Sunday, June 30, 2024

Learning to Trust Italian White Wines

While in my local Italian store the other day, a sales rep was doing a tasting of Italian wines. He had a bevy of whites and one red. It was over 100℉ outside. People were gravitating to the red wine. Maybe it had something to do with the meat counter beyond, so nearby the tasting station?

During the demo, a young, exuberant alpha-male comes up to the table. “Let me try one of your white wines,” he barked. He took a swig, “Not bad. I’ve stayed away from Italian white wines because I don’t trust them. They’re too nothing, don’t have a lot of body. They’re ‘meh’ wines.”

That was a trip down memory lane. He should’ve been here in 1974. But there was a kernel of truth to what he said about not trusting Italian white wines, even in 2024.

It wasn’t that long ago that importing white Italian wines provided one with all manner of challenges. The most important one was getting the wine to its destination intact.

The boxes they came in were flimsy, with little or no support. And no separation between the bottles, so the labels often arrived scuffed and even illegible. The containers they came in were not refrigerated, let alone insulated. And sometimes when they arrived at the port in Italy, where they would begin their journey to America and everywhere else in the world, they might sit on the docks for days. Strikes. Slow working situation. Ferragosto. You name it.

And then, back at the winery, wine making conditions might have lacked in technological prowess. The wines were thin, vapid, sharp, almost overly alcoholic in flavor. But that wasn’t because they were brimming with alcohol. They just didn’t have any stuffing. Little fruit. Structurally they were weak. In short, they sucked.

Fifty years later, things have improved greatly. But there are still indications that we’re still on that journey of improvement, if not perfection.

What the testosterone-laden young American protagonist who provoked the post doesn’t realize, in all likelihood, is that Italians were disappointed in their white wines too. After all, they’ve had 2,000+ years to fine-tune their collective palates. They weren’t raised on soda pop, Captain Crunch and Totinos pizza rolls. They grew up eating real food, at the table, with the family dynamic that amplifies their cultural roots. Food and wine, to an Italian, is everything.

So, the winemakers invested heavily in technology to improve their white wines. Not just to sell more white wine to the capricious Americans who acted like the quintessential bull in a china shop. They Italians wanted a better white wine to drink during Ferragosto. On the seaside areas in the Tuscan Maremma. On the Marche beaches. On the Amalfi Coast and the Ligurian Riviera. In Sicily and in Sardegna. And in Rome, Florence, Venice, Milan, Torino and Palermo. They wanted better tasting white wines too, to complement their impeccable seafood, their fresh vegetables, their pizza and pasta and lasagne. And they went to work.

Fifty years later, we now have better. Fruitier. Cleaner. Saner wines. Yes, saner. Wines like Verdicchio and Carricante, Vermentino and Gavi. Friulano and Soave. Lugana and Fiano and Falanghina and Verdeca. To quote Joyce, “yes I said yes I will Yes.” That was their maxim.

Now, if we just convince folks in these parts where the temperatures hover for weeks in the triple digits to try white wine instead of red. Italians have done their part. Now the work continues, trying to convince Americans that not just red wine works on the Italian table. There is a place for today’s Italian white wines too.

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