Italian red wines to match with food

Italian wines often seem designed to drink with food, with their higher acidity and tannins. We browse some of the best bins

Best with pizza? Perhaps ‘a warm, brambly Primitivo’?
Best with pizza? Perhaps ‘a warm, brambly primitivo’. Photograph: AsiaVision/Getty Images

Before I get sucked into the giddy annual maelstrom of Christmas drinks, I want to talk a bit about Italian red wine, not least because Italy is the country I’ve missed the most during lockdown. Stupidly, I didn’t take advantage when they were in our travel corridor this autumn, turning down a trip to Bolzano to taste obscure grape varieties on the somewhat feeble basis that I could be stranded there knowing no one and not speaking Italian.

I love their wines that so effortlessly segue into food. In fact, they generally need food to taste at their best, often having a sharp acidity and tannic structure that needs the edges knocked off by a comforting slow braise or ragù.

The best known Italian red, of course, is chianti, and 2018 is an above-average vintage. Most supermarkets do a decent own-label “classico” – Morrisons’ The Best Chianti Classico (£9, 13.5%) even won a gold medal (though I’m generally a bit sceptical about those), the fruit is really appealing and it would be spot on with lasagne. Lidl’s Corte alle Mura Chianti Riserva 2015 (13%), which is made in the heavily oaked style you used to find in 1970s trattorias, is even cheaper at £5.99; I’d go for lasagne or spaghetti and meatballs with that, too.

Amarone, meanwhile, is a particularly Christmassy red, as I’ve suggested before. Made from partially dried grapes, it’s rich, alcoholic and almost porty – in fact, if you find port overly sweet, amarone would be the perfect alternative to serve with a cheeseboard. Sadly, though, it doesn’t come cheap: I recently tasted one from top producer Quintarelli that retails at £290 a bottle, so you can’t really complain about the 18 quid Tesco is charging for its version. Also don’t overlook valpolicella, which is made from the same grapes, but in a much fresher, more swiggable style that makes it perfect with a good spread of antipasti.

Southern Italy is the place to go for bargain reds. Aldi has a couple of robust examples under its Castellore label, including a warm, brambly Primitivo (13.5%, and incidentally the same grape as zinfandel) for just £4.99, which is decent enough to drink (with pizza, I suggest) and cheap enough to mull.

One region I’d be cautious about, however, is Piedmont in the north-west, and the home of barolo and barbaresco, both of which I more often than not find deeply disappointing, especially from supermarkets. The trick is to find a lesser wine made from the same grape (nebbiolo), such as the excellent example below. Seriously, snap it up.

Four Italian reds to enjoy with food

Tesco Amarone
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Tesco Finest Amarone Valpolicella 2017 £18, 15.5%. Rich and slightly sweet, but not excessively so, this is a whale of a bottle to serve with braised beef, blue cheese or even the Christmas turkey.

Castello Perduto Valpolicella 2019 12.5%
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Castello Perduto Valpolicella 2019 £6.50 Marks & Spencer (though not online), 12.5%. Same grape varieties, totally different style: if you’re a beaujolais fan, you’ll love this bright, breezy, cherryish red. Try it with Rachel Roddy’s spaghetti with prawns and tomatoes (though I’d also enjoy that with a crisp Italian white such as a pinot grigio).

Bolgheri Rosso Grattamacco 2018 Tuscany 13.5%
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Bolgheri Rosso Grattamacco 2018 £24.99 Waitrose, £27 Berry Bros & Rudd, 13.5%. A big, sexy “Super-Tuscan” to put on the Christmas table, especially if you’re having beef (or just treat yourself to a bottle with a steak).

Cantina del Nebbiolo Nebbiolo d’Alba 2018 14.5%
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Cantina del Nebbiolo Nebbiolo d’Alba 2018 £9.74 Waitrose (on promotion), 14.5%. Suave, elegant, autumnal: what barolo should be, and seldom is. Ideal with duck (or other feathered game) or mushroom risotto or ravioli.

For more by Fiona Beckett, go to matchingfoodandwine.com