SPREADING THE GOSPEL OF WHITE

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The Emilia-Romagna region is just north of Tuscany in north-central Italy. Cleto Chiarli founded a winery in the region in the province of Modena in 1860.
Azienda Agricola Inama is the origin of one of the best Italian whites available in Oklahoma. The 20th Anniversary bottle of Vigneti di Foscarino Soave Classico is simply the best Soave in the state.
Monte Faliesi Falanghina is from the Campania region of Italy, near the city of Benevento east of Naples. The region is on the “shin of the boot” and has a long history of producing wines in several varietals that only grow in Campania.
Monte Falliesi Greco di Tufo has an ancient history in Italy, including references that go back to Pompei. The Greco grape was grown on the slopes of Mt. Vesuvius for centuries, and even now it’s still grown in the area, although it appears in other areas throughout Campania.

SPREADING THE GOSPEL OF WHITE
White wines deserve the spotlight in Oklahoma

By Greg Horton

In spite of its reputation as one of the world’s great winemaking regions, Italian wines are underrepresented in Oklahoma. Most of us have tried a Pinto Grigio or Chianti, and wine lovers have long appreciated the power and complexity of Barolo, Barbera, and Barbaresco. However, some of Italy’s best wines are white wines, and the names are not as commonplace as they deserve to be.

Truth is, some are hard to pronounce, too: Garganega and Franciacorta come to mind immediately. Very few things keep people from ordering wines from a menu as often as a lack of familiarity couple with a lack of ability to pronounce the name.

Couple that with the tendency of Italian winemakers to create wines that work best with food, meaning that people have had some negative experiences when not pairing wine and food, and increasing the profile of Italian wines can be a tough task.

That is unfortunate, because Italian whites are some of the very best in the world.

In side by side tastings, Franciacorta (fran-chee-a-corta) stands up to some of the best Champagne. The region has been producing wines as far back as the early Roman empire, but the delicious sparkling wines coming from this area emerged in the 20th century. The region’s allowable grapes, an issue controlled by the Italian government, are Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, and Pinot Nero.

The wines are similar in many respects to Champagne, and brands like Bellavista and Contadi Castaldi are made with similar care and attention to detail, such that their quality is comparable to Champagne. The primary difference is price. Franciacorta typically costs half or less of what comparable Champagne would.

Soave is an Italian white that suffered from its own success. Made from the Garganega grape, Soave when produced properly is round and beautiful with great structure and complexity. Marianna Carpene of Inama, one of Italy’s best Soave producers compared the plight of Soave to that of Merlot or Pinot in the United States.

“Soave, when produced properly is beautiful,” she said. “However, it had a period of popularity like Merlot or Pinot, and people started producing large quantities of it, not using the best fruit and the best techniques, so much bad Soave was on the market. Good Soave is not table wine; it’s a beautiful, interesting wine with great power.”

Another Italian wine that suffered from its own success was Lambrusco. Although not a white, the lighter rosé version of this sparkling wine is very refreshing. Good Lambrusco ranges from dry to quite sweet, but not the off-putting, cloying kind of sweetness.

For many years it was this sweet characteristic that drove the market in terms of what Americans had access to, such that most Lambrusco available in the U.S. was from bulk producers who made very sweet, very inferior Lambrusco.

Thankfully, the trend is changing, and Oklahoma now is home to many good Lambrusco selections.

Many of Italy’s white grapes are unknown because the market in the U.S. is difficult, but Oklahoma brokers are taking chances on good wine shops and good restaurants to get the gospel of Italian white in front of customers. Grapes like Vermentino, Falanghina, Greco di Tufo, and Aglianico are showing up on wine lists and store shelves.

The Italian whites, with some notable exceptions, tend not to be expensive, so taking a risk is a little easier. Several metro restaurants have been serving Vermentino for a long time. Vermentino is a very approachable Italian white, and probably serves as an excellent introduction to Italian whites.

The wines tend to be light and fruity, making them excellent sipping wines for spring and summer, and some Vermentino works very well with light fare like pasta salads and white fish.

Finally, one of the favorite wines of Italy is Prosecco. The dry, citrusy sparkling wine made from the Glera grape is a perfect choice for before and after dinner drinking, palate cleansing between courses, or just hanging out on the patio.

Prosecco tends to cost under $20 per bottle, and many restaurants around the state are offering it by the glass. Fans of sparkling wines, especially American sparkling or Spanish Cava, should absolutely try Prosecco.

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