Italian white wines have a character all of their own. Crisp, soft, and highly acidic, they are made to accompany food, not overpower it. Even Italian wines made from grapes popular elsewhere, such as Chardonnay, take on a slightly different, richer character when grown in Italian soil. Italy's best white wines are grown, primarily, in the three regions called collectively, "Tre Venezie" (literally, three Venices:) Veneto, Trentino Alto-Adige, and Fruili-Venezia Guilia, as well as in Piedmont. The cooler northern climate of these areas adds the crisp flavor to Italian white wines.
Probably the most well known Italian white wine is Pinot Grigio. This light, dry white has become a summer staple in the United States. Produced in Veneto, Pinto Grigio, at its best, has a subtle, lemony, slightly nutty flavor. Pinot Grigio goes well with simply grilled fish, salads, and seafood.
Soave is a close cousin to Pinot Grigio. Also grown in Veneto, Soave is a light, straw-colored, slightly sweet and fruity wine. Named after a small town nestled among vine-covered hills in the shadow of a handsome and well-preserved castle, Soave is made from Trebbiano and local, Garganega grapes. Soave, Italy's best selling white wine, is best consumed young, no longer than three years from the vintage.
Orvieto is made in Umbria. It has been made in Umbria, in the same way, since Roman times. Located in central Italy, Umbria's slightly warmer climate imparts an earthiness not found in the Piedmont and Veneto wines. The chalky, limestone soil here gives a unique character to this wine. Orvieto, named after a village near where it is produced, is a dry wine crafted from Trebbiano and Grechetto grapes. Very affordable, Orvieto goes well with simply grilled chicken or unadorned fish.
Arneis, the name means "rascal" in local dialect, is a product of Piedmont. Light and easy to drink, Arneis is great with summer fare: salads, prosciutto and melon, or perhaps, a light pasta primavera. Arneis is also refreshing as an "apperitivo," a small glass at the start of the meal. Named after the grape from which the wine is made, Arneis is a medium dry wine with a rich texture and hints of peaches, apricots, and pears. It is best consumed when it is young. Little known in the United States, Arneis is finding its way, gradually, to wine stores and restaurants here.
Chardonnay is most often thought of in conjunction with French or California wine production, but Italy also makes great Chardonnay. Most Italian Chardonnay is made in the Alto Adige region in mountainous northern Italy, near the Austrian border. In general, Italian Chardonnays are leaner and crisper than those made in other countries. Most are un-oaked with light fruit. Italian Chardonnay pairs well with lobster, crabmeat, and cream sauces.
Italian white wines offer variety and unique flavors. The next time you visit your neighborhood wine store, think Italian and try something different. Sample one of these outstanding white wines.
By Sandy Mitchell