It is a New Year and time for new things like 3 white grapes grown in Italy that I have fallen for because they are high in acidity, full-bodied and flavorful in each of their own ways, Timorasso, Petite Arvine and Pallagrello Bianco. One of the fun things of working in such a large Italian wine department with astute wine buyers, is that there is an endless variety of wines on the shelves at relatively reasonable price points. According to Ian D’Agata in Native Wine Grapes of Italy, there are 377 distinct wine grape varieties documented and produced in commercially significant quantities but there are probably even more than that. Then when you include other grapes like Petite Arvine, a noble grape of Switzerland and then the major international varieties, the number of grapes used to make wine in Italy grows even bigger. Not that there is anything wrong with them, I love chardonnay and sauvignon blanc but there is no worry about getting into a wine rut when walking the aisles of an Italian wine store and deciding on what wine to drink. For the New Year, I am featuring 3 white wines made with distinct white grapes that I want to drink more of this year.
The native aka autochthonous Timorasso grape was singlehandedly brought back to the vineyards in the hills of Tortona (Colli Tortonesi) in southeast Piedmont by the producer Walter Massa of Vigneti Massa. Wine expert and writer, Kerin O’Keefe writes about Massa and why you should be drinking Timorasso in Wine Enthusiast here. I have tried Massa’s Petite Derthona, (made with younger vines than his premier label, Derthona, the ancient name of Tortona). It reminds me of the old commercial for Reese’s peanut butter cups where the boy and girl exclaim, “that’s peanut butter in my chocolate, 2 great tastes that go well together”. The thick skinned Timorasso grape in Massa’s Petite Derthona has the nose of an Alsace riesling with slight petrol, the high acidity of a riesling but the flavors and mouthfeel of a chenin blanc, honeysuckle and a creamy texture with a hint of nuttiness on the finish. At first I thought that the wine had gone through malolactic fermentation but it goes through 15 days of fermentation than elevage in stainless steel. I could see the wine working well with the sweet and sour flavors of Thai food or the more austere sushi and sashimi of Japan. But it is the fresh, crisp acidity that kept me taking another sip. I look forward to trying other producers of Timorasso in this coming year as well as Massa’s Derthona and his other wines including his Barbera, which I have read many good things about.
I had already fallen for La Kiuva’s Arnad Montjovet red wine of the Valle D’Aosta and wrote about it here in my post on nebbiolo wines for Thanksgiving. La Kiuva prides itself as a restaurant and its food but it is also a cooperative winery set in the shadow of Mont Blanc. La Kiuva’s Petite Arvine wine had been placed on the corner of the top shelf in the row covering Valle D’Aosta, Piedmont and Lombardy white wines in the store. There are so many grapes that I haven’t tried and I get wine curious about that after being so happy about the Montjovet red I just had to buy and try their Petite Arvine and it happened to be in the same fixture as Massa’a Timorasso.
Robin Kick, MW, a Lugano Switerland denizen, writes about Petite Arvine in her article, “10 Swiss Wines Worth Seeking Out” in Decanter this past month (alas, December 2018 is past now). Yes, Petite Arvine is really a Swiss grape and a noble one at that, grown in the Valais region of Switzerland but considering that the Valais is just north of the Valle D’Aosta and given the fluidity of borders and wine growing over the course of history, it is logical that a lovely Petite Arvine wine is made from grapes grown in the Valle D’Aosta. The wine had light, floral aromas of wisteria, high acidity, medium to full body and grapefruit and lime notes on the palate. It reminded me of a sauvignon blanc, chardonnay blend. The thick-skinned grape can be produced in many styles. The La Kiuva version is a fresh, stainless steel fermented one focusing on the fruit. This is another white that would pair well with sushi and sashimi, white fish dishes and mountain cheeses. Another grape I look forward to tasting more of in 2019.
The Pallagrello grape is a horse of a different color compared to Timorasso and Petite Arvine. First off, it is a native grape of volcanic soil driven Campania, so completely different climate, soil, geography plus there are two biotypes of the same variety, bianco and nero. I have not tried the nero but was curious about the bianco and we have had a bottle of Michele Alois’ Caiatì on the shelf. Campania is abundant in white grapes, Greco di Tufo for which there is a DOCG, Fiano D’Avellino which has its own DOCG as well and Falanghina which has its own DOC . Pallagrello Bianco was loved and cultivated by Ferdinando IV, King of Naples in the early 19th century. A vigorous-growing variety with small berries that get very ripe. With a family history in the silk trade, Michele Alois and his son, Massimo partnered with the University of Naples to bring back some of the ancient, native varieties. This wine, Caiatì ( Terre del Volturno IGT) is named after the nearby Caiatini Mountains This sustainably-farmed wine was fermented in stainless steel ( 30 days on the lees and MLF) and spent 4 months in bottle before release. Yet again, this wine has a lovely natural acidity, soft aromas reminding me of viognier and a medium body of lemon, yellow apple, beeswax and an underlying minerality from the volcanic soils. This wine is another old world chardonnay lover substitute due to its rounded body and soft fruit flavors. Cheese, fish, chicken, did I say cheese, would all pair well. I could see this wine with Funkenhausen’s Chicago eclectic southern/german food like Oysters Hockefeller ( ham hock, creamed spinach, pickled chiles, chicharron) or the Sunchoke (smoked trout, trout roe, grapes, mushroom jam, sunflower sprouts & seeds) to give you an idea of the versatility of this wine with food.
All 3 of these wines are very different from chardonnay but having said that are great substitutes for chardonnay when it comes to pairing with food and come from distinct beautiful regions in Italy that make me happy thinking of when I sip one of these wines. More wines that I hope to drink more of in 2019!!!