Seems like there's no escaping the blazing temperatures we've been dealt for the past two weeks. Or is there? Instead of whining incessantly about the heat, we're planning to soothe our blistered palates with carafes of the most delectably downable white wines we've sampled lately -- all of which happen to be of the Italian persuasion. And exactly none of which involve pinot grigio.
We can likely all agree that Italians know a few things about being cool. We love their fashion sensibility, their soul-stirring cuisine, and -- last but not least -- their talent for turning out utterly fantastic wines. But we've recently observed the most alarming of trends when it comes to the consumption of Italian white wines in particular; and that's the near-singular consumption of pinot grigio. Not that there's anything wrong with pounding pinot grigio -- except for the fact that it seems to come at the exclusion of so many other supremely quaffable varieties. It's true that Italian wines can be intimidating for American wine lovers, what with their hard-to-pronounce names and tricky-to-identify grapes. The good news is that we have done a fair bit of Italian wine drinking...er, research, lately and have hand-picked five of the most refreshingly delightful Italian whites you've probably never heard of. Read up -- and stay cool -- with these summery sippers.
Masut da Rive Pinot Bianco 2007 ($13): Not to be confused with its cousin pinot grigio, pinot bianco (bianco being Italian for white) wines are typically medium-bodied, easy drinking and full of juicy stone fruit flavors. In other words, they're total porch pounders. This one, featuring lovely citrus and white blossom aromas, then tasting like a just-picked nectarine, is no exception. We especially love the succulent, rich mouthfeel of this particular offering, which renders it all the more guzzle-worthy. No need for fancy stemware, here: Serve it in a large tumbler (remember, you'll be slamming this wine) with something simple and light, like a Caprese salad.
Picco del Sole Falanghina Beneventano 2010 ($10): Okay, we'll admit it: The name's a bit of a mouthful. But so is this gorgeous wine, so please don't let a few extra syllables hold you back from buying several bottles of this ridiculously cheap, ridiculously tasty juice. Hailing from the southern Italian region of Campania, falanghina (pronounced "fa-lon-geena" is an indigenous grape that was born to be drunk with heaping platters of the freshest possible seafood, as you would expect to find in this coastal spot. As for the taste, get ready for a blend of creamy-tart lime curd, Meyer lemon and then the slightest touch of honey. So in a word, delicioso.
Alpha Zeta Soave 2011 ($11): In spite of being masterminded by a Brit (Master of Wine David Gleave) and a Kiwi (winemaker Matt Thompson), the Alpha Zeta remains solidly Italiano in every sense of the word. Soave is actually the name of a wine producing area in northeastern Italy's Veneto region (perhaps better known for its Valpolicella wines); the grapes used to turn out these lush wines are usually garganega, but in this bottling, there's a splash of trebbiano thrown in, too. At the end of the day, what matters is that you will adore everything about this sexy, well-rounded white. Typical old world acidity comes through, along with an orchard full of Granny smith apple, peach and pear flavors.
I Clivi Friulano Colli Orientali del Friuli 2009 ($15): Two words: Prosciutto wine. That's exactly the phrase master sommelier (and Frasca Food and Wine) co-owner Bobby Stuckey used to describe friulano to a group of us rapt seminar attendees at the recent Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. These wines -- formerly known as tocai or tocai Friulano -- hail from Friuli-Venezia Giulia and are usually small production affairs that showcase incredibly rich minerality and stunningly complex flavors. There's a kind of richness to this wine, expressed in its silken texture and scrumptious pear elements that makes it ideal for the salty, fatty porkiness of prosciutto -- picnic, anyone?
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Matteo Correggia Roero Arneis 2011 ($17): The word "arneis" translates from the Italian into "little rascal," but that's got more to do with the somewhat finicky nature of the grape on the vine than this unique, elegant wine. If we were pressed to compare arneis to another, possibly more recognized variety, we'd go with viognier; they share similar exotic floral aromas that seem to seduce you from the first whiff. But then there's that in-your-face acidity that we expect from the Piedmont (yet another northern Italian wine district) that is harder to find in viognier, which can tend to show more voluptuous curves than the leaner stylings of arneis. As for flavors, we're getting all kinds of ripe peach, pear and nectarine -- sort of a stone fruit trifecta, if you will. Now that you've been schooled on some of Italy's best-kept white wine secrets, you may never go back to pinot grigio again.