Italian wines are not all Chianti, Valpolicella, Barolo, Barbaresco or Brunello. Despite the prominent and public recognition of these red wines, Italy also makes great whites.
The workhorse grape of the Italian white wine industry is Trebbiano - with its vaguely fruity, somewhat "nutty", subtly "chalky" kind of flavours -that is grown almost everywhere in Italy. Over cropped and left to its own devices, it can make eminently
forgettable white wines. And - as blending material - it manages to find its way into almost everything.
Fortunately when it is grown and fashioned into full-fleshed wine seriously and deliberately, Trebbiano can make extremely tasty whites. Even more fortunately, Italy has numerous other white wines grapes, the best known and most highly regarded being Pinot Grigio. And, like Trebbiano, it is grown almost everywhere wine grapes grow in Italy.
Thanks to a summer of scorching Sicilian sun and a dependably long and lazily warm fall Montalto Pinot Grigio (592964) $10.95 has more ripe and honeyed peachy fruity weight and substance than many more northern Italian examples of Grigio. And don't ignore the matching red Montalto Nero D'Avola Cabernet Sauvignon (229310) $9.95 - amazing value, densely built, barbecue ready! While Italian whites are generally amongst the most obviously "dry" wines that are available - and recommended for calorie-conscious wine lovers - there are some wonderful sweet and semi-sweet white wines being made.
Modelled on the softly sparkling spumantes of Piedmonte, Zebo Moscato (89789) $12.99 comes to us from Italy's Cantine Pellegrino. It is a light and refreshing white, semi-sweet and softly sparkling. At only six per cent alcohol by volume, Zebo is a mouthful of peach and honeyed melon flavours, and the perfect choice for pouring over ice some sunny afternoon.
From Umbria, next door to Chianti Ruffino Orvieto Classico (31062) $13.99 is a crisp, dry blend of Grechetto and Trebbiano with a smattering of Malvasia, Drupeggio, Verdello and Canaiolo Bianco grapes. With very subtle peach and apricot undertones, today's Orvieto is not the semi-sweet white that was popular 20 years ago.
Any tour of Italy quickly reveals how seriously the native Italians take their winemaking. Vines are planted virtually everywhere -in home gardens, shared village cooperatives, semi-official communes and industrial and commercial vineyards and estates. And everyone seems to make wine! The white counterpart to the red Valpolicella, Masianco Pinot Grigio e Verduzzo delle Venezie (244681) $17.99 incorporates the "Appassimento" technique, Masi's speciality, using a blend of freshly-picked and semi-dried Pinot Grigio with the north eastern specialty Verduzzo wine grape. Look for lemon and pear flavours with peach and apricot fruit and little wisps of honey.
Suitably chilled, it is the "chalky" minerality that stands out on first sipping Cantine Argiolas Costamolino Vermentino di Sardegna (457945) $19.99. Subtle aromas of lemon, kiwi and tropical fruits ride on a base of bright acidity. As well as the local Sardinian Vermentino, this interesting white incorporates 10 per cent Nuragus, a grape that is indigenous to Sardinia.
Crafting complex blended wines can involve a kind of magical synergy, where the resulting blended wines are somehow greater that the sum of the individual components. Often there is a dense, rich, almost "chewy" quality to the best blended white wines.
An amazingly tasty Italian white Monte del Fra Custoza "Ca del Magro"(216077) $19.99 is an incredibly complex blend of Garganega, Trebbiano Toscano, Tocai Friulano, Cortese, Chardonnay, Riesling Italico (... also known as Welschriesling in Eastern Europe) and Italico Malvasia with Incrocio Manzoni. The delightful result of this mouthful of grape types is a fullbodied dry white that overflows with ripe peach flavours over honeyed lemon drops with a dusting of chalk underlying the more obvious fruit. Traditionally made from grapes that were - like the region in which the wine is grown - called "Prosecco", thanks to the complexity of Italian wine law, those same wine grapes were renamed "Glera" in 2009 -and "Prosecco" is now reserved for the region and the wine. Leaning toward "New World" style: Far from being shy and retiring with "subtle hints" of anything... Mionetto Prosecco Brut D.O.C. Treviso (86256) $19.99 is richly fruited and intensely aromatic - a medley of rose petal, apricot and peach in an elegantly smooth "frizzante" melange.
Doug Sloan is a Campbell River wine enthusiast. Reach WineWise with an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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