Italy’s cooperative wineries may lack the glamour of its single estates, but they offer a wealth of riches for savvy wine lovers. Simon Reilly highlights the names you need to know…
For those frequenting the trendy wine bars of east London and Paris searching for their next Instagram post of the latest small-batch, sulphur-free, wax-sealed natural wine made by a bearded winemaker in a shed in the Jura, Italian cooperatives may hold little interest. For the rest of us, there is real value and quality to be enjoyed. Italy’s cooperative movement, or cantina sociale, is as strong as in any wine-growing country in Europe. Producing more than 60% of Italy’s wines, co-ops represent a vital part of the national wine industry and, happily for the wine lover, offer myriad wines of fantastic value and quality. Yet, with so much made, as ever, it pays to pick the right producer. Physical geography has created five clear hotspots in Italy’s cooperative landscape where there is a greater emphasis on quality. In northern Italy, the Alps, the Dolomites and the occasional lake make wine production a challenge. Historically this has encouraged wine-growers in these areas to work together. As a result, the cooperatives of Piedmont, Veneto and Alto Adige are worth seeking out. Further south, beacons of quality are harder to find, until you get on a boat and sail to the islands. On both Sicily and Sardinia, the co-ops are dominant in terms of volume, but there is real quality to be found too.
Centopassi, Rocca di Pietra Longa Grillo, Sicily, 2015
100% Grillo, a grape usually used to make marsala. Floral, peachy aromas and a Chablis-like minerality, finishing with an apple-tinged saline bite. It’s remarkable what altitude can do.
Sicily and Sardinia
On Sicily, Centopassi is the star. Not only does it make excellent, high-altitude wine, but it does so with grapes grown on land once owned by the Sicilian mafia. In 1996 the Rognoni-La Torre Law (named after the outspoken anti-Mafia activist Pio La Torre) was introduced, allowing the confiscated land to be returned to its original use. An organization called Libera Terra (‘freed land’) was created to manage confiscated Mafia land across Sicily. Centopassi is the winemaking entity of Libera Terra, making a range of high-quality organic wines grown with largely indigenous grapes on high (500m-950m), rocky vineyards in the Alto Belice Corleonese region of Sicily, near Palermo.