VINTAGES Buyers’ Guide – July 20th, 2019

The Subtle Allure of Italian Whites

By David Lawrason, with notes from John Szabo and Michael Godel

During a heat wave it is simple logic that refreshing, fruity and perhaps mineral whites will be our go-to style. Which means Vintages July 20 mini-feature on Italian whites is very well timed indeed. I would love to see double the number of entries to represent the much broader-than-you-might-think world of Italian whites, but the window is open.

Why the allure Italian whites?  First, they are not based on the international triumvirate of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc or riesling. So they are less familiar, therefore less often purchased, therefore less expensive. There are a few prized whites from certain producers, particularly in the northeast regions of Italy, that might command $40 to $50 or more (which is a routine price for premium chardonnays) but by far most “very good” Italian whites sit at $20 to $25, with many good wines available for even less.  You could buy one of each of the seven wines on this release for $150, which to my mind would be a smart educational expenditure.

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Italian whites are based on many different indigenous grape varieties that vary from the cooler reaches of alpine northern Italy to warmer Mediterranean south. Those from the north produce lighter and more crisp wines, while those from the south soften and pick up weight and richness.  Pinot grigio (which is actually the same as pinot gris from France) is the only well known, “international “ Italian grape, and it is now being planted around Italy.

Very few Italian whites are barrel aged, which may be their most salient stylistic signature. And it is why I really like them. Without oak they have a much better ability to transmit the grape characteristics and the regions from whence they come.

The aromas and flavours of most Italian whites follow climate. In the cooler and sometimes alpine north tree fruit aromas like apple and pear are common, especially in pinot grigio from Trentino and Alto Adige and whites of Piemonte. I would say however that the majority of Italian whites, especially from the center of the country, have more stone fruit aromas – peach, apricot, yellow plum (Soave, Verdicchio, Orvieto, Vernaccia, Pecorino). While in some regions, especially farther south the fruit begins to go more tropical with scents of guava, starfruit, melon and banana (Campania, Sicily).

No matter the origin many Italian whites also have subtle, alluring complexities involving wildflowers, almond, olive and honey.  And it is these oak-free scents that I find particularly attractive, and which are found in the better examples.

The group offered by Vintages on the July 20th release is representative and generally very good value, which is why most are recommended below.  We offer our Italian picks first, followed by other whites and sparklers, rose, reds and one great chillable fortified.  Again, a reminder that less than half of the wines on the release were set out for media preview. We have managed to taste only a handful above and beyond the LCBO offering.

Vintage’s Buyer’s Guide July 20th

Italian Whites Feature

Sergio Zenato Riserva Lugana 2016, Veneto, Italy ($39.95)
David Lawrason – One of the great whites of northeast Italy, a barrel-aged Lugana with understated class. Expect fine, well woven and complex aromas with wood subtly applied. Fine integration and balance.
Michael Godel – From the southern shores of Lake Garda and the sandy soils at the foot of Morainic Hills in surround of the Lugana territory. This is Zenato’s prized white with the local trebbiano at its core. The Bordeaux Blanc of the lake district if you will and at the top of the game.
John Szabo – A perennial favorite in a particularly favourable vintage, Zenato’s classic Lugana should continue to gain in complexity over the next 2-4 years. Best 2019-2025. …


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And that’s a wrap for this week.  Before leaving a note for cyclists to check out www.ridethevine.ca a two-day luxury cycling and culinary experience in Niagara coming up Sept 27/28.  There are 100KM, 50KM or 25KM rides that will roll out in the morning of Saturday, September 28. Each will feature multiple stops to refresh, refuel and rehydrate. It is the second year for this increasingly popular event.

Until next time,

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

Use these quick links for access to all of our Top Picks in the New Release. Non-Premium members can select from all release dates 30 days prior.
John’s Top Picks
Lawrason’s Take
Michael’s Mix
Sara’s Sommelier Selections

New Release and VINTAGES Preview