Episode 116 – Affordable Italy with Lea & Sandeman
6th July 2022
Lea & Sandeman was forced to rearrange their 2022 Italian Tasting because of the recent, infernal rail strikes. So, when L&S booked it for this Monday, I expected fewer attendees and perhaps only a handful of Italians to be able to fly over to pour their wines. But, the rooms were buzzing, and the Italian attendance underlines L&S’s importance to the growing portfolio of first-class Italian estates. I tasted every wine, and I have pulled out a ‘First Fifteen’ collection (with two ‘subs’) for you today. Each bottle is drinking, delicious and also great value, staying under £20 throughout this collection. While some mighty Tuscan and Piedmont reds, among others, were indeed impressive, many needed more time, so this list includes only reds that are spot on to drink right now!
NV Corteaura, Brut, Franciacorta, Lombardy (£20.95, reduced to £18.95 by the case)
Clean, luminous, refreshing and super-professional, this is a tremendous wine with uncommon value for money from a region where average bottles of wine seem to cost the earth!
2021 Ribolla Gialla, Azienda Agricola Visintini, Friuli Venezia Giulia (£15.95, reduced to £13.95 by the case)
The Pinot Grigio Ramato (£15.95, reduced to £13.95 by the case) has always been a sumptuous, rosé-tinged wine from Visintini, and the 2021 was on top form today. As was the toothsome 2021 Friulano (£15.50, reduced to £13.95 by the case) with a little more grit and determination than my headline wine. The 2021 Ribolla Gialla was the model of discreet fragrance and crystalline freshness, making it an unmissable wine in this line-up.
2021 Lugana, Felugan, La Feliciana, Veneto (£15.92, reduced to £14.50 by the case)
I wrote up the 2020 vintage of this wine in MoneyWeek Wine Club last November and loved the flavours and persistence on the palate. So, it is exciting to announce that this wine is ever finer than last year’s model, with more bite and attack on the finish. While I adore the Lugana from Ca’ dei Frati, it is a fiver more a bottle, so if you are after a tasty alternative, La Feliciana is the wine for you.
2021 Soave Classico, Montesei, Le Battistelle, Veneto (£16.50, reduced to £14.75 by the case)
This is another favourite of mine, and the value here is terrific. There is no messing around here – just simple pleasure delivered in delicious floral, citrus and green apple freshness. What differentiates this wine from so many others is the length and resonance of flavour. It might be an unassuming style that seemingly disappears rapidly in the glass, but it is also immensely classy and uplifting.
2021 Grechetto, Tenuta di Salviano, Umbria (£16.95, reduced to £14.95 by the case)
With electrifying greengage freshness and lovely talcy acidity, this is a thrilling Grechetto, showing that central wine regions of the country can make white wines as dramatic as those from the north. As I write these notes and add more wines to this list, it occurs to me that readers ought to mix a couple of cases because I cannot bear to pick out favourites! I can assure you that you will love touring around Italy with these wines.
2021 Verdicchio Classico Superiore dei Castelli di Jesi, Andrea Felici, Le Marche (£17.50, reduced to £15.50 by the case)
This is another benchmark example of its kind, making L&S’s (affordable) white wine collection a list to be reckoned with. This time, there is nervy freshness and pithy tang throughout the palate bringing superb minerality into the core of this delightfully pure white wine. There is enough grip here to elevate this Verdicchio into fish or seafood main course action.
2020 Gavi, Etichetta Oro, Tenuta la Marchesa, Piedmont (£17.95, reduced to £15.95 by the case)
With a lovely texture and silky feel, this is a luxurious Gavi, and this special cuvée has more depth and length than the ‘white label’ wine making it the one to seek out. Given that it is only £1.45 more expensive than its stablemate, this tells me that the ‘gold label’ wine is the only one you should go for, and you will still be spending less than any other top-flight Gavi around!
2021 Zuani, Vigne Bianco, Collio, Friuli Venezia Giulia (£20.95, reduced to £18.95 by the case)
I wrote up the 2009 vintage of this wine in 2010 in my MoneyWeek column when L&S first found this estate, and I have followed it closely ever since. Made from a mesmerising blend of Friulano, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, this vintage is up there with the very best, yet it costs a fraction of some wines from this part of the world. I prefer the unoaked Zuani, and I tend to drink them young, too, so, as promised above – this wine is ready to go now! Hauntingly perfumed, silky and then keenly dry, this is a hugely expressive wine from the top drawer.
2021 Kratos, Fiano, Luigi Maffini, Campania (£22.50, reduced to £19.95 by the case)
Just sneaking into the list by virtue of the case discount, this is one of my favourite white wines in the entire L&S wine list. I have been drinking this wine long before L&S tracked it down, yet it has never been finer nor more expressive than it is today. Elite Fiano is a wondrous style of white wine and Kratos sits right at the top of the tree.
2021 Negroamaro, Cantine de Falco, Salento, Puglia (£10.95, reduced to £9.95 by the case)
It is worth underlining that this wine costs less than a tenner, and it is an absolute superstar. Bright, spicy, plummy, silky-smooth and with no trace of over-ripeness, this is a textbook Negroamaro, and it is so much more expressive than the hefty, soulless wines one usually finds at this price. Perfect with all manner of Italian cuisine, this is your ideal ‘vino della casa’.
2021 Valpolicella, Classico, Ca’ La Bionda, Veneto (£16.50, reduced to £14.75 by the case)
I am very impressed with this joyous Valpol, and it is aromatic, seamless and mouth-watering, and these traits are exactly what I am looking for in early-drinking Valpolicella. With little tannins but lashings of acidity, the exuberant fruit is kept nicely in check, but there is no need to cook up a storm for this wine because it is generous, cherry-soaked and perfectly harmonious already.
2019 Sangiovese, Girapoggio, Bissoni, Emilia Romagna (£15.95, reduced to £14.75 by the case)
This is not a wine I would pick up off the shelves or order from a wine list. I know nothing about the estate, and my experience of Emilia Romagna wines is limited. So, when I tasted this wine and did a double-take on the price, I felt I had to seek out a Lea & Sandeman staff member to confirm my findings. This is a stellar Sangiovese with wild red and black fruit, amazing density and a heroic finish. It gives all of the Sangioveses on the L&S list a reality check with its sheer class. Do not miss out on a chance to taste this wine.
2020 Dolcetto d’Alba, Andrea Oberto, Piedmont (£16.50, reduced to £14.95 by the case)
All of Oberto’s wines looked good, but this Dolcetto, the cheapest of the lot, impressed me with its lack of pretension, juicy, black cherry fruit and amazing, velvety texture. This is a wickedly enticing Piemontese classic, and the price is a snip for this degree of fun.
2016 Caburnio, Tenuta Monteti, Tuscany (£18.50, reduced to £16.50 by the case)
Made from 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Alicante Bouschet and 20% Merlot and seeing 50% French oak, of which some is new, this is a claret-like, southern Tuscan stunner with enough age to mellow its acid and tannin and result in a thoroughly classy red wine. Smooth, honed, layered and elegant, this is a wine to follow, not least because the value is off the scale by comparison to so many over-priced Super Tuscans.
2020 Langhe Nebbiolo, Barale Fratelli, Piedmont (£20.95, reduced to £18.95 by the case)
Pure, long, classy and with a lovely bite of acidity, this is one of the most forward-drinking Nebbiolos in the collection, and many of the other wines, while lovely, were too youthful to make the grade today. While the finish is dry and firm, the tannins are perfectly matched by cherry fruit, making this a fabulous wine.