at the TABLE: Viva Vino Bianco

Featured article, BC’s quarterly magazine of fine food, wine and spirits: at the TABLE Spring 2013

Springtime is here. So what better way to crack into a new season of wine-sipping than to explore a mere fraction of what is available to us in the white wine category from Italy – and the more random the grape and wine, the better.

One thing is for certain, from Piedmont to Sicily, Italy is spilling over with grapes. Wine is their culture, their religion, it runs through their veins. Wine makes Italians, well, Italian. It is a rite of national pride and a part of their every day.

Thankfully, following centuries of rising and falling empires in Europe, Italy is left with a grand patchwork of indigenous grapes, vibrant growing regions and varying winemaking techniques that would take a lifetime to fully understand and appreciate. The vast number of labels, language hiccups, acronyms and grapes that don’t read familiarly is an intimidating roadblock for the majority of us.

Starting with a recognizable fan-favourite from the northwest, Muscat, or Moscato, a grape mostly associated with the sweeter sparkling wine style of Asti. Because of the recent Moscato sweet-wine craze that has hit the shelves in droves across North America, finding a quality dry Moscato can be tricky. Pick up Alasia Sec Vino Da Tavola Bianco 2011 ($20). Floral, fresh – and dry – this is a very quaffable, light and delicate wine, fit for any patio and a homerun of a wine for any occasion this spring.

Among the great Barolos and Barbarescos of Piedmont is a relatively unknown white variety, Arneis, which has gained recent attention. Arneis is responsible for this region’s perfumed signature dry white wine. Used in the past to soften the robust Nebbiolo, the wine is full-bodied and elegant. Usually unoaked and intended for drinking in its youth, the rich concentration of pear and peach with a hint of nuttiness makes this a decadent food wine. The best examples are from the Langhe and Roero – try the 2010 Roero Arneis by Matteo Correggia ($32), one of this region’s modern and innovative winemakers.

A classic example of an indigenous grape showing off on its home soils is Verdicchio, having become one of the more popular white grapes from Italy. Colle Stefano’s Verdicchio di Matelica 2011 ($25) from The Marches’ hilly terrain in central Italy is delicate yet with a vibrant, marked acidity that is nicely balanced by a creamy texture and a clean finish. This is a fabulous little wine. Enjoy it on its own or with some briney seafood.

To the south, the hot and arid island of Sicily was once the Mecca of high yields, high production bulk juice shipped as table wine for the rest of the country. Now producing more sought-after wines of higher quality and elegance, the white wines made from the likes of Inzolia or Grecanico grapes need not be memorized or even pronounced correctly, just try them. Tasca d’Almerita Regaleali Biano 2010 ($25) is an ideal afternoon wine. Ripe fruits with a rich mouth-feel, this wine is perfect with a light seafood dish or a cold duck salad.

With an ideal Mediterranean grape-growing climate, Sardinia is starting to show its strength in modern winemaking from a few prominent producers. Argiolas’ Vermentino di Sardegna ‘Costamolino’ 2011 ($22) is a ripe, lemony, mouth-coating gem of a wine. Fresh herbs and lemon custard that linger on the finish, enjoy it with a seafood and pasta feast.

Inland and north of the Amalfi Coast is the commune Avellino in Campania. Fiano di Avellino from Terre Dora 2010 ($35) is an excellent wine with serious finesse. From a single vineyard site, this wine is creamy, yet refreshing, with great structure and complexity. Made from the Fiano grape, it will not disappoint.

Italian white sparkling wine and springtime go hand-in-hand. A popular Prosecco found on most shelves is the Adami wines – and there are plenty of styles from which to choose. Try the Bosco di Gica Brut – fruity, dry, light and vibrant, with a foamy froth that adds texture and body. Half bottles at $20 – perfect for a picnic in the park.

A unique lightly sparkling wine, made predominantly from Glera, or more commonly known as Prosecco, is Costadilà’s Bianco Colli Irevigiani 330 ($25) – the 330 is named for the site’s elevation. The wine is fermented dry, then blended with passito juice in the bottle under a crown cap for the second fermentation, a method known as méthode ancestrale. This off-the-beaten-path wine is light, medium sweet and juicy, and is a wine-lovers wine. And don’t be alarmed by the small deposit in the bottle – it’s what gives this wine a kiss of toasty brioche. Chill, decant and enjoy. Quite simply, it is absolutely delicious.

Italy is far too vast and much too exciting, not to mention complicated, to sum up wine selections in one short article. Additional to the above, also hunt for the following:

Gavi from the Cortese grape in Piedmont – perhaps one of the best-known Italian white wines in the northwest. Bone dry, intense in its structure, fragrant and lively – a sure bet.

Soave Classico, made from the Garganega grape variety, these wines are steely and textured, easy to drink, won’t offend a soul, and the Classico examples, such as those wines from Stefano Inama, have some significant depth.

In the heart of Tuscany where the red Sangiovese reigns, try the white Tuscan Vernaccia di San Gimignano, a dry wine that is full of character and fine elegance.

Orvieto Classico in Umbria, yet another classic wine region in central Italy, shows off various styles from light and fruity dry wines to Antinori’s Cervaro blend of Chardonnay and Grechetto – a wine that rivals even the best Chardonnays in the world.

photo credit- Raeff Miles

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