Last night in wine class (the 4th of 5) we covered Italian whites. I am a big fan of vini bianchi italiani. Always have been. But in truth, Italian whites have for years suffered from an inferiority complex. On the global stage, there are few Italian whites that stand up to French or California Chardonnays or German Rieslings. When people think of Italian wines, they think of reds: Super Tuscans, Barolo, Brunello, etc. But Italian vinologists are making the most strides with whites these days, and so it's possible to find a fantastic, obscure Italian white before it becomes too popular (and too pricey for your budget).
Before I get into specific grapes and producers, here's a quick hint to narrow down your search for a quality Italian white when lost perusing a phonebook-sized wine list:
Select from one of these regions: Campagna, Le Marche (The Marches), Friuli, Trentino/Alto Adige or Veneto. These *5 regions are considered the best for whites and will certainly give you the most selection and value. But how would one choose from these five? The first two regions have classicly drier whites, in general, and thus are good for fish or light pasta meals. The latter three tend to produce wines with strong tastes. These shouldn't be thought of as rules, but rather as general pointers. There are too many exceptions to list here.
*Sicilian whites also deserve consideration.
Ok, now to this week's list of sampled wines. Again, the top wine, according to my teacher and classmates was a vino Marchigiano. Incredibly, two weeks running a Le Marche wine captured "the most loved" prize. All loyalties aside, it was a deserving choice. I also really liked the one from Friuli. I would highly recommend each of the four.
The list (this week I put the cantina mention first, grape and description to follow):
1) Telaro: A 2004 Falanghina from Campagna. (Located northeast of Naples, this co-op also has a b&b and restaurant that look promising). Falanghina is a grape popular in the hills between Rome and Naples. But this isn't pope swill. It has recently gone through a resurgence. It's worth investing in. This one here was very sweet with a powerfully fruity perfume. You really can smell the banana and apple. Probably best served with cheeses and fruits and light Oriental fare: noodles and such.
2) Rivera: a 2004 Sauvignon called "Terre al Monte". Also very sweet with a distincly fruity perfume. This wine is an evolving story. Puglia is too hot for grapes like the Sauvignon, so the vintner has decided to harvest the grape a good 2 months early in August. Apparently, the quality has improved every year. This wine has real promise, but if you're a big Sauvignon fan you may want to hold off for another year or two. Here's even further detail about this wine.
3) Ca' Bolani: a 2003 Tocai called "Friuli Aquileia". I like Tocais. I have had them in the mountains on ski trips and on a hot day at the beach. They never disappoint. This one was no exception. In my opinion, this grape really should raise the reputation for the whole category of Italian whites. The problem is it's not that easy to find outside Italy.
4) Colonnara: a 2004 Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi. This one is a Superiore Cuprese, 2004. Even casual wine drinkers know the Verdicchio, the white wine that comes in the green amphora shaped bottle. For decades it was produced for quantity, not quality, and became synonymous with cheap trattoria wine. The verdicchio is still one of the easiest Italian wines to source abroad, but the quality has skyrocketed in recent years. Even in the past four or five years, the quality (and the price) has risen noticeably. Typically, I like Verdicchios from the Matelica zona. They are certainly not my favorite Italian whites, nor Marchigiani whites for that matter, but they never disappoint. I had never tried Colonara Verdicchios until last night. We all had the same surprising reaction: this is a Verdicchio? The teacher raved about this producer. Apparently, they have really stepped up the quality in the past few years. Definitely look out for this one. You can buy online from Everywine.co.uk
5) Vorberg: Pinot Bianco. We didn't try this one last night, but the instructor recommends it as one of the best Italian whites you can find for under a tenner. This one runs 8 euros or so. It's from the Alto Adige region, probably the most diverse wine region in all of Italy and quite possibly Europe. If you are ever thinking of doing a wine-tasting holiday, this is the region to visit.