There’s more to Italian wine than just choosing between red or white. Bristol Bar & Grille Master Sommelier Scott Harper explains the difference among Italian wine regions, grapes, styles and offers a selection of worthwhile white wines to try from Piedmont.
Tuscany vs. Piedmont
If forced to choose between Tuscany and Piedmont for wine, Harper chooses the latter. Justly, it’s a tough call, and on another occasion he may do a 360-degree shift and say Tuscany. But for now, the delicious white wines of Piedmont stand out as the determining factor that differentiates these two great red wine regions.
White grapes vs. Red grapes
Piedmontese whites are certainly worthwhile white wines to try, but they are in the shadow of the truly great reds of Barolo and Barbaresco. They will never have the claim to fame of this region; after all, Barolo is said to be the king of wines and the wine of kings, with Barbaresco its regal sibling. Some of the best wines Harper ever tasted come from the Nebbiolo grape of Barolo and Barbaresco. Located adjacent to one another, both regions produce long-lived wines. However, Barolo tends to be a fuller, more tannic wine, while Barbaresco is still full and tannic, but slightly less so. If you are lucky to find older bottles, you will discover that both wines will benefit from bottle age of approximately six-to-10 years and many bottlings much longer.
But wait, the delicious, fresh and energetic whites from this red wine region require no ageing. They should be consumed between one and three years of age, as is the case with most white wines. Piedmontese whites are certainly worthwhile white wines to try. They are nothing like the ubiquitous quaffing Pinot Grigio, which is Italy’s most popular exported white grape. While there is Chardonnay produced, most white wine comes from the indigenous grapes in Piedmont. They offer characterful wines typically without the use of oak, which are crisp, fresh and accompany food effortlessly.
Gavi di Gavi, sometimes called Corteses di Gavi, is the most famous white wine of the area. Gavi is in the southeastern region of Piedmont. It comes from the Cortese grape and is a delightful wine. The lesser-known wine of the Roero area of Piedmont comes from the Arneis grape. Roero is in south-central Piedmont just north of Barolo and Barbaresco. Arneis in the Piedmontese dialect translates to “little difficult one” because of its difficulty to grow. But I have found that it also makes an excellent nickname for people with similar personality characteristics. Both Gavi and Roero Arneis are categorized as DOCG and are best consumed chilled at about 50-55°F. A top producer of Gavi is Broglia and of Roero is Arneis Malvira.
Secondary Piedmontese grapes to look for, but may be quite challenging to find, are Favorita and Erbaluce. If you happen upon these wines at an excellent wine shop or Italian restaurant, give them a go as they are flavorful revelations. In the meantime, the two wines below, while not super easy to find, are certainly obtainable and worthwhile white wines to try.
Worthwhile white wines to try
Malvira Arneis Roero 2014 This is a delicious medium-bodied wine that is crisp and refreshing. It has flavors of slightly under ripe pear and apple and a touch of Mandarin orange, orange zest and ginger. Copious wet stone and minerals with spring flowers help make this wine fresh and inviting. Arneis pairs well with oysters, clams and mussels, as well as fried vegetables. Founded in the 1950s, the founder’s two sons, Massimo and Roberto Damonte now run the estate. Malvira in Piedmontese dialect means “badly situated”. The name refers to the original winery facing north, instead of south, with south being the typical positioning of the period. If you are visiting the area, Malvira has a 13-room luxury hotel and restaurant on the property called Villa Tiboldi (villatiboldi.com/en/).
Broglia Gavi La Meirana 2014 A light straw-colored, medium-bodied wine that is broader in texture than most Italian whites. It is fresh with the flavors of ripe apple, lemon, almonds and light minerals. Enticing fresh white flowers and citrus in the nose help create this wine’s vivacious and persistent quality. Gavi is an absolutely delightful pairing with roasted pork, seafood or pasta, or as an aperitif. Brothers Gian Piero and Paolo Broglia currently run and own Broglia Winery. The family acquired the estate La Meirana in 1972. It is of historical importance with written references dating back to 971 AD.