Once known as ‘Oenotria’, or the ‘land of trained vines’, Italy grows an estimated 2000 different grape varieties and makes as much as 60 million hectoliters of wine a year. Much of the Italian peninsula is covered with vines, from the Alps in the north to the island of Sicily in the south. Many of Italy’s best known wines are red – Barolo, Brunello di Montalcino, Chianti, Amarone, Super Tuscans, etc. – however, they also produce large quantities of very tasty white wines that are worth putting on your dinner table, as they are very versatile with food.
While the white wines of Italy tend not to be huge blockbusters, they can be very refreshing and food friendly. Most have subtle flavours and a good streak of cleansing acidity, and some can be quite aromatic.
Some Italian white wines to look out for are:
Soave is a dry white wine from the Veneto region of northern Italy. The wines must have at least 70% Garganega grapes in the blend. Trebbiano di Soave, Chardonnay, and Pinot Bianco (Pinot Blanc) can make up the remainder. While some Soave is thin and dull, the best can be excellent. Garganega, when grown properly, can be both delicate and structured, with flavours of almonds, greengage plums, and citrus fruit with an alluring gentle spiciness. The best Soave comes from the Soave Classico region.
Pair Soave with fresh salads with slightly bitter greens such as endive, raddichio, and arugula. It can also be a great match with poached chicken and herbs, and linguine with clam sauce.
Masi Levarie Soave Classico DOC (LCBO 266221, $12.45) is a great value Soave currently available at the LCBO. Pleasant aromas of white peach, melon, citrus, pear, almond, and white blossoms. It’s medium bodied and juicy on the palate, with a good length and a nutty finish.
Gavi was awarded DOCG status, Italy’s highest quality wine category, in 1998. The wines are made with 100% Cortese grapes. Cortese is favoured because of its ability to retain its zesty acidity, even in the hot summers of Piedmont in northern Italy, where Gavi is made.
Gavi can be an aromatic and fruity wine, with notes mineral and occasionally grass, with a clean citrus finish. It tends to be a fuller-bodied wine than some of the other Italian whites. Gavi can pair well with pastas with a cream sauce, grilled calamari with garlic, and Prosciutto wrapped shrimps.
Pio Cesare Gavi 2011 (VINTAGES 952523, $19.95) Juicy citrus fruit, white blossoms, and mineral. Light-bodied and refreshing.
Fiano di Avellino DOCG
From southern Italy, in the region of Campania, Fiano di Avellino was promoted to DOCG status in 2003. The wine is made with at least 85% Fiano grapes with Trebbiano Toscano, Coda di Volpe, and Greco making up the rest of the blend.
The wines can have subtle aromas of flowers and spice with an attractive waxy texture. The best have the potential to improve with some bottle age.
Fiano di Avellino can pair beautifully with salmon canapes, and baby octopus salad.
Keep an eye out for occasional Vintages releases of Fiano di Avellino at the LCBO. Currently, I could only find one Fiano di Avellino at the LCBO, Terredora Fiano di Avellino 2010,(VINTAGES 120048, $18.95), but it may be difficult to track it down as there’s not much left.
Greco di Tufo DOCG
Also from Campania, Greco di Tufo is made with at least 85% Greco grapes and up to 15% Coda di Volpe. Greco has been grown in southern Italy for more than 2,500 years after being imported from neighbouring Greece. Slightly more aromatic than Fiano di Avellino, the best have aromas reminiscent of a good Viognier along with zesty minerality and peachy notes.
Greco di Tufo is a great match with raw shellfish, baked fish, and pasta with vegetable sauces.
Again, not much at the LCBO, but watch for occasional Vintages releases.
Falanghina is a high quality, ancient grape grown in Campania. It is thought to be the grape of Falernian, the prestigious wine of the ancient Roman Empire. The grape is used to make excellent dry and sweet white wines. The dry wines are usually vinified in stainless steel tanks and see no oak treatment at all. They are attractive, fragrant, and quite full-bodied, with aromas of white peaches, honeysuckle, green apples, citrus, and almonds.
Falanghina is quite versatile with food and pairs well with a number of seafood, poultry, and vegetable dishes.
There is still some Vesevo Beneventano Falanghina 2010 (VINTAGES 289538, $15.95) available at the LCBO. Lots of lemon, grapefruit, celery salt, and white blossom aromas. Light to medium body with a clean, bright finish.This is a slightly altered version of an article first published on Suite101.com.