The bottle that launched a thousand lamp-shades

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Italy has over a million vineyards and makes over 2,000 different wines. They’re not all good. Although some wines are superb, even the Italians admit that other wines leave much to be desired.

One of the best ways to avoid badly-made or poor quality wine is to stick with reliable producers. There are too many to list here, but the respectable names you’ll find in Thailand include: Allegrini, Castello, Cesari, Coli, Farnese, Frescobaldi, Lungarotti, Ricasoli, Ruffino and Zonin.

A Chianti fiasco from the 1960s. A Chianti fiasco from the 1960s.

Most producers make a range of wines using different grape varieties, so if you find something that appeals; try others from the same company. Here are a couple of excellent wines from Coli, a distinguished Italian company based near Florence.

Coli Chianti DOCG 2009 (red), Italy (Friendship, Bt. 535)

About fifty years ago, Chianti (kee-AHN-tee) used to come in round bottles enclosed in straw baskets, called fiaschi. Every self-respecting student would have some of these, with candles stuffed into the necks. It was considered very Bohemian. Electric bulb-holders stuck into empty Chianti bottles were also considered rather chic. It was the bottle that launched a thousand lamp-shades.

This wine is a beguiling ruby red, with a lovely aroma of wild berries and herbs. It’s light and fruity, with a pleasant balance and a slightly fizzy quality that often comes with Chianti. This is caused by a process known as “il governo” which involves adding an unfermented must of dried grapes.

There’s a pleasing peppery after-taste too. This is a “food wine” too and it would be perfect with rich Italian-style meat dishes and of course, pizza and pasta. Incidentally, this wine is “basic” Chianti. If you want something with more body and character, look for more expensive wines labeled Chianti Classico or Chianti Superiore.

Coli Pinot Grigio della Prov. Di Pavia, IGT 2009 (white), Italy (Best, North Pattaya, Bt. 490)

Pinot Grigio (Pee-noh GREE-jee-oh) is usually light and fruity, easy to drink and ideal with an informal outdoor meal. The letters IGT stand for Indicazione Geografica Tipica and indicate that the grapes were grown in a specific region of Italy.

This wine is a fairly typical example of Pinot Grigio: very dry and light with a pleasing pale straw colour. It has a cutting edge of acidity that would make it an excellent partner for those Italian creamy fish or chicken dishes. Almost all Italian wines seem to be “food wines” and this is no exception. However, if “sharp” tasting wines are not to your taste, you might like to try Coli’s Orvieto, (ohr-VYAY-toh) which has a rounder flavour and somewhat less acid. Although a dry wine, the Orvieto has a sweet aroma of tropical fruits and rich pineapple.

By the way, at a restaurant recently, I noticed a waitress bringing a bottle of wine to someone’s table and offering to pour a sample. “It’s alright,” the customer interrupted airily, “I know this wine very well.”  Even more reason, I thought at the time, to check the sample. The sample of course, is to allow the customer to check that the wine has not gone off. And go off they do, believe me. Sometimes it’s just a rogue bottle. Sometimes the wine is badly made. More often, wines go off when they’ve been stored at too high a temperature. If the bottles are stored vertically, the corks sometimes dry out. So wherever you buy your wines, make sure the bottles are not stored standing up like rows of soldiers. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!