Around 800 BCE, the Greeks landed in southern Italy and found that the inhabitants of this land were already growing grapes and drinking wine. It was very much part of their everyday life, so much so that the Greeks named this country ‘Oenotria’, the land of wines!

Wine Bowls from Pompeii, Italy

Wine has been produced in Italy for over 4,000 years. Evidence of this is found in Sicily, that isolated southernmost peninsula, Italy’s ‘boot’, where conditions are perfect for the growing and making of this favourite libation. Even back then, this region had 2,000 different grape varieties, with its diverse climate and landscape, the characteristics of grapes varied widely, even without the introduction of different wine making.

I would like to take you on a historical journey of wines, rather than an analysis of taste and smell, as the story of wines can often be just as interesting as its flavour.

As mentioned, Italy has a long tradition of winemaking, with many home to small, family-run wineries that specialise in natural wine production. Nowadays, Italy is in the top three countries with the most organic wine in the world, after Spain and France.

When we say organic, this is a certified category. In Italy, this is done through Qcertificazioni, a company under Bureau Veritas, authorised to test and certify. If a winery has this certification, drinkers can rest-assured that they are committed to responsible and quality production, using sustainable agricultural practices.

Some of Marsala’s vineyards

Let’s go back to the Sicilia Region, the first discovered wine region of Italy, and hone in on an historic winery: Caruso and Minini. This family-run winery, now four generations deep, began initially as grape farm, back in the late 1800s. It wasn’t until the mid 1900’s when Nino Caruso decided that they should be producing and bottling their own wines did they join the wine game.

Located in the hilly area east of Marsala, 400 metres above sea level, the winery focuses on traditional varieties that are suitable with the climate. Today, father Stefano and daughter Giovanna work closely inl leading this historic winery. They boast 120 hectares, ranging 200-400 metres above sea level, including 5 hectares that are farmed organically and dedicated to Giovanna Caruso’s BIO project.

I tried two organic wines from them, the first is the Naturalmente Bio Nero d’Avola DOC. Nero d’avola is grown using the organic method; the grapes are Sicily’s most important red wine variety which has some similarity to Cabernet Sauvignon, with a full body, high tannins, but very smooth on the finish; medium acidity with black fruit, black cherry, black plum, tobacco, liquorice and very interesting raw almond on the finish adds to the smoothness of the tannins at the end of the palate.

The second wine I tried from them is Naturalmente Bio Perricone IGP. Perricone is another Sicily red grape variance that is usually grown on the western side, commonly blended with other important grapes of Nero D’Avola. It is quite aromatic with perfumed Violets, Lavender, dry fine herb aromas of Rosemary and Oregano, plus a layer of intense fruity notes of sour cherry and blackberry, plums and mulberries which add an amazing freshness to the overall balance.

Now, onto another historic winery: Ricasoli. Documented as the oldest winery in Italy and the fourth oldest family business in the world, who started producing wine in 1141! They have documentation from 1584 showing some of the first images of the Chianti region, export documents from the 1600s and even influence of Baron Bettino Ricasoli, who was prime minister of Italy (twice!) and developed the original formula for the Chianti wine that became the standard for the region.

Ricasoli is found in the commune of Gaiole in the Chianti area, an historical area of the Chianti Classico. The 3,000 acre estate includes 580 acres of sustainably farmed vineyards, ranging in altitude from 245 to 457 metres above sea level. The wines are a reflection of the family’s nine hundred year dedication to quality winemaking and innovation at the Brolio estate.

Ricasoli Rocca Guicciarda 2019 Chianti Classico DOCG Riserva is made from Sangiovese 90% and Merlot 10%. The wine displays a deep ruby colour, full bodied, well-balanced high in tannin with intense fruity aromas of cherries and apricot giving it a very juicy ripe fruit flavour, as well as a strong oak influence from the 900 litre oak barrels which give it some sweet baking spices, adding texture to the wines. There is a savoury and earthy note in the wines, brought about by the magnificent soil of the Classico region of this vineyard. A wine to drink and wine for ageing!

For our last historical wine journey, I take you to Langhe, northwest Italy, in the region of Piemonte, you might know the region made famous by Barolo and Barbaresco. Well wines from Langhe are made from Nebbiolo grapes and are considered as junior versions of those two big names. The difference is in the wine making approach, as there are no regulations on minimum ageing which allows the wine to undergo a shorter ageing process. What’s more, the production regulations are also quite loose, where blending up to 15% with indigenous grapes such as Barbera and Dolcetto is acceptable.

Even though it is considered a junior wine, its story spans back to 1996 when Angelo Gaja declassified all but one of his (highly priced and sought after) Barbaresco and Barolo wines to Langhe Nebbiolo. The decision was reversed by his daughter Gaia from the 2013 vintage. As they wanted to add 5% of Barbera to manage the acidity on that vintage, to maintain the quality, instead of considering it as a junior wine they made the wine as their flagship product. Follow that a Langhe Nebbiolo from a very top producer might be higher priced than a modest Barolo or Barbaresco.

Pio Cesare Langhe DOC Nebbiolo displays a medium ruby with a hit orange on the rim. In aroma one will find a pronounced floral, cherry, strawberry, cranberry more on the riper fruit with aromas of star anise and spices provide more slightly sweet aroma. On the palate, it shows an interesting citrus from blood orange supporting a very fresh acidity to the wines. Medium body, fine tannin, long and elegant finish. Beautiful and very easy to enjoy.

“Wine is not an object of pleasure but an object of knowledge, and the pleasure depends on the knowledge”, says Roger Scruton. I hope by reading the historical side of such wines you can enjoy their flavours more. For me, opening a bottle of wine is like opening a chapter of a book, set to take me on another adventure!

Ni Nyoman Kertawidyawati

Ni Nyoman Kertawidyawati

WSET Certified Educator / Head of Hatten Education Center Check as Widya just recently launched the fun education card deck for easy and fun learning.