Six Italian wines from the Co-op (and one Trophy winner!)

The Co-operative Truly Irresistible Fiano 2014

THE Co-op white wine Truly Irresistible Fiano 2014 has picked up the Great Value White under £7 trophy from the International Wine Challenge.  I spent an afternoon with the man who brought the wine to the shelves,  the Co-op’s Italian wines buyer,  Ben Cahill.

First, I asked Ben what he would say to people who don’t buy Italian wines.

He said: “Italy is not renowned for its wines – people think cheap gluggable whites or chianti – but the quality has improved immeasurably. There’s been a renaissance; over the last 30 years Italy has enjoyed an absolute revolution.”

He said: “Now’s the time to try Italian wines if you haven’t already. If I had less than a tenner to spend on a bottle and I wanted something exciting then Italy is the first country I’d make a beeline for.

“The majority of reds  are  food friendly and the quality of whites has gone through the roof.”

Ben Cahill Co-op wine buyer
Ben Cahill

Italian wines: Here’s three whites and three reds from the Co-op’s range

The Co-operative Orvieto Classico (£5.49) This is definitely an alternative to pinot grigio as it’s just a bit more interesting (well, most things are). It is crisp, clean, revitalising, with more body, and  more rounded than pinot grigio, slightly  honeyed, almondy with a good balance between acidity and fruit.  If you like a PG and fancy a change, but not too much of a change, go for it.

Gavi La Luciani (£7.49)  This is very pretty and feminine, with a contrast between floral notes and stony minerality. A touch of lime lingers at the back of the mouth after you swallow, giving both an extra bite and a mouth-watering moreishness. It’s a wine to have in the fridge ready to chink chink on a sunny day.

The Co-operative Truly Irresistible Fiano (£6.99) Golden in colour, quite rich, with aromas which hopscotch between citrus, herbs, and flowers. I’d recently cooked a risotto with this (I drank some too!) and it was interesting to see how the same vintage – 2014 – had developed. It has more weight than the gavi and the orvieto, and felt  comfortable in its soul.

The Co-operative Truly Irresistible Barbera d’Asti (£6.99)  This has a fair amount of tannin and structure but wasn’t mouth drying. It had a slight smokiness, with aromas of cherries, bramble fruit, wild blackberries, dried leaves and a hint of savoury. So much going on!

Bibbiano Chianti Classico (£9.99) Ben has brought this wine exclusively to the Co-op. Bibbiano supplies top-notch restaurants and he explored further and developed a partnership which has seen a slight tweak on the blend, but with the same winemaking expertise behind it.  It is a great  example of its type for less than £10. It would be fantastic with tomato-lashed spaghetti.

Villa Annaberta Amarone della Valpolicella (£17.99) I love the story of amarone wine. Time and skill is invested in making it, hence the price tag, but it’s worth it. Grapes are dried on racks before being fermented and the result is a wine that is very rich, almost a port, with  a slightly unctuous weight in the mouth. Enjoy with cheese instead of port – or simply sit in a comfy chair in front of a fire and wallow in selfish tranquility.

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First published in the saturday extra magazine February 2016

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Take one bottle of Fiano, add rice … then stir and slurp

Cooking with wine

I WAS happily stirring rice last weekend for my version of risotto when I started thinking about wine with food. No apologies if I’ve said this before … I love wine, I love food, I love wine with food. I love cooking with wine.

It’s thanks to my favourite combo that I have a wine glass figure rather than an hourglass figure.

In my glass was The Co-operative Truly Irresistible Fiano 2014 (£6.99 until November 24) and I was daydreaming that its lovely how cooking with wine can turn a simple dish into something magical.

If you like food and wine, and don’t know where to start when matching one to the other, a good rule of thumb is to think where the wine comes from. Well, it works for Old World wines such as those from France, Spain, Italy. They’ve been produced by local people for local drinking with their local foods.

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It doesn’t take a genius then to think ah, I know, Italian red wine for pasta and pizza; a red Burgundy with French classics. I’m not a genius, and that’s how I think.

I’m not a food and wine pairing expert; I just go with the flow, follow my instinct (and read lots of books and websites!)

Back to my fiano. Its an Italian white, and the Co-op’s wine comes from Campania where vines grow under the influence of the Mediterranean.

Right I thought, I’ll slosh some wine into the pan (and my glass too) with the arborio rice and cook it out before throwing in stock.

I’d already fried onions, green pepper, garlic, and cubed pancetta in the pan, then tipped out before adding the rice. I popped a handful of frozen peas into the still-hot veg so they’d warm through.

When the rice was almost done I added chicken which had been poached separately in stock and a glass of fiano wine, and then I tumbled in raw king prawns.  The vegetables went back in the pan to warm through with a good handful of chopped parsley and basil.

The wine added a good fruity citrus bite to each mouthful; and in a glass it had floral hums, a breeze of herb and the same citrus reflections. Whether this was risotto or paella I don’t really know .. but it was fun making it up as I went along!

Cooking with wine

Taking a punt on regional food helps when you don’t know much about a wine.

Take Terreforts de Madiran 2003 (£6.50, Tesco) and Cîmes Pirenèus Madiran 2010 (currently £39 a case, which is 50% off at At the heart of most Madiran wines is the tannat grape and it is often blended with cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon.

Tannat is high in tannins and is best with a bit of aging to soften the wines. Blackberries, tobacco and spices prevailed in both of my wines, which were blends of tannat, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon.

I always say cook with a wine you’d be happy to drink and I glugged a glassful of the Terreforts into a pan with cubed and seared beef, before adding stock and veg. I popped in the oven.

It could have been French rustic .. but it was my version of rustic. The wine in the glass met its match on the plate and warmed and glowed with a nod of approval.

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Published in the saturday extra magazine November 7, 2015

Liverpool Echo – South Wales Echo – Daily Post Wales – Huddersfield Examiner – The Chronicle, Newcastle – Teesside Evening Gazette – Birmingham  Mail – Coventry Telegraph – Paisley Daily Express