Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot: they’re not the first Italian varieties you think of, are they? They made their name in Bordeaux, of course, but then, because they produce some very fine wines even in that marginal grape-growing climate, everyone wanted to try them in warmer spots and see if they still produced the quality. Now they’re thriving in California, Chile, Australia, China and everywhere in between.
Including, of course, Italy. The first people to plant them there (or to admit to it, anyway) were the Tuscans. Their main native variety, Sangiovese, produces quite light-coloured wines and back in the 1970s they were looking at ways to “improve” them (beef them up a bit). Unfortunately for them, Italian regulations on what can and can’t go into a specific wine are very firm, and Bordeaux varieties were not on the list.
So those producers created what became known as “super-Tuscans”, wines that didn’t fit the DOC regulations. ‘Inssieme ’ (which came second in a blind tasting of super-Tuscans including Sassicaia, Salaia, Tignanello and other well-known – and much more expensive – examples) is a blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Insieme means “together”; what better wine to celebrate St Valentine’s with?
The Bolgheri DOC was created in 1983 for white and rosé wines, and amended in 1994 to cover these super-Tuscans, to stop the farcical situation that only allowed them to be designated Vino da Tavola. Reds can be made from the Bordeaux varieties as either single varietals or blends with each other or with a maximum of 50% Syrah and/or Sangiovese.
We stock three Bolgheri wines from Casa di Terra: Maronea is an intense, toasty blend of Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc; Moreccio combines Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah in a blackcurranty-chocolatey wine of great structure; while Mosaico uses Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot in a concentrated wine packed with dark fruit and spice.
Tuscany isn’t the only place where Italians have planted these international varieties. In the Marche they have IGT status rather than DOC, but that’s just a legal nicety. Three of the wines from the award-winning Terra Argillosa (which changed its name recently from PS Winery) are made with Bordeaux varieties, either singly or in blends.
The most unusual one is their Petì Verdò (the Italian spelling of the French pronunciation). Petit Verdot is seriously marginal in Bordeaux, used in minuscule quantities in the blend to add grip (shorthand for “austere tannins”). In the warmer climate of the Marche it ripens much better and makes a very interesting spicy varietal wine, still with a good backbone of tannin but with the fruit to flesh it out.
Fatjà, a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, is intense and elegant, combining the silky fruitiness of Merlot and the leathery-spicy, coffee notes of Cabernet Sauvignon. Confusion , their flagship wine, lives up to its name: it would be really confusing in a blind tasting! It combines Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, aged for 1 year in French oak and 5 in bottle, to produce a complex, intense, beautifully-balanced wine to rival the best of Bordeaux.
So if you’re put off buying Bordeaux by its cool-climate character, why not try an Italian version? Or buy both and try them side by side to compare the styles.