If the naming conventions of Italian wines seem intimidating, you’re not alone. It takes time to learn how to parse the labels of the bottles we import, to realize what each term refers to and which is the most important in each name. Regrettably, our Italian producers can’t do much to make the deciphering easier. Italy is home to seemingly countless native grape varieties, and the country’s various zones are often crucial in the hierarchy of quality. So, at the very least, you’ll likely encounter the variety and subregion on the label. Then the cuvée name is sometimes included as well. All the information adds up to a lot. Below are three do-not-miss Italian white wines, labels decrypted.
The word to pay attention to here is Malvasia. The Malvasia in this bottling, however, is not just any old Malvasia clone, which can be found all around the Mediterranean. It is the grandest of the Malvasia clones, called Malvasia Istriana, planted throughout Friuli Venezia Giulia, in northeastern Italy, near the Slovenian border. “Chioma Integrale” refers to Duline’s philosophy of not trimming the vines and, more generally, allowing all kinds of plant life to grow within their vineyards. Intensely mineral—practically saline—and zesty but with good flesh on the bone, this remarkable Italian bianco is perfectly suited to all kinds of seafood.
SommarivaItaly | Veneto | Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Superiore
We all know that Prosecco refers to value-driven sparkling wine. What’s notable here is “Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore,” which refers to the specific subregion where Cinzia Sommariva farms her Glera—the ancestral name for the Prosecco grape. Steep hillsides rise up out of this stretch of northeastern Italy, creating a landscape so spectacular that it has been granted UNESCO World Heritage status. This is the best terroir for Prosecco, and Sommariva farms and vinifies it beautifully.
The little village of Cupramontana, perched high in the hills of Italy’s Le Marche region, within view of the Adriatic Sea to the east and the Apennine Mountains to the west, is the birthplace of this young, exciting estate. Founded by the children of an old winemaking family who struck out independently to create organic wines of great character and integrity, La Marca is the alliance of this region’s strong and proud history with the best possible vision for its future. In the right hands, the Verdicchio grape is capable of making one of Italy’s finest white wines—the hands of this family have just the right touch. Passolento takes its time throughout every stage of the production process, allowing it to develop the layered textures that white Burgundy lovers chase after. Picked carefully, fermented slowly with wild yeasts (including full malolactic fermentation), aged in large Slavonian oak botti, and bottled unfiltered, Passolento deserves to be decanted and savored with fine cuisine, and it has development potential in your cellar.
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