The Universe of Italian White Wines
By Marco Giovanetti
When you think of Italian wine, do you think of Chianti? Barolo? Barbaresco? How about Arneis or Soave or Gavi? Italy’s white wines are much lesser known than her bold, red cousins. They are light, delicious and tend to be quite affordable.
Italian white wines have a character all of their own. Crisp, soft, and highly acidic, they are made to accompany food, not overpower it. Even Italian wines made from grapes popular elsewhere, such as Chardonnay, take on a slightly different, richer character when grown in Italian soil. Italy’s best white wines are grown, primarily, in the three regions called collectively, “Tre Venezie” (literally, three Venices:) Veneto, Trentino Alto-Adige, and Fruili-Venezia Guilia, as well as in Piedmont. The cooler northern climate of these areas adds the crisp flavor to Italian white wines.
Probably the most well-known Italian white wine is made from the Pinot Grigio grape. In French it is called Pinot Gris. This light, dry white has become a very popular choice in Canada. Produced in Veneto, Pinot Grigio, at its best, has a subtle, lemony, slightly nutty flavor. Pinot Grigio goes well with simply grilled fish, salads, and seafood.
Also grown in Veneto, Soave is an appellation that produces light, straw-coloured, slightly sweet and fruity wine. Named after a small town nestled among vine-covered hills in the shadow of a handsome and well-preserved castle, Soave is made from Trebbiano and local, Garganega grapes. Soave, Italy’s bestselling white wine, is best consumed young, no longer than three years from the vintage.
This white wine is starting to be better known in Canada , Gavi is very dry, delicate wine with pronounced acidity. It has delicate and complex aromas of grapefruit, honey, flowers, and minerals. Gavi is named after the town of Gavi in Northwest Italy’s Piedmont region. Produced from native Cortese grapes, Gavi is a perfect accompaniment to fish. It is best drunk within three to four years of the vintage.
Orvieto is made in Umbria. It has been made in Umbria, in the same way, since Roman times. Located in central Italy, Umbria’s slightly warmer climate imparts an earthiness not found in the Piedmont and Veneto wines. The chalky, limestone soil here gives a unique character to this wine. Orvieto, named after a village near where it is produced, is a dry wine crafted from Trebbiano and Grechetto grapes. Very affordable, Orvieto goes well with simply grilled chicken or unadorned fish.
This is a white wine produced in eastern Italy, near the Adriatic coast, Verdicchio is a light, dry wine with good acidity made from grapes of the same name. Verdicchio, unlike most Italian white wines, is capable of aging, but it has a fruity freshness when drunk young. Verdicchio is totally dry with hints of fresh apple and lemon. Relatively inexpensive, this wine has a very good affinity with seafood and fish.
Arneis, the name means “rascal” in local dialect, is a product of Piedmont. Light and easy to drink, Arneis is great with summer fare: salads, prosciutto and melon, or perhaps, a light pasta primavera. Arneis is also refreshing as an “apperitivo,” a small glass at the start of the meal. Named after the grape from which the wine is made, Arneis is a medium dry wine with a rich texture and hints of peaches, apricots, and pears. It is best consumed when it is young. Little known in the United States, Arneis is finding its way, gradually, to wine stores and restaurants here.
Chardonnay is most often thought of in conjunction with French or California wine production, but Italy also makes great Chardonnay. Most Italian Chardonnay is made in the Alto Adige region in mountainous northern Italy, near the Austrian border. In general, Italian Chardonnays are leaner and crisper than those made in other countries. Most are un-oaked with light fruit. Italian Chardonnay pairs well with lobster, crabmeat, and cream sauces
Italian white wines offer variety and unique flavors. The next time you visit your neighborhood SAQ, think Italian and try something different. Sample one of these outstanding white wines.
Many thanks to my sponsors this week. Mr. Moreno de Marchi from L’Enoteca di Moreno de Marchi for the sample of Livio Felluga and Etienne Bezard from Trialto wine group for the Pinot Grigio from Kris
Italian whites of the week:
Livio Felluga, Vertigo Bianco 2011. Indicazione Geografica Tipica “delle Venezie”. Price: $22.45. SAQ Code: 11952031
Classy wine. In the nose, clean cut aromas of mandarine peel, pear and pineapples with enticing flora and mineral nuances. Also a sublime note of yogourt ( lactic component) In the mouth, medium body with a good acidity. Good tension and elegance, a bit austere with a dry taste that brings out a very marked minerality. Long finish that reminds of peach and seawater. 94100 Excellent QPR.
Food Match: Tagliatelle with lobster and saffron sauce
Kris Pinot Grigio IGT 2012. Alto Adige. Price: $19.85. ( Private Importation. Maxime.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pretty nose that reminds me of pear, honey, lime leaves with a hint of minerality. In the mouth, medium body and fragant with a good acidity and a finale reminds me of mint. . 94100 QPR
Food Match: Goat cheese Crostini
Umani Ronchi Casal di Serra 2012. Marche, Italy. Price: $17.45. SAQ Code: 10254725.
Vintage tasted 2011.
Very vegetal nose with mineral and barnyard nuances. In the mouth, round and fresh with a beautiful mineral expression. 87100
Food Match: Italian fish soup ( Zuppa di Pesce)