This post is trying to give a broad overall picture of the topic. For more specific information of any topics mentioned please click on the links. Related topics: The Marche-region, Verdicchio-grape or Pinot Gris/Grigio. You can practice this knowledge either as a quiz or as flashcards for free with 40 questions related to North/Central Italian White Wines.
Northern Italy has a cool climate with the alps nearby and thus it generally brings higher acidity, tart fruit and herbaceous flavours to its white wines. Barolo, Barbaresco, Barbera, Nebbiolo and other red wines from Piedmont probably ringing bells for most wine lovers but in addition to the reds we have a big range of interesting white wines. On top of this big mix we also have influence from Austria with Gewürztraminer, Muller Thurgau, Riesling and so on so there is much to explore.
If you are interested in a recommendation for any specific wine we have arranged a wine tasting where we tried 5 Italian white wines and crowned a winner.
Still White Wine
This is the same grape as Pinot Gris but in Italy this name usually means that it will be a lighter, fruiter style with less character than what would be usually be the case with a Pinot Gris. The grape itself is aesthetically more a red grape as it has a pinkish/dark colour and is often used for skin contact wines. Pinot Grigio is made al over the north of Italy with Lombardy, Veneto, Friuli, Trentino and Alto Adige as examples. The flavour profile is often describes as light body, high in acidity with lemon and lime with a sometimes honeysuckle note to it. This grape can make all sorts of wine from the typical still wine, to sweet wine and sparkling wine.
Gavi (from Cortese-grape)
Gavi di Gavi or just simply Gavi is a famous wine made by the Cortese-grape in the DOCG of Gavi which is a small town located in the northeast of Italy in the Piedmont region in the southwest part close to the order to Liguria, very close to Genoa. The village itself only has around 5000 inhabitants (2008 census) and over the course of history the Romans, the Magyars, the Saracens, the French and Sardinia all have been the owners of this small town due to its strategical position. Gavi is famous for its very crisp wine often with peach and honey aspects with a strong aroma together with flavours of lemon, honeydew melon and almonds. Sometimes Gavi is called “The Chablis of Italy” due to its steely, mineral flavour and hints of vanilla.
This is the white wine of Roero DOCG but is also produced in the Langhe DOC as well as Terre Afieri DOC, northwest of Italy around Piedmont. Roero DOCG has often been cited for very good value and you might want to look into their white varietal. The common flavours of Arneis are pear, apple, peach and lemon. These are usually fresh and grassy wines and is relatively similar to Sauvignon blanc from Bordeaux.
Trebbiano (Ugni blanc (France), Talia (Portugal)) is one of the most planted grapes in Italy as it grows well in a lot of places for example all over Italy but it is often associated as a weed grape with a high yielding, low aroma and if you want to be mean characterless wine that is often used for blending. However, some growers are starting to pay respect to the grape and doing 100% Trebbiano wines and paying the grape more attention working with it to enhance its flavour bringing out apple flavours. The name “Trebbiano” is commonly used all over Italy but not all with the name is actually the grape Trebbiano. For example, Trebbiano di Soave has proved to be a DNA match to Verdicchio. It has high acidity and is used in Cognac and Armagnac production. In our tastings there has been a trebbiano that was the winner of our “Lighter Italian White”-tasting that you can read more about here. You can find other wine recommendations based on themes here which could be useful if you are going shopping and you want to find for example a good rosé!
This grape is mainly planted in the Marche-region in central part of Italy that usually have a high acidity with citrus flavours sometimes with a bitter almond taste. The most famous regions are Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi and Verdicchio de Matelica a bit outside Ancona and Macerata. It is usually as a still sparkling wine but could be made to produce sparkling and straw wine.
Vermentino (called “Rolle in France, “Pigato” in Liguria or “Favorita” in Piedmont)” is a thin-skinned, white grape with a mineral flavour and light saltiness which will transport you right to the salt-sprayed hillsides along the coast of Sardinia, Liguria and Tuscany where it grows togther with Piedmont, all in the regions around . Of those three it is mostly associated with Sardinia but it is also grown in south of France in the Languedoc-Roussillon as well where it is usually in a blend.
It pairs well with seafood. The flavour profile is flavours of lemon, tangerine, ripe stone fruit, white nectarines and white peaches.
One of the more recognized areas of Vermentino is Vermentino di Allura DOCG in the north of Sardinia.
In the region of Veneto you will find the Garganega-grape growing producing Soave-wine around the city of Soave. Previously there were other grapes allowed in the blend such as Pinot Blanc but now the secondary grapes allowed are Chardonnay and Verdicchio but here Verdicchio is confusingly often called “Trebbiano di Soave”. This style of wine was previously massproduced and of low quality but has been taken more seriously and was actually the first region to be grated a DOC in 1936. In terms of ageing then you have both stainless steel but also old wooden barriques. Soave can also be made in a spumante style with a fizz.
In terms of flavour profile you will often find melon, peach, white Antibes (honeydew melon in american) and orange flavours with a saline and marjoram touch. It is a lightbodied wine but would often have an oily richness to it and the aged bottles often have a sweeter notes of marmalade, honey and wax.
Sparkling White Wine
There are in general 3 main categories of sparkling white wine from Italy being Prosecco, Moscato d’Asti and Franciacorta but it should also be mentioned that there are others such as Pinot Grigio. Below you will find a brief breakdown of the main three.
Prosecco needs no introduction and is a sparkling wine using the Charmat-method with Glera-grapes (minimum 85% Glera) which is a family of grapes often previously just called “Prosecco”. Most people are familiar with these wines a cheaper and lighter sparkling wine version but please be aware that massproduced supermarket prosecco have given quite a bad reputation of this style of wine and there are a lot of gems to be discovered and a lot of smaller producers that creates wine with more personality. Prosecco is fruit forward with melon, pear and green apple as common flavours. For the carbonation there are either “frizzante” or “spumante” which is semi-sparkling or sparkling and because of the method the bubbles will leave earlier than of a champagne so drink fast but in moderation :).
Prosecco are produced primarily from the Veneto and Friui-Venezia Giulia-regions with Conegliano Valdobbiadenne Prosecco Superiore DOCG, Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore di Cartizze DOCG, Asolo Prosecco / Colli Asolani Psecco Superiore DOCG as notable regions that are all to the north of Venice. In total Prosecco is produced in 9 regions total including Prosecco Trieste DOC to the far east of Italy close to the Slovenian border.
This is a sparkling wine, easy-to-drink, low alcohol (around 6%) from the cities Asti and Alba made by the ancient moscato bianco-grape that the ancient greeks used with a single tank fermentation using the Charmat method same as for Prosecco meaning that it ferments in a stainless steel tank under pressure under 1-6 weeks imposing a fresh fruit character to the wine and the carbonation will be lower to that of a Champagne for example. A Moscato would usually be less fizzy than the Prosecco and again, lower alcohol. The vineyards are located in the southeastern part of Piedmont, next to Liguria. The region got its DOCG-status in 1993 and is producing a very high quantity of wine. This grape is also used for vermouths and fortified dessert wine. This grape is used in a lot of other places in the world as well (Spain: Moscatel de Grano Menudo). In terms of growing this grape is a low yielding sensitive grape and also is a slow grower as it buds early and ripens late and picking it happens in early February for for normal wines and mid-March for fortified wines.
Flavour profile is usually lemon, pear, mandarine and sweeter honey-notes to it.
In Italy when you think sparkling you would automatically think Prosecco using the glera grape but less famous is the Franciacorta using the traditional champagne method. This region was awarded with a DOCG in 1967 and is located in Lombardy.
In the traditional method you have the second fermentation happening in the bottle so that the CO2 is trapped in the bottle allowing for a higher carbonation. This means less fruity, less sweet, more yeasty/bready character with a higher complexity but also the method is more labour than the Charmat-method so expect a higher price in comparison. In Franciacorta they use mainly the traditional champagne-grapes (Franciacorta uses Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc and up to 10% Erbamat) but the climate is hotter here than champagne so you will find less citrusy and mineral notes than you would in champagne with the overall riper fruit. As expected, the price of an overall Franciacorta will be higher than of the Prosecco, often around double price.
We have prepared a youtube video about this topic. Please see below.
Observant readers might notice that this is indeed from Abruzzo and outside of this above map. Nevertheless, it is a good wine from Central Italy as it won our “Lighter Italian White”-wine tasting.
Also please be aware that constant additions are changes are done in this section based on the feedback from the readers but also further research. If you have comments on the page or suggestions, please contact us.