Had any good Roero Arneis lately? Omniboire hasn’t, either. Or we hadn’t, rather, until last week. And now we’ve got that new-puppy enthusiasm — except we’re not talking about woolly Portuguese water dogs, but Italian white wines, many of which are also unknown breeds around here. So in the spirit of boosting the underdog (as well as recommending crisp wines for summer quaffing), Omniboire’s April tasting took a look at Italy to see what whites are out there. Quite a lot, it turns out.
The tasting was hosted by Tré Trattoria, which also supplied specially created griddled pizzas, along with wine-worthy small plates from the regular menu. We were joined by Tré’s manager Suzanne Pike (she has also helmed the Lodge at Castle Hills), Central Market’s Heidi Holcomb, and Robert Walsh from Republic National Distributors. And the proceedings got off to an unusually rocky start — through no fault of the place or the participants.
Rather, we had an unusually high number of flawed wines in the lineup. (“Italian whites are notorious,” said one wine rep — after the fact. “We’ve not been having problems,” claimed another.) But in another rare turn of events, all but one of the wines left standing made our 13/20 cut. (It should be mentioned here that one of the corked wines, the 2004 Cutizzi Greco di Tufo, appears on Tré’s wine list in the same vintage, and it’s a beautiful wine, mature yet still racy with nice minerality.)
If northern Italy needed another reason to secede from the unruly Italian union, they might also boast wine superiority; the first four spots were claimed by wines grown in northern climes. Omniboire would have liked for more southern whites to have emerged from the pack, but such is the nature of panels.
“I was struck by the overall high level of quality … but they should be looking at screw caps,” said Walsh. (Only the Bastianich came that way.) “They’re very food-friendly, very versatile,” opined Holcomb. “Three to four of these would definitely work with Tré’s food,” thought Pike.
So, hardly a dog in the bunch. Woof.
2007 Alois Lageder Dolomite Pinot Bianco, $16-$18
White flowers, delicate stone fruit, lively acidity
The hands-down best of breed was the 2007 Alois Lageder Dolomite Pinot Bianco. “It’s delightful … it rolls softly over the tongue,” enthused Pike. “It has great minerality and aromas of stone fruit,” offered Holcomb. “It’s an outstanding bottle. I get a great sense of clarity,” summarized Walsh.
Bright floral and tropical notes, layered finish
Vino due came from Piemonte in northwestern Italy — and from a grape that is grown almost exclusively there, the arneis. It ranked high, with characteristics quite different from the pinot bianco. “I get inviting floral and tropical tones,” thought Holcomb. “There’s a big and bold finish with lots of layers … lingering, too,” said Pike. “God, this is good,” said Walsh, who had found almost “brutal” acid at first tasting.
Pretty, with inviting tropical fruit, some citrus, elegant finish
The grape is a riesling cross and is Germany’s most widely planted variety, often producing flabby, uninteresting wines. But in the Alto Adige, where yield is controlled, the result is quite different. “This would be hard for first-timers,” thought Walsh, in part because of its cost (around $18) — “but it’s amazing and food-friendly.” “Mouth-watering,” enthused Holcomb, who also found clean tropical fruit and fresh acidity. “Elegant,” said Pike, who noted apple and pear.
Classic lime-lemon, green apple with light acid
The number-four wine came from a region only slightly to the south, the Friuli, Italy’s easternmost province and the homeland of restaurateur, author, and cooking-show host Lydia Bastianich. 2007 is the first year in which the EU has required producers to strip tocai’s name from the tocai friulano grape, because of alleged confusion with the Hungarian product — and they are still bitter. The titular demotion hasn’t resulted in inferior wines, though. “I could drink it all day,” admitted Pike. “Lovely, exotic tropical fruit — like a newly woven basket,” waxed Holcomb. That was Venus speaking. The Mars component of the panel was less enthusiastic. “Flat; I thought it was pinot grigio,” was Walsh’s opinion. And though Omniboire has liked this wine before, this bottle was deemed “middle of the road, not much character.”
Dried pineapple with buttery/yeasty qualities, medium finish
At last a southern wine. Inzolia is an indigenous Sicilian grape, and it apparently thrives in the island’s bake-oven climate. Omniboire got spicy, ripe pineapple from this one, though Walsh found the wine “simplistic.” Pike, on the other hand, “loved it” and detected a buttery quality. Holcomb claimed “the nose drew me in. I got nutty, yeasty, baked red apple.”
White flowers with herbal/mineral notes, nice mouthfeel
We move north again, to tower-studded San Gimignano just south of Florence. An ancient grape, vernaccia has made wine in the past that seemed best tasted in the town’s wine bars after the hordes of camera-toting tourists had departed for the day. But more modern production methods have resulted in wines that can now be called “awesome” (Walsh, who liked the acidity and minerality) and “elegant and very drinkable” (Pike).
Atypical bottle, yet still pleasant and food-friendly
The number-seven wine, again from Sicily, caused consternation because it seemed not to be the bottle the producer had intended. “I tasted this two weeks ago, and it was not the same,” said Walsh. A little heat damage (which had totally killed another bottle) might have been responsible for what Holcomb termed a “tug of war between sweet and dry,” yet good breeding apparently allowed the wine to work even somewhat flawed. “Much better with the food” was the all-around agreement. •
Most wines can be found at Central Market, Saglimbeni Fine Wines and other specialty wine shops