Having just returned from two weeks in Southern Italy I was struck by the fact that I had had no meat meals. That combined with the 35 degree heat meant we had drunk mostly white wine with our food. Normally one does not associate Southern Italy with crisp whites but more commonly with big juicy reds.
Altitude in the south pays a crucial part in white wine production. There are parts of Sicily (on the side of Mt Etna) which harvest later than the cool Northern vineyards of Piedmont. I was particular struck by the fine Fiano, Falanghina and Greco di Tufo whites from Campania. They were beautifully clean, minerally, very taut wines that combined superbly with the huge array of fish on offer. We will be bringing a range of these in next year as I think these pure unoaked white wine styles may take hold. Think of these as an Italian version of Chablis without the hefty price tag.
Of the reds the Nero D’Avola/Frappato blends of Sicily and Aglianicos of Campania stood out for me. Again the heat and stifling humidity dictated what we drank. Time and again I was presented with a red that was so warm all the delicate aromas simply dissipated and you were left with this jammy alcoholic nose. The trick here (one I learnt in Rioja) is to ask for an ice bucket and stick the red in it. The waiter will think you are a new world barbarian (at least we did not smoke over our meals). What the cooling does is to make the wine much fresher and aromas more delicate and fruity. Sometimes people forget wine is a beverage and as such it needs to be refreshing to drink. So next time we get one of those steaming days in summer (a rarity I know) stick your red in the fridge for a short time and see how much more drinkable it is.
On the food side it is always a revelation what the Italians do with fish. Nothing is wasted and it is presented very simply. Freshness is everything. In New Zealand we don’t always make the most of our incredible bounty. For example, there is very little oily fish on offer at home. As soon as I see fresh sardines or anchovies on the menu I make a beeline for them. Lots of squid, octopus and swordfish were also prevalent. The mussels which are tiny were tasty, but not a patch on our ones. Of course they have the most flavoursome tomatoes which make a great sauce with these foods.