Italy’s white wines have enough variety for a lifetime of exploration
Italy has a bewildering array of native grapes, and wines that complement food very well
Light Italian whites are more subtle but every bit as enjoyable as something with more body
These refreshing white wines to enjoy this spring are all Italian, not by design but because they all happened to star in recent tastings. Three of them are recent arrivals, too, and the fourth is a new version of an old favourite of mine. All four are 13 per cent or lower in alcohol, too.
Italy has a bewildering array of native grapes, red and white, many specific to one region. A fair few whites begin with Grec, as in Greco, Grecanico, Grechetto, suggesting a Greek heritage. Italians have always seen wine as something to accompany and complement food rather than dominate it. In the past, Italian white wines tended to be light and fresh, a sort of vinous squeeze of lemon to bring life to simply cooked fish and shellfish.
White wines with 14 per cent or more alcohol are rare, and the use of new oak is generally restrained. Instead, you get light refreshing wines sometimes with herbal notes, often finishing on a slightly bitter almond-tinged note. This is a broad generalisation, but I think it holds true much of the time. It doesn’t mean the wines lack flavour; they are more subtle but every bit as enjoyable as something with more body. They are a great option for anyone tiring of a diet of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio.
Verdicchio is a grape with real potential. As well as the Colline below, JNwine also imports the wines of Sartarelli, one of my favourite Verdicchio producers. I have been championing Soave for some years now; quality has improved as regulations have been tightened. It is no longer the bland, tasteless liquid our parents knocked back in the last century. Soave must be made from a minimum of 80 per cent Garganega, the quality variety of the region. The Classico bit is important, signifying the wine is made from grapes grown on the volcanic or limestone mountain slopes, rather than the prolific flat plains.
Grechetto is found mainly in Umbria and is best known as the primary ingredient in Orvieto – remember those fish-shaped bottles? If yields are kept low, it can produce some very good wines, as in the example featured here. Pecorino is something of a rarity, recently revived in its native Abruzzo, where it has been grown for centuries. No relation to the cheese, although the two go well together, it is believed that the name comes from sheep (pecora) wandering through the vineyard snacking on the grapes.
All of these wines go well with lighter foods such as fish and shellfish, tomato-based pasta dishes, goat’s cheese, salads or simply to sip in that lovely sunshine that will arrive soon.
Colline Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi 2020
Plump pure apple and pear fruits with a nicely rounded finish. A great aperitif that would be good with light pasta dishes or grilled plaice.
Soave Classico Vignalte 2019, Zeni
Vibrant and harmonious with lightly textured clean green fruits and a twist of lemon zest. Food pairings could include Spaghetti alla vongole or with fresh tomato and basil.
From Bradleys Off-licence, Cork, bradleysofflicence.ie; Pat Fitzgerald’s, Dingle Wine Cellar; Barnhill Stores, Dalkey; Nectar wines, D14, nectarwines.com; The Wine Pair, D8; boutiquewines.ie; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock, blackrockcellar.com; The Pantry Cafe, Nenagh, thepantrycafe.ie.
Umbria Grechetto IGT 2019, Fiordaliso, Roccafiore
A gorgeous wine with white flower aromas, succulent fresh peach and green apple fruits shot through with a piercing saline mineral streak. Drink it solo or with a bowl of herby mussels.
From Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, D2, Kells, Co Meath, Galway, sheridanscheesemongers.com; siyps.com; The Fumbally, D8, the fumbally.ie; Red Nose Wines, Clonmel, rednosewine.com.
Contesa Pecorino 2019, Abruzzo
Ebullient textured ripe peaches with lemon zest and spice. Try it with seafood risotto, spaghetti carbonara or primavera.
From Honest2Goodness, D11; honest2goodness.ie; Sweeneys D3, sweeneysd3.ie; Red Island Wine, Co Skerries.