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Ah Summer Wine: Give Italian Varietals a Try

Bottles of Italian Varietals chilled in ice

When it comes to picnics and patios, Italian white varietals define dining “al fresco”.

Soave, and Verdicchio—you may recognize the latter from its curvy green bottle–have held center stage on summer patios for years. And these days, shelves are quickly cleared of easy going Pinot Grigio. As delightful as these varietals are, there is a world of other grape varieties that hunker down in Italian soil from the top to the tip of Italy that make for wonderful summer drinking. Pinot Bianco, Arneis, Glera, Greco di Tufo, Fiano, Falanghina and Cattarato and Insolia are as charming and as diverse as their names.

Prosecco in small wine glass

Light, bubbly Prosecco is not only refreshing for summer, it’s easy on the budget.

These varietals share an affinity with Pinot Grigio for their ability to stand on their own feet, with little or no support from oak, but, for me, their personalities bring more pizazz to the party.

When you are in the mood for intriguing lively white wines that step beyond the tried and true, check out these varietals. They ask of for little more than a picnic table or a grill, the freshest ingredients, simply prepared, and a gathering of friendly folk.

Following each wine below are some fine producers whose wines are readily available at better shops in both Canada and the U.S.

Pinot Bianco: Probably better known as Pinot Blanc, the Italian version prospers in the chalky Alto Adige region of northern Italy. (Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris, French for Pinot Bianco and Pinot Grigio, are cultivated in the Alsace region of France—and the Pacific Northwest.) Fresh and fruity with melon, peach, and mineral notes, this wine is perfect for grilled chicken or fish, rubbed with herbs and olive oil, or a plate of mild creamy cheeses.

Producers: Alois Lageder, Tiefenbrunner

Arneis with oyster

Arneis pairs well with fresh, chilled seafood like this lovely oyster. — Photo Yvette Cardozo

Arneis: Piedmont is famous for Barolo and Barbaresco, the aristocratic reds made from Nebbiolo. In the past couple of decades, however, wine growers have resurrected an ancient white grape variety, the lovely Arneis. The wine blossoms on the palate with freshness and a touch of bitter almond. A heady summer evening and a plate of antipasto or chilled shellfish is about all you will need.

Producers: Vietti, Bruno di Giacosa

Prosecco. Hailing from the Veneto region, the Glera (Prosecco) grape is fermented in stainless steel tanks (or charmat method). Smart and casual bubbly prosecco kicks off any festivity with pretty apple and peach notes, and modest price.

Producers: Ruggieri, Mionetto, Adami

Greco di Tufo, Fiano and Falanghina. Other than Lacrima Christi, the sweetish wine popular in the eighties, Campania was little regarded as a wine region. Ironically, early Greek varieties Greco di Tufo, Fiano, Falanghina, (as well as the area’s flagship red, Aglianico) are bright newcomers to the wine block. All are crisp and dry yet each gives its own nod to honeyed and citrus fruit, depending on terroir and winemaker). Want to kick up a pizza party? Try a thin-crust “white” grilled pizza topped with soft cheeses (Buffalo mozzarella, buttery caciocavallo, nutty Pecorino) or a simple plate of ricotta cheese drizzled with honey or with any or all of these three varietals (or a blend).

Producers: Mastroberardino, Feudi di San Gregorio

Cattarato: The white grape of Sicily leans toward lush apple balanced nuanced with pink grapefruit, and a touch of anise. Often blended with Insolia, another local white grape, the wine loves grilled seafood and a tangle of linguine, fresh basil, and good olive oil.

Tongs in bowl of pasta

Pasta goes great with Cattarato.

Producers: Tasca d’Almerita, Cusumano.

A little more difficult suss out, but no less enjoyable are rich and aromatic Grillo and Malvasia, also from Sicily.

Incidentally that soave that you’ve been sipping forever, is made from Greganico — just in case you were wondering.

— by Julie Pegg, RFT Wine & Spirits Expert

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Julie Pegg, RFT Contributor

Julie Pegg has been writing about food, wine, and spirits for 15 years. She was a product consultant for 14 of her 24 years working for the British Columbia Liquor Board in Vancouver. She still keeps her hand in (and elbow firmly bent) at Dundarave Wine Cellars in West Vancouver, British Columbia. Julie is also a keen amateur cook who loves culinary travel. Farmers’ markets and wine shops are always her first stop.