BIANCO: An Italian Love Story

Writing this piece was like playing whack-a-mole with Italian white grapes. As soon as I’d think I’d covered everything I could think of, another would spring to mind. Smack down the “little rascal” Arneis? Whoops, I forgot, equally cutely named Pecorino! No sooner did I tackle Carricante than Cataratto would sneer at me. Wow, this is a violent intro paragraph for a vegetarian. I am exhausted thinking of all Italy’s marvelous white grapes I didn’t get to, and still, I covered a lucky thirteen of varieties and feel like an oenophiliac hero. Italy makes some of the world's best and most unique white wines. And while I got to 13 favorite varieties, I make my apologies to Vernaccia, Moscato, Malvasia, Fiano, Cataratto, all the Trebbianos that aren’t actually Verdicchio, and Passerina (the last of which I’ve never encountered) that they, as well as I’m sure countless others did not make it. Oh, and the most-heard-of-ever Italian white ever, Pinot Grigio, I gave a lot of love [here] .( Without further ado, roughly north to south, your bakers’ dozen: PINOT BIANCO So, it is technically the same grape as Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio, but let’s give it its due. Although best known for its place in nearby France’s Alsace, it makes a charming appearance in northern Italy, too! 2021 Alois Lageder Versalto Pinot Bianco Apple-y, yeasty, and lees-y. Okay, so there are some elements here reminiscent of Pinot Grigio, but this is its own thing. Golden in color, with medium-plus acid, medium alcohol and a delightfully toasty body, it is really enjoyable with a salty caramel finish. VERMENTINO Aka Favorito (in parts of Piemonte), aka Pigato (in Liguria), aka Rolle (in southern France). It has some interesting etymology—some theorize it comes from “vermene,” a vernacular for “young, thin and flexible shoot,” whereas others think it comes from “fermento” due to it being fizzy when newly fermented. Bubbly or young, thin and flexible—what a wordy web we weave. Try it, you’ll like it. 2023 Marina Romin “Aura” Okay, so this is actually from Tuscany and has not yet been released, but Marina is one to watch! This is vibrant and textured with highly present minerality. It’s almost flinty, but all that caresses peaches and massages honeysuckle florals. The fruit, however, borders on richness, showing more stone fruit and kiwi. Beautiful. GARGANEGA Hailing from the Veneto (we think, although lore gives other hypotheses), where it headlines as Soave—both as dry wines and as the very sweet Recioto. As Soave, a touch of Trebbiano di Soave or even Chardonnay is sometimes blended in. The trademarks are a citrus profile and bitter almond with fun acidity. It is also found in Sicily, where it is known as Grecanico. 2021 Inama Carbonare Soave Classico Geez, it is good. Soave is underrated. The nose gives citrus and chalk with a slight honeydew undercurrent and an herbal undergrowth underlining that. Subtle but outspoken. The palate is wild, volleying from taste to taste. One sip starts mineral, moves into honey-soaked bramble, and turns into a mandarin orange, finishing with lemon oil. It's not the longest finish, but the journey through the mouth as preamble takes a minute. VERDICCHIO Okay, so there are quite a few wines that masquerade under other grape names, such as Lake Garda’s Lugana. It is also known as some Trebbiano in some other cases, although I will be honest: I find Trebbiano the most confounding of grape names in that a million (give or take) other grapes masquerade as Trebbianos of various origins, whereas…others, other actual Trebbianos, have been genetically identified, so…okay, in this category, we are focusing on wines made with grapes genetically identified as Verdicchio, no matter the name. 2022 Zenato Lugano San Benedetto Trebbiano de Lugana! It's citrus-fresh (tangerine, Meyer lemon) but also silky and linen-ed. Luganas are notable for freshness and yet a subtle creaminess I crave and adore. They veer into luxurious white peach but stay fresh, nuanced by hints of honeysuckle and even white pepper. It's so tasty and honestly a steal for the quality and complexity. 2021 Garofoli “Podium” Verdicchio Dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore Wowww, what a yummy, elegant offering. It is the 30th anniversary of making this single vineyard wine. The nose is particularly piquant—spiced and vibrant. The palate veers into fennel and tarragon even, nuanced by slight raw honey and lime and grapefruit zest. Thoroughly craveable, but the acid is bright, and it would stand up to a variety of foods. CORTESE You will find it labeled for its DOCG, Gavi! It is grown in a particular part of Piemonte, where it brings splashes of minerality and subtle ripe fruit with acid to rip on. 2022 La Scolca Bianco Secco Gavi An herbal current zips through it all—aroma, palate, and ESPECIALLY the finish—the herbs get herbier as it goes. On the nose, it’s more citrus with their stems and leaves, the herbs grow nearly further on the palate, and on the finish, veer towards dried seeds and leaves—anise, tarragon, and such. The acid is bright, the alcohol moderate, and the body is somehow soft but energetic. ARNEIS We’re still in Piemonte, where the name may come from the local dialect—“arnèis” meant a “wily and temperamental person” per Jancis Robinson’s “Wine Grapes,” as it is not terribly agreeable in vineyards and wineries. 2022 Damilano Langhe Arneis This is a soothing lullaby of a white. It reminds me of delicate scented linen sheets. It's the right texture and just perfumed enough to lull you into another sip. Oh yeah, aromas? The linens and peach cobbler. On the palate: soft acid, medium weight, balancing all the stone fruit with honeysuckle and a surprising citric finish. Fresh breeze contrasting summer-ripe fruit. It does well to sip slowly, although you’ll be rewarded no matter how long you take with a glass. TIMORASSO It’s a magical Piemontese grape every time I experience it. It is a wine with a certain strength like it has a forcefield about it, but a sip lets you into what’s inside. 2022 La Spinetta Derthona Timorasso Colli Tortonesi Underripe peach mingles with riper honeydew, and it all makes a muscular appearance, both on the nose and palate. Except it is a a gentleman hellbent on making all its passions channeled and eloquent: So ripe yes! Raw vibes, yes! Salad tastes mingling with flowers, yes! But the lively acid and polite abv give it poise on top of power. ERBALUCE It is less popular a Piedmont grape than Moscato, Cortese, or Arneis, but it is worthy of consideration! It has thick skins that turn amber when ripe and gleam in the sun. It comes in a variety of styles: dry, sweet and sparkling. It ranges from lighter in body when dry to more opulent when made in the sweet style. 2022 Luigi Ferrando Cariola Erbaluce di Caluso I only managed to get my hands on a dry one—but I am curious to try the sweet someday! Light on its toes but with fleshy fruit—melon, golden delicious applesauce, golden currants—but also an underscore of fennel and minerality. It is somehow licorice sweet, but also it’s dry. FALANGHINA Oh boy, so last month, I found out there were two grapes responsible for Hondarabbi Zuri. This month, I discovered two varieties labeled as Falanghina, a Campania superstar. Of course, Falanghina Flegrea is most commonly grown, with Falanghina Beneventana, from Benevento, considered a tad less scented and less used. However, given that so far, the two are both cited as being Falanghina under Italian jurisdictions, it’s hard to put exact numbers on how much of each grape exists. 2021 Feudi di San Gregorio sannio Falanghina Golden yellow with a zesty, bitter, salted almond note on the palate. Voluptuous, not losing track of sharp acidity. Very alive, bringing in white peach and herbal notes, finishing floral with a recurring almond accent. PECORINO It is a Marche gem in origin, to be sure, although I first became acquainted with it at an Abruzzo tasting event. Mineral is the name of the game, and crisp! But depending on where it is made, it may be lightweight or have a bit more body. 2022 Spinelli Terre di Chieti Pecorino I was going to miss out on Pecorino, but in editing this, whilst wasting away at LAX’s Tom Bradley terminal (to GO to Italy, go fig, but not where Pecorino is produced), I noted that Pecorino was on the Vino Volo menu and ordered up a glass. It was light, crisp, and slightly dappled with apple. CARRICANTE And now, to Sicily! This typically grows on Mount Etna (I love an active volcano situation) and must make up 60% of an Etna Bianco blend and 80% if it is Etna Bianco Superiore. It is sometimes misidentified as Cataratto! 2022 Tornatore Etna Bianco Carricante Lightly golden in hue, it smells of riches—ripe citrus and maybe even frankincense and myrrh. The palate brings flowers and herbs, but it is honeyed with a beguiling weighted body carrying a little anise to boot. Vibrant acid keeps one sip encouraging the next, making it a brilliant food match. GRILLO Another Sicily treat. Cited as being “vigorous, productive and resistant to winter cold” by the “Wine Grapes”. It is found in both blends and as a single-varietal wine. 2021 Cantine Ermes Vento di Mare Grillo Slightly coppery in color, let’s call it almost medium-plus copper. The nose has major citrus melon vibes. The palate brings the same, plus some orange blossom and wet stone in a Euro church. It is almost sweet in ripeness but not sugared. It is a lively white but rich enough to stand up to a meal. INZOLIA Still in Sicily. For one of the island’s most ancient varieties. It is often blended with other island whites, but you can find it as the main event! 2022 Tenuta Sallier de la Tour Inzolia Sicilia Citrus and stone fruit-forward—my mouth was watering before I even took a sip. A sip brings more sweet citrus, a bit of floral and minerality with zippy acid and medium alcohol (12.5). Tingly too! It makes me think of a lime lozenge, but it is bone dry. Imagine sucking on said lozenge lying on the sidewalk after a rain. Very pleasant if you appreciate that sort of thing (I do). SHOWER BIANCO Which would accompany me into the spray? None, because I love them all too much, so instead, I’d empty them all into a gargantuan tub and bathe in them ala Marilyn Monroe and her Champagne, except I’ll be listening to Billie Eilish’s latest album for the thousandth time. Not sure what Monroe would have listened to. Allora! ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Want to read more from Ellen? Check out her recent articles: Ode to Txakoli Bolt These for Beltane Lifting: a Rosé Story A Brief Tour of Armenia in Four Wines Cup of Salvation + Your New Favorite Wines Oscar Libations Ellen in Lalaland: Thai Town What to Drink When You’re Not Drinking for Dewy or Dry January: 2024 Edition You can also listen to Ellen's podcast, The Wine Situation here . Check out her recent transcripts of the Final Five questions: Wine Situation Final Five! Bianca Bosker Wine Situation Final Five! Kelsey Phelps

Marina Romin

Aura Costa Toscana Vermentino 2023

Okay, so this is actually from Tuscany and has not yet been released, but Marina is one to watch! This is vibrant, textured even, with highly present minerality, almost flinty, but all that caresses peaches and massages honeysuckle florals. The fruit, however, borders on richness, showing more stone fruit and kiwi. Beautiful. — 16 days ago

Ron, Severn and 4 others liked this

Feudi di San Gregorio

Sannio Falanghina 2021

Falanghina is fun to share with wine novices and experts alike as they are slightly off the beaten track and utterly delicious. Golden yellow with a zesty, bitter salted almond note on the palate, they are voluptuous, not losing track of that sharp salinity, though. Very alive, bringing in under rich white peach and herbal notes to the mix, finishing floral with that almond note recurring. — 4 months ago

Bob, Tom and 8 others liked this
Bob McDonald

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I love Falanghina. Very Mediterranean
Ellen Clifford

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@Bob McDonald one of my favorite under the radar wines!

Alois Lageder

Versalto Pinot Bianco 2021

Apple-y and yeasty and lees-y. Okay so there are some elements here reminiscent of Pinot Grigio, but this is its own thing. Golden in color, with medium-plus acid, medium alcohol and a delightfully toasty body. Really enjoyable with a salty caramel finish. — a month ago

Ron, Brian and 5 others liked this


Vigneti di Carbonare Soave Classico Garganega 2021

A super complex journey, I wasn’t quite ready for. I feel like Soave is ready for a comeback in the right hands. — 4 months ago

Severn, David and 3 others liked this


Langhe Arneis 2022

Arneis always strikes me as a softer wine—this one make me feel like I’m tucked into clean linens after eating a peach cobbler. The air is warm but not hot, it’s an early summer breeze in a glass, soothing without being basic. Is this a citric finish? Yeah. Is there an orange grove one field over and a honeysuckle trellising its way up the walls, right outside your crisp linen sheets? I think so. This is one of those wines that really grows and tells you more the more you lie still and listen. — a month ago

Tom, Bob and 8 others liked this