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Mar 13, 2008 01:02 AM

Italian wine recommendations for specific tastes

My husband and I like a very specific style of wine, and while we're eager to try new wines, we're pretty sure we're not going to suddenly discover that we love something the polar opposite of our current taste.

So, in Rome, Umbria, and Tuscany, what type of white wine is closest to a Marlborough (NZ)-style Sauvignon Blanc (or French Sancerre)? We're familiar with Pinot Grigio/Gris and Orvieto, of course, but are looking for something a bit more grapefruity (or gooseberry-ish).

Also, in asking the waiter for a wine, aside from "vino bianco, molto secco", how else could we describe what we want in Italian?

Thanks in advance, as always!


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  1. Ask for a Sauvignon Blanc! There are great ones coming out of Italy right now.

    While there are great whites coming from all over Italy, most of the best come from either Friuli or Trentino Alto Adige.

    2 Replies
    1. re: whiner

      Planeta makes a white blend that I believe is called La Spinetta. Very well made and sounds like something you would enjoy. Around $15 in the US.

      1. re: TonyO

        Correction: It is called La Segreta Bianco from Planeta winery (there Chardonnay is tremendous as well at around $50). Also, Tramin makes a Sav Blanc that you may enjoy from Northern Italy

    2. Whiner is right. Nothing tastes like Sauvignon Blanc than a Sauvignon Blanc . . . nothing tastes like a Vernaccia di San Gimignano than a Vernaccia di San Gimignano; nothing tastes like an Orvieto . . . .

      So the closest you're going to get is a Sauvignon Blanc from Friuli or the Alto-Adige, but since nothing tastes like a MARLBOROUGH Sauvignon Blanc than another Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc . . . in other words, a Sauvignon Blanc from Friuli will be delicious, but it won't be a Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough.


      1 Reply
      1. re: zin1953

        True, Jason, but some SBs are made with similar qualities to the Marlboroughs (even some from here in Northern California!), while others are much closer to oakey Chardonnays. Sounds like Friuli and Alto-Adige are the areas to look for.



      2. I can't think of any Italian wines that taste like NZ SB, but if you like those, you might also enjoy other crisp mineral-driven whites like Tocai Fruilano and Soave. They're don't have that gooseberry or grapefruit, but they tend to be leaner wines with citrus-y notes.

        1. "we're eager to try new wines"

          Then by all means do it!
          Look for local grapes. If you see a grape name that you don't know, then that's what you should be asking for.
          Hundreds and hundreds of different grape varieties in Italy to choose from.
          Many (most) never get imported to the US ( reason: "consumers don't know them" ...! )
          What better occasion to try new stuff?

          10 Replies
          1. re: RicRios

            Agreed. You're not going to find the exact type of wine you already like in Italy -- believe me, SB grown in Italy is not going to taste like other SB you've already had. Same for Chardonnay, Cabernet, Merlot, Pinot Nero (Noir) and most French varietals.

            And no one is asking you to love things that are "the polar opposite of our current taste." Why not try the lovely, refreshing white wines of Italy?

            Gavi, in particular, made from the Cortese grape, often has a grapefruit-y taste, though it won't be a dominant flavor like in the Marlborough SBs. I love Arneis from Piedmont, especially those from Roero. Vernaccia is also a good bet for you. In addition, try Greco, Falanghina, Fiano, Vermentino, Verdicchio, Muller-Thurgau, and Friulano (used to be called Tocai Friulano) from northern Italy.

            Just a suggestion: Probably best to not measure every wine against a predetermined yardstick. Stay open. Just try a glass of many different types of white wines, and see which ones you find appealing. Even try two or three glasses of the same type of wine from different producers. Buon viaggio and Salute!

            1. re: maria lorraine

              Thanks, Maria. It's especially helpful to have the grape variety name as well as the wine name.

              The only predetermined yardstick is our tastes.... I was trying to give everyone an idea of what we like, so we didn't get recommendations for Chiantis or Super-Tuscans or something that we aren't going to enjoy. (And yes, my husband will probably have a glass of red with his bifsteak fiorentino, but still, our preference is mainly for dry whites!)


              1. re: waldrons

                I knew you had a dry white wine preference. I tried to dial-in your flavor preferences in the first three wines I recommended.

                And, in case a Friulano falls across your path (Mike calls them Tocai, the old name), I don't think they're thin, though some are. I've had about 70 different ones during my visits to Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, and many are fleshy, round and satisfying.

                Even some white wines formerly considered thin are now grown using better fruit-farming techniques, which gives them more flavor. The improvements in fruit-farming employed by the Tuscan wine-growers (usually borrowed from the New World) have really spread throughout Italy. Additionally, some white wines now undergo malolactic fermentation and/or receive a little barrel aging, both of which can make a white wine taste "bigger." It depends on the winery. Though malolactic and barrel-aging can also mask the taste of the grape if overdone.

                There's a new Italian white wine I've recently tasted -- Erbaluce -- recently described by Carswell on this board: "Erbaluce's aromas/flavours tend to white fruit and citrus with an undercurrent of volatile herbs (sage?) and minerals." With your stated flavor preferences, that might be a wonderful wine for you to try.

                I've spent a great deal of time tasting wine in Italy, and Soave, except for the truly exceptional ones that are made, isn't among my favorites. I find Soaves thin (!), like Pinot Grigio, Fiano, and Frascati.

                Nothing beats actual experience. Just try a lot of white wines and see what you like. What discoveries you may make! Best, M.

                1. re: maria lorraine

                  <I've spent a great deal of time tasting wine in Italy, and Soave, except for the truly exceptional ones that are made, isn't among my favorites. I find Soaves thin (!), like Pinot Grigio, Fiano, and Frascati. > hmmm I wouldn't put Fiano in that category, Maria! I have had some that are generic, but when I think Fiano, I think Mastroberardino, and the ones I've had are not thin and watery (my take on most PG).

                  1. re: ChefJune

                    I knew I should have been more specific. In years past, Fiano has been thin overall, but there are some fine fleshy versions of the varietal. You mentioned the Mastroberadino.The Feudi di San Gregorio is also one. And Fiano is unusual for a white wine -- it gets rounder and fuller as it ages. Thanks for your comment/clarification, Chef June.

                    1. re: ChefJune

                      Let's specify that "PG" is the Italian versions of "Pinot Grigio," as most Alsatian versions of "Pinot Gris" are ALSO not thin and watery . . . ;^)


                  2. re: waldrons

                    Maria is absolutely right in her recommendations. I'd definitely follow her advice. (Me - I'm an idiot; I missed that you were GOING to Italy, and thought you were just looking from home. Sorry.)

                    In particular my personal favorites are the Arneis made by Vietti, by Giacosa (both of these are from Roero), and Ceretto (which actually comes from Langhe). I also love the Vernaccia di San Gimigiano from Terruzi, as well as their Terre di Tufi, and a handful of others. But while these are "top" producers, these are also available here in the US, and I have no doubt there are literally dozens of producers as good that we don't see outside of Italy.


                  3. re: maria lorraine

                    By the way, we tried a Vernaccia di San Gimignano at a restaurant here at home recently, and really enjoyed it. Thanks!


                2. I'll answer your question a slightly different way... Italy's most interesting white wine, IMO, by quite a long shot is Soave Classico Superiore, made largely or 100% from the garganega grape.. It doesn't have the herbaceous edge of sauvignon blanc... reminds me relatively more of a chardonnay...

                  But it's a very food friendly white wine with quite alot of depth as opposed to alot of other italian whites which are much "thinner" IMO (pinot grigio, tocai, verdicchio, orvieto, vermentino...).

                  Lesser soaves can be blended with a number of other varietals so look for classico superiores.

                  Also... if while in tuscany, don't miss the brunellos, one of the great red wines of the world, IMO.

                  Lastly, a very multi-purpose semi-bubbly that I'm very fond of is Moscato d'Asti... great apertif, goes nice with alot of entrees, and matches alot of desserts, especially high-fruit content and/or chocolate.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Chicago Mike

                    Thanks, Chicago Mike, this is good info. I've had Soave in the past, and I've liked. I would also agree with your description of the "thinner" character of pinot grigio,e tc. (We started drinking wine with Orvieto, PG, etc., but find we actually like wine with more taste now!)

                    I love Moscato at the end of a meal, so thanks again!