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From Sophia Loren to Ducati, Bernado Bertolucci to Juventus, David Pike loves all things Italian. And he’s a real fan of Italian wines, as a recent visit to Melbourne reminded him.

AS winter well and truly moved into WA last week I was invited to spend a few days wine tasting in sunny Melbourne. It was a fantastic opportunity to be involved in a series of ‘Italian wine masterclasses’, with a number of visiting Italian winemakers showing their wines to a very enthusiastic audience.

Spending a number of days with these winemakers – talking about not only their wines but also the differing styles of Italian wine available, the techniques used in Italy and the restrictions on the production of their specific wines –was enlightening to say the least.

I came away with a head filled with new information; so much in fact that the knowledge taken in over the two days far surpassed that I had been able to extract from any previous reading or tastings. Such is the interest in the wines of Italy that the dinner held at the The Prince in St Kilda for 120 people had a waiting list for cancellations of 30 people.

The Italian wine scene is a topic that I will explore over the next few weeks, introducing a number of the styles and wines now available to the eager punter looking to get their hands on some dynamic and exciting wines from Europe. Wine lovers have embraced the wines from Italy, enthusiastically seeking out what are to many new wine styles, despite the fact that they have been in production since well before we ‘skips’ had even thought about planting a vine.

Western Australians are often talked about as being very parochial when it comes to their wine choices. Visiting most restaurants and cafes around WA you will find a healthy selection of local wines taking pride of place. And, more often than not, the same choices are listed, with many of the lists controlled by too few wholesale companies. Liquor stores around the State suffer from much the same problem.

Melbourne is also a very parochial State, supporting many local wines through liquor stores and restaurants. Despite this I found Melbourne to have one distinct advantage over WA – the deregulation of granting liquor licences. This seems to have given more opportunity for diversity within wine list selections and the products that are available in the smaller liquor store outlets.

While the domination of the multinational liquor chains continues to be the driver behind extremely competitive prices, deregulation in Melbourne seems to have been the catalyst for the smarter operators to be able to offer customers a point of difference. Outlets from the local bakery cafe right through to noodle houses in Chapel Street have a licence to serve alcohol, providing an opportunity for a much wider range of wines to become available.

Each week as part of my demanding training program, this wine halfback flanker would taste through more than 50 wines.

My training, or ‘tasting’ as some describe it, is usually undertaken with a number of other halfback flankers, helping me arrive at a pretty honest appraisal. Below is a list of those wines that have scored goals in the past few weeks.

Penfolds Yattana 1999 rrp $120 19/20

Arguably the best Yattana to date. Aromas still quite restrained, with a mineral flintiness, coconut essence and a touch of creamy mocha oak. The palate displays a striking acidity with some limey and explosive citrus fruits. Hints of scrumptious white peaches and nectarine that are delightful across the palate with plenty of persistence and fabulous length. Quite a stunning wine. Available through Southcorp Wines on 9376 6100

William Fevre Chablis ‘Les Clos’ Grand Cru 2000 rrp $125.00 18.25/20

This wine created a lot of discussion. Some really loved it, while others didn’t sing its praises. It is a very dynamic wine with dominating mineral aromas and a touch of nougat and lanolin. It showed plenty of complex characters. On the palate there was an explosion of sherbet acidity with lime citrus, grapefruits, white nectarines fruits and flowing hints of minerals throughout the wine. A very dry and very fine wine. Available through Negociants Australia on 9350 5544

Cullen Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2000 rrp $75.00 18.50/20

This is a lighter style when compared with the 1999, but stunning all the same. Raspberries, brambles and touches of mulberry fruits combine with a hint of chocolate elegance from oak. The palate is showing delightful fruit flavours dominated with damsons and black cherries. Tannins integrate with structured acidity; there is a degree of restraint running through this wine, yet it has complexity and persistency of finish. All class and well worth the purchase. Available through Tucker Seabrook on 9248 2150.

Rosemount Estate GSM 1995 18.75/20

I tasted this a few weeks ago from a case I purchased in 1998. It was a stunning wine then and is now, showing the rewards of cellar time. Anyone who has a few of these in their collection will not be disappointed. There are vibrant fruit aromas, with a touch of gaminess, licorice and ripe briary fruits, with plenty to look for. The palate is complex with lots of spunk, integration of tannins and acidity, and shows vibrant fruit, which is now displaying savoury notes. Still plenty of time left in this wine. Worth a look if any pops up at auction.

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