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The new Italian white wines have character and grace

By Barry Smith   182

Those in search of exciting white wines these days know to look to Italy. The noble Italian reds of Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino have long been the standard bearers of quality while many Italian white wine makers gave us mediocre Soave and easy drinking Pinot Grigio. Not any more. The quality of Italian white has soared in recent years due to the efforts of a new generation of talented wine-makers who are doing more than most to preserve the true character of local grape varieties. Here is a commitment to the terroir, to wines of place, for so long the preserve of the French.

A perfect example is wine from the Arneis grape, a native of Piedmont. Made for local consumption, a little of it was added to Barolo to soften the wines. Now with the help of better techniques the Arneis grape is finding its true expression, especially in the region of Roero, north-west of Alba. Castello di Neive’s 2009 Langhe Arneis Montebertotto is a distinctive wine with a wild nose of fennel and sage, and the nutty flavours of almond and green melon give rise to a long floral finish. The sharp streak of acidity adds to its freshness and highlights the minerality. Great with a hard cheese, which leads me to Pecorino. Not the cheese made from sheep’s milk, but the name of the grapes nibbled by the sheep. Pecorino is made in the Marches, and Colle dei Venti’s 2008 is a green-gold wine tasting of delicious ripe pear, melon and lime, whose unctuous texture bluffs us into thinking of a sweet wine until it ends with a clean, dry finish.

Most surprising of all are the fragrant and subtle whites of Sicily. Despite the fierce heat and scrub soil, the sudden rains and drying winds provide perfect growing conditions. Cool nights in mountain vineyards retain the balancing acidity in the grapes so necessary to preserve the freshness of the wines. Try examples like Columba Platino from Corvo made with local varieties of grape such as Ansonica. Other island pleasures include the aromatic Vermentino wines made on Sardinia. These manage to be both creamy and citrusy and have aromas of wild herbs. Tenute Capichera’s Vermentino di Gallura and Sella and Mosca’s La Cala are wonderful, contrasting wines.

Finally, for examples of outstanding white wines with great purity and finesse, try those made in the Collio region of Friuli from the Friulano grape. These wines, in the hands of winemakers like Jermann, reach near-perfection. With such inspiration even makers of crisp Pinot Grigio, like Marco Felluga, and fleshy Soave Classico, like Stefano Inama who makes Vigneti di Foscarino, and sea-fresh Verdicchio like those made by Giuseppe Bisci  have raised their game. Long may it continue.

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