In a bizarre sort of way I'm missing Silvio Berlusconi, although I think most Italians are pleased he's no longer their embarrassing leader. For them it was a case of too many bunga bunga parties and not enough attention given to matters of state. When I last travelled in Italy he was still hanging grimly on to power and the locals would shake their heads whenever I mentioned his name.
Charismatic or colourful characters can put a region or country on the map - just ask the people of Invercargill. Does anybody know the name of Italy's current leader or could you name one Canadian Prime Minister since Pierre Trudeau?
To get your wine known internationally, sometimes you need to be larger than life and a tad controversial. Simple for the French - historically their Bordeaux first-growths and Burgundy grand cru have blazed a trail. The Italians, despite a similar lengthy history of growing grapes and winemaking, have not enjoyed the same easy ride. They do not have the same obsessive concern with quality as the French, being happy to consume wine at most meals without too much reflection on vintage, classification or producer.
They are less likely to be connoisseurs and are usually satisfied to drink whatever is made and probably has been made for centuries in their village or nearby town. They would regard French fine wine drinkers as elitist snobs and would cower in horror at the price people are prepared to pay for top end wine.
That's not to say Italy doesn't have some expensive and very smart wines that can command premium prices. The "Super Tuscans", as they are affectionately known, are being noticed as a result of renewed efforts in the last 40-odd years to produce something really special.
Anybody tasting the likes of Sassicaia, Ornellia, Masseto, Solaia, Tiganello, Biondi-Santi, Angelo Gaja and Isole e Olena will know that they are in presence of greatness.
They are often compared to the French equivalents at most reasonable prices.
Discerning wine buyers wanting something a bit special, should seize the opportunity to seek out mid-range Italian wines, especially reds.
Bunga bunga - a good time to buy.
2008 Castello Di Monsanto Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG, $59
Fabulous example of a food wine that, while still in its infancy, is delectable now. It's predominantly sangiovese with touches of canaiolo and colorino and is perfect with pasta, pizza or anything meaty.
2007 Castello Di Monsanto Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG - Il Poggio, $112
Mainly sangiovese and the company's most prestigious offering, made only in exceptional vintages, this wine is sleek and sensual from a single vineyard established in 1962. It will cellar for years to come.