Italian white wines are often dismissed as unserious—and relegated to drinking only during carefree summer months. But this hasn’t always been the case. This reputation largely stems from post-war technological innovations and industrialised farming, which made a diverse category increasingly homogenous. Along the way, “don’t they all taste like pinot grigio?” became a not-unreasonable question.
Today, though, the answer to that question is a firm no. I should admit my own bias, as faculty of the Vinitaly International Academy, an educational body designed to spread the gospel of Italian native grapes, but I fervently believe that there are some dynamite whites being produced in Italy.
Unlike riesling or sauvignon blanc, most Italian white grapes are not explicitly fruity. It’s their varied non-fruit aromas—such as fennel and anise (in the case of verdicchio), hazelnuts (fiano), mint and sage (pecorino) or just an ineffable saline (vermentino), illicitly petrochemical (garganega) or mineral (carricante)—as well as their infinitely varied textures and often a refreshing hint of bitterness that make them sophisticated and unique.
In ancient Rome, it was frequently the white wines that were especially valued for finesse and longevity. Admittedly the Romans also mixed their wine with water, spices and, occasionally, lead, so their judgment may not always be trusted.
(Related: 10 Of The Best Piemontese Wines To Try)