Fresh, Crisp and Savory: The Indigenous White Wine Grapes of Northern Italy

Tenuta Roveglia wine harvest
Tenuta-Roveglia vineyard in Brescia, Italy / Photo by Stefano Casati

Ubiquitous and often uninspiring, Pinot Grigio is the best-known Italian white wine. And while there are some good, and even great, bottlings, Italy has so much more to offer.

Producers create excellent wines from non-native Italian grapes like Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Blanc and Kerner, mainly from select areas in northern Italy. However, some of the most exciting white wines from up and down the peninsula come from Italy’s native grapes.

To explore the expanse of Italian white wines made with indigenous grapes, we start in the north of the country.

Blanc de Morgex et de la Salle

Region: Valle d’Aosta

Valle d'aosta vineyard
Vineyard in Valle d’Aosta / Photo via Alamy

Located beneath the snowy peak of Mont Blanc, the Morgex et de la Salle growing zone in Valle d’Aosta turns out crisp, savory white wines from among the highest vineyards in Europe. Here, in terraced vineyards and on low pergolas, native grape Prié Blanc makes racy, mineral-driven whites with delicate scents reminiscent of Alpine herb and hay.

Production is tiny. While Valle d’Aosta Blanc de Morgex et de la Salle is exported to the U.S., it may be hard to find—but it’s well worth the effort to hunt down. The producers below are imported to the U.S. via Vinity Wine Company, Cream Wine Company and Jan D’Amore Wines, respectively.

Suggested producers: Cave Mont Blanc de Morgex et la Salle, Ermes Pavese, Maison Vevey Albert

Friulano

Region: Friuli–Venezia Giulia

Friuli vineyard
Vineyard in Friuli / Photo by Alamy

The Friulano grape excels in the hills of Collio and Friuli Colli Orientali in the Friuli–Venezia Giulia region. It was known as Tocai Friulano until 2007, when the European Union forced Italy to relinquish the Tocai name to avoid confusion with Tokaj from Hungary.

Wines made with Friulano boast full-bodied finesse and feature aromas and flavors of pear and almond. While it’s fresh, it has milder acidity than many other white grapes. Some producers ferment and age in wood to add complexity.

Suggested producers: Borgo del Tiglio, Raccaro, Russiz Superiore

Ribolla Gialla

Region: Friuli–Venezia Giulia

Radikon winery punching down
Punching down at Radikon winery / Photo by Massimo Crivellari

Ribolla Gialla yields dry, racy wines. When made with traditional white wine vinification methods, the grape offers delicate floral aromas, peach and citrus flavors alongside crisp acidity.

Thanks to thick skins, when it’s produced with prolonged skin contact and aged in large oak casks, Ribolla Gialla yields more complexity, with a great depth of flavors including dried apricot, honeyed nut and mineral.

Suggested producers: Gravner, Radikon, Zuani

Soave Classico and Soave

Region: Veneto

Gini winery owner
Owners of Gini winery / Photo courtesy of Gini

Soave, which hails from Veneto, is often associated with light-bodied, zesty bottlings destined to drink immediately. But the best Soaves, namely Soave Classico and those made exclusively in the hillsides, boast flavor, depth and surprising longevity.

To underscore these two distinct styles, the denomination has introduced 33 official vineyard areas. Starting with the 2019 vintage, they’re officially known as Unità Geografiche Aggiuntive (UGA), 28 of which are in the Classico zone in the hills between the wine’s namesake medieval town and Monforte d’Alpone. Made mainly with Garganega and up to 30% Trebbiano di Soave grapes, the best expressions are elegant and intense.

Suggested producers: Gini, Pieropan, Inama

A Beginner's Guide to the Wines of Veneto

Custoza

Region: Veneto

Vineyards in Custoza, Italy
Vineyards in Custoza, Italy / Photo via Alamy

This dry, vibrant white from Veneto is produced in classic and Superiore versions. It’s crafted with a flexible blend of varieties, including Garganega, Trebbianello (a local biotype of Friulano), Bianca Fernanda (a local clone of the Cortese grape) as well as Trebbiano Toscano. Producers can also use up to 30% Malvasia, Riesling Italico, Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay and Manzoni.

The straight version is delicate, crisp, floral and fruity with added sensations suggesting wild herb. The small amount of Superiore bottlings are creamier, with more intensity and good mid-term aging potential.

Suggested Producers: Albino Piona, Cavalchina, Monte del Frà

Lugana

Regions: Veneto and Lombardy

Lugana Tenuta Robeglia
Grapes at Tenuta Roveglia / Photo by Stefano Casati

Made with Turbiana, a native grape grown on the southern shores of Lake Garda, Lugana’s growing zone spans the Veneto and Lombardy regions. It comes in five distinct styles. The straight Lugana accounts for about 90% of total production, while other still whites are designated as Superiore or Riserva. It’s also produced as a Vendemmia Tardiva (late harvest) and sparkling wine.

Crisp and enticingly floral, Lugana has juicy citrus, white stone fruit and almond sensations. Rounder, fuller-bodied Lugana Superiore is aged for one year and shows wild herb and saline notes. Released after two years, Lugana Riserva is elegant and complex, with flinty mineral and spice.

Suggested producers: Marangona, Ottella, Tenuta Roveglia

Gavi, Erbaluce, Arneis, Nascetta and Timorasso

Region: Piedmont

Arneis grapes Italy
Arneis grapes on the vine / Photo by Severio Mercato

Better known for its structured reds made with Nebbiolo and Barbera, Piedmont also produces impressive whites from native grapes.

Made with the Cortese grape, Gavi is dry, crisp and floral. Meanwhile, Erbaluce is focused and linear, with hawthorn aromas and a light almond close. Closely associated with the hills of Roero, Arneis yields creamy, generous wines that have a nutty finish.

Nascetta, whose spiritual home is Novello, was revived in the 1990s after it nearly became extinct. The best expressions have floral, tropical fruit and wild herb sensations as well as great aging potential. Finally, Derthona, made with Timorasso in the Colli Tortonesi area, is a complex white wine with honeyed mineral notes and serious longevity.

Suggested producers: Pio Cesare (Gavi), Castello di Azeglio (Erbaluce di Caluso), Angelo Negro & Figli (Roero Arneis), Elvio Cogno (Nascetta del Comune di Novello), Roagna (Derthona Timorasso)

Published on April 19, 2021
Topics: Italy