This may come as something of a surprise, but Italy has hundreds of native grape varieties, and over 200 hundred of these are white. I say that this may come as a surprise because if you were to walk into your local supermarket you would be lucky to find more than three or four Italian white wines, and chances are that there will be about ten wines from the same grape.
You know which one I’m talking about. I’m not here to have a go at Pinot Grigio- I do that enough on my own time- because as a grape variety it is capable of making some very good wines. But unfortunately these are few and far between, and the vast majority of what we see on our shelves is, at best inoffensive and insipid. At worst….well, let’s not go there. I have often described this style of Pinot Grigio as wine for people who don’t really like wine. It tastes vaguely like wine but without any real character.
Obviously this is something that really bugs me, and the reason is simple- here is a country producing some of the most interesting, exciting and- yes- affordable white wines in the world, and yet we are presented with so few of these wonderful varieties. White wines are produced from the Italian Alps to the volcanoes of Sicily, and just about everywhere in between, and they are as wonderful and varied as the landscapes the come from. Pinot Bianco can be as clean and fresh as an Alpine stream, Gavi is bone-dry, with great zip – it often appeals to Chablis drinkers. Both Lugana and Soave produce wines with a subtle character of apple, pear or white peach. Moving south, we come to Vermentino and Verdicchio- possibly Italy’s greatest white variety- which produces wines of intense savoury complexity-. In Campania we have the holy trinity of Fiano, Falanghina and Greco di Tufo. These three are already becoming stars in their own right- Fiano for its bone-dry minerality matched to a peachy fruitiness, Falanghina similar but with a little more weight, and Greco for its more exotic floral and orange peel richness. Even Sicily – not the first place that comes to mind for white wines –is producing some fantastically refreshing wines. Grillo and Inzolia are just two of the grapes indigenous to the island, and both make for wonderful drinking –Grillo is reasonably full-bodied with floral and citrus flavours, Inzolia lighter and more aromatic.
One of the truly fascinating things about these wines and varieties is that they are totally unique to the area that they are from. You don’t find Fiano or Grillo grown in California or New Zealand. You don’t even find it in other parts of Italy. They are different yes, but it’s because they have character, flavour and reflect where they are from.
If you really like wine, do yourself a favour and try something different.
Italian whites – Italy is producing some wonderful white wines from native varieties which have far more character than you may have come to expect from Italian whites. Look out for-Pinot Bianco, Gavi, Lugana, Soave, Vermentino, Verdicchio, Falanghina, Fiano, Greco and Grillo. And when you’ve done them, try Favorita, Erbaluce, Fruliano, Grechetto, Pecorino, Inzolia, Catarratto and Zibibbio. When you done with all of them, give me a shout and I’ll list some more!
Award-winning Sommelier Ian Brosnan is ely’s executive wine manager.As one of Ireland’s best known and respected wine personalities, with numerous awards such as Best Sommelier in Ireland and Wine Personality of the Year to his name, Ian happily shares his years of experience and knowledge with thetaste.ie.