The light, refreshing white wines from northern and central Italy are popular worldwide. Many of us enjoy a chilled glass of Pinot Grigio during a summer picnic and white wine regions such as Frascati, Gavi and Soave are famous for producing light and zesty wines.
However, how many of us know much about the white wines produced in southern Italy and the islands of Sicily and Sardinia? These wines are still largely unknown to many wine drinkers but deserve to be tried.
Southern Italy includes the regions of Puglia, Campania, Basilicata and Calabria. Puglia is perhaps the best known of these regions and is one of Italy’s largest wine producing regions thanks to its areas of fertile plains. However, until 30 or 40 years ago most of Puglia’s white wine production was used for blending or for making Vermouth. These days, whilst much of the region’s wine is still used for bulk blending, reduction in yields in some areas has led to some more interesting wines being produced.
Trebbiano and Malvasia tend to be the most widely grown white wine grapes in Puglia and although often the resulting wines are flat and uninteresting, there are some good quality wines being produced. Malvasia is blended with Bombino and Trebbiano to produce soft and dry white wines in Leverano DOC and Trebbiano and Chardonnay are blended to produce frizzante and spumante white wines in Lizzano DOC. Dry whites made from Verdeca and Bianco d’Alessano in Locorotondo DOC are fresh and slightly fruity and improving in quality. The Impigno and Francavidda grapes are used to produce a delicate dry white in Ostuni DOC. Puglia produces some good quality sweet and fortified white wines the best of which tend to come from Moscato di Trani DOC.
Campania has two DOCGs producing interesting white wines. Greco di Tufo – so named because of the assumed Greek origins of the grape and the tuff rock on which the grape grows – is a very different white wine with a strong aroma of apple peel and mineral characteristics. In neighbouring Avellino the Fiano grape produces a subtle, delicate white wine with a floral fragrance.
Basilicata has little quality white wine to offer other than excellent sweet Moscato and Malvesia wines. The best are produced by Paternosta and Fratelli d’Angelo. Calabria is equally barren of quality white wines with only dessert wines worth a mention. Umberto Ceratti’s Greco di Bianco is worth looking out for as is the Moscato vino da tavola produced by Guido Lojelo.
The white wine for which Sicily is best known is a fortified wine. Marsala was once widely drunk and enjoyed around Europe but has fallen out of favour in more modern times. Its style lies somewhere between Madeira and Sherry and efforts are now being made to increase its popularity again by concentrating on the lighter style of Marsala known as vergine rather than the flavoured versions. There are many grapes allowed under the Marsala DOC but the original and best grape is Grillo. The wine can be dry, semi-sweet or sweet, it can be coloured gold, amber or red and is made in four styles – Fine, the lowest category; Superiore, which is aged in wood for at least two years and has a minimum of 18 per cent ABV and Vergine and Solera, which are both aged for at least five years in wood or 10 years if “stravecchio” or “reserva”, must have at least 18 per cent ABV and can only be dry. The best Moscato wines in Sicily are made on the tiny island of Pantelleria. These wines are semi-sweet or sweet and can be still, fortified or spumante.
Thanks to the heat and the terrain, Sicily is not renowned for its dry white wines. The main white wine grapes grown on the island are Catarratto, Inzolia and Grecanico along with the Marsala grape Grillo which has the potential to make some fine dry whites. Corvo is the best known brand name from Sicily and covers all white, red, spumante and fortified “Stravecchio di Sicilia” wines of Duca di Salapruta.
Sardinia is a more successful producer of quaffable dry white wines. Vermentino, a white grape which produces light white wines with lemony characteristics, is Sardinia’s signature white grape. The Vermentino di Sardegna DOC covers the whole island but the best Vermentino white wines come from the inland Gallura area where the heat and sea breezes combine to produce such concentrated wines that Vermentino di Gallura is Sardinia’s first DOCG. There are also some wonderful sweet white wines produced on the island from the Moscato and Malvesia grapes – look out for Moscatos di Cagliari, di Sardegna and di Sorso-Sennori and Malvesias di Bosa and di Cagliari.
Image courtesy of Stephan_Brunker.