The obvious dawned on me a few years ago with respect to Italian wine. For all the great Italian red wine, there's not so much Italian great white wine.
It's almost weird, though I suppose Germany isn't exactly known for red wine. I'd just never really thought about it. There are the great Piedmontese reds of Barolo and Barbaresco. The Brunello and Chianti, of Tuscany, also reds. The Amarone of the Veneto. Even the noble. Aglianico of the south. All red.
But whites? Not so much. Arneis is a modern white from Piedmont, but it's made in small quantities. And I understand its really only been bottled on its own in very recent times. It's a lovely starter to a Piedmontese dinner though I wouldn't imagine sticking with it too long when the food gets more serious.
Yes, there's Friulano of the northeast. Delicious. Of course the great sparkling wines of Fanciacorta. Ok, that's great Italian white wine. And sure, the esoteric but occasionally brilliant yellow (intentionally oxidized white) wines of Fruili near the Slovenian border - Radikon and friends - can be magical. Not to mention the occasionally incredible Trebbiano d'Abruzzo like the Valentini I wrote about recently.
But exceptions prove the rule. When it comes to Italian whites, you're mostly looking at things from touristy areas like the Vernaccia di San Gimignano in Tuscany or the Frascati from just outside Rome. The south has some interesting things like Lacryma di Christo del Vesuvio, but they're mostly after thoughts in the world of wine.
Some of the best examples are overlooked gems. Are most great wines? Reference point wines capable of aging and improving with time like the best reds? No, not really.
That strikes me as a little weird. I guess it's part of learning about wine, even when you think you know a few things. Italian whites can be and so often are delicious. They just don't capture the imagination like the great reds of Italy. They certainly haven't made the name of Italian wine, not even close.
So what do we do with them? Drink them, because Italy is full of inexpensive, tasty whites mostly from grapes the world hasn't ever heard of. But with a little knowledge and perhaps some experience visiting the regions these little wines come from, you'll never think twice in an Italian restaurant about what to order.
Take Orvieto. Sure, there's innocuous wine produced in the region, but what region doesn't have that? In most decent restaurants, as well as good wine shops, Orvieto is a great DOC (region) to look for if you want authentic taste at a very reasonable price. Many cost around $10-$15 in shops, so they'll often be served by the glass or listed near the top (cheap zone) of a wine list.
Best of all, you're not getting the same grapes grown all over the world. You're getting something authentically Italian. Producer is important, though so is importer here in the states. Have some favorite Italian reds? Find who imports them and see if they import an Orvieto. That's a great way to start finding good wines in any region you don't know well. The importer will often have done the hard work for you, selecting something worth your time above many other offerings in the region.
Take the 2011 Rocca di Tufo Orvieto. I didn't recognize the importer in this case - WorldWide Cellars Imports - but one of my favorite local shops in Portland, Storyteller Wine Company, had the wine on the shelf. That's another great (though maybe more obvious) way to find new wines. Try something you don't know from a shop you know and trust.
In this case, the method worked and the wine was just what I was hoping for. Nothing fancy, nothing great, but for $12 or so, this was a lemony, yellow fruited wine with a slight mineral edge, just round enough to enjoy on its own and crisp enough to stand up to food. I can't honestly say if the wine was typical of the grapes involved - Procanico and Grechetto - but it reminded me of other nice Orvieto wines I've had in the past. The flavors were fresh and bright, with a seashell edge that maybe comes from limestone in the area that worked with a variety of foods over several days.
And that's another secret - this wine lasted for a week in the fridge, a glass at a time in a screwcapped bottle, with no gassing or fancy vacuum stoppers to keep it fresh. It stayed lovely the whole time, something I find is true of many white wines, Italian whites included. People who just want a glass here or there, take note. Maybe it's due to the cold temps in our fridges, maybe it's the generally higher acidity of white wines, I'm not sure. I do know that some reds will last well for a few days on the counter, but whites, they can last and last.
I got so excited about this wine I bought a few other Italian whites to try in the coming weeks. Next, a Frascati. Don't laugh, because this not well thought of region can deliver its own lovely little wine for next to no money, no matter its lowly reputation as a touristy wine that had a few years of minor fame decades ago.
Italian white wine. It isn't fancy, but if you're adventurous, don't miss out.