By Barbara Hay ~
For many American wine consumers, Italian white wines are summed up in two words: Pinot Grigio. It’s often considered the single most requested varietal-labeled wine in the United States.
My Italian friends lament this fact, claiming that it has caused Italian wine makers to pull up great varietal vines and plant Pinot Grigio; in some cases, where it has absolutely no business being planted! One example from Sicily, where it is much too for Pinot Grigio was absolutely awful, and showed poor acidity and flavor.
Santa Margherita started this PG trend years ago, and you’ll often still hear wine lovers in stores claim it to be the world’s greatest Pinot Grigio. My customers are often the same. I had one customer who had great instincts but, like many, lacked self-confidence in her taste buds. I had poured a Pighin Pinot Grigio (about $13) from the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region in northeastern Italy. She tasted it, and then, puzzled, asked what was wrong with her as she had been told that Santa Margherita was the “best” but she liked this less expensive wine better.
As with many a customer, I explained she should let her palate be her guide, there is nothing wrong with her taste buds. Santa Margherita gets credit for introducing Americans to the grape more than 30 years ago, and is considered by many to be the benchmark of the genre. That’s fine if you like it and care to pay that much for it. But there are many from northern Italy, which produces the best of the lot, that are far less expensive that might please you even more, just as my customer discovered.
But if there are so many more white wine grapes in Italy—there are more than 2200 varietals in Italy— why do Americans go nuts over this one to the exclusion of others? Why would one not rather visit some of the numerous indigenous white wine grapes?
Italy is alive with white wine grapes, like Arneis. When soft-shell crabs are in season, Arneis is the perfect companion. I often prefer a Pinot Bianco, a Vermentino, a really good Soave or any other fine Italian grape—other than Pinot Grigio—that can make a truly splendid wine. Italian whites are known for their exceptional food-friendliness.
These wines are not meant to be cellared—they’re meant to be drunk young, when they’re fresh and lively. Many represent excellent values, so they’ll leave you satisfied with little drain on the wallet.
Italian white wines made from indigenous grapes are a delight. Moderate in alcohol and typically vinified in stainless steel to preserve fresh fruit characters, they’re perfect for spring and summer dining and patio/poolside sipping. Don’t overchill them, or you’ll lose the subtlety and delicacy of their flavors. Use a medium-sized white wine glass, even for Prosecco, and serve them around 55F/13C.
Some White Italian wines to check out:
Masi Masianco, a blend of Pinot Grigio & Verduzzo
Tiefenbrunner Pinot Grigio from Trentino-Alto Adige
La Scolca Gavi Di Gavi White Label from the Cortese grape
Argiolas Costamolino Vermentino, made from 90% Vermentino and 10% of other Sardinian grapes.
Feudi di San Gregorio Falanghina, from Campagnia
Verdicchio Dei Castelli Di Jesi Classico Doc “querciantica” from the Marche region
Bolla Soave 100% Garganega from the Veneto region