For some, Italian wine is all about the reds, Chianti, Brunello, Barolo, Sagrantino, Primitivo, Amarone, Valpolicella, and Aglianico, to mention a few. But as we bask in the summer heat, and eat lighter fare, cool and crisp whites and sparkling wines appeal the most. At a recent Vino California tasting, many small producers poured their refreshing wines, crafted from grapes indigenous and unique to their regions. Organic, biodynamic, natural, sustainable, these Italian wine producers excel at blending their regional winemaking traditions with modern technology, bringing a freshness and racy appeal to their wines.
In ancient times, Italy was known as Enotria, the “land of wine”. Greeks brought viticulture to Sicily and southern Italy over 3,000 years ago, and the rise of the Roman Empire expanded the art of winemaking throughout the sun-drenched, mountainous Italian peninsula and beyond. Today, it is viticultural heaven, with over 3,000 grape varieties, from 20 different regions, with a rich legacy of wine that has been perfected through the millennia, and US wine consumers are just beginning to explore these wines.
Over 30 family wineries, from throughout Italy, channeled this wine heritage as they poured their wine for the 2014 Vino California trade and media tasting. From Friuli in northeastern Italy to the island of Sicily, a fascinating thread of structure, balance, and acidity wove through these unusual wines. These are wines that are refreshing, fragrant, and charismatic, and whether sparkling, white, rosé, or red, they possess good energy and resonate on your palate. These are a few of my northern Italian white wine favorites, by region:
Friuli Venezia Giulia, and more specifically the hills or Collio, is renowned for its great white wines. Nestled along Italy’s northeastern borders with Slovenia and Austria, the wines reflect this cool mountainous terroir, from the Alps to the Adriatic Sea. Three smaller-scale wineries offered a mosaic of wines to taste.
1) The Livon Azienda Agricola, from the hills of Friuli Venezia Giulia, impressed with their diverse lineup. These wines are elegant and refined, yet have intense personalities. The 2012 Livon Braide Alte IGT, a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Moscato Giallo, and Picolit, is spectacular, aromatic with flowers and wet stone, and a palate that is complex, bright and mineral, with great texture and spice, and a very long finish. Previous vintages of this Gran Cru have won the prestigious Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri (Three Glass) award, of which only 300-400 of 20,000 wines are selected.
Friulano is very popular in the region, making fruity and floral wines of zesty acidity and minerality, perfumed with peach, pear, apple, and honeydew fruit aromas. The 2012 Livon Friulano DOC Collio Manditocai is 100% Friulano, fresh and refined, well structured and mineral, with intense peach and spicy notes, and an almond tinged finish.
2) Primosic highlighted the native Ribolla Gialla grape in their selection of wines. This unusual white grape, of historical importance since the Middle Ages, is vinified with skin contact during fermentation, giving a complex bouquet of citrus, floral, and nutty notes when aged, including an often deep gold color from the extended skin contact, light to medium body and high acidity, a good pairing for the local prosciutto! It makes a distinctive wine, sometimes not to everyone’s taste, but exciting and full of character.
Primosic offered 4 versions, 2 blended with other Friulian grapes. The Primosic Ribolla Gialla IGT Venezia Giulia, 100% Ribolla Gialla, is a lighter, fresher version with lemon and tropical fruit hints, good acidity and minerality. More interesting was the Primosic Ribolla Gialla Riserva di Oslavia, also 100%, with its ripe nose of apple, exotic fruits such as mango and papaya, and hint of lime, with a citrus and green apple palate, a dry white wine with the sensation of tannin.
The Primosic Collio Bianco Klin, a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Friulano, Chardonnay, and Ribolla Gialla, is complex and elegant, with a pear and pastry nose, good acidity and a long finish. It blends the notable grapes of the region to perfection.
3) Vini Ciani produces DOC quality wines, from Prosecco to Pinot Grigio. The Vini Ciani Chardonnay DOC Friuli Grave 2012 was a standout, fragrant and fruity, not touched by oak, it’s aromas of banana, white peach, and jasmine are intoxicating. It has a very nice texture from the lees aging, quite delicious cold!
Continued in Part 2