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“Versatility and the high number of local grape varieties are the strengths of southern Italian wines”

We interviewed Antony Rose, one of the judges of the third edition of Sud Top Wine, known as a wine and sake critic who contributes to a number of titles including Decanter and The World of Fine Wine. 

Please tell us something about yourself: how did you become a wine expert and wine writer?
In 1986 I became the wine correspondent of England’s new national newspaper, The Independent, after winning a wine writing prize in a Sunday paper, The Observer. Before that I was a lawyer, but I decided it was time to get a steady job. I left The Independent in 2016 after it went online (I like the printed word) and since then I have written two books, Sake and the Wines of Japan (I am a Sake nut) and Fizz! Champagne and Sparkling Wines of the World. I am a founding member of the Wine Gang, I also write for The World of Fine Wine and Decanter Magazine and for the past three years, I have been chair of the southern Italy panel for the Decanter World Wine Awards. 

Do English people know enough southern Italian wine? If so, what is in your opinion the most popular one? And why?
Good question. No, I don’t think by and large English people know that much about the wines from Italy’s south. When they think of Italian wine, most consumers who know their wines tend to think of the so-called ‘classics’ of Piemonte, Tuscany and, to lesser extent, Veneto. The less well-heeled consumer generally is likely to go for names like Pinot Grigio, Soave, Valpolicella, Frascati, Chianti and Lambrusco. From southern Italy, Etna is starting to become better known and certain brands most likely resonate with those in the know, e.g. Feudi di San Gregorio, Mastroberardino, Planeta, Donnafugata, Regaleali, but probably the most popular wines are Negroamaro, Nero d’Avola and Primitivo, with Fiano selling quite well in supermarkets too.

How did the new regulations about the traffic of goods between the EU and the UK required by the Brexit deal affect the imports of Italian wines?
According to my sources, in other words basically importers of Italian wines, it takes at least a week longer to ship goods and it is more expensive due to the export and import declarations that need to be completed (£120-£150 per order, so more expensive for small growers shipping a pallet or so). There is also a problem brewing over labelling – Defra (the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs) has not finalised what will be required on labels of imported wines, despite the fact that the new rules are due to come into effect from 1 October.

Did your perception of southern Italian wine change after participating as a judge to the third edition of Sud Top Wine? If so, would you like to tell us?
In addition to the judging itself, one of the great benefits of judging the third edition of Sud Top Wine was the opportunity to go out, either to the winery or to a restaurant, and judge the wine (ok drink the wines) with food. This aspect of southern Italian wine, its natural partnership with various different types of food, from fish to meat to vegetable and pizza and pasta dishes, really shows the wine of southern Italy at their palatable best. Of course from the judging process, I also learnt much about the versatility and great variety of southern Italian wines and the mind-boggling number of local grape varieties.

What wine from southern Italy do you have in your cellar?
The answer to this question is too short, but this is partly because a limited number of southern Italian wines lend themselves to being laid down for any great length of time. Basically I have some 2017 Etna Bianco Contrada Villagrande. This wine won a trophy at the Decanter World Wine Awards two years ago and so I decided to buy a case – no regrets. I have also ordered some 2019 reds and 2020 whites from Tenuta Terre Nere and I am patiently waiting to receive them. They may not remain in my cellar for very long.