From €5.95, £7.20
The Italian wine scene is so odd. Even odder than the French one, it seems to me. As well as the great wines of Italy that truly express something uniquely allied to the vineyard that produced them, you can so easily find wines chock full of oak and winemaking technique that cost as much as Italy's finest, and as much as a keenly sought after bordeaux or burgundy. But then there are also wines like this one, which also deliciously and eloquently express where they come from and yet are selling for a song.
One of the reasons Camillo de Lellis, Riserva 2006 Biferno is so reasonably priced may be because not only is its DOC, Biferno, so obscure, but also it comes from one of Italy's most obscure wine regions, Molise, way down south on the Adriatic coast just north of Puglia. This Riserva version of Molise's only DOC to speak of is made in San Bonifacio from a blend of 70% Montepulciano, 15% Aglianico and, following old southern European tradition, 15% white grapes, Trebbiano Toscana in this case. The Montepulciano grape (considered in To whom does Montepulciano belong? by Walter Speller) can make some great-value wine when handled carefully. And I am a huge fan of the noble Aglianico grape - more readily associated with Campania just west of Molise - which has perhaps conferred a bit of nobility on this blend. It's given 18 months in large oak barrels and a further 18 months in stainless steel so that by the time it reaches the market it is nicely mature, complex and smooth.
Unlike so many wines from further south, it is not aggressively alcoholic or hot-tasting. Instead it seems both appetising and really complex – especially for the price. There's a slightly dusty edge to the rich fruit but there is lovely, fully resolved fruit on the front palate. It's so unusual to find such maturity at this price, you may wish to research Biferno in more detail. I was humbled to find that the section of wine-searcher.com on wine regions has more detail than our own Oxford Companion to Wine, available online exclusively to members of our Purple pages.
The Wine Society found that the 2004 became a huge favourite with their members, but I think this 2006 (£7.25 from The Wine Society via this link) is superior. It's available, according to wine-searcher.com, in Germany and in the UK, where other retailers include Great Western Wine (£7.20 via this link), The Butlers Wine Cellar in Brighton and Valvona & Crolla in Edinburgh.
Justdrinkgifts.co.uk will sell you a bottle in a simple wooden box for £25.50. I would advise doing your own post and packaging if you want to give someone a bottle of Biferno as a present.