France still dominates, but Italy is on the up – that’s the message from the fine wine world. “2020 feels like a breakthrough year for Italian wine,” says Chadwick Delaney, managing director of Justerini & Brooks. “Sales to our private clients are up 30 per cent and Piedmont is now our fourth biggest region after Burgundy, Bordeaux and Champagne.”
BI Wines & Spirits also reports a surge of interest in Italian wines, with sales up 30 per cent in 2019. “Italian wines, especially from Tuscany and Piedmont, are increasingly becoming ‘must haves’ for collectors,” says Matthew O’Connell, head of investment and director of BI.
The publication of the Liv-ex Power 100 in January marked a change in the usually French-dominated top 10, as super-Tuscan Sassicaia came seventh, putting it in the same league as wines such as Armand Rousseau, Domaine de la Romanée Conti and Cristal.
So what’s behind Italy’s change of fortune? Its exemption from President Trump’s 25 per cent tariff on European wines has almost certainly played a part. And the release of the acclaimed 2016 Barolos and 2015 Brunellos has also stoked buyers’ interest. Stylistic changes, too, have helped bring Italian wine to a new audience. “We tend to think of a classic Brunello or Barolo as a big, tannic wine that can’t be broached for a decade or more, but I think that’s changed,” says David Gleave of Italian specialists Liberty Wines. “Top winemakers are not trying to make powerful blockbuster wines any more – there’s a step back to more balance. We’re seeing wines that are more supple and silky, with complex tannins. They’re accessible but they will also age well.” He describes the 2016 single-vineyard Barolos from Massolino – set for release this September – as particularly “stunning”.
Piedmont offers many of the same attractions as Burgundy, but often at a keener price, says Delaney. “It has small production, even by Burgundy standards, you have some great young winemakers and myriad great terroirs. And you can pick up a good single cru Barolo for what is now the price of a village level wine from the Côte de Nuits.” A big hit with his customers this year, he says, has been the wines by insider favourite Luca Roagna.
And Italy has lots to offer wine fans who want to go off the beaten track, says Ella Lister, founder and CEO of online wine analyst Wine Lister: “More and more people want to discover native grapes rather than the same old international varieties, and Italy has that in spades, with more grape varieties than any other country.” She picks GD Vajra, a family- owned estate in Barolo, as one to watch. “They make incredible Nebbiolo, but they’re not giving up on traditional varieties like Barbera and Freisa. Despite the acclaim, they’ve always stayed true to their roots.”