Wednesday, February 09, 2005

9 February 2005 - Italian Whites, What's New, What's Good?

Where are the good Italian white wines? I'm not talking about clean and correct -- that's easy now, though it wasn't 20 years ago -- I'm talking compelling, interesting. Are they in the traditional places -- San Gimignano (the first DOC, in 1966), Soave (before Pinot Grigio the best selling Italian white in the USA), Orvieto? Mostly, no. Vernaccia di San Gimignano gets my vote as most-overrated wine in Italy. Soave and Orvieto have a couple of great producers (Gini, Tamellini, Pieropan in Soave; Palazzone and Barberani in Orvieto) and a boat load of ordinary producers who make wine as insipid as the forementioned Vernaccia. Most Pinot Grigio suffers from fatal insipidity (is that a word?) as well, with a handful of exceptions (Felluga being my current favorite). So, besides the few exceptions in the well-known areas, what about the rest of Italy? Here's a short run-down...

Vermentino -- a grape grown almost exclusively along the Mediterranean coast in Italy (espicially Sardinia, Liguria and Tuscany) and France where it is known as Rolle. Look for Santadi in Sardinia, Terenzuola and Gualdo del Rey in Tuscany.

Greco di Tufo -- the main white grape of Campania. My favorite the last couple of vintages is Ferrara.

Jermann -- This is not a grape variety, but a producer, in Friuli, who makes one of the greatest white blends in the world, Vintage Tunina. It has a little bit of everything -- Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Ribolla Gialla, Malvasia, Picolit; and there's nothing quite like it. Vintage Tunina has been around since the 1970s, so it might suffer from over-familiarity or complacency, but it's still thrilling white wine, and the best of an amazing array from this great winery.

Franciacorta (especially Bellavista) -- Italy's best dry bubblies come from Franciacorta, in Lombardy -- it's the only place in the world of sparkling wine that rivals Champagne in style and quality. One of the greatest, most overlooked wine-producing regions in the world.

Prosecco -- A grape, unique to the Veneto, that is responsible for the most distinctive, delicious, lovable sparkling wine not made in the Champagne method or style. Hands down favorite is Nino Franco's Primo Franco, creamy, frothy, barely sweet, irresistably delicious.

There is more. In Italy, there is always more.


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