Hidden excellence: Italy's top white wines
Although Italy’s world reputation is generally based on red wines, her top white wines are impressive.
The wide number of local white grapes grown throughout Italy provides a significant diversity in white wines, in terms of style and provenance. Moving from north to south, through world-renowned Tuscany and its outstanding red wines, it is not unusual to taste some niche appellations such as Vernaccia di San Giminiano, Orvieto white wine, not forgetting the new white wine from the Abruzzo region, where Pecorino, Passerina and Coccociola are planted and vinified. In north-east of Italy, next to the Veneto (known for its Soave and Pinot Grigio production), the region of Fruili-Venezia-Giulia (FVG) has a 90% production of white wines.
Soave: The complex patchwork of different appellations DOC, DOC classico and recent DOCG in the Soave area
The Chardonnay grape plays an important role in Italy: indeed, it is found and planted worldwide (apart from in the Bordeaux area, where the appellation rules prohibit its use). In the south of Italy, local red grapes have been sacrificed and pulled up in order to cultivate Chardonnay, which is considered as an internationally well-known grape giving higher revenues than local red wines made with Grenache, Mataro and Barbera. In Italy, outstanding wines are made with Chardonnay (for example in the Colli Orientali DOC – see table), even if oak levels and yields sometimes appear exaggerated: often, local consumers confuse Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay.
Italian white wines and Chardonnay
Chardonnay is usually used in Lombardy and Trentino to produce sparkling wines. Some great white wines come from Piedmont, where the climate conditions give an elegant touch to the Gavi dei Gavi wines made from Cortese grapes, not unlike the fresh, elegant and mineral Chardonnay cultivated in the north of Burgundy (see our tastings on La Scolca).
In many parts of Italy Chardonnay is blended with other local white grapes like Cortese, Favorita, Erbaluce, Ribolla Gialla, Albana, Trebbiano, Vermentino, Procanico, Incrocio Manzoni, Verdeca, Catarratto and Viognier. Alternatively, some traditional white wines such as Soave in Veneto may be exclusively made from Garganega grapes (see our Soave tastings). Despite the stringent demands of the DOCG appellation, old vintage Italian white wines are rarely available. Only two outstanding producers from Friuli – namely Mario Schiopetto and Gianfranco Gallo di Vie di Romans - seem to understand the amazing oppportunity that older vintages represent for wine lovers and collectors. Old habits die hard: red wine ageing in Piedmont and Tuscany can be outstanding, for example, but the same is not true for whites. The explanation may be found in the fact that the Mediterranean climate which dominates the Italian peninsula has frequently obliged winegrowers to harvest early to retain freshness, fruit and aromatic complexity. The dry summers and winter rain fall are suitable for the production of full-bodied, richly textured red wines with ripe tannins, like Sangiovese and Nebbiolo.
Thanks to the influence of the Alps, the climate of north-east Italy is mainly mid-continental, which helps produce the most pure and elegant white wines. Dry weather in autumn favours the making of intensely-flavoured white wines with a potential for high alcohol levels, which may be vinified as sweet wines (like Ramandolo or Picolit). We enjoyed the Conte d’Attimis-Maniago Picolit 2008 with its fascinating, bright amber colour and its fruit-forward nose of roasted chestnut, dried apricot and cinnamon, along with mineral and steely aromas. The palate is sweet and well-balanced, with freshness, dried fruit, and hints of candied orange. This is an outstanding sweet wine, elegant and well-made, characterised by a pleasant finish with a caramel notes and impressive length (92/100).
Trentino’s Chardonnay also has a good reputation for its dry white wines. We enjoyed the Cantine Monfort whites, especially Casata Monfort, Blanc de Sers 2010. Its bright lemon colour, intense nose and spring-like elegance captured our attention. Creamy and fruit-driven, the palate is silky and well-delineated, with an elegant, clean finish (88/100).
At our most recent tastings, dry whites wines made with Sauvignon and Pinot Grigio impressed us with their aromatic intensity; Pinot Bianco and Ribolla Gialla are less intense and usually rather anonymous, both on the nose and the palate. This explains why in most cases, Ribolla Gialla is produced and blended in sparkling wines. Friulano and Malvasia are two other local grapes which we will describe later.
Chardonnay plantings in the north of Italy seem to be in danger. Currently, scientists have discovered that a moth with a taste for Chardonnay leaves has infested vineyards across northern Italy. The pest was first discovered by Italian scientists in 2006, but they were unable to identify it; the new species, which now bears the name Antispila oinophylla, had previously been confused with a North American species (Antispila ampelopsifoliella) which feeds on Virginia creeper. So far, the species has been found in vineyards in Italy's Trento and Veneto regions, spreading and increasing in population size since it was first recorded. Having observed the moths in the field, scientists conclude that the insect seems to have a preference for the leaves of Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Muscat grapes, but the economic impact of this particular pest is not yet clear. Should we expect the gradual abandon of Chardonnay plantings? Or will this perhaps encourage Italian producers of outstanding Chardonnay to redouble their efforts to save Italian Chardonnay?
Italian white wines: 2010 vintage
The 2010 harvest was late in comparison with that of 2009, which was outstanding in places, very good in others and, in a few, challenging at best. In 2010, a rainy spring topped up the country’s water reserves. Summer was also wet compared to 2009, and grape maturation was late in some regions such as Tuscany. Beyond that, generalisation in Italy is risky and renders trite the country’s complex patchwork of regions. In 2010, 46 million hectolitres were produced (ie. one million hectolitres more compared to 2009). Veneto was the major producer, followed by Puglia and Emilia-Romagna. Nevertheless production in Italy has continued to decline, thanks to the reduced yields over the past three decades, as wine growers look to enhance quality. Some small appellations, such as Schiopettino di Prepotto in Friuli, followed restrictive regulations on yields (50hl/ha) which are roughly similar to Bordeaux Cru classé regulations.
Consumption of table wines is falling and production costs are increasing, making the pulling up of vines more profitable than wine production in some areas. In 2008/2009 Italy’s 250,000 hectares were slated to be reduced by 12,000 hectares as growers took advantage of subsidies from Brussels to pull up their vines. The problem is that this money will have been taken by people with old, low-yielding vineyards who cannot cover the costs of production, and thus, Italy is not producing enough good wine. Nevertheless, even if the quality of many of the wines produced in 2010 is rather very different from one area to another, from north to south, Italy’s growing reputation for quality and innovation remains. This will be aided by the release of the 2010 Friulan top white wines, and some others from Veneto and Piedmont.
The foreign markets are usually strongly oriented towards Italian red wines. However, Italian white wines would seem to offer remarkable potential in terms of international market share development, especially in northern European countries such as Norway, thanks to their general quality enhancement obtained through innovation in the vineyard and cellars.
Produced in huge volumes between Veneto and Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, Pinot Grigio remains the principal competitive market for Italy, mainly driven by the US and UK. Generic white grapes, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, base sparkling wines (Durello, Erbaluce di Caluso, Ribolla Gialla) and Moscato are the main visible commodities on the international white wine markets. Currently, Chardonnay and Moscato seem to be the only two grapes that have registered stable prices, while Pinot Grigio and Italian generic white wines follow their growth on international requests. The Conti Formentini estate - located in the Collio area (FVG region) and belonging to the most important Italian group (Gruppo Italiano Vino) - has chosen to produce only non-blended white wines with pure Chardonnay, Ribolla Gialla, Friulano, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon. The 2010 vintage at Conti Formentini estate is easy-drinking, linear and immediate: aromas are discreet and vegetal, both on the nose and palate. Sauvignon Coligo 2010 caught our attention with its classic style, silky texture, vivid freshness and elegant finish.
In 2010, efforts were made at regional level to put some local grapes centre stage, such as Garganega (the Soave traditional grape base) in Veneto, with new regulations being made to revitalize Soave. From the 2010 vintage onwards, Soave Superiore DOCG and Recioto di Soave are produced exclusively from the traditional grape varieties Garganega and Trebbiano di Soave, thus excluding Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio. This variety is also no longer allowed in the making of regular Soave wine. In the vineyards new regulations have been applied regarding the trellising system, with the reintroduction of the traditional Soave Pergola, with its openings between the vine rows. Garganega grapes are usually characterized by an important presence of benzenoids and norisprenoids and are driven by resinous and balsamic scents. A late-ripening variety, Garganega needs a large difference between day- and night-time temperatures (in September) to give it its typical aromatic profile, and the Pergola system used in viticulture is essential to guarantee this. The amount of wine bottled has remained at around 430,000 hectolitres for some years now. The situation of Soave in the marketplace is similar to that seen in other Italian appellations. There was a slowdown on the German and UK markets in 2007 and 2008, but 2010 has seen a return to previous sales volumes. Since 2009 Soave sales have been growing by roughly 14% a year.
Soave: world flagship of Italian white wines
Soave wines can be produced in the area around the Soave commune, namely in Monteforte, San Martino B.A., Lavagno, Mezzane, Caldiero, Colognola, Illasi, Cazzano di Tramigna, San Bonifacio, Roncà, Montecchia and S. Giovanni Ilarione. Garganega is the principal grape cultivated on the hillsides, and particularly in the Alpone, Tramigna, Illasi and Mezzane valleys. In the case of Veronese white wines, the presence of clay in the soil and the tuffo hillsides with their volcanic origins (as at Etna, in Sicily) are responsible for the difference in Soave’s styles. The climate is mild and temperatures in winter are not too cold. In 1931, Soave was already known as a typical, fine white wine and was registered as a DOC appellation in 1968; the Soave Superiore DOCG, possibly the most outstanding, was registered in 2001. The word “Classico” written on a wine bottle label close to the appellation “Soave” usually indicates that the harvested and vinified grapes are grown exclusively in the areas of the Soave and Monteforte d’Alpone communes. This ancient area of production, with its castles, churches and medieval-style villages, is known as the “zona storica”; this is the heart of the Soave production area.
Soave DOC is generally an easy, approachable wine with a clear, lemon or lemon-green robe and medium intensity nose. Despite some new interpretations of Garganega which provide off-dry and heavy wines, Soave is usually a dry, white, easy-drinking wine that is good as an aperitif or with simple, everyday food. It is ready to drink after the summer which follows the previous harvest. A Soave that is too youthful shows short length with a vegetal, bitter finish, lacking the typical stone fruit aromas like apricot, acacia honey and fresh almonds. The 2010 vintage is ready for drinking and in some instances will still improve, while 2011 needs to develop until next September 2012. We enjoyed the Corte Moschina I Tarai 2009 with its gold colour and open nose; it is clean, fragrant and deep, mineral and floral. The palate is off-dry and inviting; the length is good, with an elegant ending. I Tarai is a balanced wine that is typical of the Soave DOC appellation (91/100).
Corte Moschina, one of the several small growers of the Soave area who produce well-balanced and typical Italian white wines with garganega and Trebbiano grapes.
Soave Classico DOC is more ambitious and produced on the hillside areas of Soave and Monteforte. It has developed its closest characteristics with Soave DOC, with further ageing capacities, and it can surprise the wine lover with its mineral, autolytic nose expressing lees and kerosene, and even some smoke and stony aromas when aged. The 2010 vintage from the Lamberti Santepietre and Fornaro estates are our favourite Soave Classico picks, while Suavia Le Rive Soave DOC Classico 2007 is the best wine of this kind that we have tasted to date. With its clear, lemon-green robe, Lamberti Santepietre 2010 develops a typical vegetal nose balanced with hints of white pepper, stones and kerosene, and pleasant notes of honey and beeswax. The palate is dry and fresh, with good length and a clay-like texture. Santepietre 2010 is intriguing and well-made, closing on a pleasant note of fresh almonds. It is ready to drink, and ideally matched with oven-roasted capon (90/100). Soave Classico Fornaro 2010, is a clear, lemon-green wine with a vegetal, floral nose, showing hints of kerosene. It is a fruit-driven, mineral wine with good length and a real personality (91/100). Suavia Le Rive 2007 displays a clear, gold colour and a slowly developing nose that hints at kerosene and flint. On the palate it is dry, with good length, closing on a pleasant note of bitterness, yellow fruit (apricot) and cream. Balanced, complex and typical, it is an outstanding Soave wine that would be well-matched with pumpkin (92/100).
Suavia: Suavia, a Venetian family wine grower which currently produces one of the finest Soave.
Soave Superiore DOCG is produced on the Soave hillsides. This wine may age a little longer in the cellar, compared with the two other appellations. Oak can be used for ageing and wines should deliver higher ripening characteristics and complexity. Soave DOCG is usually deeper in colour. Bright and clear, aromas are generally deeper too, and have the ability to age well. Looking back at our last tastings of Cantina di Monforte and Dal Cero wines (both from 2010), our comments and conclusions are surprisingly negative for both wines, which struck us as unbalanced between nose, palate and finish. Is the 2010 vintage too young to drink? Is it too ambitious to expect a Garganega wine to acquire the characteristics of an aged white Sauvignon from the Loire?
Naturally, Garganega does not develop a large aromatic range of aromas through the fruit, floral, spicy and vegetal ones usually found in a white wine. It is focused on delicate aromas of flowers and herbs, with a typical hint of fresh almond. Garganega is a late-ripening grape that is only ready to be harvested in October; we also noted that in some wines, besides the vegetal note, the palate shows some green tannins and bitterness. Freshness is not one of its principal characteristics and it could be compared with Sauvignon for its vegetal aspect, but not for the aromatic intensity and fruit. Garganega makes wines that are dry to off-dry, and produces the very pleasant, sweet wine known as Recioto di Soave DOCG. Fornaro 2009 is a sweet, clear, amber-coloured wine with a pleasant nose of dried apricot and a hint of mint. Balanced and well-made, it is ideally matched with aged blue cheese (86/100). Coffele Le Sponde 2009 shows also a bright, clear, amber colour with a nose of sultanas and raisins; it is sweet and clean on the palate, with well-integrated tannins. An attractive sweet wine to be matched with salty or sweet dishes with a trace of liquorice (86/100).
Our top picks are located in many places throughout the Italian mosaic of vineyards, from Tuscany through the Marche and Abruzzo regions, moving to Campania, Sicily and Sardinia, not forgetting the Vermentino white wines also produced on the Maremma appellation on the Tuscan coast.
In the Marche region, Fazi Battaglia is one of the biggest producers of white wines made from Verdicchio, known and distributed in the major wine shops, supermarkets and trattorias of Italy. Fazi Battaglia’s favourite wine is currently the Verdicchio San Sisto 2007, with its deep gold colour, evolved and complex nose of candied fruits, citrus and honey, backed by subtle mineral undertones and tar notes. An easy-to drink, fruity wine with a fresh palate and good balance (86/100). In Abruzzo, bulk wine producer Cantina Tollo proposes an interesting dry white wine made with the unknown indigenous grape variety Coccociola; it is straw-yellow with golden highlights and has a nose dominated by dried fruits, ripe pear and aniseed. The palate is full and fresh, and shows wonderful structure. The aftertaste is precise and savoury, with accents of bitter almond; an elegant wine (88/100). Sicily and Campania provide authentic and genuine wines with a strong personality when well-made. Etna is a terroir of excellence for white wines thanks to the combination of the Mediterranean climate, altitude (the Benanti estate has planted its vineyards at up to 600 metres altitude) and volcanic terrain providing the wines with pleasant mineral aromas and flavours of stone, flint and smoke. Freshness is usually preserved thanks to the differences in temperature between night and day, and the dry and windy climate.
In Campania, our top picks are from Avellino's Cantine di San Domenico, which produced an excellent Greco di Tufo DOCG and Fiano di Avellino DOCG. The latter’s 2010 vintage can be described as a bright, golden-hued white wine with an intense nose of fruit, acacia honey, dried flowers and a mineral touch. The palate is full and open, with aromas of mild tobacco, honey and wax. A focused yet easy-drinking wine with a finish of caramel and white pepper (90/100).
By way of contrast, San Domenico Greco di Tufo 2010 boasts a bright, golden hue and a complex,distinctive nose, blending cedar and white pepper, white flowers, dried almond and wax. It shows a full, crisp and mineral palate capped off with notes of coulis and bitter almonds (91/100). Tuscany delivers some curious white wines via the Vernaccia di San Gimignano appellation that should be tasted for reasons of cultural curiosity, particularly by those on a wine tour. As an example, Podere La Castellaccia makes a Vernaccia Astrea 2010 with a straw-yellow robe tinged with green. The nose is creamy with hints of fresh yeast and hay; floral notes are revealed by swirling. On the palate, this is a dry, lively, distinctive wine with subdued fruit (80/100).
The excellence of Piedmont
Contrary to Burgundy, the Piedmont region has not needed to cultivate Chardonnay to build its international reputation on red and white wines, relying instead on Nebbiolo (for the red wines) and Cortese and Moscato d’Asti for the dry and sweet white wines respectively. Viti- and vinicultural traditions alone are a guarantee of quality and outstanding wines. La Scolca estate is one of these success stories, producing excellent Gavi dei Gavi wines. It was taken over between 1917 and 1919 by the great-grandfather of Giorgio Soldati, who presently heads up the estate with his daughter Chiara (the fifth generation). La Scolca is the oldest estate in this area. Though innovations have been made over the last ninety years, La Scolca has continued to focus on classical Gavi wines, making complex, fresh and fruity white cuvées with Cortese grapes. Located in Rovereto, the “grand cru” of Cortese, La Scolca wines have an aristocratic personality and sincere style; they are mineral and intense, with a long, elegant length. The Gavi wine made from Cortese grapes was invented in La Scolca in 1919.
The estate manages about 50 hectares of vineyard, and vines are planted to a density of 1500 plants per hectare. In this geographical position, the micro-climate is characterised by continuous sea breezes, full exposure from sunrise to sunset, freshness and a certain humidity. These factors combine to create the best conditions for the ripeness of the grapes. Our top pick is La Scolca d’Antan 2000, only produced in the best years and bottled after up to 10 years ageing in the cellar; it is a light golden wine characterised by an open and complex nose (hints of chocolate and tobacco) enriched with toasted notes and gunflint. A highly expressive, lively, focused palate boasts wonderful structure and finishes on a salty note (91/100). La Scolca Gavi dei Gavi 2007 is more accessible and approachable; it has a lemon-coloured robe, an open nose built around citrus fruit peel aromas along with a touch of gunflint, and a hint of floral and herbal aromas. Well balanced and harmonious in the mouth, we enjoyed its velvety texture (89/100). Grapes are selected cluster by cluster from vines located high in the hillsides of Rovereto.
The hidden wines of Friuli
Selecting a Friulan white wine seems to be easy considering the large offer available. More than 40 grape varieties are cultivated in the principal appellations of Friuli which are: Colli Orientali, Carso, Isonzo, Grave and Aquileia. Excellence is usually associated with Friuli but the 2010 vintage was rainier and colder in comparison with 2009 and 1998, especially in May and September, and therefore could be described as a “minor vintage.” Can we really consider 2010 as a “lesser” year in Friuli? After tasting more than 120 wines we concluded that wine-making has made the difference. Through its climatic characteristics, 2010 represents an “old style” vintage closest to the average temperature registered during the 1991 to 2000 period. Vintages 2002-2003 and 2007-2009 were the hottest years of the last ten, while 2003 remains the driest. The temperature differences between day and night were moderate and created humidity during the entire year, producing late-ripening in grapes and later harvest dates. In 2010, quality was defined in the trade-off faced by the Friulan producers, namely choosing between leaving grapes to ripen for a few extra days despite the high level of humidity and the risk of disease, and harvesting “on time” to ensure the grapes’ health, even if not quite fully ripened.
Chardonnay buds quite early, putting the coolest vineyards at risk from spring frosts. Picking time is crucial for Chardonnay and also Friulano grapes because they can quickly lose its acidity in the latter stages of ripening. However, Friulano - the most popular and widely planted white grape variety in Friuli - is a late-budding variety usually used to produce staple wines of the region. This does not mean that the 2010 vintage produced only simple, easy-drinking Friulano wines destined for trattorias and pizzerias, but it does not help this regional flagship white wine, which is consumed largely in Friuli, to be more widely available and appreciated. Old vintages are hard to come by: only the vintage following the last harvest is available, which seems strange to French wine lovers who are used to sipping old Burgundy Chardonnays. Our tastings show us that Friulano assumes a good complexity on the nose and palate after two to three years of ageing. Hopefully, some producers such as Schiopetto and Giancarlo Gallo have left their Friulano, Chardonnay and Sauvignon wines to age in the cellar so as to reveal the true excellence of Friuli wines over the last few decades. Excellence, rigour and confidence in the ageing ability of wines made only with local grapes like Friulano (ex-Tocai) will open the door to a better understanding of the style and personality of each winemaker; this confidence is shared by both long-term and emerging producers such as Schiopetto, LisNeris and Venica & Venica.
Purity – compared to the blending of local grapes with recent and old vintages - reveals the ageing potential of local grapes, traditionally vinified for family consumption. It gives the opportunity to winegrowers to place their wines on the international and diversified fine wine market. Each producer is able to tell his personal story through their “niche” fine wines and thus stand out, thanks to their own philosophy and their personal interpretation of nature.
Schiopetto usually produces classic, elegant, fruit-driven wines which are considered to be a high-end quality reference for Friulan whites, while LisNeris gives a clear idea of what perfectionism can mean in Friuli, while Gallo at Vie di Romans is all about innovation and a distinct personality. Schiopetto Friulano 2010 has a bright lemon robe; the nose reveals beeswax and cream with pleasant fresh flower hints and wild mint. The palate is open and fresh, with notes of dried almonds, vegetal hints and an elegant finish in pure Schiopetto style (86/100). Schiopetto Friulano 2006 impressed us and illustrated just how well this wine can age. Its gold colour with amber hints and fruit-driven nose of fresh yellow plums, fruity syrup, honey and blackcurrant leaf demonstrates how Friulano develops different layers, from floral to vegetal, evolving into a salty tang on the palate, dry and fresh, austere, fruity and creamy. As expected, the finish was elegant and pleasant, and this 2006 boasted a certain freshness: our conclusion was that aged Friulano can be a good alternative to old Friulan Sauvignon.
In Isonzo, our attention was caught by the Ferlat Silvano estate and their 2010 Fruilano vintage, with its bright, clear lemon robe with gold hints. The nose of candied fruit also has some herbaceous and liquorice aromas. The palate is creamy, fresh and fruit-driven. This is a well-balanced wine with good length, that could match with elegant Italian cuisine (91/100). Ferlat's exceptional interpretation of the complex 2010 vintage leads us to hope that future vintages will be equally exciting.
Tasting the red and white wines of Roncsorelli also impressed us: particularly appreciated was the outstanding Friulano of Roncsorelli Ottolustri 2009, from the well-known Colli Orientali area. With a golden robe and complex nose, it combines layers of dried fruit, honey, beeswax and smoky aromas; the palate opens with rigorous, elegant fruitiness, well-delineated and very long, characterised by a pleasant finish of fresh almond milk (93/100).
Blended with other grape varieties such as Renan Riesling and Friulano, Malvasia Istriana (not to be confused with other Malvasia varieties cultivated for example in Lazio) usually brings freshness and elegance to wines, just as Chardonnay is blended with Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier to make Champagne.
Mario Schiopetto Bianco 2006 (a blend of Malvasia, Riesling and Friulano) has a golden colour and an intense nose opening on vegetal, smoky and stony aromas, with fruit. The palate is dry, fresh, vegetal and creamy, almost oily. The wine is well balanced and the finish is elegant. Conversely, the older vintage of Mario Schiopetto Bianco 2004 has a bright gold robe, a smoky, concentrated and intense nose, with herbal hints and earthy, tobacco-like aromas. The palate is dry, silky and still fresh, combining honey and cream with an elegant finish. The outstanding blended wines of Vie di Romans, namely Fior di Uis 1996 (93/100) and Fior di Uis 1992 (95/100), also used Malvasia grapes (along with Friulano and Riesling) for freshness, elegance and longevity, raising several questions: why not vinify Malvasia Istriana alone? Is it not distinctive enough, like Ribolla Gialla or Pinot Blanc? Does blending of indigenous grape varieties give the best interpretation of territory? Is it really necessary to look for the perfect expression of each single grape through an ideal blending?
On the one hand, blending lends wine an international reference, making it easy to compare with other blended wines, even if made with different indigenous grape varieties, while purity bears witness to terroir and local wine-making. Malvasia is fresh, elegant and vibrant, and in some case, salty. We did not have the opportunity to taste old vintages of Malvasia Istriana; we predict that the Parovel Malvasia will give us food for thought in future vintages. Malvasia Parovel 2010 was fascinating: it had a bright lemon robe, an open, complex nose of very ripe tropical fruit and fresh flowers. The palate was well-structured and fresh, with hints of cream and citrus fruit. We liked the great length and clean finish of this harmonious wine (90/100).
Pinot Grigio is Italy's flagship variety. Often found in Veneto and confused with the excellent Friulan (usually grown in the Colli Orientali and Isonzo areas), when well-made, this can be best described as a fresh, elegant and complex fine white wine: LisNeris and La Bella Notte are quality names. LisNeris Pinot Grigio 2009 from Isonzo shows a bright lemon colour with golden hints and an elegant, persistent nose of flint and kerosene, matched with honey aromas. The palate is silky, fine-grained and characterized by an expressive freshness; it is well-defined and balanced with hints of fruit and cream. This is a truly personal interpretation of Pinot Grigio puts more neutral, lower-priced styles in the shade (92/100). Another Pinot Grigrio favourite is La Bella Notte Pinot Grigio 2009, IGT Venezie (a second range appellation, not to be confused with the DOC appellation). Its amber colour is distinctive, as are the sherry aromas with kerosene, dried fruit and “rancio” hints. The palate is original and reminds one of the Italian “ passito” wines with their dry to off-dry style. It ends on a pleasant note of dried herbs and tobacco (91/100).
To finish, we must not forget the excellent expression of Friulan Sauvignon that we had the pleasure of discovering at the unique Vie di Romans Chardonnay vintage tasting. Sauvignon was planted here more than a century ago. It develops local expressions, which can in some ways (think aromatic intensity and minerality) be compared with Loire wines such as Menetou-Salon, Pouilly-Fumé and Sancerre. On the nose and palate, we were surprised by the intensity of vegetal aromas and flavours, in particular blackcurrant and tomato leaf. Mineral aromas are in some cases pronounced and well-integrated in a velvety texture. Fruit is dried and not predominant, except for Masut da Rive and Pizzulin Sauvignon 2010 (89/100 and 90/100 respectively). The almond finish is typical of Friulan, and can also be found in non-Sauvignon white wines. Terroir, and particularly the “ponca” soil typical to the eastern hills of Friuli could explain the intensity and minerality perceived in these wines. We identified mineral aromas and notes of petrol, kerosene, smoke, stone and steel.
Our top picks are: Sauvignon Conte d’Attimis Maniago 2010 (92/100) from Colli Orientali and Lis Neris Picol 2010 from Isonzo (90/100). Old vintages of Sauvignon Vie di Romans (1995 and 1996) are currently the best expressions now present in Friuli, with ratings of 95/100 and 92/100 respectively, because of its over-ripe style. Schiopetto's Sauvignon 2010 is aromatic and vegetal, with great length, freshness and mineral hints (90/100). The style is austere yet vibrant. The Sauvignon 2006 boasts a bright golden hue; the nose is intense, with aromas of wet wool, melon, mint, eucalyptus and nettle. The palate is open and structured, dry and mineral. Of all the vintages, Sauvignon Schiopetto remains a fruit- driven wine with a strong vegetal taste, impressive length, and a mineral (almost steely), quasi-tannic character.
As we come to the end of this exciting adventure in Italy, we would conclude that of all the Italian white wines encountered during our tastings (and considering the research and innovation in terms of old Chardonnay wines carried out by winemaker Giancarlo Gallo of Vie di Romans), Vie di Romans Chardonnay 1989 is our favourite, showing exemplary balance, complexity, ripeness, freshness and harmony (96/100). Our three Italian white “desert island” wines would be: Vie di Romans Chardonnay 1989 (from Friuli), La Scolca d’Antan 2000 (from Piedmont) and San Domenico Greco di Tufo 2010 (from Campania).
Soave DOC classico, Soave DOC, Isonzo del Friuli DOC, Colli Orientali del Friuli DOC, Carso DOC, Grave del Friuli DOC...
Follow our best picks of Soave and Friuli dry white wines !
Our best picks of Soave dry white wines
Soave DOC classico
92/100 Suavia Le rive 2007
91/100 Damiano Fornaro 2010
90/100 Lamberti Santepietre 2010
89/100 Coffele Cà Visco 2010
88/100 Cantina del Castello Castello 2010
88/100 Le Mandolare Monte Sella 2009
88/100 Cantina di Monteforte Il vicario 2010
86/100 Le Mandolare Corte Menini 2010
85/100 Gini Sandro La Froscà 2009
85/100 Gini Sandro Salvarenza 2009
85/100 Bolla Rétro 2010
91/100 Corte Moschina I Tarai 2009
86/100 Portinari Le Albare 2009
86/100 Franchetto Antonio La Capelina 2011
85/100 Dal Cero Corte Giacobbe 2011
Soave Superiore DOCG
87/100 Sandro de Bruno Monte San Piero 2008
Our best picks of Friuli dry white wines
Isonzo del Friuli DOC
96/100 Vie di Romans Chardonnay 1989
95/100 Vie di Romans Flors di Uis 1992
95/100 Vie di Romans Piere Sauvignon 1995
93/100 Vie di Romans Flors di Uis 1995
92/100 Vie di Romans Piere Sauvignon 1996
92/100 Lis Neris Gris 2009
91/100 Ferlat Silvano Friulano 2010
90/100 Lis Neris Jurosa 2009
90/100 Lis Neris Picol 2010
89/100 I Feudi Di Romans Pinot grigio 2011
89/100 Vie di Romans Chardonnay 2004
89/100 Masut da Rive Sauvignon Rive alte 2010
89/100 Masut da Rive Maurùs Chardonnay 2009
88/100 I Feudi Di Romans Friulano 2011
87/100 Ronco del Gelso Chardonnay settevigne 2010
86/100 Borgo San Daniele Pinot grigio 2010
86/100 Ferlat Silvano Sauvignon 2010
86/100 Ronco del Gelso Friulano 2010
85/100 Tenuta Luisa Eddi Pinot bianco Luisa 2010
85/100 Borgo San Daniele Friulano 2010
85/100 Colmello di Grotta Pinot grigio 2010
Colli Orientali del Friuli DOC
93/100 Roncsoreli Ottolustri 2009
92/100 Conte d'Attimis Maniago Sauvignon 2010
90/100 Pizzulin Sauvignon 2010
89/100 La Viarte Sauvignon 2010
89/100 Specogna Sauvignon 2010
89/100 Ermacora Sauvignon 2010
89/100 Ronco delle Betulle Friulano 2010
88/100 Borgo Judrio Friulano 2010
88/100 Il Roncal Pinot grigio 2010
88/100 Volpe Pasini Sauvignon Zuc di volpe 2010
88/100 Vigna Traverso Sauvignon 2010
87/100 Butussi Pinot grigio 2010
87/100 Arzenton Pinot grigio 2010
87/100 Conte d'Attimis Maniago Chardonnay 2010
87/100 Angoris Spiule 2010
87/100 Marinig Sauvignon 2010
87/100 Roncsoreli Pinot grigio ramato 2009
86/100 La Buse dal Lof Pinot grigio 2010
86/100 Butussi Bianco di corte 2010
86/100 Specogna Friulano 2010
86/100 Arzenton Sauvignon 2010
86/100 Stanig Sauvignon 2010
86/100 Le due Terre Sacrisassi bianco 2009
86/100 Livio Felluga Illivio 2010
86/100 Ronco delle Betulle Vanessa 2008
Read our other articles :
Authentic Primitivo boasting international exposure
Felix Solis Avantis, the giant of Spain
Lamé-Delisle-Boucard: Blue-chip Bourgueil
Domaine de la Paleine: The jewel in the Saumur crown
Château Fonsalade – A subtly crafted Saint-Chinian
Domaine François Schwach: passion and high standards
Domaine du Vissoux, variations on a Beaujolais theme
Celler Vall Llach The moving story of Matilde, Joaquina and Catalina
Top 100 FRANCE
The top 100 wines tasted over the last year for each wine region
Top 100 SPAIN
The best 100 Spanish wines on 2014/15 Edition
Week's Top 5