva DOCG 2007 (£9.99, Morrisons). A blend of 85% sangiovese, 10% cabernet sauvignon and a smidgen of merlot, it’s a lovely full-bodied red, bursting with berries and a strong vanilla finish. Ideal with a Sunday roast if you don’t fancy pasta.
For a silky smooth drinker, try Finest Chianti Riserva 2007 (£7.79, Tesco). A glowing ruby red, it’s fruity with plenty of plummy flavours and good, slightly dry tannins. A delicious all-rounder with tomato sauce-based dishes.
Italians never need a reason to say salute! Try the stylish sangiovese, Chianti Classico DOCG, Badia a Coltibuono 2008 (£15.30, www.bbr.com). Light and easy to drink, it’s a luscious mouthful of sweet cherry with savoury notes on the finish, with mild tannins.
Along with chianti, Brunello di Montalcino is one of Tuscany’s most famous reds.
Located south of Siena, its brunello (local name for sangiovese) needs serious ageing and can’t be released until five years after the harvest (six years for riserva).
Try the very reasonable (for the style) Principesco Brunello di Montalcino 2005 (£19.99, Sainsbury’s) made from 100% sangiovese. Powerful and dark, it’s a real food wine. Rich with black cherry fruit, a streak of spice and velvety finish, it’s a classic Tuscan match with steak - and cries out for a wedge of parmesan cheese at the end of the meal.
A notch up the scale, Frescobaldi, the famous Tuscan family, produces glorious, fine wine in the hills east of Florence. The wine-maker refers to the region as the ’Continental’ part of Tuscany, and it’s easy to see why.