ITALIAN WHITE WINES PROVIDE SUMMER REFESHMENT

I once was at a seminar on Italian at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen and Victor Hazan began by declaring, “The color of [Italian] wine is red.” Well, as much as I tend to agree, I am here to say the color also is white and green, completing the colors of the Italian flag.

 

Italy is a cornucopia of vinous diversity, a boot overflowing with, by some estimates, over 2000 indigenous varieties. There are really good white wines from familiar grapes like chardonnay, sauvignon, gewürztraminer, sylvaner, and pinot grigio. There also is a cornucopia of varieties mostly regional-focused, small production wines well worth seeking out, most of which arebudget friendly. Here I highlight just a few.

 

The large northeastern regions of Veneto, Trentino-Alto Adige and Friuli-Venezia Giulia arguably have led the revolution in Italian white wine production. Most of these wines are unoaked to retain natural freshness. In general, the wines are notable for dramatic aromas, precise structure, and refreshing acidity.

 

Probably most recognizable to American consumers, Pinot Grigio can be produced in a variety of styles but is generally pleasingly light, brisk melon and citrus notes have been a winning combination. There are boatloads of insipid plonk produced but also quite a bit of distinctive, consumer friendly wines. Like these:

 

  • 2017 Ecco Domani Limited Edition Venezia($12), bright, fresh easy drinking
  • 2017 MezzaCorona Trentino ($14) estate bottled, crisp, lean, herbal and mineral
  • 2017 Attems Friuli ($20) founded in 1106 and now owned by the Frescobaldi family, it’s crisp citrus, apple, apricot and supple palate reveal vibrant fruitiness
  • 2016 Jermann FVG ($30) really satisfying with bracing, flavorful citrus, honey melon, peach and mineral

 

The pinot grigio grape also features prominently as half of a blend pinot bianco, ribolla gialla, and sauvignon by Villa Russiz, a winery in Friuli very near the border with Slovenia. The 2016  “Les Enfants” ($22) is flavorful and creamy with lively fresh lime flavors, with hints of peach and minerality, pera almond. Villa Russiz also offers a fine 2016 Pinot Bianco ($26) from Collio, a subregion revered for its white wines. It’s lively, with apricot, pear, herb and mineral notes.

 

Most consumers probably know Soave but don’t recognize garganega, its dominant grape.  Specific to the Veneto, Soave also went through a period of mediocrity. But in the hands of attentive wineries, Soave’s (especially from the original Classico zone) reputation has been restored. Typically, its apple, citrus, and stone fruit are nicely balanced with almond notes. The 2016 Pieropan ($20), from a family whose winemaking heritage dates to 1880, is delightfully aromatic, bracing and mouthfilling with apple and peach,orchard fruit, lemon, stone. I remember tasting it in the 1980’s and for the first realizing just how good Soave can be. While the Inama family has been making Soave Classico for “only” forty-plus years, though they have a long history in the region between Verona and Vicenza. Their 2017 “Vin Soave” ($15) delightfully light with touches of apple, nectarine, lemon, pear,stone and almond. The 2016 “Vigneti di Foscarino” ($25) is a special selection of old vines on the east side of the Monte Foscarino that is vinified (such as barrel fermentation) to recall traditional styles; yielding a wine with a lush texture and notes of apricot, pear and melon balanced with almond.

 

For a contemporary interpretation of gargenega, try the 2017 Scaia Garganega – Chardonnay ($13). A second label of Tenuta Sant’Antonio, Scaia is a project with a mission to craft a style of wines that respect the traditions of Veneto but tilt to modern tastes. One way they do that is to blend local grapes with international varieties, like this blend of 55 percent garganega and 45 percent chardonnay that is the most aromatic of the wines in my tasting, with a brisk tropical fruit but a lush texture and herbal notes.

 

Vermentino is a rare variety, grown mostly on the island of Sardegna, Liguria, and the western coast of Toscana, where it produces crisp, medium-bodied wines with refreshing citrus, apple and suggestions of sea air and almond. I found two excellent values  from the Maremma hills of Toscana. The 2016 Aia Vecchia($12) from a small, family owned winery of respected grape growers offers really nice energetic fruit with a hint of minerality and 2016 Rocca di Montemassi “Calasole” ($15) nicely adds melon and vanilla to the profile.

 

Over on the eastern coast of Central Italy on the Adriatic Sea, verdicchio is the signature white grape of the Le Marche region. The grape mirrors the green in the Italian flag as its name comes from the word “verde” reflecting the wines naturally green shades. Typically refreshing, it features apple, citrus, and stony notes. One of the most respected producers and the oldest family-owned winery in the region (dating back to 1871), Garofoli specializes in the grape, especially from the prestigious Castelli di Jesi area. Its 2017 “Macrina” ($14) is fresh, elegant, and structured with hints of peaches, lemon and mineral. The 2015 “Podium” ($25), a special selection of grapes from a single-vineyard, is impressively fruited and more structured  with notes of apples, honey and toast with almond with minerality.

 

Finally, two other wines from either end of the peninsula.

 

In Piemonte in the northwest, Arneis is a prominent white grape that yields typically full flavored wines with lower acidity and softer, fuller texture than the other grapes in this report. Luca Bosio has produced a 2016 ($20) with notes of lime, tangerine, almonds, and flowers. While the grape is thought to have originated in the Roero subregion of Piemonte, this one comes from the nearby Langhe, also known for its prized Barolo and Barbaresco.

 

Sicily’s grillo is one of several distinctive indigenous varieties on the island worth trying. And coming from Tasca D’Almerita, one of the most prestigious Sicilian estates with over 200 years of winegrowing. A leader in Italy in environmental, social and economic sustainability, the winery’s 2017 Tenuta Whitaker ($22), actually located on the former Phoenician island of Mozia off the western tip of Sicilia, is impressively flavorful with potency and deep citrus fruit and spice in a rather viscous frame.

About Rich

I first became interested in wine while I worked in numerous liquor stores during college in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. In the years following college, I researched, tasted, traveled to vineyards in California and Europe, participated in countless tastings. I began writing about wine in 1995 with a column in Out Front Colorado. For me, wine is more than a drink. It is food. It is a connection to the earth. It is culture. There is just something amazing, even magical, about the transformation of grapes into wine. It is also remarkable how drinking wine with food enhances the taste and enjoyment of both. Appreciation of wine has become an integral part of my approach to life, which emphasizes balance, respect for nature, physical and emotional health, and an appreciation of our nature as social beings. In 2006, I was awarded a fellowship to the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers.