I once attended a seminar where legendary Italian wine writer Victor Hazan confidently announced: “The color of wine is red! While Italy is best known for its reds, there are many distinctive whites, mostly made from native grape varieties.
Think you know Pinot Grigio? You don’t know Pinot Grigio until you’ve tried Italian Pinot Grigio. If you are used to American Pinot Grigio, recalibrate your expectations. Particularly from the Alto Adige in the northeast with wines such as the 2019 Kaltern ($ 23) – full bodied apple, white peach and almond – and the 2018 Elena Walch Vigna Castel Ringberg ($ 27). The latter is for those who don’t think they like Pinot Grigio. It presents notes of citrus, apple, pear, stone fruit, melon, mineral, hints of spice and good structure.
In the far northeast, the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region is home to Marco Felluga, whose “Mongris” (2019, $ 20) from the Collio sub-region fills his mouth with peach, melon and stone fruit. enhanced with spicy herbs. Finally, respected producer Alois Lageder offers the 2019 Cantina Riff at a great price ($ 11), with citrus, pear and apple.
Also from the Collio sub-region, the 2018 Russiz Superiore Sauvignon ($ 29), from a sister estate to Marco Felluga, is an inspiring Sauvignon Blanc for its crunchy lemon, peach and melon. Full of flavors, it is always drunk with finesse.
Back in Alto Adige, I continue to be impressed by Gewürztraminer wines from the geographical origin of the grape variety. The 2018 Elena Walch Vigna Kastelaz ($ 39) is traditionally off-dry and is drunk with a mouth-watering orange viscosity. Its cool climate allows it to develop spectacular aromas of lychee, anise, rose and spices.
Further west, while Piemdonte’s red wines command the most attention, its native white wines should not be overlooked, especially arneis, an ancient grape from the Roero sub-region. The sub-region has been revived over the past 50 years mainly thanks to the Vietti winery, of which 2019 ($ 24) features a fruit salad with hints of herbs and a juicy finish. And, although less ancient, the Cortese produces an equally distinctive wine. La Scolca’s 2019 Gavi dei Gavi ($ 45), a cortese grown near the town of Gavi, opens with nutty lime, peach and citrus notes and crisp, tangy drinks.
Abruzzo, in east-central Italy, also focuses on local grapes such as pecorino. Another ancient grape that was believed to be extinct and which has been resurrected in recent decades, its wines are generally invigorating and forward with a higher alcohol content, but still delicate and balanced. The 2019 La Valentina Pecorino ($ 17) adds complexity from the estate’s organically grown vineyards and a fuller palate of slightly higher alcohol, balanced with pleasant nutty citrus.