Take Five with Enrico Fantasia of GrapeCircus: ‘Places with different traditions, different heritage – I want that in my glass’

Take Five with Enrico Fantasia of GrapeCircus: ‘Places with different traditions, different heritage – I want that in my glass’

The Italian wine importer and wine bar owner on working in Ireland – and why Sicily and Campania are the most exciting regions in Italy right now.

Enrico first met the Sheridan brothers in Italy and very soon thereafter, it was agreed that he would move to Ireland to open up a wine shop which became a wine bar over the Sheridans cheese shop in Galway. This then led to GrapeCircus his successful wine importing business in partnership with Sheridans. And the opening of Piglet in temple bar with his business partner and best friend, French man Thibaud Harang. It is safe to say Enrico is well ‘plugged in’ to the Irish Wine Scene. But right now, he is escaping Covid in Cremona in his beloved Italy.

So how are the Italian winemakers coping with covid?

Like the rest of Europe, Italy was on lock-down for three months, earlier this year with all restaurants closed and the movement between regions restricted. Those first few months of lockdown were very bleak.  “In Italy, restaurants typically bulk buy in May for the whole Summer season, with tourists staying away and Italians staying at home, restaurants were buying just 4 cases instead of the 10/20 cases they would typically buy. We saw some recovery as the season went on, as restaurants continued to re-order through the summer. Of course you have those that stay busy in the vineyard knowing that eventually they will sell all their wine but many producers are reinventing themselves now, opening online stores and selling their wine direct to consumers. This has helped as they have sold the wine at retail prices (so as not to upset the restauranteurs) but unlike restaurants, cash comes in right away rather than in 3/4 months time”.

Are the Irish big Italian wine drinkers?

We are often told how much Spanish wine we drink, but what about Italian wine? Are we big drinkers of Italian wine? It turns out not as much! “Its getting better! When I first arrived, Italian wine here was cheap but not cheerful. People wanted to know why their Chianti wasn’t in a straw-covered bottle!! But things have really moved on, especially in the last few years. The new-generation of wine drinkers are much more open-minded, before there was a feeling that if you had money you should be drinking Bordeaux or Burgundy. Today people are more interested in wine, they read a lot and are curious to try new varieties or less well known regions”.

What about Prosecco? Are we still drinking Prosecco?

“Yes, the Irish are still drinking Prosecco but not as much as you used to. 7 years ago in Galway, we used to sell 120 bottles of Prosecco a week, now its more like 18. People still love fizzy wine but they may try something different like  – Pet Nat. We have a Sicilain Pet Nat, 100% Nerello Mascalese, pink, fruity and natural and it is selling really well”.

So what is hot right now? Where should we be looking to for exciting wines?

“Most definitely Sicily and Campania. For many years Sicily was the Italian California, it had the right climate to produce ‘Robert Parker style’ wines. Big powerful wines with lots of new oak. Wines of a distinct style that could really be made anywhere. I have nothing against these wines, its part of the market.  But if you get something from Sicily that tastes like something that could have been made in the Mediteranean or South Australia – what is the point? Places with different traditions, different heritage – I want that in my glass”.

“The Etna wine region has many different terroirs and calls for extreme viticulture. On mount Etna, you have vineyards, 700m above sea level and sites at the bottom of the volcano, a 5 minute drive and a 20 degree change in temperature. You might think southern Italy, all sunshine and hot weather but not Etna (snow and rain in winter) and as a result its wines are incredible. On Sicily you also have Marsala, an ancient, seaside town, 50m from the sea and producing completely different style of wines. They reflect the mediterranean character – a mix of aromatic herbs along the sea. So many things happening now in Sicily. I’ts very exciting”.

“I love volcanic wines”. So we move to Campania, southern Italy with a volcanic arc consisting of active, dormant and extinct volcanoes. “It’s a very diverse region in terms of climate and landscape with a long history of winemaking but its the shift in attitude that has really allowed it to thrive. Winemakers in the South are no longer interested in making the next Sassicaia. There has been a renewed focus on winemaking skills and on the land and making a wine that reflects your distinct parcel/its place of origin”. He is more than impressed with the whites here, the three major grape varieties being Falanghina, Fiano and Greco. He particularly likes Greco di Tufo for its structure and minerality. “Can be a bit edgy when young but ages beautifully”.

So we have to ask – what is your dessert island wine?

A bottle of Barollo – I love Nebbiolo! And when pressed on producer – “Canonica”. Find it if you can.

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