And now for new-wave Italian wines

Swig Italian tasting

At the tasting shown above, UK wine professionals were introduced to alternatives to Barolo and Brunello et al. A slightly shorter version of this article is published by the Financial Times. Robin Davis has his back to us on the left. See also Swiggable Italians.

I’ve been following the career of British wine merchant Robin Davis ever since he ran the nearest wine shop to me when I lived in Belsize Park in Hampstead, north-west London. It always seemed to be unusually full of young women, but then he was easy on the eye and very forthcoming.

His business morphed into the online retailer Swig and was notable in championing, via a series of rowdy, popular tastings, the exciting wines coming out of South Africa in the 2010s that had little to do with the established names. I was therefore intrigued by the prospect of a recent tasting of Italian wines organised by Swig in London. In his emailed invitation Davis wrote, ‘it feels like there is almost a revolution taking place. It’s what we’ve been waiting for. It’s the most important tasting we’ve done since assembling New Wave South Africa in September 2015.’

Much credit for the selection of 63 wines from 20 producers shown is due to Nelson Pari, who was once a professional rock and jazz guitarist, then a particularly literate sommelier at the wine-focused club 67 Pall Mall in London, and is now part of the Swig team. At the tasting, attended by the producers, most of them quite young, he told me that his aim is to introduce to the UK the sort of wines now being drunk in fashionable wine bars in Italy.

There was, perhaps not unexpectedly, a sizeable contingent from the two most famous Italian wine regions, Piemonte and Tuscany. The talented, relatively young oenologist Gian Luca Colombo, whom Davis, with perhaps some hyperbole, describes as a Barolo ‘neoclassicist’, showed his own rather ethereal wines and also consults for Garesio in Serralunga d’Alba. Colombo’s 2022 Langhe Nebbiolo has more class than many much more expensive Barolos, though his 2020 Barolo was the star of his range. The other Barolo producers were Crissante, and Renato Corino, represented by his son Stefano, who is making his own Barolo in a deliberately more approachable style ‘designed for a younger palate’. Crissante’s 2018 already-delightful Capalot Barolo seemed the best-value Barolo to me.

There was only one producer of Chianti Classico, Cigliano di Sopra, where Maddalena Fucile and Matteo Vaccari, graduates of the wine-growing school of Raj Parr and Sashi Moorman in southern California, are making wonderfully pure expressions of Sangiovese. Vaccari also worked at Montevertine and Fontodi so his roots are firmly Tuscan.

In Montalcino, Jessica Pellegrini is lucky enough to have 5 ha (12 acres) on the usefully north-facing hill of Montesoli at her disposal, but her wines are not inexpensive. And in Camigliano to the west, Andrea Polidoro of Cupano, a Brunello producer following founder Lionel Cousin’s techniques inspired by the late Henri Jayer of Burgundy, now adds a little Cabernet and Merlot to the Sangiovese in his great-value, non-vintage Vino Rosso made up chiefly of Brunello offcuts.

But even more exciting is Polidoro’s pet project Contrada Contro just outside the Monti Sibillini national park that straddles Marche and Umbria, where his grandfather came from. He’s busy restoring ancient, high-elevation vines there, even including some that grow up trees. His Contrada Tomassucci white is made from ungrafted Malvasia vines with some Trebbiano planted between them and tastes like no wine I have ever encountered. It is probably worth its £59 price tag. But his other offerings are fascinatingly distinctive, too.

Most of the other Tuscan producers were from less famous corners of this beautiful region. I was also blown away by Stefano Amerighi’s pair of Cornas-inspired Syrahs from Cortona, the zone up in the foothills of the Apennines north of Lake Trasimeno that has a special affinity for the northern Rhône grape. 

It was rather a surprise to come across a heavily bearded Englishman in Toby Owen, who has managed to make an underpriced Rosso No 1 2019 at his Coste del Vivo enterprise, mainly from Sangiovese grown on the western slopes of Monte Amiata in southern Tuscany. Our Italy editor Walter Speller recently highlighted another exciting enterprise in this region, Bakkanali. All the wines from this non-denominated zone are sold simply as IGT Toscana. 

This is also true of many of the wines that Elena Pozzolini, another Parr/Moorman disciple, of Sette Cieli grows in some of Bolgheri’s highest vineyards. She is not slow to point out that her vines are higher than famous Sassicaia’s highest. And, still in the Maremma, coastal Tuscany, three childhood friends are reviving the village of their grandfathers with their natural-wine project Cantina del Rospo.

The key to Italy’s new wave, as in Spain, is to look outside the obvious regions and wine types. Davis and Pari are clearly pleased to have snagged Bergianti of Modena, billed as ‘the messiah of Lambrusco’, who has turned his back on the usual, express tank method of making wine fizzy, producing a range of red, white and rosé wines with various degrees of carbon dioxide by the much more cumbersome technique of fermenting in bottle and leaving some sediment and unfermented sugar in there. He also relies on a rich mix of historic clones of vine varieties instead of just one commercial one.

Swig’s Prosecco producer Bele Casel didn’t quite manage to counter my anti-Prosecco prejudice whereas the zero-dosage Franciacorta sparkling wines of Andrea Arici of Colline della Stella, including a wine as old as 2011, were quite impressive, though no bargains. The Franciacortas of Faccoli seemed slightly more realistically priced.

I was very impressed by the delicacy of the Valpolicellas of Monte Santoccio made by Nicola Ferrari, who trained chez Quintarelli and it shows, as does the extraordinary age of some of his vines. His Amarones are a world away from commercial examples.

Like Valpolicella from the Veneto, Verdicchio from the Marche on the east coast doesn’t get nearly as much praise and attention as the best examples deserve. (See Walter's five-part series and other articles devoted to this white wine.) La Staffa is recognised as a producer of some of the finest, longest-living examples of Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi although I would keep the 2021 and 2022 shown by Swig quite a few years longer. Also in the Marche, the Berluti brother and sister of La Calcinara in Conero produced possibly the best-value wines in the tasting, a Verdicchio and a really interesting rosato based on Montepulciano, the red-wine grape of Marche.

Villa Papiano, the one Romagna producer in the tasting, offered a couple of especially lively reds based on old Sangiovese vines aged in concrete rather than oak, with thoroughly contemporary results, as well as an extraordinary oak-aged Sauvignon made from 50 year-old vines – a blind taster’s nightmare.

There wasn’t quite the delighted energy – and extraordinary array of grape varieties – at this tasting as there had been at Viñateros, the vaguely similar collection of new-wave Spanish wines about which I wrote recently. But then the Swig Italian collection is much smaller, and Italy has been recognised as a serious fine-wine producer for much longer than Spain.

These wines are definitely different from the Italian mainstream and none the worse for it. Though there are some pretty good wines in that mainstream, too.

New-wave Italians

Swig may be the chief source of these particular treasures in the UK but I hope they will also be available in countries other than Italy. Below are the wines I gave a high score of 17.5 or 18 out of 20. I marked six other wines, from £23.50 a bottle, GV for good value.


Contrada Contro, Contrada Tomassucci 2022 IGT Marche 13%
£59 Swig


Stefano Amerighi Syrah 2021 Cortona 14%
£42 Swig

Terrevive Bergianti Rosso Spumante NV IGT dell’Emilia 12%
£49 Swig

Crissante Alessandria, Capalot 2018 Barolo 14.5%
£56 Swig

Renato Corino, Rocche dell'Annunziata 2020 Barolo 15%
£64 Swig

Stefano Amerighi, Apice Syrah 2020 Cortona 13.5
£67 Swig

Cigliano di Sopra, Vigneto Branca 2021 Chianti Classico 14%
£75 Swig

Sette Cieli, Scipio 2019 IGT Toscana
£76 Swig

Access to the tasting notes, scores and suggested drinking dates in Swiggable Italians is included in membership of For international stockists, see See also Swig's Italian gems based on a tasting in 2008.