Top drops under $20 (and over) and wine news from Joelle Thomson

Category: Italy

Wine of the week… Top Sardinian drop under $40

2014 Montessu Isole dei Nuraghi $40 to $45

It may not sound like objective wine writing, but here goes: I love this wine.

It’s a total head turner, a delicious drink and it says far more about Italy’s earthy charms than it does about Cabernet’s usually astringent ones. And that’s why I like it so much because its earthy, spicy notes and nicely integrated background of fruit makes it far more complex, to me, than so many of the fruit bombs that dominate  red wine production right now. 

This top drop combines the heady charms of Cabernets Franc, Sauvignon and Syrah with the hedonistic ones of the big black Carignano grape. Meet Montessu – also known as Baby Sass’ – which is a quirky Sardinian red wine from a collaboration that includes the makers of the famous and unconventional Tuscan red, Sassicaia.

Montessu speaks more about Italy than it does of its makers’ unconventional blend of beautiful big red grapes. It’s a winning wine from an unlikely corner of the Earth, which is all about savouriness, earthy flavours and clean, complex aromas of spice, a note of pepper and dark, ripe fruit flavours. It’s dry, full bodied, dark in style and long on flavour. A lovely drink now – in a large glass since it begs to be decanted – and a wine that will come into its own in 4 to 5 years, possibly longer.

The stats…

Montessu is made from Carignano (60%), Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot; all 10%.

It’s made on the Isola dei Nuraghi (Sardinia) and qualifies as an IGT wine because it falls outside of any conventional Italian wine DOCGs on the island. Like Sassicaia, Montessu is made from non Italian wine grapes, using highly regarded French grapes instead. Montessu is made via a joint venture between the Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia Group, Sardinian winery Cantina di Santadi, Santadi’s President Antonello Pilloni and the Tuscan consulting oenologist Giacomo Tachis, who first thought that Sardinia and Carignano might be a match made you know where when he visited the island in the 1980s. 

In 2002, Agripunica was formed to bring together Tuscany and Sardinia and to make a red wine that celebrated both places. The first wine was called Barrua and Montessu is the second label – it’s a pretty stellar red for a so-called second wine. The grapes are fermented between 25 and 30°C with regular pump overs to facilitate the solubilisation, malolactic fermentation to provide roundness to the wine and then 12 months of maturation in used French oak barrels.


For Heaven’s sake…

Pizza and wine can be a match made you know where, so why is decent  quality wine often in short supply at many pizzerias?
“It often seems like an after thought but it doesn’t have to be because it’s easy to create a drinks list that is fun and low key without being pretentious or overly complicated,” said Daniel Dew of Regional Wines & Spirits, when he launched a new wine list he had curated at Heaven Woodfire Pizza in Wellington last Monday.

He launched the new wine list at the Cuba Street pizzeria because the venue has new owners and is having a refresh.

Dew is the go to guy at Regional Wines & Spirits for the restaurant and bar trade. He is charged with the task of creating interesting wine and beverage lists for cafes, bars and restaurants around town, as well as providing information to them.

It sounds like a fun job, but ticking the boxes of affordability, availability and appealability can be an extremely challenging one, so Dew’s role is, like most jobs, part creative solution, part pragmatic reality.  He invited me to co host last Monday’s tasting, at which we talked about taste, personal preferences and classic matches.

Pizza and wine stand outs

Fresh green flavours, refreshing high acidity and a medium body made the Soho Reserve Stella Sauvignon Blanc a sublime match with the fresh green herb flavours in the seafood marinara pizza.

Montepulciano and meat…

The 2010 Tenuta Ulisse Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is a velvety, full bodied red from central Italy, which proved popular with the regulars at Heaven last last month; it also matched beautifully with the pancetta and pepperoni pizza – the meaty flavours worked well with the crisp savoury wood fired pizza base and its slivers of savoury-sweet protein on top. I personally enjoyed this wine and the pizza it was matched to, but it also matched because of its complementary flavours.

Chardonnay with salmon and cream cheese…

The 2016 Tony Bish Fat n Sassy Chardonnay is a big, buttery, full bodied wine that matched decadently well with the salmon and cream cheese pizza – a hedonistic, richly flavoured dish. It was a case of like with like, and it worked, for those who love the creamy intensity of the dish. I found this incredibly rich and found myself opting for the vegetable pizza, preferring its savouriness with the other red wines that Dan included on the new list.

The new Heaven Woodfire Pizza wine list will launch this month:

Beach House Merlot Cabernet Franc

Soho Stella Sauvignon Blanc

Greystone Pinot Gris

Tony Bish Fat n Sassy Chardonnay

Te Tera Kiritea Pinot Noir

Tenuta Ulisse Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

Blackenbrook Pinot Rosé


 The cellar wine list is made up entirely of Italian vino and features:

Pieropan Soave Classico

Punset Barbera d’Alba

Leone di Castris Salice Salentino

Maretti Langhe Rosso

Rocca delle Macie Tenuta Sant’Alfonzo Chianti Classico

Umani Ronchi Cumaro Conero Riserva

Lamborghini Campoleone Umbria IGT

Need new wines on your list?

Contact Dan Dew at Regional Wines & Spirits, phone 027 250 0009

Looking for your weekend tipple?

Wine of the week – a top drop under $20

Tipple is one of those words I used to loathe and detest but like neon jackets, orange lampshades and platform shoes, the word ‘tipple’ is making a comeback. Call it retro, call it hipster (if you absolutely must) or call it ironic humour, but I like it.

So, without further ado, here’s my top quality, low priced wine of the week…

This is the best under $20 bottle I’ve tried in the past seven days and, better still, it’s sealed with a screw cap, which ensures freshness – important here since this wine has winged its way all the way from the Italy’s hot south west region of Puglia (‘pu-lee-a’). Enjoy.

Saluti Rosso Puglia $15.99, 12.5% ABV

Drinkable Italian wines under $15 are thin on the ground but this newcomer breaks the mould; it arrived in New Zealand this month and is made mostly from Merlot (65%) with Negroamaro (literally ‘bitter black’) providing the Italianesque je ne sais quoi of ripe black fruit, savoury spice and liquorice flavours.

It’s made by a big company in Puglia; the hot, arid, sun drenched heel of the Italian boot, and is imported here by Master of Wine Stephen Bennett; a long time Italiaphile who has opened many doors for Spanish wine in this country. Let’s hope he can do the same for Italy.

Saluti means ‘greetings’ and this one can be found at Belmondo in Lyall Bay, Wellington, hopefully soon at Moore Wilson’s, and also direct by contact Bennett & Deller, phone (09 378 9463.

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