Let’s face it, the summer heat can sometimes get rough in Italy. From June to September, midday to 5pm, all but the most intrepid Italophiles will be forced inside to the comfort of a shady, and ideally air conditioned, room. Early evenings though can be some of the most enjoyable times to spend in il bel paese. This is the perfect season, after all, for al fresco dining, for sunset picnics and barbeques on the beach, long family dinners and parties with friends.
But what to drink on such an occasion? Today, young Italians often turn to beer or a simple spritz. Fruit juices – with seasonal producer like lemons, watermelon and plums – are also popular as a healthy hydrating alternative. This being Italy, though, wine is never too far away. Lambrusco is the go-to option in the north: dry, fizzy and a good accompaniment to grilled meats. In the south, meanwhile, white still reigns supreme with Greco di Tufo and Falanghina flying off the shelves. For those with sweeter palettes the real treat might come at the end of the meal, with a decadent dessert of peaches dipped in a light Moscato.
For all these options, though, Italy still has its surprises. One of the revelations of recent years has been the surge in popularity of ‘orange wine’. Ranging in colour from dark yellow to a brownish amber, the taste is vaguely reminiscent of rose’ but with a deeper and more sour edge. The drink has found renewed popularity in recent years among international buyers, and Italy – along with Georgia, Slovenia and Spain – has a reputation for making some of the best on the market.
[The sun goes down in the vineyards of Friuli Venezia-Giulia]
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While the north is leading the trend – Liguria and even Tuscany are rising to the challenge – the south has its own unique culture of production. Heat is usually considered detrimental to orange wine, but the grapes here are often sweeter and spicier than the Friulian varieties. In Puglia – where Grechetto and Verdeca reign supreme – the result can be surprisingly nutty and tobaccoish. Cantine Giara, one among dozens of specialist producers, have even developed a variety with an intriguing note of saffron. As ever, though, it’s Sicily that provides some of the most idiosyncratic flavours. Azienda Agricola COS in particular has obtained a reputation for quality over the years. Their wines are light, refreshing and just as importantly, capture the minerality that is so beloved of that island’s unique terroir.
Orange wines aren’t for everyone. Some find them overly acidic, which they certainly can be, particularly if the grape skins are sour. Whatever the risks though, there’s much to be gained from experimenting. Food can make all the difference. Orange wine tends to go well with cured meats, its tartiness being well suited to cut through the fattiness of a good culatello or capocollo. Another option, particularly for the southern wines, is fish, perhaps an insalata di mare or a simple bowl of mussels. The best thing is to play around, pick a grape variety that matches your tastes in white and go from there. It’s bound to be a bit hit and miss at first. Paired correctly, though, a good bottle will be guaranteed to wow even the most sceptical of drinkers.