Mid-April is upon us in the Valley, which means temperatures are beginning to hint at summer. The macho among us will make a point of bragging about not turning their A/C on until it hits such and such temperature, as if were a contest to see how much heat they can endure. I, however have already turned mine on and have already begun thinking about how to keep cool during the hot season. Naturally, my thoughts turn to which wines will slake the inevitable summer thirst. Northern Italian whites fit the bill perfectly. Northern Italy is home to many unique, accessible, and refreshing white wines. Here are a few of my favorites.
Friuli Venizie Giulia in the northeastern corner of Italy, bordered to the north by Austria and Slovenia, is White Wine Central. Friuli is known for white wine, some of which can be spendy, but if you dig a little deeper and look for lesser-known varietals, you can be pleasantly surprised. Ribolla Gialla is one of those out-of-the-way varietals. It produces a medium-bodied, floral, high-acid wine that pairs particularly well with the cured meats for which the region also is known.
Just to the west of Friuli and to the north of Veneto (technically part of the Veneto) lies the more well-known Soave region. In the '60's and '70s, Soave was known for producing an ocean of insipid and cheap white wines from the garganaga grape. The reputation has remained, and only in the past 10 years or so has there been a movement toward making really distinctive wines, particularly from the Soave Classico subregion. Stone fruit and minerality are the hallmarks of a well-made Soave. To me, there are few better "patio wines" out there.
Kerner and Sylvaner
Move north into the foothills of the Italian Alps and you find the region of Trentino-Alto-Adige. Although part of Italy, Alto-Adige probably shares more cultural heritage with Austria and Germany than with Rome. It is home to an intimidating number of white wines, some widely recognizable ones like sauvignon blanc and chardonnay and other more esoteric grapes like Kerner and Sylvaner. Both of the latter are also found in Germany and Austria, but I particularly enjoy them from Alto-Adige, where they are grown high up in the mountains. Sylvaner is distantly related to Gewurtztraminer and makes a pleasantly fruity, easy quaffer. Kerner shares some parentage with Riesling and has the zinging acidity to prove it.
Northern Italy has so many great white wines that you could write a thick book on the subject.
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These are just a few to check out. As the dreaded desert summer descends upon us, stock up on some refreshing, fun, and thirst-quenching whites, and as the mercury climbs, imagine you're sitting way up in the Italian Alps watching the snow melt.
When I'm not writing this column, or reading vintage charts to my daughter, you can find me pouring wine at FnB.