|Preparing for cocktail hour in Buffalo. Dianne prefers the|
small, fluted Italian glass.
Although Italians care very much about where wines come from, most—but not all—Italian white wines are known by the grape each is made from, often followed by the place of origin. Hence Greco di Tufo is a wine made from the Greco (a name that refers to the origins of the grape in Greek antiquity) grape and is from the area around the town of Tufo, just east of Naples.
Working against tradition, we’ll begin in the Italian South and move northward toward the Alps.
For a while last year, our local Rome grocery store had a large supply of Vermentino di Gallura. Over a few weeks we bought it all. Gallura is a zone or area of Sardinia, and the grape is Vermentino. But it’s not the Vermentino you’ll get up north in Liguria. A different grape with the same name. Not an elegant wine, but substantial and drinkable. We wouldn’t call it exotic. Goes good with pizza.
We’ve already introduced Greco di Tufo, which is from the town of Greco (NOT!!!!). It can be “dry and elegant” as one of our sources says, and we used to buy it frequently when invited to dinner by our Roman friends. Our current thinking is that it’s a dependable dry wine, but not so interesting. Most of Calabria’s white wines are built on a Greco base.
|Make sure it's "Superiore"|
West of Rome in the Abruzzi mountains the basic white wine is Trebbiano d’Abruzzo. That would suggest that it’s made from the Trebbiano grape, but that isn’t so. Trebbiano d’Abruzzo is made from the Bombino Bianco grape. A rose by any other name. Drink this wine if you’re in Abruzzo.
There was a time when Grechetto was widely planted in the land-locked province of Umbria, to the north of Rome. But the low-yielding grape proved frustrating, and most of it died out, save for a few villages—around Todi and Foligno—where growers apparently have more patience or deeper pockets. The grape is the same as the Greco. Gleave labels it “rich, nutty, appley.” Not so dry. It gets a “B” on our report card.
The Marches’ white wine of note is Verdicchio. It’s easily spotted in the stores, with its amphora-shaped (and now not so hip) bottle. It’s sometimes called the Adriatic Muscadet, which means it’s a bit sweeter than some. Tasty but seldom elegant, Verdicchio is meant for lunch with a panino.
North from Rome, into Tuscany
Another exception to our rule is Orvieto, named after a lovely hilltop town. Another lunch wine, only occasionally suitable for the elevated space of the “cocktail hour,” but serviceable nonetheless. A “neutral wine,” according to most accounts, its relative mediocrity traceable to large amounts of Trebbiano (again). The best of it is mixed with a healthy portion of Grechetto. Please! Please! Please! avoid the best-known brand of Orvieto: Est! Est! Est!, which is 80% (that is, too much) Trebbiano. Trebbiano is also grown in quantity in the hills south of Bologna, where it makes a “neutral” wine, sometimes and dry and freshing but “seldom distinguished.”
Vernaccia di San Gimignano is an old favorite of ours, as dry, light and flinty a wine as you’ll find it Italy—something like the New Zealand sauvignon blancs, though with more flavor. What’s the grape? Where’s it made? The best-known producer is San Quirico. We drank a lot of this wine for years, and we still do. It’s surprising that the grape hasn’t migrated.
We’ve skipped Emilia Romagna (Bologna, Parma, etc.—the Northern Appenines). As you can sense, we’re not Trebbiano admirers, and that seems to be the hegemonic white grape of the region. Further north and to the east, Pino Grigio dominates. It’s good enough, Hillary, and we’ve certainly had our share, but we’ve come to think of it as a simple, rather ordinary wine, the lowest-common denominator if you will, of fine wine and good taste. A “trainer” wine. So we’ll skip it.
The northeast is also known for Tocai, a native grape that can result is truly excellent wines. A recent dispute between Hungary and Italy over the right to label a wine simply “Tocai” had Hungary emerge the winner, so exactly what the Italian version is now called remains a mystery, to us. Still, if it’s on the menu, try it; it’s always good.
We were once also fans of Muller-Thurgau, another SE Piedmont wine. Light and perfumed, it’s made from Riesling and Sylvaner grapes. Then we read that it was a rather pedestrian white and, not wanting to consider ourselves pedestrian, we stopped drinking it. Not a great wine, but pleasant enough.
P.S. See photos and info below on wine shops selling a good variety of Italian whites in Buffalo and Los Angeles (where else?). And when in Rome, check out the "wine bar" section of Rome the Second Time, plus one or two of our wine bar posts.
|City Wine Merchant, where many of the wines mentioned in this post can (and have been) purchased. Corner of Main and Tupper, Buffalo, New York. http://citywinemerchant.com/ . Dave Cosentino, the proprietor at Vino Aroma, on Main Street in Williamsville, has first-hand knowledge of Italian whites, and the store carries an ample selection--as well as copies of Rome the Second Time. Vino Aroma is 2 doors west of Trattoria Aroma.|
In Los Angeles,
our source for Italian whites is Domaine LA, at 6801 Melrose (don't miss the ceiling; photo below).