Italian White Wines: Explore Australia’s Italian Grape Varietals
Italy is one of the most important and historical wine countries in the world, especially when considering white wines. For centuries they’ve produced benchmark quality wines and continue to do so today. Although Italian red wines are exceedingly popular, the lesser-known Italian white wines are equally magnificent. You don’t have to be a wine expert to know pinot grigio, yet delve a little deeper and there’s plenty more to discover. Plus, paired wonderfully alongside fresh summer dishes including grilled white meats, salads, pasta and risottos, there’s no other wine more appropriate this warm season.
Italian White Wines in Australia
Prosecco is arguably the most popular Italian sparkling wine. It’s made from the glera grape and originates from the small village of Prosecco, close to Trieste in northeast Italy. Prosecco wines are usually dry, although as the glera grape is very fruity, it can make the wine taste sweeter than it actually is. Common flavour profiles are green apple, ripe pear, white peach and other stone fruits. Its aromas breathe citrus and flowers, described often as simple yet enticing. James Halliday says it’s a “pleasant but unremarkable wine: with a light, gently floral bouquet and a fresh, crispy but flavour-neutral palate (unless sweetened by retention of residual sugar or by a heavy dosage).”* Australia produces great examples of prosecco, particularly within the King Valley region.
Pinot grigio is the Italian name for the French grape variety pinot gris. The grape is white, although its skin is purple/grey, giving meaning to its name grigio meaning grey in Italian. The pinot grigio grape is usually harvested early to capture fruity flavours for a fresh and crisp-style wine. In Italy, pinot grigio is grown mostly in the northeast: Veneto, Umbria, Trentino, Emilia-Romagna, and Friuli. In Australia, it cool climate regions including the Adelaide Hills, King Valley, Morning Peninsula and across Tasmania. Produced into delicious Italian white wines, expect citrus flavours including lemon and lime, with pear, white nectarine and apple present also.
Trebbiano is one of the most planted grape varieties in the world, and most planted in Italy. As well as being used to produce light-bodied white wine, the trebbiano grape is also used to make Cognac and balsamic vinegar. Abbruzzo, an Italian region east of Rome, is where this grape mainly grows, although its origin may hone back to Roman times. Trebbiano has soft flavours of lemon, minerals and stones. It’s also not unusual to discover almond flavours too. In Australia, trebbiano can be found mainly across the Barossa Valley, Beechworth, Glenrowan, Heathcote and Rutherglen regions.
Fiano grows on the southwest coast of Italy, mainly within Campania and also in Sicily. In Australia, the first fiano vines were imported in 1978. James Halliday says “there has been considerable interest in the variety for its flowery bouquet and lively acidity underlying notes of citrus, apple and pear; barrel fermentation has also been used to good effect.” Fiano a strong flavoured wine, recognised for its compelling pine nut and pesto qualities. In Australia, production of fiano continues to increase across the country, with the McLaren Vale region of South Australia and the Hunter Valley of New South Wales enjoying majority of the plantings.
Vermentino is a light-skinned grape that enjoys coastal locations. When by the sea, the reflected light from the ocean plumps the grape full of flavour. Just recently, vermentino has been confirmed identical to the pigato grape of Liguria and favorita grape of Piedmont — although its exact origin still remains a mystery. Vermentino is widely planted across northern Sardinia, Tuscany, Corsica and the Lingurian coastal districts, James Halliday says “it is one of the most widely propagated alternative varieties in Australia.” Parading flavours of lively white peach and nectarine, zesty citrus fruits and pronounced minerality, its aromas hint citrus leaf and also honeydew melon.
Moscato Giallo belongs to the muscat family and is renowned for its golden-yellow fruits. James Halliday says “In Australia, it is used in moscato (the wine style) either as a straight varietal (with lemon and gelato flavour) or blended.” Moscato Giallo makes for incredible dry wine, presenting floral and spicy aromas, with citrus flavours including grapefruit and orange. Cinnamon and white pepper spices can also be recognised.
Arneis is a grape variety that originates from Piedmont, at the front foot of the Alps. It was said to be planted near nebbiolo grapes to help protect them against birds (the birds instead eating arneis). Because of this, they are often referred to as nebbiolo bianco, although having no biological relation to the grape. James Halliday says that “For obscure reasons, Australia is the only other country to have recorded plantings, and it has done so with enthusiasm.” He describes the flavour notes as “citrus/lemon floral noes in the cool-climate regions, the warm-region versions sharing the almond/honeysuckle/nougat/pear characters found in Piedmont.”
Grillo is a Sicilian grape that’s used to produce full-bodied white wine. Its flavours show nutty characteristics as well as strong lemon and apple qualities. The grillo grape is also a main component of marsala; the luscious fortified wine.
Verduzzo Friulano comes from the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of northeast Italy, and is used to produce both dry and sweet wines. The dry version shows citrus and acidic characteristics whereas the sweet parades honey and tropical fruits. Nutty flavours come forth within the sweeter styles too.
Many Italian white wines are fresh, crisp and perfect alongside summer occasions. Whether you’re hosting a barbecue with friends featuring lightly grilled meats, lazying on the beach with fish and chips, or simply gathering around an antipasti platter, most Italian whites will pair wonderfully. Prosecco suits first course dishes including cured meats as prosciutto, mild cheeses, foccacias and grilled vegetables. Panettone, a classic Italian cake, is also a compatible partner. Pinot grigio, trebbiano, vermentino and fiano are magnificent alongside mild second course dishes, including baked salmon, cheesy risottos, white-based pastas and light pizzas. Sweet moscato suits foods that are of opposing flavours; spicy, sour, salty or bitter.
*All wine styles and James Halliday quotes included within this article are taken from James Halliday’s Varietal Wines. This title is available nationally and you can find a list of stockists here. If you would prefer a digital copy, you can purchase the ebook version here.