See many more Italian tasting notes and a look at where Tuscany is now later this week.
This red just shouts Italy at the top of its voice: aromatic, fresh, with ripe cherry and brambly fruit and a delicious savouriness. Just £5.99 in the UK, it's made from 100% Barbera, one of those Italian grape varieties that excels in this unoaked style, even though some producers, especially in Piemonte, are aiming for a fuller-bodied oaked version. (The Cantina itself also produces a more expensive oaked Barbera called Autari.)
Even without the influence of oak, there's a density and delicate spiciness, resulting in an overwhelming impression of freshness and fine fruit. The tannins are there to give some structure and length but they are certainly not intrusive. It's lovely on its own but the underlying acidity and that touch of tannin means it would also be good with a wide range of lunch or supper dishes, from ham and salami to barbecued meat or vegetables (apologies to UK residents whose barbecue may well have floated away in the current floods).
The Cantina di Casteggio is a big co-op with 350 members and a massive winery in the not particularly prestigious appellation of Oltrepò Pavese (meaning 'beyond, ie south of, the River Po, in the Pavia region) in Lombardy, the biggest viticultural area in Italy. David Motion of the Winery, Maida Vale, London, their main importer in the UK, said that try as they might, they couldn't resist buying the Cantina's wines. He describes the winery itself as part run-down fascista-style and part space age. The photo shows export director Stefano Merini in front of the massive modern stainless-steel fermenting tanks.
Co-ops dominate the region and in the past there has been an emphasis on quantity rather than quality but the Cantina di Casteggio has started a 'quality project' with their best 50 growers and taking advice from Italian consultant Riccardo Cotarella.
The Cantina also produces an excellent traditional method sparkling wine from 100% Pinot Noir: the dry Postumio Spumante Brut NV has plenty of fruit aromas, some creaminess on the palate from 18 months' ageing on the lees, and an attractive combination of power and refinement. A wine-drinker's sparkling wine. At just under £10 in the UK, this is a real bargain and vies with the Barbera as my favourite wine from this producer.
Their white wines include the very good dry Cantina di Casteggio Malvasia 2006 with notes of almonds and that apricot minerality that you get in Condrieu and the finely restrained and tense Cantina di Casteggio Sauvignon Blanc 2006. Both are available from the Winery, Maida Vale, at £7.99, though you may have to wait for new stock of the Malvasia.
The Cantina di Casteggio Pinot Noir 2004 (£8.49) is less impressive but still not bad for an inexpensive Italian Pinot Noir - it has more emphasis on spice than on aromatic purity and supple tannins.