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Published:  23 July, 2008

Luca Dusi, Partner, Passione Vino, London. Interview: Josie Butchart

Passione Vino 15 Derinton Road, London SW17 8JA Tel: 020 8672 1941

Luca Dusi worked in the wine industry for nine years before setting up Passione Vino in 2003 with his business partner Federico Bruschetta (2003 Wine International Sommelier of the Year). Passione Vino's wine list is 100% Italian, with a particular focus on Piedmont, Veneto and Friuli, and sells to the UK on-trade and private customers.

Why did you set up Passione Vino? My idea was to find the most traditional expression of each denomination or variety that also offered the best value for money. Nowadays, with all the Italian wine guides that are available, such as Gambero Rosso, it is very easy to put together a good restaurant wine list full of excellent Italian wines. It is still very difficult, though, to put together a wine list full of wines at a reasonable price. There was, and still is, a huge gap in the market; there are some excellent Italian wines, but many of them are barely affordable. I thought the market was a bit flooded, that all the best wines were already here, but then I went to Vinitaly and I started to discover all these producers that were absolutely outstanding and different.

Do you think the proliferation of wine guides has been bad for the industry? No, not at all. God bless them! I wasn't in London during the '70s and '80s, but people who were have told me what they were drinking then, and the guides have definitely had a positive impact. The UK customer is much more open to their influence, whereas in Italy people usually stick to the local wines. In Verona, people often only know about wines from Verona, and maybe Tuscany because it is the trendy region of Italy, and if you go to Piedmont you won't be able to drink an Amarone. It's something Italians call campanilismo, a word that comes from the word for bell tower (campanile). In Italy everyone sticks to his own parish. It is much more interesting to work in the wine industry in London than in Italy.

Where did you start your search for producers? The first big discovery that I made was in the region of the Marches, which I am very much in love with. Quality-wise it is as good as Tuscany, no doubt about that. People there still have a certain honesty about their prices, which haven't risen as prices for Sicilian or Sardinian wines did a few years ago. They have top indigenous grape varieties and make outstanding wines. Then I was very pleased to discover a crazy guy from Friuli, Francesco Josko Gravner. He now makes his white wine in amphoras. For a white wine, the maceration of the must in contact with the skin is normally, at most, 24 hours, but he macerates his wine for seven months because he believes that it cleans itself over time. With this method you don't need to filter the wine. He did some research in Georgia, where they have been cultivating grapes for 5,000 years, though they are now modernising their methods. The last time he went there he told me he was a little bit disappointed because there were too many stainless-steel tanks outside the wineries.

Is the wine from Gravner typical of the wines on your list ? No, that is a very special wine and not what Passione Vino is really about. We didn't just look for unusual wines made from strange varieties; we looked for independent and characteristic wines that, irrespective of vintage, never lose their sense of terroir. For example, we have a producer of Barbera on the list, Bruna Ferro of Azienda Agricola Carussin. Barbera is a well-known variety, but Bruna was the first person to make a Barbera Passito, a dessert wine from Barbera, and she recently won a gold medal in the Decanter World Wine Awards. It is an outstanding dessert wine, but because it is made from the Barbera grape, it doesn't have the kind of sweetness that makes your throat ache. However, she also produces a very simple Barbera that is a wine I would drink at 10am with a Parma ham sandwich - very simple, very fruity, very traditional. There is a temptation in the market at the moment, though, to think that all wines have to be round, over-concentrated and aged in barrique.

Why are you resisting that temptation? Italy produces very delicate wines and has an amazing number of microclimates and autochthonous varieties that you will kill by ageing them in oak barriques. I strongly believe that Sangiovese is one of them, and Nebbiolo as well.

Are UK restaurateurs happy to buy the more traditional styles of Italian wine? We looked for very honest producers, so sometimes restaurateurs are just amazed by the character and value for money of our wines. Some are scared, though. They think they will never sell these wines because everyone is asking for Chardonnay and Merlot, not Barbera. If a restaurant doesn't have a sommelier the customer will only order what he knows, and that is why it always comes down to Pinot Grigio, Chianti, Merlot or Chardonnay.

Is the south of Italy more dynamic than the northern regions? The idea that the south is dynamic has been confused with the fact that they are the only ones who were able to cope with competition from New World wines in terms of price, alcoholic strength and fuller flavours. The south of Italy is in fashion now, but in reality, the Marches is actually much more dynamic. The south of Italy became dynamic' just because of what the market was looking for. A lot of people have invested in the south, where labour is cheaper and bureaucracy is simpler, and they have drastically improved the quality of their wines, but I wouldn't consider them dynamic.

What is your favourite region outside Italy? Something I discovered three or four years ago, and was really amazed by, is German Riesling. I had always dismissed it until I visited the Mosel, Pfalz and Franken. I tasted a 1974 Riesling and it was still wonderfully fresh with fantastic flavours. Mama mia!