It's only taken us thirty two years to arrange taking customers away to visit wineries but we finally managed it!
Thanks to a healthy obsession with the Franciacorta region in Northern Italy, this was our first port of call. For those of you who have any interest in Sparkling wine, the Franciacorta region, nestled on the shores of Lake Iseo is certainly a must visit.
Situated between the more commonly known lakes of Como and Garda, the small but equally stunning Lake Iseo plays host to the beguiling wine making region of Franciacorta. Over the last few years the wine makers of this region have been gaining notoriety as producers of exceptional Sparkling wines. Made in the same method as Champagne (secondary fermentation in bottle) and produced mainly from Chardonnay and Pinot Nero, these wines can truly live up to their reputation as "The Champagne of Italy". In fact what I have discovered over the past few years is that they can sometimes offer even better value for money!
We were lucky enough to have a lunch and winery visit arranged with the family run winery of Ferghettina. We have stocked their wines for many years and I have been lucky enough to visit a few times in the past so it was nice to take our customers there to show them just how good their wines were and to convey the passion and knowledge they have.
Following an incredible seven course lunch at Due Colombe we were treated to a tour of the cellars and a tasting of the full range of still and sparkling wines, and even some library stock which is always interesting to taste. Everything they produce offers good value for money from their Brut right through to the Zero Dosage. My favourite however, is still the Milledi Blanc de Blancs, presented in a patented design "square" bottle. (The shape allows for greater contact with the lees when ageing.)
Laura and Matteo are always great hosts and it was a pleasure to once again be wowed by their wines.
Our first night in Italy was spent trawling the bar (just one open out of season) in the town of Iseo but we still managed to thoroughly enjoy ourselves. Beware of the strength of the Negroni's in Italy!
Day two consisted of a fair bit of travelling to begin with, which was more comfortable for some than others. I did say "beware the strength of the Negroni!" From Iseo we travelled south west, past Milan, to the region of Piemonte which boasts no fewer than fifty DOC(G)s. We were here to visit two ends of the spectrum in the winemaking world - the cooperative operation of Araldica and their small boutique winery Il Cascinone.
Araldica produce wine on an industrial scale but thanks to their modern attitude towards wine alongside their commitment to quality and regionality, they produce some of the best value for money wines we sell from Pinot Grigio to Prosecco. They also own a winery called Il Cascinone which is where we stayed for the night, but before that we had a cellar tour, tasting and dinner (ending with a tasting of grappa! It turns out some grappa is better than others but it is all fairly potent.)
Il Cascinone is a world away from the 'factory' sized winery of Araldica in the valley. It sits atop one of the most beautiful hills in the Monferrato area, surrounded by it's vineyards. There they produce some excellent wines that are both handcrafted but brilliant value for money. It was a nice surprise to discover a delicious Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc that both punch well above their price point.
Our final day was just a short journey to the DOCG of Gavi del Comune di Gavi. A beautiful area that was a first for myself and guests. There we visited the winery of Marchese Luca Spinola, which used to sell its grapes to other wine makers but thankfully now produces some of the best Gavi in the region produced from their finest Cortese grapes.
The Spinola family are steeped in Italian history and we were lucky enough to be shown around by Andrea Spinola himself. His passion for wine and the Gavi region itself was only matched by his love for his favourite football team, Genoa. It was in his house we were treated to a tasting of his stunning wines alongside a simple buffet of meats and cheeses. The quality of his wines were evident from the off and I am so glad we got to discover them. We even got to experiment with a bit of blending of some new stuff they were working on which is always interesting.
Marchese Luca Spinola Gavi del comune di Gavi 2015 now sits proudly on our shelves and is quickly establishing itself as one of our top quality Italian white wines.
Sadly we had to leave the gently rolling hills of Gavi and head back to Milan and reality. Hopefully it is not too long before we get to return to Italy to discover more delicious wines.