Carlogmagno Fiano, Puglia IGP, Italy 2019 (£8.95, davywine.co.uk; mrwheelerwine.com) Southern Italian winemakers have always been reliable providers of gutsy red wines at lower prices than their northern peers. These are wines made from grape varieties with names – negroamaro, nero d’avola, aglianico – that are suggestive to the point of onomatopoeic of their deep-dark, sweet-sour, heady characteristics. And they have a loyal following among British Italophiles looking to bring some of the warm south to northern shores. In my experience, the Mezzogiorno’s white wines can’t count on quite the same loyalty or recognition. Is there a sense, perhaps, that we can’t quite square the sun-baked vineyards of Campania, Puglia or Sicily with the freshness that we want our white wines to provide? Possibly. Or it may be that it took a while longer for winemakers in the region to make wines in a way that fully displays their local white varieties’ strengths. Either way, the easy, open charm of fiano – the ripest of citrussy fruit, some peachy fleshiness, a ripple of sea breeziness – is very much apparent in Puglia’s great-value Carlogmagno.
La Sibilla Cruna de Lago Falanghina, Campania, Italy 2016 (£27.67, justerinis.com) Fiano is probably the most visible of the southern white varieties in the UK, with clean, respectable, if not always abundantly exciting versions being staple parts of own-label set-ups in most of the UK supermarkets for a few years now. The finest examples are generally found in Campania, where the altitude as you move inland, and the volcanic soils, provide the kind of conditions that are perfect for producing complex whites with mineral flavours (salty, even a touch smoky as they age) and the pleasing tension of acidity and stone-fruit roundness. Pietracupa Fiano d’Avellino 2018 (£22.95, thewhiskyexchange.com) has all those qualities in harmoniously balanced abundance. And it’s not just fiano. Another local variety that can thrive in the specific Campanian conditions is falanghina. Again, you’ll find the odd bright clean and perfectly OK own-label here and there, although La Sibilla Cruna de Lago takes the variety to whole other level of pristine fluency and sophistication.
Salvatore Tamburello 204N Grillo, Sicilia, Italy 2019 (£21.04, independent.wine) On Sicily, many of the white grapes were originally planted to make what was for centuries the island’s most significant wine style: marsala. But if you can still find great bottles of marsala – and if, like their fortified peers sherry and madeira the best are among some of the world’s great fine wine bargains – most of the plantings of catarratto and grillo are used in dry whites these days. For my money, grillo’s the more interesting of that pair, and it jostles with the caricante found on Mount Etna for the title of Sicily’s best white grape variety. Like fiano and falanghina, it finds its way into plenty of pleasant if somewhat innocuous own-label bottlings. But it’s also responsible for evocative wines of real character, length and complexity. Look for the wines made by Marco de Bartoli (lescaves.co.uk), an estate in Marsala now run by the sons of the eponymous talented founder. Or this rippling, citrus-grove and blossom-scented white from Salvatore Tamburello.