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Italian wine history

Italian wines in the early 20th century

The general English prejudice in favour of dry wines may have had something to do with the fact that Italian wines have not had the vogue which the best of them deserve.

For Italian taste is on the whole in the direction of sweet, heavy, or crude and rather fiery wines. Chianti, the best known, from the vineyards of Tuscany, is a light, reasonably dry, and easily
digestible wine. It is often judged too hastily from rather raw, new, and fiery samples first tasted perhaps in some Soho adventure. Matured, it is a delightful wine with fine bouquet and clear character which ought to commend it.

In the early 1900's Italian wines used to have the reputation of not travelling well. But since then much has been done by introduction of more scientific methods to remedy this defect. This was particularly true of Asti Spumante, the Champagne of Piedmont. Made from muscatel grapes, and over-sweet, it was also apt to go cloudy in bottle.

Study of the methods of the Champagne has produced a drier, clearer wine which stands exporting.

From Piedmont, too, comes the Vermouth di Torino, an increasing favourite as an aperitif, a beverage (mixed with sparkling minerals it is a most satisfactory drink), and as an ingredient of the all-conquering cocktail. The ideal Italian Vermouth should be of a bright reddy-gold colour, not too sweet, aromatic, and of full vinasity in other words, a fine wine, not the mawkish syrup which occasionally masquerades as the authentic.

Marsala, the Sicilian 'Sherry,' ought to maintain its position in England, where it has always had its backers. The whisky-soda habit has tended to oust it. It used to be a great favourite of professional and city gentlemen in mid-Victorian days. It is, in general, heavier in both body and colour than Sherry, and perhaps
the less dry types are the best as well as the most characteristic. Marsala ages well, and is a generous wine. The island wines of Capri (and Ischia) the elegant dry and light Capri is called 'the Chablis of Italy' the characteristically named Lagrima Christi and the Falerno (rather richer and sweeter wines these two latter) are not without merit and reputation. Other wines favoured by Italian opinion are the red Valpolicella of the Venetian district, the white Soave of Verona, the Burgundy-like Baralo and Barbera of Piedmont, the Castelli Romani of the province of Velletri, the Montesfiascone of the province of Viterbo known also as Est though we will spare the reader the story of Bishop Fugger and his
` Est, Est, Est.'