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Italian cuisine

From the cool, Alpine climate of the Northeast, to the baking heat of the far south, Italy has a variety of climatic conditions and soil types that can support a huge diversity of agriculture. All of this lies within ideal vine-growing latitudes, with a backbone of hillside slopes that run the length of the country. Traditionally the finest wines have come from regions like Tuscany, a land of rolling hills, olive groves and cypress trees south of Florence, and Piedmont in the Northwest, land of Barolo and Barbaresco, two very serious red wines that can require decades of cellaring.

But it is in less fashionable areas of the country that a quiet, yet far-reaching revolution has taken place in the past decade or so. Wineries that once produced rather rough country reds and oxidised, flabby whites have embraced new technology with a vengeance. Now, wines are being produced from a wonderful range of indigenous grapes to make fruity, appealing reds and crisp, lemon-fresh whites.

I decided the time was right to investigate what Italy has to offer by way of "everyday" bottles that don't strain the budget, yet offer maximum drinking pleasure with the staples of Italian cuisine like pasta, pizza and rice; garlic, olives, and tomatoes. I've also included suitable wines from other areas, mostly using Italian grape varieties. Prices are quoted in Pounds Sterling and UK suppliers are given.

White wines

Matra Mountain, Pinot Grigio 1997 (Safeway, 3.79)
An Italian variety, but made in Hungary using Australian technology! The result is a fresh and appetising wine with aromas of nettles, subtle lemon fruit and almond flavours. Lovely at the price.

Verdicchio Classico die Castelli di Jesi 1997 (Tesco 3.99)
This uniquely Italian grape makes a lemon-scented wine with a fragrant, herbal nose and lots of cool melon and citrus fruit. Medium-bodied, it is beautifully fruity and really very elegant.

Sainsbury Soave Superiore (Sainsbury 3.99)
Truly a superior example to some Soaves I tried, this has a sweetly alcoholic nose that is nutty and fresh. There's lots of fine apple and pear fruit on the palate and a zippy, spicy, citrus finish that would cut through risotto or creamy pasta sauces.

Red wines

Caballo de Plata, Bonarda/Barbera 1998 (Safeway 3.49)
Argentina's take on the Italian Barbera grape. This beauty offers aromas of jammy black fruits and a palate loaded with damsons and juicy cherries. It has a soft tannic structure and good acidity. A really tasty wine that would be great with pasta dishes and tomato sauces.

Mas Collet 1997 (Majestic 5.49)
Lovely creamy nose of forest-berries, vanilla and spice. Earthy on the palate, very dense and meaty with fine tannins and a notable lemony acidity in the finish. Long, succulent, packed with berry fruit.

Planeta, La Segreta 1997 (Peckhams 6.99)
The new face of Italian wine-making, Planeta has a state-of-the-art winery in Sicily that uses all the latest technology to harness a really meaty, leathery, concentration of black fruit flavours in this wine. There is a wonderful depth of fruit and a gamy edge, with a balanced structure of acidity and tannins. This would be sensational with tapenade or other olive-based dishes.