The Greeks called the Italian peninsula Oenotria, the place of wine, by way of acknowledging its real meaning as a wine-growing, and therefore God-loving, country. And perhaps no wines have benefited more from the rise of the new and discriminating wine trade than Italy.
The peninsula has turned its back on mass production and reassumed its natural condition, as an assemblage of towns, villages and regions living side by side in friendly rivalry, each cherishing its local product while freely trading with the world. An Italian version of the appellation contrôlée system is strictly applied – making due allowance for the difference between “strictly” and “strettamente”. And it is now possible to appreciate the most extraordinary feature of Italian wine-making, which is that grape varietals change from village to village, as apple varieties used to change from village to village in England and plums from village to village in Moravia. The Denominazione di origine controllata laws have taken this into account, so that we are now granted the experience of a wine-making region in which the grape varies with the soil, and both with the saint that intercedes for them.
The Morellino di Scansano, native to the village of Scansano, is a Tuscan favourite, rivalling the many sub-varieties of Sangiovese in producing full-bodied, fruity wines that burst in the mouth like liquor-filled chocolates. The version from Moris Farms is a warm, rounded, food-hungry potion, which was a perfect accompaniment to a joint of roast beef that, even by English standards, was seriously tough.
The wine lubricated our masticating jaws and assuaged some of the cramps with which we finally accomplished our dinner. There was something about the Morellino’s honest warmth and good humour that made us look kindly on our butcher, to whose self-interest, as Adam Smith so wisely says, our dinner was owed.
The Chianti is a more aristocratic and well-mannered kind of drink – not austere, but meticulously correct in its upturned nose, its easygoing way of relaxing on the palate, and the courteous bows with which it exited into the tube. It, too, is a food-demanding wine. We hit on sausages and flageolet beans by way of complementing its cherry-red, leaf-edged flavours.
Italian whites are always more dicey than the reds: excellent and refreshing beneath Tuscan suns or by the rotting sewers of Venice, but somehow troubled and murky on a winter’s evening in Wiltshire. The two on offer escape that judgement, and the Gavi, made from the Cortese grape of Piedmont, is a firm, sharp, exquisite wine, which – like the reds – is at its best when the jaws are also chomping. We drank it with industrial salmon, proceeding to an industrial Cheddar cheese. Its clear, crisp flavours cleaned the palate with every swig, and made those products of global entropy into plausible imitations of food.