Old, White Italians

29 Oct 2014

Take a whimsical gander at most modern wine lists around the world and under Italy you’ll find a litany of red wines filed away: Barolo, Barbaresco, Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, and the list goes on. A couple labels of Prosecco, a few passiti, but for the most part, these beastly reds dominate the carte dei vini, leaving little space for other wines – red, white, or otherwise. Though the tide is turning and more consumers are becoming educated and even excited about the extreme diversity of Italian red wines, the question remains: what about the lowly white? Is it forever to be subjected to the current trend of a shockingly short lifespan?


A recent tasting at Salone del Gusto 2014 dove into this very subject. After Wine Enthusiast declared the time of death of Italian whites at a maximum of five years, to be either drunk or dumped, Giancarlo Gariglio of the Slow Wine magazine and guide took issue. He organized a tasting of six vastly different wines from six vastly different regions of Italy, the youngest of which was a mere 11 years of age.


His goal was to show the wine drinking public that Italian whites are more than able to stand the test of time and should even be considered in a different context, not simply relegated to glacially cold pre-dinner tipple. The oldest wine we tasted, a Martinetti Gavi Minaia from 1986 offered a raging minerality, a fascinating olfactory complexity, and incredible freshness despite its 28 years. It proved not only that these whites can age with grace and ease, but extra time in the bottle can even lead to a gain, not a loss, in depth and quality. The other wines quickly followed suit both in quality and in audience surprise.


This change in drinking paradigm then begs the question, “How should these wines be consumed?” Easy answer: by moving past the classic fish or pasta pairing to heavier and more complex dishes: white meats, rabbit, game. Vitello tonnato springs to mind, a traditional Piedmontese dish in which millimeter-thin rounds of veal are dressed with a sauce of mayonnaise, egg yolk, tuna, and anchovy, then garnished with capers. Paired with Pieropan’s 1992 Soave Calvarino this dish would sing to the high heavens: acidity and minerality to cut through the richness of the tonnato sauce, sapidity and richness to stand up to the gently cooked meat.


The theme of this tasting touches on a much broader subject than simply that of the longevity of white wines. Here we broach the subject of the seemingly infinite diversity and complexity of Italian wine in general. Vine-sown Italy offers drinkers, neophytes and experts alike, the widest range of wine from any single country. A biodiversity of varietals leads to a biodiversity of wine lists, so to speak, and we should all take note.


Tasting Lineup:

–    Martinetti Gavi Minaia 1986

–    Pieropan Soave Salvarino 1992

–    Villa Bucci Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi 1997

–    Edi Keber Collio Tocai 2000

–    Alois Lageder Lowengang Sud Tiroler Chardonnay 2002

–    Pietracupa Fiano di Avellino 2003 



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