Published On: Thu, Oct 3rd, 2013

Italian White Wine: Southern Whites

Italian white wine production is dominated by the north, and the northeast in particular. But what else is on offer? Paul Pettengale heads south and to Italy’s islands…

Are you bored of Pinot Grigio yet? No, we’re not either, but it does become somewhat tiresome when – if you like your Italian white wines – that’s all that seems to be on offer. Of a country with 350 recognised grape varieties (and a reported 500 more that aren’t officially on the books), you’d have thought that there’d be, well, rather more choice. And the good news is, there is, and not just from the northern regions, well known for producing world-class whites. Head south, to the regions of Campania, Calabria and Puglia, or to the islands of Sicily and Sardinia, and you’ll find wines of an entirely different character to those of the north of Italy. You may not find them in your local supermarket (though both Waitrose and M&S and leading the way here), but if you’re determined, there’s a brave new world of Italian white wine waiting to be discovered.

So what makes the white wines of southern Italy (and its islands) different from those of the north, and how so? In a word: climate. The southern regions and both Sicily and Sardinia are that much hotter, although they benefit from proximity to cooling sea breezes. Grapes ripen faster, generate a touch more sugar and retain plenty of flavour. The resultant wines are richly aromatic, demonstrating tropical fruit flavours with a delicate mineral quality. Turn the page for our selection…

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Italia! discovery of the month

Verdeca60pxVerdeca 2010, Masseria Pietrosa

From Liberty Wines

www.libertywine.co.uk

Price £10.80

Originally a Greek grape variety, but now found throughout the Puglia region of Italy, Verdeca can make for rather tart, overly-acidic wines. Indeed it’s often used when combined with herbs and roots to make Vermouth-style drinks. This example, however, is every bit the exception to the rule.

Made by Filippo Baccalaro and his team at the Masseria Pietrosa winery, using very modern wine-making principles (temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks and no malolactic fermentation), this is a wine of extraordinary character. With a definite jasmine and green apple aroma, it opens in the mouth to reveal honeyed fruit, although it remains fresh, light and delicate. There’s certainly not a hint of sourness about it.

There’s no need to match this with food – drink it on its own to enjoy it at its best – although it would work well with pork, chicken and any type of fish or seafood you care to throw at it.

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cala silenta60pxVermentino cala silente 2009, Santadi

From Great Western Wine

www.greatwesternwine.co.uk

£13.50

Best known for its utterly splendid Terre Brune, the Santadi cooperative in Sardinia produces some of the islands very best wines. Its white, a Vermentino, is a delightful, crisp white with scents of lemon and peach. It’s a delicate little number, although it has enough body to fill the mouth and its ripe melon and citrus fruit maintains interest. But go careful: it doesn’t taste like it’s 14 per cent alcohol. It can creep up on you!

Great with…
Would work well with the local speciality: suckling pig over wood fire.

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Falanghina60pxFalanghina 2011, Terredora

From Majestic Wines

www.majestic.co.uk

£10.99 (or £8.79 if you buy two)

This wine, made with the increasingly popular Falanghina grape variety by the Terredora Estate in Campania, is all about balance. It’s crisp and light, yet aromatic and medium-bodied in texture. A remarkably versatile wine, it will work with all manner of foods (short of red meat or tomatoes), with a lime and apple-peel nose and controlled minerality. It has a great, slightly almond finish that will tempt a second sip.

Great with…
All white meats and fish but we’d roast a chicken on a bed of lemon and bay.

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fiano60pxFiano di Sicilia 2010, Settesoli

From Majestic Wines

www.majestic.co.uk

£7.99 (or £5.99 if you buy two)

Made by the biggest producer in Sicily, you’d easily be led to believe that this Fiano is a mass-produced, inferior white. But you’d be wrong: the vines are relatively low-yielding and the grapes ripen early, enabling Settesoli to preserve bountiful fruit in a wine that has been made to be drunk young. It’s therefore extremely fresh, crisp and a perfect partner to fish and shellfish. Make sure you chill it well to bring out the best of its character.

Great with…
Load a big plate with ice and a variety of seafood and enjoy with friends.

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Greco60pxGreco 2011, Sannio

From Marks & Spencer

www.marksandspencer.com

£9.99
Another wine harking from the sunny shores of Campania, this time utilising the Greco grape variety (so named because it is believed to have originally been brought to Italy by the Ancient Greeks). This is perfect summer wine: open a bottle and enjoy it as a delicate aperitif in the garden while the barbecue coals slowly whiten. With a slightly grassy aroma, it’s very dry despite its honeyed, nutty finish. Drinking it with food? Grilled fish, please!

Great with…
Grilled flat fish, such as lemon or Dover sole, or a plate of cold crayfish.

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grillo60pxGrillo 2011, Birgi

From Waitrose Wines

www.waitrosewine.com

£5.21

This wine from Sicily (via Waitrose) is a real bargain in a bottle. The little-appreciated Grillo grape produces wines of real character, combining fresh acidity and herbal notes. It offers a noseful of summer meadow with a touch of lemon and thyme, and is medium-bodied in the mouth, with plenty of fruit and a playful, sage-like finish. This wine will be at its best when cooking freshly-caught mackerel on a beach barbecue as the light starts to fade. Just perfect.

Great with…
See above, though would also work well with prawns and other crustaceans.

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planeta60pxCarricante 2011, Planeta

From Great Western Wines

www.greatwesternwine.co.uk

£16.95

On the island of Sicily, the name Planeta and the word ‘quality’ go hand in hand. It produces some of the very best wines from the region, constantly pushing the barriers in production techniques and eager to embrace the new. Its Carricante (a grape variety) is flinty in the same way that a good Chablis can be, although it offers plenty of fruit to temper that minerality. With a floral nose and medium weight it will work well with all types of fish.

Great with…
Fish cooked over coals, or a smoked trout terrine. Lobster too, if you will.

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Seeing Red

The hot climate and proximity to the sea in southern Italy – and indeed on the islands of Sicily and Sardinia – make for excellent growing conditions for red grape varieties (even more so than white, to be honest). And in recent decades the vineyard managers and wine makers have cottoned on to the fact that there’s more money to be made from low-yielding, high-quality vines than from those that are tightly planted and forced for every grape they are worth. Seek out ‘old vine’ Primitivo wines from Puglia, high-quality Nero d’Avola from Sicily and Carignano-based wines from Sardinia such as our favourite: Santadi’s Terre Brune.

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