Talking wine with Peppi Bueti: Travis Schultz
My fascination with Italian wines is not of recent creation. It was probably 15 years ago that I found myself in the country shaped like a boot in order to attend a legal conference, yet still found time to taste my way through a decent cross section of their local varietals. Some of their whites were a little challenging to my unaccustomed palate, but their reds, to say the least, were impressive. It was probably the first time I’d been able to try a range of genuine brunello and barolo wines and I suspect that experience was the genesis of my enchantment by Italian vino.
I recently found myself chatting to a good friend who boasts a strong Italian heritage, Peppi Bueti. He’s a champion bloke who is as proud of his Mount Gambier upbringing as he is of his family’s roots in the Italian regions of Basilicata and Calabria. I figured, perhaps misguidedly, that with both an Italian and South Australian pedigree, he’d know a thing or two about wine; but maybe he just wasn’t a very good student. He does, however, certainly know a good salami when he sees it. He proudly sent me a photo of the garage of his family home back in Mount Gambier which has more than 100 salami and prosciutto sausages wrapped in string netting hanging like stalactites from lengths of pine timber nailed to the rafters. You can take the boy out of Italy, but it seems you’ll struggle to take Italy out of the boy.
While he professes to know little about wine, Peppi certainly knows what he likes.
“Mount Gambier is only 30 minutes from the rich terra rossa soil of the Coonawarra, but as a kid growing up I had no appreciation for the amazing wines the region produces,” he said.
“My parents and extended family would go there once a year to collect grapes to make their own homemade wine, limoncello and grappa, but that was the extent of my interest in the Coonawarra.”
“Over the years, I’ve come to understand the quality of many vignerons such as Redman, Brand Laira, Hollicks, Parker Estate, Balnaves, Rymill, Wynns, Di Giorgio and Zema, it’s an eminent list that straddles both sides of the Riddoch Highway. I’ve tried plenty of wines from different regions across Australia and I reckon from both a quality and price point of view, it’s hard to beat a cabernet sauvignon or shiraz from the Coonawarra.”
Like any good Italian lad, Peppi is loyal to his homeland citing two wines from the Tuscan region, the Contucci Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG 2015 and the La Torre Macchione Toscana Rosso IGT 2015, as his favourite Italian varietals to put with a steak on a Sunday afternoon barbecue.
“My favourite Italian restaurant on the Coast, the Noosa Waterfront restaurant, stocks both varieties and they never let me down when combined with their amazing food,” he said.
Not that I could criticise his palate, I’d personally have put Amarone and Valpolicella blends up there at the top of the totem pole (though both styles can be notoriously expensive and difficult to find in Australia). If you savour an opportunity to try something a little different, it certainly helps to be connected to the right people in the industry.
“I am also pretty lucky that my good friend and president of the Italian Chamber of Commerce, Fil D’Arro, is a distributor of premium Italian wines, so I’ve managed to sample a good range over the years,” Peppi said. “Fil’s wines are hard to get and while some may not have that rich cherry bouquet of a cabernet sauvignon, they are easy to drink, which makes a lot of sense, as enjoying a glass of wine each day is a common practice in many parts of Italy.”
Perhaps what surprised me the most in our chat about all things that pour from a cork sealed bottle, was that when asked to name his favourite wineries in Australia, he named a small family winery called Raidis from the Coonawarra region in South Australia that is owned and run by a Greek family. Mind you, I didn’t realise that the Greco-Italian relationships had blossomed that much since the Greco-Italian War and the resulting Balkans Campaign during WWII. But true to his word, Peppi arranged for me to sample a couple of their reds and having wrung the bottles dry, I can well understand his appreciation of the Raidis wares. These days, it’s Emma and Steven Raidis who carry on the tradition as second generation vignerons.
The Raidis Red Project 2019 is a blend of shiraz, cabernet and merlot and to be honest, is a “drink-now” style that would capably wash down your favourite meatlovers or supreme pizza. But the Raidis Billy 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon is the real deal and I am told Mrs Bueti is a real fan of this drop. It’s made entirely from Coonawarra fruit and as you’d expect, shows hints of eucalypt and chalk on the nose with savoury bay leaf, mint and cassis through the middle. The fruit is omnipresent but not overripe or fly blown, while the tannins are obvious without being overbearing. It’s what I would describe as “medium bodied” and needs time in a decanter to reveal its best side but represents terrific value at a “mid 30s” price point. I can see why my Italian friend rates the producer so highly.
So, what would Peppi choose if a particular bottle was to be his last?
“I’d happily drink any cabernet sauvignon from the Coonawarra – except for my late father’s preservative free homemade vino which is a little rough for my liking. At the lighter end of the scale is the Savaterre pinot noir from Beechworth in country Victoria. The winemaker follows low input principles, and yields are less than two tonnes per acre, but at around $70 per bottle it’s a little steep for your everyday run of the mill PR guy.”
Peppi runs his own PR company on the Coast while Travis Schultz is a lawyer and wine and food blogger. For more visit travisschultz.com.au.