Beyond Pinot Grigio: Other Italian white varietals to become totally obsessed with
Spring is here, and its sultry friend summer is in toe, heralding the arrival of the patio, the park and the cottage visit. With friends, tomatoes, fresh berries and infinitely more reasons to be outdoors, it is no wonder we become so thirsty, consuming buckets of white wine and increasingly rosé. (Drink more rosé!)
Surprising no one, the number one Italian white grape we drink is Pinot Grigio. Pinot Grigio is the Usain Bolt of white grapes: it inexplicably always wins, is confusingly likeable regardless, and everyone knows its name/ cheers upon its arrival. Ever since it exploded onto the North American market in the 1970s, Pinot Grigio has appeased the thirsty en masse. It has quite a few things going for it! In its best expressions from north-east Italy – look for Alto Adige or Friuli on the bottle – it is crisp, high acid and full of zesty lemon-lime character with a pleasing bitter almond finish. It is also easy to say, consistently good quality and even made it into a Drake song.
Although good Pinot Grigio is delicious, Italy is big and makes a whole pile of other awesome things that are worth discovering. If you like the crisp, refreshing style of Pinot Grigio, seek these five, unoaked, similarly fresh Italian white varietals, full of history, pleasure and future rap-lexicon.
Verdicchio is a native Italian grape grown primarily in the Marche region – aka Italy's calf if you think of her like a thigh-high boot, which I would recommend! Verdicchio has been around since at least the 14th century, complementing the region's local fare: stuffed olives, smoky pork sausages and decadent fish soups. Like Pinot Grigio, it is full of citrus concentration, minerality and that pleasing bitter nut finish characteristic of great Italian whites. It naturally has beautifully high acidity to provide refreshment, and excellent food pairing potential: think anything light, or to cut through fatty, oily delights. Mackerel anyone? Look for Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi for the grape's top expression.
Greco is a pretty fun grape to say. It is impossible to not sound fancy saying it, especially when it comes from its best area, Greco di Tufo in Campania – Italy's ankle! Don't you already feel more stylish and cultured knowing this region exists? This is a DOCG (Denominazione di origin controllata e Garantita), a controlled and guaranteed-quality Italian region, that specializes in this zippy grape brought by Greek settlers about 2500 years ago. Greco came close to extinction in the early 20th century, but has gone through a serious revival as regional grapes have become once again celebrated. Its best expressions burst with floral and citrus aromatics and a lovely herbal note that will remind you of a field of Italian dreams. Texture and weight, but refreshing and unoaked? Yeah, drink this.
Cortese is found in the south-east of Piemonte – the upper thigh of Italy's thigh-high boot – and is synonymous with its most famous regional home, Gavi. Gavi (made of Cortese!) is refreshing, bright and pleasingly light in flavour; read: super-crushable on a warm day. It is also a killer pairing with seafood; if you ever go to Piemonte you will drink buckets, but we recommend not waiting. You can find a great Gavi on any good Italian wine list! Easy to drink, easy to say, easy to find. Try this.
One of the most misspelled/ mispronounced, but delicious grapes in Italy. Garganega is actually Italy's 6th most planted grape – spoiler: Italy grows thousands of grapes... top 10 is huge. The reason you may not have ever heard of it, is because it normally appears hidden as the main component of Soave. Soave is a huge category of delicious white wines from the Veneto region of north-east Italy – Italy's upper hamstrings, isn't this boot thing fun, though! Lemon, almond and spice, oh my. Be sure to seek out Soave Classico, as the region of Soave is quite large and the best, volcanic soils are in the region's heart.
Long live interesting wines from the South! Grillo is an almost forgotten native varietal of Sicily – the pizza-slice-shaped island that the toe of Italy is kicking. It was almost forgotten, ripped out to plant more high-cropping grapes, before being revived in the 1990s by some of the region's most intrepid growers. It is crisp (blossom! white peach! grapefruit!) and savoury (herbal! more bitter almond! an almost Sauvignon Blanc-esque grassiness!). Fresh and easy, with a distinctly Sicilian flair ideal for pairing with full flavoured seafood, or more weighty starter dishes/ fresh pastas. Cream and butter sauces, please!
Nicole Campbell has a WSET diploma, runs La Petite, a boutique wine agency from Lifford, as well as a witchy wine party the first Monday of every month at Superpoint in Toronto. She is usually wearing cool pants and screaming about something she loves; she tells us it's charming! Follow her on Instagram at @grapewitches or on her website grapewitches.com.