The Italian Job

POSTED ON 22/11/2014

If Gulliver were with us today, he would find few better places to observe the warring factions of the Big Enders and Little Enders than Italy. Having held out against screwcaps in favour of their beloved traditional corks, the Italians finally passed a law on 13 March this year permitting the use of any type of bottle seal for the top legal tier of DOC and DOCG wines. Here’s the catch: as long as there were no restrictions placed on specific closures by the regional consorzio.

In December 2013, members of the Consorzio of Barolo and Barbaresco battled it out to prohibit the use of screwcaps, but with no quorum in favour, nothing was passed to retain the cork as the only legitimate closure. Spurred on by the friendliest of kicks up the backside from his UK importer, Liberty Wines’ David Gleave MW, winemaker Franco Massolino responded to a tasting of a barolo under various closures (the screwcapped wine impressed most for retaining its purity and vibrancy) by releasing his first wine sealed with screwcap.

When I tasted both cork and screwcap version of the 2012 Massolino Langhe Nebbiolo, I was surprised at the difference between the two (both delicious) wines. The wine with the cork was scented, a hint of nutmeg spice in the aroma, the fruit distinctly soft, a juicy note of ripe dark cherry and enough of the nebbiolo’s hallmark texture to top and tail the wine neatly. Seemingly a shade deeper red in colour, the fragrance of the wine sealed with a screwcap was more pronounced, the fruit brighter and tighter, with more typical nebbiolo grip.

If eating out restaurant or buying a bottle for drinking now, I’d go for the wine under cork for its gentler, softer fruit. If buying a case of six or 12 for drinking over the coming year, I would plump for the screwcap version for its brighter, fresher fruit quality with greater ageing potential. The price of both is around £24.99 with screwcap stockists: Bentley’s, Wine-Man, Wright Wine, New Forest Wines, Valhalla’s Goat, Cornelius Beer & Wine; cork: Philglas & Swiggot, Noel Young Wines,, Exel Wines, Wine Bear.

Nebbiolo’s baby barolo charms chime well with autumn game and that turkey or goose on the horizon. Among other fine examples tasted recently, I enjoyed the moreish dark fruit and youthful grip of the 2013 Langhe Nebbiolo, Andrea Oberto, £14.12, Lea & Sandeman, the fragrant, bright, pure loganberry nebbiolo fruitiness and vigour of the 2012 G.D.Vajra Nebbiolo.. £16 - £18.99, The Wine Society, Laithwaites, and the perfumed, raspberryish, super-refined 2011 Bruno Giacosa Nebbiolo d'Alba Valmaggiore, £24.25 - £25.04, AG Wines., Exel Wines. On a budget, the 2011 Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Barbaresco, £10, Sainsbury's, offers a value glimpse of nebbiolo’s succulence.

Something for The WeekendSomething for The Weekend

Night In

2013 Les Jamelles Reserve Mourvèdre

From Catherine Delaunay in the South of France comes this pure mourvèdre (the grape of Bandol), whose dark berry fruit aromas and fresh, textured black fruit finishes with just the right damsony acidity for tomato-based pasta and pizza. £7.49, Co-operative.

Dinner Party

2011 Domaine Richaud Terre de Galets Côtes du Rhône

This superior Rhône blend is fragrant with scents of sloe, nutmeg and liquorice spice with a rich, spiced plum and blackberry fruit defined by finesse and savoury freshness. From £15.58, The Drink Shop, Exel Wines,

Splash Out

2009 Gilles Barge Côte Rôtie

A small addition of the white viognier grape brings extra aromatic lift to the classic tar and pepper-spicy scents of this voluptuously silky northern Rhône syrah suffused with a delightfully succulent and spicy blackberryish fruitiness. £32, Marks & Spencer Fine Wine.

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