Italian whites are among the most food-friendly wines. And this dip into the portfolio of a family-run importer showed exactly why.
Carson & Carnevale is both a relatively new name on the wine scene and one which has been around for a long time. The company was founded five years ago when the Carnevale family (specialising in Italian food) and the Carson family (specialising in Italian wine) came together in a spectacular gastronomic union. You can only imagine the catering at the Christmas party!
The company imports wines from all over the world – in fact, it’s Californian, Spanish and, particularly, it’s Australian ranges are really interesting. But the heart of its business is Italy.
Their ethos is to find wines that are authentic and full of character, but still offer value for money – and we saw that in this tasting, with a range of wines which (with one exception) were all priced to be highly sellable.
Running from Sicily to the Alps, stopping off at most points in between, this was a fascinating snapshot of the country’s wines – and of Carson & Carnevale’s range.
Tenuta Scuotto Fiano 2019, Campania
£16.01 ex VAT, Carson & Carnevale
Campania, in the south of mainland Italy, is 50% hills, 35% mountains and only 15% plains, and the vines for Fiano di Avellino are planted on slopes ranging from 400-600m above sea level, on a mix of rocks, ash, sands and clay.
Fiano di Avellino can range in style from light to full bodied, easy-going to age-worthy, happily lasting up to 10 years in the bottle, where it moves from grassy characters to smoky iodine-like notes. A late-ripening variety, its thick skins help it to resist autumnal weather.
From an excellent vintage and one of the best areas for Fiano di Avellino it’s had, 12 months ageing on fine lees.
Our tasters found hay notes and floral aromas of blossom. Honey and ripe yellow apples, lemon and pink grapefruits, also a ‘peach and lemon rind’ character. The extended lees ageing made it quite food friendly, combining weight but also freshness.
Food matches included linguine alle vongole.
Nino Negri Ca’Brione Bianco Alpi Retiche IGT 2019
£11.37 ex VAT, Carson & Carnevale
This part of Lombardy near the Valtellina DOC is a place where winemaker are happy to play around with a bit more freedom, and locals claim this is where Nebbiolo (known as Chiavennasca) came from originally.
Both elements are visible in this wine which is a blend of international varieties – mostly (70%) Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc – plus other indigenous varieties, including Nebbiolo fermented as a white.
Rocky terraced slopes give minerality and elegance to wine, while 12 months in oak adds extra weight and texture.
Our tasters found elderflower and peaches and loved its crunchy saline freshness.
Matches suggested were pork or veal tonnato, Jerusalem artichoke, hazelnuts, iberico and black truffle.
Sartarelli Tralivio, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi DOCI, Classico Superiore 2019
£11.38 ex VAT, Carson & Carnevale
In the Marche, on the eastern side of the Appennines, Verdicchio was described by Peter McCombie MW, who was presenting the wines, as being ‘one of Italy’s greatest white grapes’. It ripens slowly and reliably and retains high levels of tartaric acid, while the best examples can improve in bottle for as long as the average white Burgundy.
There’s been a shift to modern viticulture and lower yields over the last 15 years, which is seen in the fact that in 2006 60% of the region’s wines were produced by co-operatives, but that figure had dropped to 34% by 2017.
‘For us Verdicchio is a staple textured alternative to people who have been priced out of quality white Burgundy,’ said Allegra restaurant’s Max Manning.
This winery has picked up a couple of trophies in the International Wine Challenge down the years, and this wine, from 350m high vineyards in the rolling hills of Castello di Jesi was popular.
Our tasters found hawthorn, fern, elderberry, pear, almond and citrus; textural without lots of weight. A gentle austerity rather than fruitiness made it a real food wine.
Matches included baby spinach salad with goats cheese and walnuts, and rosemary and black olive focaccia. Plus, of course, the classic fritta mista di mare.
Le Morette Benedictus Lugana DOC 2018
£14.68 ex VAT, Carson & Carnevale
Officially, Turbiana is the same variety as Verdicchio, though, this being Italy, some feel there might be differences. At the southern end of Lake Garda, it’s quite a small appellation with calcareous clay soils, with the lake creating a mild microclimate.
Le Morette was founded 60 years ago and it’s still family owned and operated. This wine is mostly made in stainless steel, though a small proportion is fermented in small oak, though the latter is sensitively handled.
A Tre Bicchiere winner from Gambero Rosso, it was nuttier and rounder than the previous wine with a little textural grip from the skins.
Our tasters found almonds, jasmine flowers and a hint of peach compote, with Gordon Ramsay’s Emanuel Pesqueira suggesting it was not unlike Pinot Gris in the richness of its mouthfeel.
‘I love that textural peach note,’ said Eden Locke Hotel’s Isobel Salamon. ‘This would be lovely with curried flavours.’ Other tasters agreed, suggesting a coconut shrimp curry.
Assuli Donna Angelica Lucido DOC Sicilia 2017
£11.51 ex VAT, Carson & Carnevale
From the western end of Sicily, this wine is made from Lucido, which used to be known as Catarrato and is related to Garganega, Soave’s variety. Grown all over Sicily, it’s the most widely planted variety on the island.
This variety is usually citrus and herbal, with a mineral aftertaste and some tasters have noted a resemblance to Viognier. This wine was deep yellow and very rich and stone-fruity.
Our tasters could see where the Viognier parallel might come from but felt it had lost more freshness than it ought to have given it was four years old – possibly a bottling issue.
Jon Carson of Carson & Carnivale said that recent examples have been popular with Michelin-starred restaurants, so it might be worth calling in a different sample bottle.
Tenuta Sant’Antonio Vecchie Vigne Soave DOC 2017
£12.19 ex VAT, Carson & Carnevale
Back up in the north-east of the country, this came from a small vineyard to the west of the town of Soave from vineyards that are mostly loam over limestone, a terroir which typically gives honey and yellow fruit plus an acidic kick from the limestone.
Founded by four brothers in 1989 the business is still family run today.
‘Soave has a bit of a bad rep with the older guests,’ said Max Manning. ‘It was so mass-produced for so long it’s taking a while to get people willing to try the newer styles.’
The younger generation, though, seem more open to it. ‘If you list any Italian whites, you should have Soave,’ said Wiltons’ Monica Bachiocchi.
From 30 year-old vines, this was still remarkably fresh with tasters finding nuts citrus, mature white stone fruit and refreshing green almond.
Matches included squid ink linguini and onion tart.
Kellerei St Pauls Sanctissimus Pinot Bianco Riserva 2016
£47.97 ex VAT, Carson & Carnevale
Surprisingly, the most expensive wine of the tasting a) came from a co-operative – albeit one which was founded in 1907, and b) was a Pinot Blanc.
From the south side of Alps this is a region that gets lots of sun, but also a chilly downdraft from the mountains, giving big diurnal temperature shifts, which help with acidity. This vineyard, planted in 1899, is one of the oldest in the Alto Adige.
The wine is fermented with skins in large amphorae, then matured in large wooden barrels. There’s no evident oak expression at all.
With flavours of toffee apple, herbs and spice, our tasters adored this wine, commenting on its balance, complexity, juicy, creamy texture and persistence.
‘It’s complex with real minerality,’ said Emanuel Pesqueira, while Spry Wines’ Arthur Ng felt it ‘drinks like a Pessac with a few years’.
‘So much texture,’ said Elly Owen from The Old Garage. ‘The finish is so good!’
Matches suggested included turbot Veronique and champagne caviar velouté, cheese, and a high quality burger in a brioche bun.
‘It’s not an everyday drink,’ said Monica Bachiocchi. ‘But I love it!’
Marchese Raggio, “Old Année” Gavi del Commune di Gavi DOCG 2015
£13.50 ex VAT, Carson & Carnevale
A staple of Italian restaurant lists for years Gavi maybe has a reputation like a more upmarket Pinot Grigio. But this wine, from a 500-year-old estate has more ambition than that.
From their best grapes, hand-harvested and softly pressed the wine has no malo (to preserve acidity), and a little batonnage to build in weight. It’s aged for three years in old oak barrels.
‘Gavi is the kind of wine where people tend to think they should have the latest vintage, but if you’ve got a bit of ambition that extra age is interesting,’ said Peter McCombie MW. ‘With time it does pick up a hint of liquorice or fennel – a bit of herbal spice.’
Our tasters found it crisp and clean with good primary flavours backed up by a singing acidity, and a slight austerity that made it perfect for food. The suggested match was crab linguini with a notch of chilli.
Drinking slightly older Italian whites made for a really interesting and unusual range of wines. As Emanuel pointed out, guests might be hesitant about this, but would be OK with it once the sommelier had ‘connected the wine to the vineyard’.
However, Valeriya Toteva from the Conrad Hilton was excited by the possibilities. ‘As a sommelier, I’m looking for something new and unusual,’ she said. ‘It’s a plus to tell a story to our guests.’