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.
Verdicchio is the sole grape variety in this cuvée, and Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, which translates to “Verdicchio from the Castles of Jesi,” is the DOC—or classification—of this wine. (Fun fact: Roberto Mancini, the manager of Italy’s national soccer team, who may or may not have led his team to Euro tournament glory by the time you read this, was born in the small town of Jesi.) Verdicchio is generally used for light, crisp quaffers. But in their Passolento, La Marca has eked out astonishing complexity and body from the grape. Passolento translates to “slow pace,” referring to the estate’s unusually extended aging of the wine in botti and bottle—roughly eighteen months in total. In addition to the organic farming and unfiltered bottling, the time that La Marca takes with this cuvée is no doubt what elevates it to such heights.
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