Why Italians Don't Drink Chardonnay...

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Well, they do really – at least on occasion – but they also drink a whole slew of other native grapes: apple-y Arneis, Pigato with its savory undercurrent of basil, citrusy Verdicchio, feminine, aromatic Falanghina, the more structured Trebbiano, and delicately stony Fiano, just to name a few. Look around any Italian trattoria while traveling and you’re likely to find the ubiquitous carafe of local wine on the table. And while a large part of that choice is economic and practical, why wouldn’t you drink what is grown near you when it’s cheaper, easier to access, and probably goes really well with the regional food? The result is a broader, more varied, and more interesting drinking experience.

Much national polling data points to Chardonnay as the most widely consumed grape in America, followed closely by Merlot. Yet with roughly 1,300 varieties grown around the world for commercial production there is every reason to explore. I can’t tell you how many times a day we get requests for a crisp white wine in the $20 dollar range – something “dry with bright fruit and refreshing acidity.” This profile could be satisfied by so many different wines, yet the safe bet if you’re in a rush or unsure of how to decipher a cryptic label is to reach for a familiar bottle. There’s nothing wrong with that – Who doesn’t like to get home with a bottle they feel confident they’re going to enjoy at the end of a long day? – but there is also such a range of exciting other choices out there!

Elisabetta Foradori in the vines.
(photo: Amanda Bowman)

Today we are pleased to offer descriptions of the less familiar Italian whites in our store that will hopefully whet your appetite and remove the guesswork. Some of these may be a little different than what you’re used to: the texture a touch rounder or the florality more pronounced; but overall they are fresh and balanced, vinified in steel or neutral wood, and offer a fascinating range of mineral expression.  With a slight curve-ball, these will satisfy the same easy-drinking pleasure we all crave when temperatures go up and humid summer settles in. Karina Mackow

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Defino 2014 IGT Terre Siciliane Catarratto

Catarratto might sound like an obscure Italian varietal, but it is actually the second most planted grape in Italy and accounts for 60% of Sicily’s total vineyard area. Historically it’s been used as an ingredient in Marsala wines, as a blending component and even for grape concentrate. But happily people are starting to recognize that Catarratto on its own can make an interesting wine. A luscious, medium-bodied wine with stone fruit, pineapple and hints of meyer lemon. Try it with shrimp, anchovies, grilled vegetables, or soft goat cheese. Christine Manula

  • Out of Stock
  • white
  • 0 in stock
  • $11.99

Lombardo, Giordano 2014 Gavi di Gavi Vigna San Martino Arrives

This is a certified biodynamic estate in Gavi. 100% Cortese, hand harvested and kept on the lees for about four months before bottling. Expect pleasant hay-like aromas, and crisp minerality (thanks to the volcanic soil). This is a great wine to have with seafood and light meals, but also has enough weight to pair with richer, more savory foods as well.

  • Out of Stock
  • white
  • 0 in stock
  • $14.99

Agnanum 2014 Campania Falanghina Sabbia Vulcanica

Campi Flegrei is a volcanic area on the western edge of Naples that has produced wine since the Roman times. The vines are planted on steep terraces at 150 - 200m above sea level. Since the land is so hard to farm, most winemakers have abandoned the area, but Raffaelle Moccia of Agnanum has persevered. He has four hectares of 60 - 200 year old vines that are grown on a layered composition of volcanic ash and sand, humus, sandy basalt and basalt subsoil. Because the vines are so old and low-yielding, and there is a constant wind from the Tyrrhenian Sea, Agnanum’s wines are crisper and lower in alcohol than you would expect from such a hot climate. For his Falanghina, fermentation takes place in stainless steel with native yeasts. Ten milligrams of sulfur are added at the beginning of fermentation and nothing after. The wine is lightly filtered, quite fruity on the nose, and on the palate it’s lush with apricot skin, pear, and hints of pine. Christine Manula

  • Out of Stock
  • white
  • 0 in stock
  • $16.99

La Marca di San Michele 2014 Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi DOC Classico Superiore Capovolta

According to history, the Camaldolese monks started making wine in the area of San Michele back in 1186. Today La Marca carry on that tradition of making Verdicchio in Le Marche, the eastern Italian region that sits between the Apennine Mountains and the Adriatic Sea. Their vineyards are located on hills of clay and limestone soil 350-400 meters above sea level. The wine stays on the lees for a minimum of six months and is fermented and aged in stainless steel. The result is a medium-bodied full-flavored white, ripe with stone fruit, citrus, herbs and a touch of honey. Try it with roasted flounder, scallops, mushroom risotto or roasted chicken. And if you are looking for a white to age, this would be a perfect candidate. We just opened the 2012 which was still extremely fresh and lively, but rich with dried apricots and honey. Christine Manula

  • Out of Stock
  • white
  • 0 in stock
  • $17.99

Picariello 2014 Fiano d'Irpinia

Ciro Picariello and his wife have been farming their seven hectares of vines since 1997. More than half of the vines were planted in 1992 and are dedicated to making their Fiano d'Irpinia, which the couple has released under their own label since 2004. Situated near the village of Summonte at  650 meters above sea level, picking season is at the end of October, which is much later than most Italian white wine harvests. This high altitude lends nice acidity and lift to Ciro's distinctly mineral wines. The soil is made up of clay, loam and sandstone. Fermentation takes 60 days using ambient yeast, then the wine ages for five months in stainless steel followed by two months in bottle before release. Fiano typically exhibits floral notes with hints of honey and spice, but Ciro’s wine also has lots of ripe pear, apples, and herbs. It’s voluptuous and silky, but the bright acidity keeps it wonderfully balanced and fresh. After it was open for a while, the wine developed more toasty notes that reminded me of popcorn kernels. Fiano can be an age-worthy Italian white and this one seems like a strong candidate! Christine Manula

  • Out of Stock
  • white
  • 0 in stock
  • $17.99

Calabretta, Cataldo 2014 Ciro Bianco (Greco, Malvasia 5%)

The Greeks started producing wine in Cirò about 3,000 years ago and used to give it as a prize to the winners of the ancient Olympics. The Calabretta family has been growing grapes in this part of Calabria for four generations, but in 2008 Cataldo and his sisters Maria and Michela decided to start their own estate and refurbish the family cellar. Cirò Bianco is made from 95% Greco Bianco and 5% Malvasia. Their vineyards are situated on rolling hills of clay and limestone about 50 meters above sea level. The grapes were harvested the second week of September, and the wine is made from free must of destemmed grapes then aged on fine lees for six months in stainless steel. The Bianco is very crisp and bright, with notes of citrus, spice and pear. It would be amazing with Spaghetti alle Vongole, a light white fish, or anything with zucchini. Christine Manula

  • Out of Stock
  • white
  • 0 in stock
  • $18.99

Chiesa, Carlo 2014 Roero Arneis Quin

I’ve been trying to figure out Arneis for years now. I know I like Brovia’s version, but I like all things Brovia. My impression is that Arneis is a fairly subtle and undramatic grape, and it’s therefore easy to skew its profile – almost all Arneis is produced with selected yeasts, which produce uniformly adequate but dull wine. On top of that it’s very easy to overdo it with wood, an common thing when it comes to the ‘riservas’ or top of the line bottlings, whatever they call it. It must help the Chiesa Arneis that it is fermented in stainless steel with indigenous yeasts; there’s some light batonnage until malo. It’s lively and bright, quite savory and chalky/mineral; it’s very vinous and clean with rich underlying texture, and has compelling dry honey and pear flavors that are a bit reminiscent of Chenin. By far the most interesting Roero Arneis I’ve tasted. Jamie Wolff

The vines for the Roero Arneis were planted in 1960 on sandy soils with a southeast exposure. Aged in stainless steel for 6 months, the wine is bright straw yellow and has persistent flavors of green apples, stone fruit, and white flowers, with just a touch of honey. Would pair well with light pastas, fish / shellfish, antipasti, or even a mild curry. Christine Manula

  • Out of Stock
  • white
  • 0 in stock
  • $19.99

  • Organic

Villa Venti 2014 Forli IGT Bianco Serenaro

Famoso di Cesena, a native grape of Romagna, was first documented in 1437 but had all but disappeared by the early 1900s. In 2000 two old rows of vines were spotted in Mercato Saraceno (Forlì) and the owner knew it was Famoso. Today the grape is being revived by a group of winemakers who are convinced that the unique features of this grape variety should not be lost. Davide and Mauro at Villa Venti are growing Famoso on red clay and Messinian-age sand. Serenaro is fermented in stainless steel and aged six months on the lees then matured four months in bottle. No added yeasts and minimal sulfur is added. The result is a very aromatic wine with floral/lavender notes and hints of dried fruit. On the palate, it’s refreshing with citrus peel and nice minerality. Perfect with fish, fresh cheese and all'ascolana (fried stuffed olives). Christine Manula 

Just last night we opened a bottle of Serenaro at home - it had been a while (and I'm not sure my wife had never tasted it) - and it was stunning. We had seconds, and thirds, and then the rest - not usually the pattern since my exuberant glugging is usually balance by my wife's more modest consumption, but she loved the wine. And it was incredible with the clams I'd bought from Alex at Blue Moon - it was great to see them back at the market! I made risotto - Vialone Nano rice (about 1.5 cups), 2 dozen steamed and chopped clams, one clove of garlic, 1/2 chopped red onion, a TON of chopped parsley, and about a cup of cooked sweet corn. I sauteed the garlic and onion in olive oil with some Espelette pepper (ground, that is) and used the broth from the clams stretched with vegetable stock. The whole thing took 30 minutes and with the Serenaro it was... I think the technical term is killer. Welcome back Captain Alex!  Jamie Wolff

  • Out of Stock
  • white
  • 0 in stock
  • $19.99

  • Organic
  • Low Sulfur

Ronchi di Cialla 2015 Colli Orientali del Friuli Ribolla Gialla

In the Friulian dialect, Ronchi means “hills cultivated with vines” and Cialla is a small valley surrounded by woods with chestnut, oak and wild cherry trees. When Paolo and Dina Rapuzzi bought the winery in 1970, they had two specific goals in mind: making sure their children Pierpaolo and Ivan “grew up with vines” and preserving indigenous grape varieties such as Ribolla, Refosco, Schioppettino, Verduzzo and Picolit. This Ribolla Gialla is stored on the lees for three months, and is fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks. Pale yellow in color, with hints of green, it is fresh and bright with great acidity and minerality. Think toasted bread, white flowers, apples and pears. It would be great with creamy soups, fish dishes or even a quiche. Christine Manula

  • Out of Stock
  • white
  • 0 in stock
  • $20.99

De Angelis Corvi 2014 Trebbiano d'Abruzzo Superiore

Not many folks know that Trebbiano is the most widely used white wine variety in the world's top two wine producing countries - Italy and France. In Italy, it is commonly used for white blends and in France (Ugni Blanc) it is used to make Cognac and Armagnac. Corrado de Angelis started making wine back in 2002 on this small estate in northern Abruzzo, just east of Rome. The farm is eight hectares of vineyards, all south and south-west exposure, and 250 meters above sea level. They are certified organic and in the process of converting to biodynamic farming methods. Corrado harvests the grapes early to capture the aromatic quality of the Trebbiano grape. The wine undergoes spontaneous fermentation using indigenous yeasts and matures in stainless steel. This is a Trebbiano with incredible depth, but a good amount of acidity keeps the wine fresh. It's loaded with ripe pear, citrus, some vegetal notes, and a nuttiness that lingers on the finish. Delicious! Christine Manula

  • Out of Stock
  • white
  • 0 in stock
  • $23.99

Vio, Aimone Giobatta 2014 Riviere Lingure di Ponente Pigato di Albenga

Albenga, lying along the western stretch of Liguria’s coastline, is thought to be the best subzone within the Riviera Ligure di Ponente DOC for growing Pigato. Vio’s example of the native variety certainly does nothing to disprove that assertion! From vines averaging 35 years of age and fermented with native yeasts in stainless steel, Giobatta, or Aimone as his friends call him, certainly has his vineyard practices right – the small estate has been certified organic since 1999. Stone fruits and a distinctive almond note dominate the fresh aromatics, along with a hallmark saltiness on the palate that pairs deliciously with bolder seafood preparations and, most traditionally in the region, pasta with pesto. Karina Mackow

  • Out of Stock
  • white
  • 0 in stock
  • $26.99

  • Organic

Foradori 2014 IGT Vignetti delle Dolomiti Fontanasanta Manzoni Bianco

Manzoni Bianco is a cross between Pinot Bianco and Riesling developed by Luigi Manzoni in the 1920 and 30s; it combines the florality and lift of the Riesling grape with the brighter citrus fruit of Pinot Bianco. Elisabetta Foradori farms about 3 hectares of this variety in the iron-rich limestone soils of the Alto-Adige at 400 meters above sea level. One week of skin contact plus a year of aging in acacia casks lends a deep, almost honeyed texture and subtle tannic presence underneath notes of cider, honeysuckle, red apple skins, pear, almond and pineapple. Karina Mackow

  • Out of Stock
  • white
  • 0 in stock
  • $26.99

  • Organic
  • Biodynamic
  • Low Sulfur

Nusserhof (Heinrich Mayr) 2013 Vino Bianco B.......

This is rare mountain wine. Heinrich Mayr, along with his wife and daughter, farm almost all of the 3 hectares left in the entire world of this variety. Blatterle (“little leaf” in German), is indigenous to the Sudtirol and the Mayrs grow it on their tiny biodynamic oasis in the heart of the industrialized city of Bolzano. Although only 3 producers still farm this endangered grape, when vinified with the care and attention of the Mayrs it is capable of producing a truly delicious and unique wine: medium—bodied yet fresh, with bright lemon and mineral notes. A characteristic snap of mint on the finish cuts perfectly through salty charcuterie, rich cheeses, or the thick heat of a summer afternoon. Karina Mackow

  • Out of Stock
  • white
  • 0 in stock
  • $27.99