Some of Italy’s most fascinating white wines are made in Campania, in the country’s south, and on two main islands, Sardinia and Sicily. There, millennia-old native grapes dominate. Scrupulous vineyard management and modern vinification methods yield inimitable, savory white wines loaded with personality.
Discover southern Italy’s best whites made with indigenous grapes.
Fiano is most associated with Campania, where it’s widely grown. Native to the region, the grape produces structured whites that range from medium- to full-bodied and have beeswax and floral aromas. Their rich orchard fruit flavors are often accented with compelling, smoky mineral sensations, honey, aromatic herb and hazelnut. The best have great energy as well as intriguing complexity. To maintain freshness and aromas, Fiano producers most often vinify in steel tanks.
The grape thrives in the hilly district of Irpinia, around the town of Avellino, where wines from the Fiano di Avellino DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) yield mineral-driven versions that possess great aging potential. While Fiano’s acidity isn’t as high as the pronounced acidic backbone of Greco, it’s still notable, especially when grown in high-altitude vineyards.
Greco stands alongside Fiano as one of Southern Italy’s most noble white grapes. It’s mainly from the Greco di Tufo DOCG, an area rich in sulfur that has chalky top soils and volcanic rock subsoils, as well as a cool climate with frequent rainfall.
The wines have crisp acidity, flinty minerality and intense flavors that include peach and citrus. They’re chock-full of complexity and finesse. The grape’s extremely long growing season further generates complexity, and top bottlings show good mid-term aging potential.
Falanghina produces dry wines with tropical fruit and floral flavors, as well as structure and freshness. There are two distinct biotypes: Falanghina Beneventana, used in Falanghina del Sannio DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata), which also has four subzones; and Falanghina Napoletana, the grape in the Campi Flegrei DOC. Each varietal wine has different characteristics, as do their respective growing zones. Vineyards in the Sannio denomination have higher altitudes, and calcareous and clay soils. The vineyards in Campi Flegrei, near Naples, are closer to sea level and have sandy, volcanic soils. Falanghina del Sannio has more structure and high acidity, while Campi Flegrei are lighter-bodied and crisp, with saline mineral notes and more floral fragrances.
Known as Pigato in Liguria, and Favorita in Piedmont, Vermentino is cultivated along the mainland coast, but it’s most associated with the island of Sardinia. For centuries, Vermentino was grown mainly in Gallura, on Sardinia’s northern tip, where it thrives in windswept vineyards. It’s no coincidence that Vermentino di Gallura is Sardinia’s only DOCG.
Vermentino doesn’t have the racy acidity of most Italian whites, and Sardinia’s expressions range from round and fruity to linear and mineral-driven. Vermentino di Gallura is elegant, structured and full-bodied. It offers notable mineral, almond and Mediterranean brush sensations and savory saline notes.
The most planted grape in Sicily, Catarratto can make fresh, soft, medium-bodied wines. Often divided into two distinct types, Catarratto Bianco Comune and Catarratto Bianco Lucido, studies suggest they’re clones of the same grape variety, Catarratto Bianco. DNA research revealed that Catarratto has a parental relationship to Garganega, of Soave fame.
Innovative winemakers prove this oft-disregarded variety can make fresh, savory wines with good body. Skin maceration and aging for several months on the lees create aromas of spring flowers and intense flavors of lemons, orange zest and a pleasantly bitter almond aftertaste.
A crossing of native grapes Catarratto and Moscato d’Alessandria (Zibibbo), Grillo was once used exclusively to produce Marsala, Sicily’s famous fortified wine. Thanks to experiments with white winemaking, Grillo is now one of the best-known Sicilian wines. Usually labeled as Sicilia DOC, Grillo is made in a range of expressions. Lighter styles make a great aperitivo that offers floral aromas and tangy citrus flavors. More aromatic versions deliver passion fruit, grapefruit and herbal sensations reminiscent of Sauvignon Blanc, while lees contact and barrel aging create complex, mineral-driven wines with apple, peach and citrus flavors.
The queen of Etna’s whites, Carricante can produce vibrant, mineral-driven wines featuring notes of citrus blossom, Meyer lemon, white stone fruit and star anise, alongside bright acidity. Some producers add grapes like Catarratto to boost body, but a growing number of winemakers create varietal selections. The best are focused and racy, with remarkable finesse and precision. Thanks to volcanic soils and high-altitude vineyards, they feature an almost pristine purity and offer good midterm aging potential.
Another historic white Sicilian grape, Inzolia, or Insolia, is also found in coastal areas of Tuscany, where it’s called Ansonica. Famed as one of the three key grapes for Marsala production, it’s often blended in Sicily with Catarratto and Grillo. Known for its mild acidity, harvest timing and site selection are crucial to create the best Inzolia expressions. When made with precision, Inzolia can yield bright wines with white stone fruit, salinity and nutty flavors.
Grecanico and Zibibbo
Planted across Sicily, Grecanico, also called Grecanico Dorato, is a late-ripening grape that makes wines featuring floral aromas, apple, pear and lemony flavors. They have soft textures energized by tangy acidity and savory saline notes. According to DNA testing, the variety is identical to northern Italy’s Garganega, the main grape found in Veneto’s Soave.
Also called Moscato d’Alessandria, Zibibbo has been cultivated in Sicily since Phoenician times. Found mostly in the Trapani province, it was enjoyed historically as a table grape. It’s used traditionally to make sweet, aromatic wines like Passito di Pantelleria that feature honey, figs, nuts and dried apricots, balanced by good acidity. A handful of wineries now make dry, crisp versions that are highly aromatic, with citrus, yellow peach and white rose aromas.