50 Shades of White

Northeastern Italy offers an enormous array of refreshing white wines for summer.


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The northeasternmost portions of the Italian peninsula are colored by many shades of white. The regions south of Austria and west of Slovenia offer a more diverse collection of white wine grapes than any other part of the country.

The assortment of white wine varieties in Friuli, Trentino and Alto Adige encompasses everything from international superstars like Chardonnay to obscure cult classics like Vitovska, and styles ranging from lush and voluptuous to strict and unyielding.

These regions sit at the intersection of Latin, Slavic and Germanic cultures, and they share traditions and expertise that extend beyond the Italian winemaking experience. Techniques like extended skin contact, sur lie aging and bâtonnage create sophisticated and complex white wines unrivaled elsewhere in Italy.

Natural factors contribute to the uniqueness of these white wines, too. Alto Adige and Trentino host some of Europe’s highest-altitude vineyards (700 meters or more above sea level), nestled between the peaks of the Dolomites.

Cool nighttime temperatures allow for slow maturing fruit and heightened aromatics. The soils, rich in calcium and magnesium carbonates, add to the complexity and elegance of the wines.

Many of the varieties planted here, like Sauvignon, Riesling, Müller-Thurgau and Gewürztraminer, have been selected for their aromatic appeal. But some grapes—like Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco—are valued for their superior textures.

Friuli-Venezia Giulia sits at lower elevations, a land of gentle rolling hills and rich alluvial soils. The main wine areas here, Colli Orientali del Friuli and Friuli Grave, offer even more indigenous grapes like Friulano, Ribolla Gialla and Verduzzo.


Friulano

Friulano is among Italy’s best indigenous white grapes. In 2007, its name was famously changed from Tocai Friulano to Friulano to avoid conflict with Hungary’s Tokaji.

Although the transition proved painful at first, most vintners now accept Friulano as a powerful statement on the winemaking potential of Friuli, the region after which it’s named.

“It’s a pleasure to produce Friulano, thanks to the grape’s golden color and its beautiful white peach aromas,” says Andrea Felluga, winemaker for Livio Felluga. “Deciding when to harvest is key to obtain the right aromatic intensity.”

“A match made in heaven is Friulano with sliced Prosciutto di San Daniele and fresh cheese, like one to three-month-old Montasio cheese served as an appetizer,” says Massimo Zorzettig, co-owner and sales director for La Tunella.

“Friulano is our Meryl Streep, because her range extends from a housewife in The Bridges of Madison County to Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady.” 
—Marco Del Piccolo, winemaker, Conti Formentini in Friuli

 

90 La Tunella 2011 Col Livius Friulano (Friuli Colli Orientali). This Friulano is characterized by smoothness, roundness and bright fruit aromas. Stone fruit and Golden Delicious apple notes give way to generous richness and a silky close. Steamed shellfish, seafood pasta or white meat could work nicely. Vintage Epicure.
abv: 14%                                 Price: $18

88 Tenuta di Angoris 2011 Stabili della Rocca Friulano (Colli Orientali del Friuli). Thick peach and apricot intensity opens the bouquet of this delightful Friulano from northeast Italy. Those rich stone fruit qualities are well supported by the wine’s overall density and creamy texture. MS Walker.
abv: 13.5%                              Price: $22

88 Conti Formentini 2011 Furlanâ Friulano (Collio). This is definitely an offbeat wine. A unique expression of Friulano, it shows compelling notes of sweet pear and peach, followed by smoky mineral or ashen notes, toasted nut, lemon cola and spicy peppermint. Frederick Wildman & Sons, Ltd.
abv: 13.5%                              Price: $20


Malvasia Istriana

Dozens of varieties that fall under the umbrella name Malvasia are planted across Italy, from the deep south of the peninsula to Friuli in the north.

Malvasia Istriana originates in Croatia’s Istria peninsula, but has been showing promising results in nearby parts of Italy, although quantities thus far are small.

“We think the grape came by Venetian traders during the Crusades,” says Giorgio Badin, owner and winemaker of Ronco del Gelso in Friuli.

“It’s not an easy grape to farm because it has large, vigorous clusters, and yields must be controlled,” he says.

He suggests pairing the wines with grilled fish or rombo (brill flatfish) baked with capers, olives and cherry tomatoes.

 

“This is a marine and Mediterranean grape that gives its best results when it is planted near the sea. It reminds me of the voyage of Odysseus or the Balkan music of composer Goran Bregovic.”
—Giorgio Badin, owner and winemaker, Ronco del Gelso in Friuli

 

88 Ronco del Gelso 2011 Vigna della Permuta Malvasia (Isonzo del Friuli). Despite this grape’s deeply Italian roots, it’s rare to find Malvasia vinified this way. The wine opens with a deep golden color and bright aromas of exotic fruit, pineapple and sweet summer peach. The mouthfeel is rich and soft, with just a playful dab of sweetness that would pair with country pâté. Vedi Vintners Estates Direct Importing.
abv: 14.5%                              Price: $24

87 Sirch 2011 Malvasia (Friuli Colli Orientali). Don’t underestimate this clean and zesty expression of Malvasia from the northeast corner of Italy. The wine offers beautiful, crisp intensity with bright notes of green melon and lime. It’s a perfect choice for outdoor cocktails on the veranda. Vinopoli Selections.
abv: 13%                                 Price: $20


Gewürztraminer

Known locally as Traminer Aromatico, Gewürztraminer has strong roots in Italy’s Alto Adige—some even theorize it has its origins in this northern territory.

It has gained momentum during the past few years, thanks to exciting results obtained from vineyards in the cool mountainous climate and limestone soils of the Dolomites.

“Gewürztraminer is a white wine that you recognize immediately,” says Oscar Lorandi, managing director of Girlan in Alto Adige, “thanks to its powerful aromatic bouquet, that depending on the area of production, shows tones of lychee fruit, Sambuca flower, rose petal and clove.

“My preference is to pair Gewürztraminer with spicy foods from the Middle East or Asia, or simply to drink it alone as I listen to good music,” he says.

“Gewürztraminer reminds me of Luciano Pavarotti, not just for its opulence, but for its focus, that, like Pavarotti, shows precision and strength.”
—Harald Schraffl, winemaker, Cantina Nals Margreid in Alto Adige

 

90 Nals Margreid 2010 Lyra Gewürztraminer (Alto Adige). This spicy and intense expression of Gewürztraminer features a thick, waxy texture and fragrant tones of apricot, sweet almond paste, yellow rose, dried ginger and honey. That sassy spice in the mouth is what really sets it apart. Masciarelli Wine Co.
abv: 14.5%                              Price: $31

88 Girlan 2011 Aimè Gewürztraminer (Alto Adige). Slightly sweet and chewy, this waxy expression of Gewürztraminer opens with bright tones of exotic fruit, honeysuckle, white rose, dried ginger and candied lemon rind. The aromatic intensity is impressive, and the wine is extra creamy and rich on the close. Montcalm Wine Importers.
abv: 14.5%                              Price: $24

88 St. Pauls 2011 Gewürztraminer (Alto Adige). Fragrant honeysuckle and white rose build in intensity as the wine’s bouquet opens in the glass. This is an interesting expression of the grape, with slightly more heft and fullness that other versions of Gewürztraminer found in the far north of Italy. Tesori Wines.
abv: 14%                                 Price: $31


Pinot Bianco

Part of the larger Pinot family (Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio, etc), Pinot Bianco only gives its best results in territories that are well-suited for its preferences, says Count Michael Goëss-Enzenberg, owner of Manincor in Alto Adige.

The variety enjoys cool climates, well-ventilated areas and strong drops between day and night temperatures that help to build its aromatic intensity. But Pinot Bianco is not an overtly fragrant grape. It delivers modest apple, melon and mild peach notes.

“Risotto with Golden Delicious apple and chopped pieces of speck is an unusual dish that works perfectly with Pinot Bianco,” says Stephan Filippi, winemaker with Cantina Bolzano in Alto Adige.

“The sweetness of the apple contrasts the saltiness of the cured meat,” he says.

“Pinot Bianco is the Queen Elizabeth of white grapes because it is elegant and composed and a bit playful in the mouth, thanks to its fruity flavors. It reminds me of those many hats she wears.”
—Andreas Prast, winemaker, Kellerei Kaltern Caldaro in Alto Adige

 

90 Cantina Produttori Bolzano S. Maddalena/Gries 2011 Dellago Pinot Bianco (Alto Adige). Here is a beautiful Pinot Bianco with aromas of melon and stone fruit that pop right out of the glass. This white variety is generally known for the richness of its mouthfeel more than its bouquet. But this expression excels on both the nose and in the mouth, thanks to its intensity and purity. Acid Inc. Selections.
abv: 13.5%                              Price: $22

90 Kellerei Kaltern Caldaro 2011 Vial Pinot Bianco (Alto Adige). If you love Pinot Bianco, you will be delighted by this pretty expression from the mountainous north of Italy. Alpine breezes have shaped a balanced and mildly fragrant white, with layers of exotic fruit, pineapple, pear and melon. It shows nice structure and length as well. Omniwines Distribution. Editors’ Choice.
abv: 13.5%                              Price: $24

89 Manincor 2011 Eichhorn Pinot Bianco (Alto Adige). If you are a fan of Pinot Bianco, a white wine with a smooth and rich mouthfeel, Eichhorn makes a great choice from Italy. The variety offers mild aromas of peach and melon, but the natural richness of the wine’s texture makes it perfect for sophisticated creamy fish dishes like baccalà. Angel’s Share Wine Imports, LLC.
abv: 13%                                  Price: $32


Ribolla Gialla

Although today Ribolla Gialla enjoys almost cult-like appeal, it has been documented back to 1296 in its native Friuli-Venezia Giulia. One of the most adaptable Italian varieties, it’s vinified in a wide range of styles, from light sparkling wine to thickly extracted whites appropriate for long cellaring.

It spans the gamut from “minimalist” to “modernist,” says Andrea Lonardi, winemaker with Puiatti (Tenimenti Angelini) in Friuli.

The far end of the spectrum is occupied by the wines of Josko Gravner, who relies on the grape’s pulpy fruit and thick skins to support long macerations and aging in clay amphorae. His wines are golden caramel in color and richly structured in the mouth.

Minimalist wineries include Livon, which play up the grape’s natural acidity to make easy-drinking whites with citrus and acacia flowers at center stage.

“My favorite autumn pairing is Ribolla Gialla and pumpkin risotto with chopped rosemary and shavings of smoked caciotta cheese sprinkled on top,” says Valentina Ursic, marketing and communication manager of Tenuta Luisa.

“Ribolla Gialla reminds me of Mahatma Gandhi, because of his moral principles and profound soul.”
—Josko Gravner, winemaker, Gravner in Friuli

 

94 Gravner 2005 Amfora Ribolla Gialla (Venezia Giulia). Amfora’s copper-orange color is unique in the world of contemporary wine. There’s a luminous brightness to the wine’s appearance that defies its age. Matured in clay amphorae, this pure expression of Ribolla Gialla delivers a softer approach than Gravner’s Breg (a white blend) and intense aromas of resin, pine nut, caramel, graham cracker and candied fruit. Firm structure marks the long close. You can drink it now or hold it 10 more years. Domaine Select Wine Estates. Cellar Selection.
abv: 13%                              Price: $120

87 Tenuta Luisa 2011 Ribolla Gialla (Venezia Giulia). This is a fine and pristine expression of Ribolla Gialla, with bright fruit aromas of peach, citrus and pear. There’s a touch of dusty mineral at the back, and the wine is fresh and tart on the close. Vias Imports.
abv: 13%                              Price: $22

87 Puiatti 2012 Lus Ribolla Gialla (Venezia Giulia). Puiatti adopts a “save a tree” philosophy and does not use oak barrels to age its white wines. The natural aromatic richness of the grape comes though with caramel and exotic fruit. But the bouquet is mild overall, and the mouthfeel is crisp and compact. Vin Divino.
abv: 12%                              Price: $27


Sauvignon

In Italy, the grape is labeled Sauvignon Blanc or just Sauvignon, depending on the producer. The name of the grape is said to come from the French word sauvage, or “wild,” because of the grape’s untamed vigor and difficult character.

“You either love it or hate it,” says Domenico Zonin, vice president of Casa Vinicola Zonin Tenuta Cà Bolani in Friuli. “The trick is dominating it without letting it become predictable.”

Compared to Sauvignons from the Loire—with their bone-dry and dusty characteristics—or New Zealand—with their pungent, peppery notes—unoaked Italian Sauvignons lean toward exotic fruit and citrus, with accents of tomato leaf and mountain herb. It performs best in Alto Adige and Friuli.

“There’s no better pairing than Sauvignon and steamed white asparagus,” says Fiorentino Sandri, co-owner and agronomist of Pojer & Sandri, one of the first estates to plant the grape in Trentino in the late 1980s.

“I associate Sauvignon with Sean Penn, a famous actor with a strong personality who takes on unusual and nonconventional roles, but who always leaves a mark.”
—Domenico Zonin, vice president, Casa Vinicola Zonin Tenuta Cà Bolani in Friuli

 

91 Cantina Produttori San Michele Appiano 2011 Sanct Valentin Sauvignon (Alto Adige). The cool mountainous climate of the Dolomites has shaped a fragrant and elegant wine, with tones of exotic fruit, white pepper, dried sage and tangerine. There’s a touch of roundness in the mouth that gives it extra staying power. Martin Scott Wines.
abv: 14%                                Price: $38

90 Tenuta Cà Bolani 2011 Aquilis Sauvignon (Friuli Aquileia). This expression of Sauvignon is true to the variety, and it represents a huge step forward for the winemaking program at this estate. With help from Bordeaux professor Denis Dubourdieu, Tenuta Cà Bolani’s wine is bright, deeply aromatic, fresh and crisp. It delivers exotic fruit, white flower, dried sage, ginger and tomato leaf. Zonin USA. Editors’ Choice.
abv: 13.5%                             Price: $25

90 Tramin 2011 Sauvignon (Alto Adige). This gorgeous Sauvignon stands apart, thanks to the creaminess and richness it offers in the mouth. That extra density is backed by bright aromas of peach, white flower, exotic fruit and dried sage. Winebow. Editors’ Choice.
abv: 13%                                Price: $18


The Other 33 Shades of White

Northeastern Italy's palette of white grapes extends far beyond the six featured. Here's a sampling of recommended wines. 

Chardonnay

91 Elena Walch 2009 Riserva Castel Ringberg Chardonnay (Alto Adige). Chambers & Chambers.
abv: 14%                               Price: $37

88 Castello di Buttrio 2011 Chardonnay (Colli Orientali del Friuli). Enoclassica Imports.
abv: 13%                               Price: $28

Friulano

87 Cormòns 2011 Friulano (Collio). Italian Wine Growers. Best Buy.
abv: 13%                                Price: $11

Gewürztraminer

90 Alois Lageder 2009 Am Sand Gewürztraminer (Alto Adige). Dalla Terra Winery Direct.
abv: 13.5%                               Price: $35

90 Cantina Cortaccia 2009 Brenntal Riserva Gewürztraminer (Alto Adige). Wine Warehouse Imports.
abv: 14.5%                               Price: $23

Manzoni Bianco

87 Fondazione Edmund Mach 2010 Istituto Agrario San Michele all’Adige Manzoni (Vigneti delle Dolomiti). Vias Imports.
abv: 13%                                  Price: $30

Moscato Giallo

87 Manincor 2011 Moscato Giallo (Alto Adige). Angels’ Share Wine Imports, LLC.
abv: 12.5%                               Price: $25

Müller-Thurgau

87 Abbazia di Novacella 2011 Müller-Thurgau (Alto Adige). Vintage Epicure.
abv: 12.5%                               Price: $20

86 Egger-Ramer 2011 Müller-Thurgau (Alto Adige). BelVino LLC.
abv: 13.5%                               Price: $18

Pinot Bianco

88 Andriano 2011 Pinot Bianco (Alto Adige). Banville & Jones Wine Merchants.
abv: 13.5%                               Price: $19

87 Petrussa 2010 Pinot Bianco (Colli Orientali del Friuli). Tita Italian Import & Export.
abv: 13%                                    Price: $14

Pinot Grigio

88 Antonutti 2010 Vis Terrae Pinot Grigio (Friuli Grave). Janco Beverage.
abv: 13.5%                               Price: $17

88 Conti Formentini 2011 Pinot Grigio (Collio). Frederick Wildman & Sons, Ltd.
abv: 13.5%                               Price: $20

87 Castel Sallegg 2011 Pinot Grigio (Alto Adige). Bianco Rosso Imports Ltd.
abv: 14%                                   Price: $19

87 Gaierhof 2011 Pinot Grigio (Trentino). Nicola Biscardo Selections.
abv: 12.5%                                Price: $20

87 Maso Poli 2011 Pinot Grigio (Trentino). Vias Imports.
abv: 13.5%                                Price: $22

87 Niedermayr Josef 2011 Pinot Grigio (Alto Adige). Opici Wines.
abv: 13%                                   Price: $20

87 San Simone 2011 Case Sugan Pinot Grigio (Friuli Grave). Lewis Enterprises.
abv: 13%                                   Price: $17

86 Ascevi Luwa 2011 Ronco dei Vignali Pinot Grigio (Collio). Quintessential Wines.
abv: 12.5%                                Price: $19

85 A-Mano 2011 Pinot Grigio (Delle Venezie). Underdog Wine & Spirits. Best Buy.
abv: 12.5%                                Price: $10

84 Kirkland Signature 2011 Pinot Grigio (Grave del Friuli). Misa Imports. Best Buy.
abv: 12.5%                                Price: $7

Ribolla Gialla

87 Eugenio Collavini 2010 Turian Ribolla Gialla (Colli Orientali del Friuli). MS Walker.
abv: 12.5%                                 Price: $50

87 Livon 2010 Tenuta RoncAlto Ribolla Gialla (Collio). Angelini Wine.
abv: 12.5%                                 Price: $20

Riesling

86 Peter Zemmer 2011 Riesling (Alto Adige). HB Wine Merchants.
abv: 13%                                    Price: $17

Sauvignon Blanc

88 Erste Neue 2011 Sauvignon (Alto Adige). Oliver McCrum Wines. Editors’ Choice.
abv: 13.5%                                 Price: $18

86 Piera Martellozzo 2011 Terre Magre Sauvignon (Friuli Grave). Franco Wine Imports.
abv: 13%                                     Price: $17

86 Tenuta di Angoris 2011 Villa Locatelli Sauvignon Blanc (Isonzo del Friuli). MS Walker.
abv: 12.5%                                 Price: $15

86 Tolloy 2011 Sauvignon Blanc (Vigneti delle Dolomiti). Prestige Wine Imports Corp.
abv: 12%                                     Price: $13

Vitovska

91 Vodopivec 2006 Classica Vitovska (Venezia Giulia). Domaine Select Wine Estates. Cellar Selection.
abv: 13%                                     Price: $85

Blends

90 Baron di Pauli 2011 Enosi White (Vigneti delle Dolomiti). Omniwines Distribution.
abv: 13.5%                                 Price: $33

88 Cantina Terlano 2011 White (Alto Adige). Banville & Jones Wine Merchants. Editors’ Choice.
abv: 13.5%                                 Price: $17

88 Marco Felluga 2010 Molamatta White (Collio). Dalla Terra Winery Direct.
abv: 13.5%                                 Price: $23

86 Tenute Grandi & Gabana 2011 Borgo Crosaris Bianco dello Stella White (Venezia Giulia). Uva Imports.
abv: 12.5%                                  Price: $16

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