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Charles’ Top Five Italian Whites

Charles teaches “Hot Summer Nights, Cool Italian Wines” at the Astor Center on August 14th. As an additional homage summer, here is a piece on Italian white wines that first appeared on (Tibesti), a site devoted to the best of everything.

Not so many years ago, many felt that Italian white wines lacked character and tasted too much alike. One of the reasons for the similarity was that many producers used the same type of yeast. There were always exceptions and today, the exceptions have become the rule. Innovations by northern Italian white winemakers, especially in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, have led the way to complex white wines that reflect both the grape variety and the “terroir.” One winemaker even cultivates his own natural yeasts in a special room.

Today’s Italian whites can hold their own with white wines from anywhere in the world. There are traditional style wines, modern style wines, and some that are very innovative. The five wines listed below are examples of the best of Italian white wines today.

Trebbiano d’Abruzzo 2004 DOC – Edoardo Valentini (Abruzzo)

This winery makes only three wines. Two of their wines were given the Tre Bicchieri from Gambero Rosso: Trebbiano d’Abruzzo and Montepulicano d’Abruzzo. The other was awarded two red glasses, their second highest honor. The Trebbiano d’Abruzzo was rated in the first tier in Decanter Magazine’s “Italy’s 50 Greatest Ever Wines”. It will age and drink like a great white Burgundy. The winemaker is Francesco Valentini. His winery has taken an undistinguished grape, Trebbiano, and made it into a world-class wine.

Vintage Tunina 2005 IGT – Jermann (Friuli Venezia Giulia)

Made from Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Rjbolla Gialla, Malvasia Istriana and Picolit grapes, the percentages vary from year to year. The grapes are late harvested, picked two weeks after all the other grapes have been harvested. Grapes are all harvested and vinified together which is very unusual. The wine is fermented and aged in stainless steel.

This is an elegant, well-balanced wine with complex floral, honey, and mineral aromas. The winemaker is Silvio Jermann, one of the first in the area to experiment with blends. He has had great results. The first official release of the wine was in 1975. The wine will last 8 -10 years after the harvest.

Ribolla Gialla 2003 IGT – Gravner (Friuli-Venezia Giulia)

The wine is 100% Ribolla, a native grape from Friuli Venezia Giulia, but the way it is made is very unusual. In the vineyard, Joska Gravner gets maximum ripeness and concentration from the grapes. He ferments the wine in giant beeswax lined terracotta “amphorae” from Georgia in the former Soviet Union, which are buried underground. The wine is kept there for 7-8 months and then in large Slovenian oak barrels for 3 years. Only natural yeast is used. No sulfur dioxide is added and there is no temperature control. The wine is neither clarified nor filtered and is bottled during the waxing of the moon. This is a unique white wine brownish in color with aggressive aromas and flavor.

Bianco des Rosis IGT 2006 – Mario Schiopetto (Friuli Venezia Giulia)

40% Tocai Friulano, 20% Pinot Grigio, 20% Sauvignon, 15% Malvasia and 5% Ribolla grapes. 85% of the wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks; the malvasia undergoes alcoholic fermentation and malolatic fermentation in tonneaux for five or six months. The tocai friulano and the malvasia dominate the blend. The winery has a yeast room where the various types of autochthonous yeast required to trigger the process of fermentation are grown.

The winery was established in 1965 by Mario Schiopetto, and the first vintage of the wine was 1986. The winey is now in the hands of Mario’s children and Giorgio is the oenologist and agronomist. We first drank this wine many years ago in Venice and it has become one of Michele’s (my wife) and my favorite white wines.

Sauvignon St. Valentin 2006 DOC – San Michele Appiano (Alto Adige)

The winery is a cooperative with 355 members. It was founded in 1907 and named after the village where it is located. The cellar master is Hans Tezer, an expert on white wine, who has been with them for 30 years.

The vineyards are 500 meters above sea level. Fermentation and aging are done in stainless steel. The wine has a fresh, fruity aroma with licorice and hints of fig. It is slightly spicy with good acidity and a long finish. It is a very elegant wine, with an aftertaste that is the essence of Sauvignon.

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