Natty Girls-in-Training: Week Nine of the WSET. Northern and Central Italy, delizioso

by Megan Jones

Ciao belli! And belle!

You heard me right – we’re off to Italy. Just one week in Spain? I know right, not enough. But of all the places to be going to, Italy’s not bad, ey. All the pasta, the pizza, the bearded men on Vespas… sorry. Forgot what I was talking about for a sec there.

We’re gonna start in the north and make our way down, coz that just makes sense (and that’s how the lectures are organised and I have no imagination). We’ll pick up the tail end of Italy next week, but for now…

Let’s land in Trentino Alto-Adige. Trentino Alto-Adige is split into two regions. Do you want to guess what they are? Correct. Trentino and Alto-Adige. Sometimes wine school is easy. Alto-Adige is Italy’s most northerly winegrowing area, with the vines planted on terraces along the south sides of the River (I bet you can guess this one too)… Adige. Pinot Grigio rules the roost up here, getting vinified into a dry, high acid, green fruit, citrus flavoured bomb of deliciousness. Trentino is a little further south, and grows Chardy, more Pinot Grigio, Merlot and Teroldego, which was a new grape for me this week and which I’m having a very hard time remembering. I kept calling it Tragolargo when my housemate was testing me on my flashcards. That’s right, I have flashcards, don’t even worry about it. Anyway this is Tragolargo. It’s nice, but it’s not what we’re talking about right now.

Moving on! To Friuli-Venezia Giulia, which any orange wine nerds will probably already be familiar with. As previously discussed, the WSET isn’t overly interested in natural wine or its friends – the textbook has exactly one line on this subject: ‘Friuli-Venezia Giulia is also known for orange wine.’ Thanks, textbook. That one I actually already knew. Of course the one thing I already knew won’t be on the exam. What the WSET is interested in is yet more Pinot Grigio and Merlot, which are the main varieties grown here. You’d think they’d get bored of just typing Pinot Grigio over and over again and want to change it up by talking about skin contact, but whatever.

The Veneto is Italy’s largest wine producing region, home to two of its best-known wines, Soave and Valpolicella, and also a lot of what the syllabus describes as ‘simple, fruity wines’ which is what they say when they mean ‘Tesco wine’. The Veneto is also home to Prosecco, which is what I used to get tiny little bottles of in Wetherspoons back in the day before I knew any better. Actually scratch that, I’d still murder a mini bottle of Prosecco. Or a full-size bottle. Is it really only Monday? Ugh.

Both Soave and Valpolicella have two distinct growing areas with two distinct soil types: the foothills, comprised of limestone, clay and volcanic rocks, and the plains, made up of sandy, gravelly soils. The soils in the foothills are naturally cooling, meaning they slow down grape ripening, allowing full flavour development while still maintaining acidity. The sandy soils do the opposite, aiding ripening and resulting in fruitier wines with less acid. Garganega is the grape of choice in Soave, while Corvina reigns in Valpolicella. Another new grape I learned this week. How is she going to retain all this, I hear you asking? Well, maybe she’s not. We’ll see.

Piemonte is the home of Nebbiolo, the type of wine we often sell as our Hectic Red down at dan’s. A customer recently told us that Nebbiolo isn’t actually hectic at all, which Dan snorted at. Dan doesn’t like being told what is and isn’t hectic. The two most prestigious appellations here are Barolo DOCG and Barbaresco DOCG. Barolo must be aged for a minimum of three years (jeez) and two months, while Barbaresco needs a more modest two years and two months, so both wines are released in January. Why? Apparently I don’t need to know why, because it isn’t in the textbook. I’m gonna google it, brb.

Okay I went through five pages of google results and I couldn’t work it out. Did I just do Ctrl+F for ‘January’? Maybe. Oh well. If you find out, let me know. Back to what I do know: Barolo has flavours of sour cherries, herbs and dried flowers, while Barbaresco, due to its vineyards being located at lower altitudes, ripens earlier, resulting in a wine that is fruitier and less perfumed.

Our final stop is Gavi, home to ‘Gavi di Gavi’, which is about as imaginative as all the other names in Italy (River Adige, #neverforget). Gavi di Gavi reminds me of the last time I worked in hospitality before I scooped the job at Natty Boy, working in a greasy spoon on the beach ten years ago, during my holidays from uni. When I returned after spring term in my final year it had transformed itself into a lobster restaurant, which was random. I had to re-interview for my job and learn how to use a little order-taking machine. They let me talk to customers during the day, but my unbrushed hair and general sloppy appearance meant I wasn’t allowed on the floor during the evening service, so they stuck me behind the bar (where I still collected an equal share of tips despite never speaking to anyone, heh). Gavi di Gavi was the first bottle of wine I ever opened (where it all began!) and I had to do it at the table in front of an eight-top of rich people, the restaurant being so stingy they wouldn’t let me practice on any of their cheap-o bottles. Long story long, I broke the cork in half in the bottle and they all laughed at me. Ah, memories. What does any of this have to do with wine school? Nothing. Gavi’s made from Cortese. Happy?

Let’s round off this Italian job with some recs, shall we?

Here’s a PG from Alto-Adige, from the very Italian-sounding Franz Haas, and here’s a sample from the iconic Radikon estate in Fruili-Venezia Giulia. After a Nebb? Course you are – here’s a good’un.

Catch ya next week for the other half of Italy, and if you’re lucky, more anecdotes from my former life as a lobster waitress.



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