Guide to Italian White Wine
Greco Bianco : A different clone than that used in Campania. Used to make Ciro Bianco.
Campania is a wonderful area for experiencing ancient varieties. Many date back to the ancient Greeks who settled here. You will find grapes that you definitely won’t find anywhere else in the world.
Coda di Volpe: Named because the bunch looks like a fox’s tail. Used in a variety of local wines, the star is Lacryma di Cristi by Mastroberardino.
Falanghina: Concentrated and full bodied white, not unlike Viogner.
Fiano: Spicy and smoky, aggressively aromatic and full-bodiedThere are many brands and it isn’t too hard to find one you’ll like.
Greco: Delicious, flinty, full-bodied white. Look for Mastroberardino or Feudi di San Gregorio.
The white wines from this region aren’t well known but they can be interesting to try.
Albana: Light-bodied and high acid native from the Romagna side. When made into a passito (desert wine) it displays honey and apricot characters.
Malvasia: An aromatic wine found throughout Italy. It can be found in still, spumante (bubbly) and dessert styles.
Trebbiano: Once again this grape pops up its head, this time as a light table wine. It can also be found in the local frizzante (bubbly) and dolce (dessert style) wines.
This is a stand-out region for whites, where Tuscany is the most important region or reds, then Friuli is the most impressive for whites. Known as Super-whites, the range of flavours is impressive.
Chardonnay: More often than not found in a blended wine. It has a creamy texture and once again, a mineral finish.
Friulano: Full bodied with peach, pear and almond characters and a pleasant mouth cleansing zing of minerals and acid.
Picolit: An indigenous grape that goes into the dessert wine of the same name. Honey sweet.
Pinot Grigio: From the run of the mill to the delicately balanced Puiatti, Pinot Grigio is a great wine to have with anything. One of the few Italian wines (red or white) that matches practically any meal (except red meats and game). There are several variations on the market and you’ll have a tough decision to make – an everyday wine like Collavini or the more complex Livio Felluga? Either way, it’s full and nutty with a mineral finish.
Ribolla Giallo: If you like green apples, this is the wine for you.
Sauvignon: Once again, this grape varies from a rich, peachy style to a more elegant grassy one. Always called Sauvignon, not Sauvignon Blanc.
Verduzzo: Lemon citrus flavours, it can be made as a still wine or a sparkling.
Frascati is the local wine made from Trebbiano and a number of indigenous varieties. It can be rather old-fashioned and blousy so watch out. On the other hand, try a brand like Fontana Candida or Castel de Paolis and you’ll find an exciting new style that refreshes. Floral and citrus aromatics which match the regions food perfectly).
Malvasia: Dry citrus-like flavours that lift the Malvasia from Lazio way above the rest of the country.
Trebbiano: It goes into everything including the famous Frascati.
Trebbiano: Light and crisp.
Verdicchio: A wonderful wine for fish. Distinctive apple and melon with a trademark almond-like finish. Look for good quality brands, try Garofoli or Umani Ronchi.
Not a large exporter, if you are travelling to the region, try the Bosco, Vermentino and Pigato.
You cannot miss Franciacorta, try it as an alternative to French Champagne.
Franciacorta: Made from Pinot Bianco, Pinot Nero and Chardonnay, it is the Italian equivalent to Champagne. Made exactly the same way, the best brands include Bellavista and Ca’ del Bosco.
Lugana: Made from Trebbiano, it is light and crisp while also a little grassy. Look for Zenato if you want to try an exceptional version of this easy going wine.
Riesling Renano: a dry and fruity white with floral aromas.
Arneis: A fine, floral, citrus-flavoured wine. Records show this wine dates back to the 1400s. Sometimes it is known as Roero Arneis, in reference to the Roero hills from where it comes.
Cortese: Full-bodied flavour but less aromatic than Arneis, this is the grape that goes into Gavi (the style).
Moscato: Using ‘muscat a petits grains’, known locally as Moscato Canelli (after the town of Canelli), the ensuing wine is a fresh, fruity, low-alcohol bubbly that has been copied around the world, to its detriment. The real Moscato from Piemonte is a pleasant, refreshing wine while most of the others are just a sweet copy.
Nuragus: Ancient Phoenician grape that makes a light, acidic wine with a number of aromatics depending upon where it’s grown on the island.
Vermentino: A fragrant wine that gives the sense of Sardegna. Deliciously wild with a herbal intensity and a fantastic acidic finish. Try Sella & Mosca or Argiolas.
Vernaccia: Not to be confused with Vernaccia di San Gimignano of Toscana. A plump grape with rich sugars.
Sicily makes some wonderful white wines but make sure they are labelled within two years of vintage.
Catarrato: One of the most heavily planted varieties but it can’t stand alone. Needs to be in a blend.
Grecanico: High acidity and fresh green apples.
Grillo: The base grape for marsala and, very rarely, a stand alone varietal.
Inzolia (also known as Insolia and Ansonica): A delicious wine used in a variety of blends and stand alone wines. Try Corvo Columba Platino.
Malvasia: It excels here because the volcanic soils seem to bring out the flavour.
Zibibbo: The name of Muscat of Alexandria in Sicily. An excellent grape that makes out of this world passito (dessert wine). Try Donnafugata Ben Ryé – it’s worth the money.
Another great region for white grapes. The aromatic styles do particularly well here.
Chardonnay: One of the region’s most popular grapes.
Gewurtztraminer: This variety is thought to have originated in the town of Termeno (Tramin) so this German style is really Italian. It has peach and exotic fruits and a clean acidic finish. Great with food that has a sweeter sauce.
Pinot Bianco: Of French origin, this is a popular grape in the north. Creamy texture and nutty flavours.
Muller Thurgau: A grape that thrives in high altitudes and produces a really excellent crisp white wine
Trebbiano: The most widely planted white grape in Italy, in Toscana it makes a fairly neutral-flavoured white wine that neither offends or offers excitement.
Vermentino: An escapee from Sardegna that offers a slightly different wine from that of the island. Green melon-like characters with a savoury finish.
Vernaccia: From around the town of San Gimignano, this is a fragrant white that normally has a bit of age to it (more than a year). It can be drunk young or aged slightly (no more than four years).
Grechetto: A sub-variety of Grecanico. Green apples and fresh hay make this grape perfect as a varietal or as part of the blend of Orvieto (the style), the region’s major white wine.
When teamed with Trebbiano, the other half of the equation, it excels. Try and find some Bigi Orvieto.
Trebbiano: Once again, a bland white wine.
Soave is the name of a place not a grape (see Garganega). Remember when choosing Italian wines, they can be named in three different ways: after a place (Soave, Valpolicella);
after a grape (Prosecco, Sangiovese) or a style (Amarone, Brunello). It’s best to learn a few of the more common ones straight away before launching yourself into a mire of confusion.
Garganega: Thought to be related to Greco or Grecanico of southern Italy, the wine is aromatic with apple and pear aromas. It’s the main grape in Soave. Depending who grows it, it can be very light and tasteless.
Trebbiano: The other half of the Soave blend. Lacklustre on its own, it complements the Garganega producing a mouth-filling aromatic wine that is silky-soft on the palate. The Oxford Dictionary of Wine includes Verdicchio in the blend.
Prosecco: A late-ripening white that makes a wonderful sparkling wine. A good substitute for Champagne but at half the price. Its peachy softness and dry palate is always popular.
A Simple Guide To Italian Red Wine
Abruzzo / Molise
Montepulciano D’Abruzzo: Masciarelli, Valenti, Illuminati and Farnese – the list of good producers goes on and on. It goes with everything, a very versatile grape and one highly
recommended if you’re just starting with Italian wines.
Aglianico: Basilicata has only one red, Aglianico del Vulture, named for the region around the mountain of Vulture, but they make a truly great wine from this dark-skinned beauty.
Gaglioppo: Tough conditions mean the vineyards get very hot in summer. The skin of the grape has to be tough to outlast the weather and oxidation. Gaglioppo makes a wine called Cirò.
Good wine producers are thin on the ground in Calabria but try Librandi, it’s one of the best.
Like the white wines from this region, the reds are equally as interesting.
Aglianico: Thought to have been brought to the region by the Greeks, as many of the grapes were, this varietal can make a straight Aglianico or a more intense Taurasi. Wonderfully complex with strong berry flavours and cigar box aromas.
Piedirosso: A light red, used in Lacrima Christi Rosso.
Magliocco: Often confused with Gaglioppo, this grape makes a better, deeper-coloured wine with a lot more perfume. Once again, try Librandi.
Great food wines but not very well known.
Bonarda: Plump and deeply coloured wine of no distinction. Can be still or sparkling.
Lambrusco: A celebrated wine that like Asti Spumante, has been copied around the world. Much derided for the copies that have reduced expectations of Emilia Romagna’s numerous fine wines. Dry, cherry flavours work wonderfully well chilled.
Sangiovese: Fairly good standard wine. Has a similar flavour to the Sangiovese of Tuscany.
Cabernet Franc: Very common in Friuli, Cabernet Franc really shines from this region. It has the aromas of wild cherries and an earthy palate with a few herbs thrown in.
Merlot: This grape has been in Friuli since the early 1800s and is now regarded as a local variety. It makes a completely different sort of wine from an Australian Merlot and is one of the most common wines to come from this region. Light and tasty.
Pignolo: Walter Filiputti, a local winemaker claims to have saved this grape from extinction. The Pignolo grape’s regeneration has created a spectacular wine – that may rival Chianti Classico or a good Brunello in years to come.
Refosco: Indigenous to the region, it’s a light refreshing wine you would use for a barbeque when you want a red but you don’t want to spend much.
Schioppettino: (also known as Ribolla Nera) Spicy, tannic and powerful. Needs plenty of age before you can even approach it.
Tazzelenghe: Meaning "cut your tongue" or "tongue cutter", there isn’t much to say about this wine except try it. It won’t be your favourite but at least you have tried it.
Lacrima: A light red wine.
Montepulciano: Originally from neighbouring Abruzzo, the Montepulciano grape makes a great wine called Rosso Conero. Try the brands of Garofoli and Moroder for great examples.
Sangiovese: The ubiquitous grape of Italy has turned up once again. Goes into Rosso Piceno, try Garofoli for a good solid wine.
Ciliegiolo: A light red wine that makes great rosé. Good ‘lazy Sunday afternoon’ or barbecue wine.
Rossese: A very savoury red butvery hard to find.
Sangiovese: Often blended with Ciliegiolo to make a bright, cheery wine.
Barbera: A rough and ready red wine very good with robust meats and oily fish.
Bonarda: Available as a sparkling or still wine (also known as Croatina). It’s a wine for undeveloped palates due to the sweetness of the grape.
Chiavennasca: This relative of the Nebbiolo grape produces some great wines with finesse from the mountainous terraces in the north.
Pinot Noir: A good wine with a fragrant and delicate palate that is used for Franciacorta (Sparkling wine) and for traditional pinot noir.
Uva Rara: Meaning simply "rare grape", it holds no claim to fame ut it is quite flavoursome.
Barbera: A wide variety of styles are made under the Barbera name, all of them good.
Brachetto: ‘Liquid Turkish Delight with bubbles’. It’s truly delicious as a dessert wine – who needs dessert when you have it in your glass?
Dolcetto: Its name belies its true flavour. Meaning ‘small sweet one’, it makes a deep ruby wine with soft tannins, which tastes of blackberries. However, when made correctly it doesn’t contain a lot of residual sugar and isn’t sweet.
Nebbiolo: Named for the fog that covers the region in Autumn, La Nebia, this can surely be referred to as the king of grapes. Difficult to deal with, the grapes ripen later than all
the others and are very temperamental. Fittingly Nebbiolo produces Barolo, the king of wines. Tannic with a great colour, Barolo can go on and on.
Malvasia Nera: When combined with Negroamaro it becomes Salice Salentino, a wine that is popular throughout the region .
Negroamaro: Dark and thick-skinned, this grape goes into 11 of the DOC wines of the Salentina peninsula. A rich and often powerful red wine.
Primitivo: Said to be genetically linked to Zinfandel, the Italians do it better than the Americans. Rich, with high alcohol, this wine is full of juicy, big berry flavour.
Uva di Troia: Used in northern Puglia to make DOC wines in the Castel Del Monte zone. Unfortunately troia means "prostitute" or "a woman of low morals", but the name actually comes from the Greek word Troy.
Corvina – Rondinella – Molinara: On their own they are nothing but blended together to make Valpolicella or Amarone, they sing. The Corvina gives the flavour, the Rondinella and the colour and body while the Molinara the rest of the juice. What you would call a multi-purpose wine - goes with everything.
Cabernet: Whether it’s Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc, in Italy this grape rarely has what it takes to make a good wine. Generally it is picked a little early and suffers because of lack of ripeness. There are a few quality brands on the market but why bother when the indigenous blend of Valpolicella wins hands down every time.
Cannonau: The Sardinian name for Grenache, this grape makes a gamey red of medium body.
Carignano: Not well known outside of the island, it makes a beautiful, deep red wine with lots of tannins and a concentrated flavour of wild cherries.
Monica: A light fruity red of Spanish origin.
Frappato: Used with Nero D’Avola in Cerasuolo di Vittoria. Occasionally used on its own to make light reds.
Nero D’Avola: Definitely the grape of Sicily. Blackberry flavours and exotic spices dominate. Often found blended with Cabernet, Shiraz or Merlot for the export market. Try Planeta, Regaleali or Cusumano.
Canaiolo: Often used with Sangiovese in Chianti. More of a blending wine than a stand alone.
Cabernet Sauvignon: When used in conjunction with Sangiovese, it makes a Super Tuscan, the wines that really put Italy on the world wine map forty years ago.
Merlot: A simple but straightforward wine, rather like a good pair of walking shoes – rarely lets you down.
Sangiovese: Chianti, Brunello, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Morellino di Scansano – all these wines, leaders in red wine in Italy, are all made from the Sangiovese grape.
Lagrein: Tannic and spicy, a very interesting grape.
Marzemino: A plump, juicy grape that produces full-bodied red wine, at least as full-bodied as you can get from the very north of Italy. Delicious anytime.
Pinot Nero: Beautifully perfumed red wine, not quite as good as the French but close to it.
Schiava: A lighter-bodied red.
Teroldego: A great wine that you can develop a taste for very quickly. Full of rich fruit flavours.
Sagrantino: A deep red, very tannic wine with a little spice. The best of the best: Arnaldo Caprai and Perticaia.
Sangiovese: The dominant red that has crossed the border from Tuscany. There are numerous brands on the market that make adequate wines.