This article was first published in The Irish Times on Saturday 24th September, 2022
Who would be a vine grower? As we come to the end of a tumultuous growing season in the northern hemisphere, most grapes have now been gathered in. Producers across Europe have had to deal with fires, drought, record high temperatures and flash floods. In some regions producers began picking grapes in July, unheard of in the past.
It is dangerous to come to definitive conclusions on the harvest in one region let alone an entire continent, but overall, the drought and hot weather seem to have resulted in smaller berries and lower yields. Smaller berries could mean greater concentration, but also excess alcohol, clumsy tannins and burnt flavours. While yields may be down, overall production is still expected to be greater than the frost-ravaged 2021 vintage.
We look, this week, at some Italian wines that make perfect partners for autumn food. This is the best time of year to visit Piemonte in north-western Italy. There is the nebbia fog blanketing the steep valleys, the forests are ablaze with colour, the mountain walks and, of course, there is the food and wine. Piemonte is home to some of the best autumnal fare; white truffles, porcini mushrooms, hazelnuts, and cheeses that produce rich eggy pasta, deeply satisfying stews, risotto, chocolates, and much more. I am a huge fan of Barolo and Barbaresco and other Nebbiolo as well as another local speciality, Barbera.
Last autumn, my first post-lockdown trip was to Sicily, where I spent several days on the western coast of the island. While we enjoyed beautiful autumn sunshine, the other side of the island was suffering from severe flash floods. The wines of Sicily continue to excite and can offer great value for money. Nero d’Avola is the most important and widely planted red grape. The wines vary from light and fruity to more full-bodied and powerful, depending on where the vines are grown. I feature one of each this week. The Duca di Sasseta is made from semi-dried grapes giving it extra richness and oomph.
Nero d’Avola 2021, Duca di Sasseta, Sicily
Soft, sweet, rounded plums with a touch of spice. With most red meats or rich pasta dishes.
Barbera d’Asti ‘La Stella’ 2019, Marco Bonfante
Easy-drinking juicy damsons with a touch of liquorice. Italian sausage with lentils or mushroom risotto.
From: Blackrock Cellar; Barnhill Stores; Deveney’s, Dundrum; D-Six; Higgins; Redmonds; Jus de Vine; La Touche; Nectar Wines; The Vintry
Ruversa Nero d’Avola 2016, Eloro, Organic
Very moreish light earthy blackcurrants with light tannins. With a beetroot risotto or herby pork chops.
From: Wines Direct
Langhe Nebbiolo Pian delle Mole, Giulia Negri
Beautiful fragrant aromas, delectable ripe cassis and soft tannins. Mushroom risotto, brasato or steak.
From: Pinto Wines; Redmond’s; Rua, Castlebar; Barnhill Stores; Sweeney’s; Eleven Deli; Morton’s, Galway; Blackrock Cellar