Posts tagged ‘italian white wines’
(Photo ©Tom Hyland)
A few thoughts today about some very tasty Italian wines I’ve enjoyed recently. Some of these are quite famous, a few not so famous, but they’re all extremely well made wines that offer a great deal of pleasure, both on their own and at the dinner table.
2012 Livio Felluga Sauvignon - I’m guessing that almost everyone who is an Italian wine lover has enjoyed a wine from the Livio Felluga estate at some point. Certainly the Pinot Grigio is one of the most famous examples in Italy and it’s also on my list as one of the most delicious. But the entire lineup is a brilliant array of vibrant whites and edgy reds that are evidence of the excellence of this estate, located in the Colli Orientali district of the Friuli region in far northeastern Italy.
Particularly memorable is the Sauvignon. This is the same Sauvignon Blanc grape that is grown throughout the world; however in Italy, it is known simply as Sauvignon. The examples from Friuli and Alto Adige, another cool climate northern Italian region, offer very good acidity as well as strong aromas and flavors; the 2012 offering from Livio Felluga displays attractive aromas of Bosc pear, freshly cut hay, spearmint and chervil. These aromas are textbook for this variety and it’s nice to find such complexity in the nose and on the palate. However, lest you think this is an intense wine, think again, as this is a harmonious wine with beautiful balance, excellent persistence, precise acidity and ideal varietal character. This is a delicious Sauvignon and while that term is often used for Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco or other lighter Italian whites, it’s not often applied to Sauvignon. But here it is and it’s very enjoyable on its own, although the subtle herbal characteristics of this wine deem it an appropriate partner for sautéed scallops or shrimp with lemon or ginger, while grouper or tilapia would also be ideal with this excellent white. Enjoy it tonight or over the next 3-5 years. (Suggested US retail of $26)
2013 Attems Pinot Grigio - I don’t drink much Pinot Grigio, as I find too many examples to be too simple for my tastes. This doesn’t mean they’re bad wines, it’s just that the wines are made as crowd pleasers, aimed at offending no one instead of trying to please with specific characteristics. One Pinot Grigio I did taste recently that offered a little more complexity- as well as richness on the palate – is the 2013 Attems Pinot Grigio. This wine is also from Friuli and it’s from the splendid 2013 vintage, one that was cool and ideal for whites with expressive aromatics and wines with admirable structure, given their beautiful acidity levels. This has aromas of yellow apples and lilacs, is medium-bodied and is quite dry. This is a must with food – pair it with risotto with seafood or chicken with vegetables. (SPR -$19)
2013 Cantina di Soave “Rocca Sveva” Soave Classico - I don’t have as much space as I’d like to discuss my love of Soave, a wine that’s remarkably misunderstood in this country. It’s too often thought of as a summer white, a term I dislike, as it equates to saying the wine is a simple quaffer with little to offer. Yes, there are some examples of Soave that are a bit one-dimensional, but price will often give you a clue to the identity of those wines.
The Soave district in the Veneto region – about a 30-minute drive from the lovely town of Verona – is actually home to at least three extinct volcanoes, so yes, the soils in much of this district are volcanic, which means the best examples of Soave Classico have a distinct minerality to them as well as excellent complexity. This isn’t to say that these are weighty, “ultra serious” wines, as they are very appealing in their youth; it’s just that the best examples of Soave are multi-dimensional wines that can age for anywhere from five to fifteen to even twenty years in a few instances.
All of this is a preface to let you know how much I enjoyed the 2013 Rocca Sveva Soave Classico from Cantina di Soave. This is a large cooperative, located just behind the famous castello in the town of Soave. You can bring in demi-johns and fill them up with the basic Soave for a very inexpensive price or you can enjoy their finest selection of Soave under the Rocca Sveva label. This 2013 is a beautiful wine with enticing aromas of honeydew melon, honey and magnolia – just textbook. Medium-full with a rich mid-palate and a lengthy finish, this is especially nice this year, as it’s from the excellent 2013 vintage, which as mentioned above, was outstanding for white wines. In fact, this is the finest version of this wine I have tasted! This is so delicious on its own, but even better with vegetable risotto, sole or roast chicken. (SRP $15 – a great value. I can’t say I’ve had even one or two other $15 whites that are this good!)
By the way, the three white wines I mentioned above are fermented and aged in stainless steel – no oak on these! I prefer this approach more often than not (although there are numerous oak-aged whites I think are first-rate). It all depends on the wine, but my point here is that there are so many brilliant whites wines that never see oak.
Mionetto Prosecco “Valdobbiadene Superiore” DOCG - Finally, a note on a very charming sparkling wine. Everyone knows about Prosecco, especially given its proliferation on the shelves of not only wine stores, but also supermarkets. It seems as there are dozens of $12 Proseccos everywhere and while these are pleasant, if undistinguished wines, spend a few dollars more – as little as $15 – and you can find a Prosecco that will interest you and your friends. In other words, these are Proseccos you wouldn’t dream of mixing with peach juice!
For just under $20 you can find an excellent Prosecco that’s one of the most elegant and flavorful I’ve tasted in a while. That’s the Mionetto Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG, labeled as Extra Dry. In order to identify the finest examples of Prosecco, the regulations were changed a few years ago to let consumers know that the true home of Prosecco are the towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene; this is important to know as the term Prosecco by itself has become somewhat generic as inexpensive sparkling wines from Friuli can be called Prosecco. Pleasant wines, perhaps, but not wines with much complexity.
Mionetto has been one of the leading producers of true Prosecco for some time now and their products are quite good and very representative of the heart of the real Prosecco zone. They’ve recently introduced their line of luxury cuvées of specialty Prosecco. This DOCG is well made with appealing lemon peel, chamomile and peony aromas, an off-dry finish (though dry enough for food) and an elegant finish. This is very refreshing and enjoyable on its own- I’ve enjoyed it with take-out Chinese food as well as seafood salad and I’m sure it would also be fine with lighter white meats. I can’t imagine a fan of Prosecco not loving this and wanting to find a few bottles for themselves.
Some of Italy’s finest white wines – and a few wonderful reds -are produced in the region of Alto Adige. In reality, Alto Adige is the northern part of the Trentino-Alto Adige region, but as Alto Adige is so different in nature from Trentino – as well as the rest of Italy – I will discuss Alto Adige separately.
There are several things that make Alto Adige so distinct. First is the situation of dual languages used here, both Italian and German. Alto Adige until the end of World War l was part of the Austria-Hungary empire, so the German influence is still quite strong. Menus in restaurants, road signs and even names of cities are bilingual – for example, the town of Termeno is also known as Tramin, while the region’s largest city of Bolzano is also known by its German name of Bozen (Alto Adige itself is also known as Südtirol, or South Tyrol.)
This is one of Italy’s most gorgeous wine zones, as vineyards have been squeezed in every possible inch amidst valleys below the Dolomite Mountains as well as on steep hillsides. The northern border of Alto Adige abuts Austria, so this is a cool climate, best suited for white wines. Thanks to moderate temperatures and cold air from the mountains, the local whites have vibrant acidity, one of the signatures of Alto Adige whites.
The leading variety planted in Alto Adige is Pinot Bianco; versions vary from simple, crisp dry whites to more medium-full efforts with a light spiciness. PInot Grigio is also popular here and as these wines have excellent acidity, they are among the very best examples of this variety produced in Italy.
The two finest varieties are Gewurztraminer and Sauvignon (known as Sauvignon Blanc outside of Italy). Gewurztraminer comes from the German word gewurz, meainng spicy. This is one of the most beautiful aromatic varieties grown anywhere and it is in the town of Tramin (thus Gewurztraminer means roughly, “spicy from Tramin” that it reaches it heights. There are three superior bottlings of Gewurztraminer from Tramin: the “Kastelaz” from Elena Walch, the “Kolbenhof” from J. Hofstatter and the “Nussbaumer” from Cantina Tramin. Each of these three is a full-bodied, tremendously complex Gewurztraminer with exotic aromas of lychee, grapefruit and yellow roses along with rich spiciness in the finish. All have beautiful texture (the Hofstatter has almost an oily feel on the palate) and age well for 3-5 years and sometimes longer. These wines are ideal with Thai food, although Martin Foradori told me it is a pity that there are no Thai restaurants in Tramin!
As for Sauvignon, the best versions in Alto Adige combine intense varietal aromatics of bell pepper, pear and asparagus with bracing acidity – these are not the simple, fresh, melon-tinged versions of this variety you would find in a warmer climate. Rather these are intense with plenty of herbal character to them, so pair these with seafood with herbal sauces or accompaniments. Among the best bottlings of Alto Adige Sauvignon are the “Montan” from Cantina Tramin,” the “Castel Ringberg” from Elena Walch, the “Sanct Valentin” from St. Michael-Eppan, the “Quartz” from Cantina Terlano and the “Lafoa” from Colterenzio. Each of these wines is outstanding; in my opinion, the “Lafoa” is a brilliantly realized Sauvignon and is one of the finest white wines produced today in all of Italy!
Among the best producers of white wines in Italy today are the following producers:
- Abbazia di Novacella
- Cantina Terlano
- J. Hofstatter
- Alois Lageder
- St. Michal-Eppan
- Cantina Tramin
- Elena Walch
Most regions in Italy have large co-operative wineries where grower members sell their grapes. This is a long-standing tradition in Alto Adige and it is here that there are more great co-operative producers than anywhere else in Italy. Among the best are Cantina Tramin, Cantina Terlano, St. Michal-Eppan and Colterenzio.
Coopertive producers have the great advantage of purchasing some of the finest grapes in all of Alto Adige and as they have so many grower members (most usually have more than 100), prices can be kept at reasonable levels.
Alto Adige is becoming one of the top regions in Italy for wines made from organically grown grapes as well as wines made according to biodynamic procedures. Several producers are working with these practices, none more highly regarded than Alois Lageder. A courteous, reflective individual, Lageder has been producing organic wines for some years now and recently released a Chardonnay/Pinot Grigio blend under the “beta delta” moniker (the 2008 is stunning!). A toast to Alois Lageder and other Alto Adige producers for their work with organic and biodynamic wines!
In a future post, I will deal with the unique reds of Alto Adige, from the sensual Pinot Nero to the ripe, forward, purple-hued Lagrein.